Friday, 7 May 2010

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

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.


sas said...

i really really hate the whole permissions and sins and guilt bullshit that surrounds diets.

a great read on the topic of gremlins is 'Women Food and God' by Geneen Roth - its not about food (or really god!) but it is about compulsive eating.

and the central theme is about liberation. i can't argue with that.

MollyByGolly said...

It's old now, but "Fat is a Feminist Issue" is still a good book. Changed my life - and permanently so. Haven't needed or wanted to read anything about food, diets or weight since the early 1980s.

This is the one exception: I recently read "Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat". It has too much emphasis on losing weight, in my opinion, to be about changing how you feel about yourself and your food, regardless of your weight/shape/size.

Cactus Kate said...


This is an awful post.

All that writing and NO PICTURES of cakes!!!

Go find a nice one of Ex-Expat's to add.

And in your honour I plan on having a nice big fat piece of veal cooked in BUTTER from my favourite Italian place tonight. Yumbo.

A Nonny Moose said...

@Molly: Funny you should mention the book "Fat is a Feminist issue", I had it recommended to me by a friend today, regarding another body/size issue.

Will search it out.

anthea said...

I'm dubious about anything that claims that eating in a particular way is the right one. As someone who has as many issues with being pushed to eat more than I want to as I do around being pushed not to eat (and who finds large quantities of sugar interact with my body in problematic ways completely distinct from weight) I'd feel thoroughly uncomfortable in an environment that claims that to be a Good Feminist (tm) I have to eat lots of cake. Those attitudes may not be as pervasive in society, but they're the other side of the same coin.

@Cactus Kate ...wait. You think Maia has a moral objection to butter? Or objects to other people eating it?

Maia said...

Thanks for all your comments.

I'm not a big fan of 'Fat is a Feminist Issue' myself. It has some useful ideas in it, but in the end it is more of the same when it comes to issues of power and control round food.

Cactus Kate - I think you may have missed several of my points about not being into promoting anything as the opposite of diet - even cake or butter cooked veal (which sounds delicious - stupid dairy allergies).

Anthea - that's kind of my point - what sort of eating is best for you isn't anyone else's business - even on no diet day, and to say otherwise is to continue damagin policing of other women's bodies.

Psycho Milt said...

stupid dairy allergies

No worries - meat also tastes great cooked in lard, dripping or (best of all) leftover bacon fat.