The Toxic Diet Industry Exposed by a Nutritionist and a Linguist

I was watching TV with my mum the other day, when an advert for a weight loss supplement came on. My mum, who like me was demolishing a bag of chocolate buttons, said ‘don’t these adverts make you feel awful.’ I agreed, and wanted to look into how they make you feel so bad about yourself. I wanted to know how they use language, media techniques and a bending of the truth to make you feel shit. I wanted to tackle this hugely complicated area from more than just a linguistic point, so I started talking to an amazing friend of mine who is an expert in the field. Beth has a BSc in Nutrition and is currently studying an MSc in Sport and Exercise Nutrition. She is also Registered Associate Nutritionist & and an all round health queen (I mean, look at her friggin back) who else’s brain could be better to pick?

Beth explains that a quick fix to the perfect beach bod simply doesn’t exist, and can actually do more harm than good. To save you the painful experience of reading my interpretation of what Beth said (she is a fountain of knowledge) here is exactly what she had to say:

“It’s all about falling in love with the process of nourishing your body. For me; it’s mental health. Though admittedly recently it took a backseat – There’s no lying when you’re feeling crap, it’s not everyone’s first port of call to get their gym gear on and start batch cooking. It’s about knowing the positive effects it will have. I know how good I feel when I eat well and exercise and having started again this week, I feel 10x better – Give yourself the best chance of feeling good and living a long, happy and healthy life. Exercise releases the happy chemicals endorphins, which makes you feel happy and reduces pain. You’ll find a 20 minute HIIT, run or walk will leave you feeling more energised, focused and productive.”

“We’re all guilty of speaking unkindly to ourselves. In that moment, it’s important to remind ourselves what our body can, and has done for us. We are living, breathing and
communicating with one another. We can move around, have children, learn and grow –
Isn’t that an achievement in itself? Life is so much more than how you look; it’s about how
you feel on the inside and who you are. When you reach the end of your life, will you look
back and think about all the times you were your own enemy, and didn’t enjoy that piece of chocolate… or will you smile about the times you enjoyed your favourite food and the
memories you made.”

I will admit, the new year always seems like a great place to start a new health kick. So how exactly do companies take advantage of our Christmas eating guilt? Firstly, through something I am qualified to talk about – language. From some brief research, I can see how advertising companies catch us at our most vulnerable.

I came across a couple of theorists in my brief research, however this is not university, so I won’t bore you with the stuff you don’t care about. Jeffery Schrank’s Classification theory makes some great points on the linguistic side of advertising. He says that advertising works through ‘psychological hooks’ which are words used to grab your attention but don’t really say anything at all. Empty words. We also know that companies use our cookies and data to see what we have been searching for, thus providing us with ads to buy what we just searched for 5 seconds ago. Freaky but this is the world of ‘big data’ and you agree to it every time you open Google/Safari/Facebook/Amazon etc.

But how do adverts which are not tailored to us through big data catch our attention? TV ads for instance? Firstly through what I would refer to as ’empty adjectives’ which are ironically a typical convention of women’s speech. These include words such as ‘amazing’ or ‘incredible’ or ‘outstanding’. Words which seem to mean an awful lot but in reality, mean nothing at all. Without our consent or even our knowledge, words like this make our brains do weird things. They also negate any information which may follow, which is incredibly unhelpful for customers but a win win situation for advertisers!

Weight-loss ads also use other linguistic methods such as, direct address – use of ‘you’, ‘we’, ‘us’, ‘together’ etc. these make us feel involved, motivated and even inspired. Rhetorical questions have us questioning ourselves and and superlatives – ‘best’, ‘most’, ‘biggest’ have us impressed by the products. Celebrity endorsement is often a big factor in weight-loss advertising, which could be anyone with a following. From Kelly Brooke and Slimfast, to Kim Kardarshian’s appetite-suppressing lollypops (absurd), if a celeb has been payed to promote it they will promote it, regardless of them even trying it or knowing what it is. So why do we believe them? Have they studied the science behind the products that they ‘swear by’? And Beth asks, ‘do they have your best interests at heart’ or the masses of CASH they will receive if you use their discount code for 5p off? Everyone with a platform has a responsibility to vulnerable viewers (often children/minors, working-class folk or the gullible souls among us) to not exploit them and their desire to loose weight. Jameela Jamil was right to call out Kim K for her lollypop ad; #suckit never sat right with me.

