An Open Letter to a Diet Pill Pusher

Even if this pill were entirely made of kale and quinoa, I'd still find it problematic for a number of reasons.

Yesterday, an acquaintance of one of my students, let's call her Lily, reached out introducing herself as working for a health & wellness start-up, saying that she was looking for, "fashionably fit individuals," yuck, for their market testing. And could I please email my students to participate as well. Probably not, but tell me more... She went on to describe a plant-based tablet that helps control one's sweet tooth. Let's call it Craving Crusher. She went on to describe it as, "simple assistance for a complex problem: sugar."

After briefly explaining that I'm quite vocal about how detrimental diet culture is to our society, especially for women, and letting her know that I'm averse to quick fixes and magic pills, she assured me that Craving Crusher did not contain chemicals, just a plant extract that blocks the sweet receptors on the tongue. What? Now we're numbing our tongues to lose weight? I had to write back:

Hi Lily,

Thank you for clarifying and for being open to my honest opinion. To be more frank, even if this pill were entirely made of kale and quinoa, I'd still find it problematic for a number of reasons.

First, people aren't craving sugar because of sweet receptors on their tongue. Sugar goes into the bloodstream and creates a high. People seek out sugar for the same reasons they would seek out alcohol, drugs, gambling, or other addictive substances or behaviors. Our society is self-medicating with food and other things to numb out pain, discomfort, anger, anxiety, sadness...

A huge source of personal pain comes from feelings of inadequacy. And these feelings do not exist in a vacuum; our society transmits them to us in myriad ways telling us we're not thin enough, beautiful enough, young enough, rich enough, successful enough, etc. We attach so much to the goal of being thinner, as if everything will magically fall into place and we'll find our dream job, love, more friends, and happiness.

And therefore, food becomes so loaded. It's no longer sustenance, it's a marker for morality. Women these days talk about what they eat and don't eat as a way of trying to convey a sense of character, and yet, it's such a snooze fest. And not only is it terribly uninteresting, but it keeps women afraid of the wrong things (sugar) and distracted by vapid, empty pursuits (thinness), when they should be afraid of the lack of gun control in our country, or distracting themselves with more fascinating things like traveling the world and going places where people will look at you like you're nuts for taking a pill to dull your taste buds. To paraphrase from author Amy Bloom in an interview: I'll bet Ruth Bader Ginsburg doesn't diet.

So this is why I referred to your product as a quick fix or magic pill; it does not get to the root of the problem of why people struggle with food. In fact, it only perpetuates it and capitalizes on it. If diet products actually worked, the profit margins would be very small and the whole industry would collapse. But instead, they set up an insidious cycle of temporary success and subsequent failures which fill companies' pockets and bankrupt women of their self-esteem.

You may answer, "I'm just doing my job," and think this is bigger than us, but to quote Brené Brown, "This isn't bigger than us, this is us."

And speaking of jobs, as a yoga teacher, I hope to open people's eyes and free themselves of this stuff. Yes, diet culture is trying to penetrate my community, and I have to be vigilant against it.


Marisa Sako

PS: To learn more about how diet culture and body image are feminist issues, check out these interviews which Erica Mather conducted earlier this year. All of the interviews are eye-opening, but a among my favorites was the one with Amy Bloom, which is where that genius line about Ruth Bader Ginsburg came from.

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