Why We Fall for Fad Diets
by Janet Chrzan and Kima Cargill
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Pub Date 30 Aug 2022 | Archive Date 07 Dec 2022
What makes fad diets so appealing to so many people? How did there get to be so many different ones, often with eerily similar prescriptions? Why do people cycle on and off diets, perpetually searching for that one simple trick that will solve everything? And how did these fads become so central to conversations about food and nutrition?
Anxious Eaters shows that fad diets are popular because they fulfill crucial social and psychological needs—which is also why they tend to fail. Janet Chrzan and Kima Cargill bring together anthropology, psychology, and nutrition to explore what these programs promise yet rarely fulfill for dieters. They demonstrate how fad diets help people cope with widespread anxieties and offer tantalizing glimpses of attainable self-transformation. Chrzan and Cargill emphasize the social contexts of diets, arguing that beliefs about nutrition are deeply rooted in pervasive cultural narratives. Although people choose to adopt new eating habits for individual reasons, broader forces shape why fad diets seem to make sense.
Considering dietary beliefs and practices in terms of culture, nutrition, and individual psychological needs, Anxious Eaters refrains from moralizing or promoting a “right” way to eat. Instead, it offers new ways of understanding the popularity of a wide range of eating trends, including the Atkins Diet and other low- or no-carb diets; beliefs that ingredients like wheat products and sugars are toxic, allergenic, or addictive; food avoidance and “Clean Eating” practices; and paleo or primal diets. Anxious Eaters sheds new light on why people adopt such diets and why these diets remain so attractive even though they often fail.
Janet Chrzan teaches nutritional anthropology at the University of Pennsylvania. She is the author of Alcohol: Social Drinking in Cultural Context (2013) as well as coeditor of Research Methods for the Anthropological Study of Food and Nutrition (2017) and Organic Food, Farming, and Culture (2019).
Kima Cargill is professor of psychology at the University of Washington, Tacoma. Her books include The Psychology of Overeating: Food, Culture, and Consumerism (2015) and Food Cults: How Fads, Dogma, and Doctrine Influence Diet (2016).
"This enlightening and informative book explores not only how fad diets work but also why they are so wildly successful, as they provide templates for the expression of individual and social anxieties in contemporary American food culture and beyond."
--Fabio Parasecoli, New York University