So what does Beth think about such companies? We agreed to look into three main weigh-loss product providers: Slimfast, XLS Medical and BOOTEA. Beth provided us with the plain and simple science behind these companies. Here’s what she said!

“What do products such as Slimfast, XLS pills, and BOOTEA all have in common? They’re not real food. Our body needs to digest real food, we need carbohydrates as our main fuel source to exist and move, it is the brains main energy source – Without it you’ll notice a sharp decrease in mood and brain function. Products alike Bootea show significant weight loss to begin with – Why is that? Its water weight, stored carbohydrate carries water. When you’re having little to no carbohydrate, you lose the water weight; giving the illusion of quick weight loss. The minute you return to a normal diet it’ll come back again. This is not sustainable and quite frankly miserable. Unless prescribed by your GP, don’t take weight loss pills. Fat binders alike XLS are for bariatric patients (severe obesity). They stop the body absorbing fat which reduces the essential fat-soluble vitamins we can absorb (A, D, E and K) and impairs hormone control. You’ll notice your poos wont flush anymore! This is a condition called Steatorrhea which means there’s too much fat in your stool, leaving foul smelling bowel movements, abdominal pain, muscle weakness and chronic exhaustion. All in the name of a quick fix”

So, how can we ditch the exploitative, cash grabbing diets, and actually embrace a healthy lifestyle change? On the off chance that you are feeling motivated this new year, Beth has a full list of tips and takeaways for us all to take on board. Here’s what she says!

You can’t target fat loss – A lot of people want to target the tummy, the only way to reduce body fat is to be in a calorie deficit (Having less calories than you’re burning to exist and move around – either through eating less or exercising… ideally both).

The word carbohydrate is spoken like the enemy – We need them and it’s just about knowing when and how much to have. If you’re working from the home, and not doing so much exercise – You’re not going to need as much as someone that’s doing heavy labour and training. Reduce your portion size of pasta, rice, bread or potatoes to a quarter of your plate. Remember to refuel after working out with a meal rich in good quality carbohydrates and protein!

Trust your sources – Are you getting evidence based nutritional advice and recommendations from a qualified nutritionist or dietitian? Or believing someone that’s being paid to promote a harmful product inciting body negativity?

Its okay to enjoy the food you love – Life would be miserable without our favourite foods, whether it’s chocolate or pizza. If you deny yourself the craving, it’ll only grow stronger. Aim for an 80:20 balance of eating health and indulging. It’s sustainable long term and enjoyable.

It’s a lifestyle change not a diet – You’ll see all kinds of diets from fasting, juices to very low calorie and omitting certain foods. Diets like these aren’t sustainable and this is how you end up yoyo dieting. The commonality is a calorie deficit. It’s important to make these changes with the view to sustaining happily long term.

Adequate protein and fluid – Generally speaking, as a population we don’t consume enough of either. High protein meals keep you feeling fuller for longer, and not only aid in muscle and cell repair, but hormone control, immune system function and transports vital nutrients. Aim for 1g per kg of your body weight per day split across 3 meals.

Don’t be afraid of fat – Know your sources. Reduce saturated fat consumption (generally any oils solid at room temperature) butter, coconut oil, fatty red meats and pastries). Replace these choices with unsaturated fats such as vegetable oils, avocados, salmon, nuts and seeds. It’s fine to have saturated fat now and then, long term consumption puts you at greater risk of heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and cancer long term.

A calorie isn’t just a calorie – You’ll see people saying a calorie is a calorie – 200kcal of chocolate does not have the same effect on the body as 200kcal of fruit. Be wise with choices consistently.

Beth adds “If you’d like to understand more about how the body uses fuel sources, feel free to drop me message. Or, if you’d like to read for yourself – I’d recommend one of the Bodycoach cooking books. It’s what sparked my interest in nutrition and explains it simply and concisely.”

You can reach Beth’s nutrition instagram page using the handle @bv_nutrition, where she not only posts workouts, progress pics, meals, tips and inspo, but also the most wholesome mental health support videos. She is always there to answer your queries and questions. I’d like to say a huge THANKYOU to Beth for her support and amazing contribution to this piece! I think I can say we both hope you make happy and healthy decisions and don’t fall into the promises of diet brands. In addition, diet culture can and has ruined so many lives and must become less toxic. People like Beth are making a huge difference to end the pressures of the toxic diet industry and provide us all with real advice if and when you decide to have a health kick. But if you don’t, your body is beautiful and worthy. After all, every body is a beach body!

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