Diets can do more than help you lose weight – they could also save the planet

Fad diets have long been brushed off as selfish, superficial quests to lose weight.

But if you study the actual content of popular diet books, you will discover that most tell a different story. Many inspire dieters to improve the health of their bodies, society and the planet.

It’s a topic I explore in my research, as well as my 2018 book, “Diet and the Disease of Civilization.” More than than merely guides for getting thin, diet books tell rich stories that urge people to change their lives to save the world.

Grand ambitions

Diets inspire change not because one is more effective than another, but because they tell stories worth believing in.

Peel away the nutrition advice and you’ll find that, while most popular diets ennoble seemingly selfish goals, they also insist that individual health is inextricably linked to the larger environment.

A quick review of diet books reveals their grand aspirations. Think of the Paleo diet. Hundreds of Paleo diets describe peaceful prehistoric communities rich with singing, dancing and storytelling. Today, leaders promise that “eating Paleo can save the world.”

Promoters of detox diets make similar claims. Detoxers believe that environmental pollution and toxins cause stress, obesity and other modern ills.

A detox book from 1984 argued that humans cannot “dissociate our fate from the fate of the earth” and insisted that “what we have learned about freeing our bodies from harmful substances must also apply to cleaning up the world.”

Today’s diets go a step further, intimating that if you’re not “eating clean” you could be eating “dirty” foods full of pesticides, toxins and carcinogens. One diet book explains that clean foods are “not only good for one’s health, but equally important for the environment.” “The Kind Diet,” a popular vegan book written by actor and animal rights activist Alicia Silverstone and Victoria Pearson, is subtitled “A Simple Guide to Feeling Great, Losing Weight and Saving the Planet.”

Diet consequences

Arguably, today’s food world could use some saving.