The first couple weeks of January have informally become a national holiday, when Americans temporarily reckon with our expanding waistlines, vow to shrink them, and embrace whatever the latest trend diet is before drifting away long before Valentine’s Day, unable to keep up with the strict demands of only eating while standing on your head or whatever the latest surefire way to lose 30 pounds is this time around. Trying to capitalize on the season, US News & World Report decided to rank 32 popular diets to find the best one to kick off your ritual of penance and defeat.
But oh, they are tricksy ones at America’s premier source for making you feel like you went to a good college. If you actually read the blurbs on the top-rated diets instead of just skipping ahead to see the crap rating they give the Paleo diet, you’ll start to notice a trend: The best-ranked diets sound suspiciously like something your doctor would tell you to embrace, not as a diet, but as general rules for eating to prevent heart disease and diabetes. Indeed, some of the best diets, such as the DASH diet, the TLC diet, or the Mayo Clinic diet weren’t developed for weight loss at all. Two were created to help heart patients get healthier, and the Mayo Clinic diet is just general good sense for eating. It seems that US News is trying to trick its readers into giving up fad diets and instead, like a bunch of boring, untrendy, healthy people, just eat right.
Luckily, Americans will not be fooled. We have an endless appetite for trend diets that promise rapid weight loss through unsustainable and often expensive methods. We will buy up any crap supplement, food additive, or even skin cream that promises that we can lose weight rapidly. This is why, as the New York Times reports Tuesday, the Federal Trade Commission has charged four more companies with deceptive advertising of useless weight loss products—and why 13 percent of fraud claims to the FTC involve weight-loss products, “more than twice the number in any other category.”
Here at Slate, we’re not immune to the siren call of the trend diet, or unaware of the amount of traffic you get from covering the latest weight-loss fad, and pieces testing out diets, even the skeptical ones, do have the effect of elevating them to things that people should try. (Though we take great pleasure in debunking diets, too.) Diets provide such a great narrative! Put on a bunch of weight, go on a trend diet that (if you’re lucky) causes you to lose a bunch of weight, inevitably put all that weight back on when your diet ends, and start the process all over again. Our culture of eating is a sin and redemption cycle, which is a lot more dramatic than simply ingesting a bunch of vegetables with some lean proteins for the rest of your life. We will never give up hope that this time, the fancy new diet is going to be the one. Sensible eating doesn’t stand a chance.