Friday, May 07, 2010

Cake is not the opposite of diet - and no diet day thoughts

So I'm reposting some of the blog posts I wrote years ago over at The Hand Mirror. This week I have felt the irritation at International No Diet Day rise slowly (mostly fueled by the facebook group), and I wanted to write a post about why it annoyed me so much. Then I realised that I've already written that post so I decided to repost it instead (i've edited quite a bit, to finish the sentances and elaborate on the ideas).

In my experience No Diet Day's are most commonly observed at Universities, and usually by eating cake, chocolate and ice-cream at a dessert evening or some such event. Sometimes, when you have an anti-feminist women's rights officer, they're observed by giving away diet coke and fruit (because International No Diet Day becomes Love Your Body day and what better way to love your body than fruit, diet coke and yoga - I really wish I was making this up, but I'm not).

My superficial criticism of No Diet Day is how easy co-opted and perverted it is. An article from ABC in Australia:

In the 936 office Drive Producer, the lovely Lynn, got up especially early to spend most of her morning baking, in order to provide her colleagues with the most delectable Pavlova and cake.

Annie Warburton and the team from Mornings spoke with Stephen Dimsey, State Manger of Life Be In It Tasmania, to get some sensible tips for those who enjoy their food but want to stay in shape.
Then later on Stephen says: "What we're saying is that whatever body shape you are, make sure you're a healthy body shape," Talk about making the kind of sense that's not; I don't think I could translate that into English if you paid me.

But I have just as much problem with the dessert based versions International No Diet Day, which are organised on campus by people who are actually feminist.

I don't think dessert is the opposite of dieting. I think to suggest that it is is to perpetuate a shallow, unhelpful understanding of the role of food in our society. Food and control are so tightly linked that the only other alternative to controlling your food intake is losing control of your food intake. You can't just 'not diet' for a day - because the gremlins in your head about food and your body will still be there - interrogating every food choice, everything you do. To suggest anything can be achieved in a day is too hide how deeply people are affected.

The opposite of dieting is actually making food about food. I know that's an uphill battle. I know the vast majority of women students are nowhere near there. But I don't think having one day a year where you're 'allowed' to eat chocolate is a step in that direction.

In the end kicking those grelins to death is an uphill battle. Whatever the state your personal set are in I don't think it makes any difference whether you eat dessert or don't eat dessert on a particular day. And I think the suggestion that you should or shouldn't deal in any particular way actually makes it harder.

What is ultimately frustrating is that my experience of dessert evenings is that after a certain point people will start talking about how gross they feel and how someone should take the food away so they'll stop eating it - it's not an anti-diet dessert evening without people completely reinforcing ideas about food and control and food and power.

If I had a time machine, and could go back in time to when International No Diet Day was invented (my mind says 1989, but I'm too lazy to look it up on Wikipedia), I would make a suggestion that rather than make it 'no diet day' - how about 'no diet-talk day?" I don't know if it would actually help (and not being so easily commodified it would be less popular). But at least it presents the response to eating disorder culture and body hatred as something that involves many steps, rather than something you can just turn off.


  1. Anonymous10:26 am

    because u understand what its like to have anorexia Maia? The International no diet day is for people who dieting is an everyday problem, it's to support those who starve themselves every day to eat and to raise awareness of this problem. I think by being so strongly critical of it you are missing the point.

  2. Jo - I understand the point. I just think it's counter productive.