Women and the Diet Industry – The New York Times

By | June 17, 2019

To the Editor:

Re “Smash the Wellness Industry,” by Jessica Knoll (Sunday Review, June 9):

Thank you for this wonderful article. I have been a professional life coach for 20 years. About 14 years ago I sat down and had a “come to Jesus” coaching session . . . with myself. About my body.

For most of my life I had done little to support my body. I had, however, done a lot — years and years of relentless dieting, including a diet-soda-and-cigarettes diet in high school — to harm my body. Despite all this, my physical body had been a warrior for me throughout.

When I thought about what my body has done for me, I wept. And I vowed to love it well, no matter how it looked. I also decided that I refused to pour all my energy into looking rockin’ hot and never showing signs of aging. Instead I pledged to care well for all of me: physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually.

Today, I have never been happier or healthier or enjoyed my life more. I’m not rockin’ hot, but I am funnier, smarter, more curious, more creative and more sexually fulfilled than ever.

Kelly Grace Smith
Fayetteville, N.Y.

To the Editor:

There is a scene in the final episode of “Veep” where Vice President Selina Meyer (played by Julia Louis-Dreyfus) is coming undone. Gary, her loyal personal assistant, asks her if she would like “six almonds.” As a lapsed dieter, I laughed hard at this line. Inside, I cried a little.

The absurdity — the downright shame — of the idea that six (not seven, for goodness’ sake) almonds constitutes a snack is in fact not funny; it’s sad and, more important, dangerous.

Jessica Knoll’s brilliant piece should be a must-read for every girl and woman who has bought into the myth that our self-worth is measured in inches and pounds. I would gladly join Ms. Knoll at the lunch table, where we can eat what we like, enjoy it without guilt and talk about anything but our bodies.

Leslie Lichtenberg

To the Editor:

Jessica Knoll’s use of the term “wellness” to describe irresponsible diet fads does a horrible disservice to the entire wellness community! The National Wellness Institute has educated, supported and guided millions of wellness professionals. And not once in my attendance at conferences was fad dieting ever taught, encouraged or supported.

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Jessica, you owe all wellness professionals an apology.

Marianne Helm
Sheboygan, Wis.
The writer is former executive director of the Sheboygan Wellness Association.

To the Editor:

Jessica Knoll says: “When men sit down to a business lunch, they don’t waste it pointing out every flaw on their bodies. They discuss ideas, strategies, their plans to take up more space than they already do. Let’s lunch like that.”

While I support her critique of the wellness industry, I am baffled by the sweeping generalization about “men” and the suggestion that women, or anyone, ought to spend lunch talking about how to take up more space. No doubt too many men and, surely, some women live for ambition. But for many other women and men that life is as bland as raw kale. Can’t we drop the sham diets, enjoy eating and share the space? Let’s lunch on that.

Aaron Liskov
Long Island City, Queens

To the Editor:

About two months ago, as I neared the end of my sophomore year of college, I embarked on, and “succeeded” with, the Whole30 diet. I use the term “succeeded” loosely here. I lost a few pounds, I felt “better” and I began to promote the lifestyle change to friends and family.

But post-30 days of “clean eating,” I am left with a distorted view of food. Something that I once loved, indulged in and sometimes binged on is now something that I fear, something that has taken control of my mind and my life.

Jessica Knoll recalls a conversation with a dietitian: “‘Can you think of your appetite as a gift?’ It took me a moment to wrap my head around such a radical suggestion. Then I began to cry.”

I, too, am left with tears in my eyes, but, moving forward, a feeling of hope in both my heart and my stomach. Thank you.

Hayley Meisel
Scarsdale, N.Y.

To the Editor:

While I can appreciate where Jessica Knoll is coming from, I think that to demonize the wellness industry as a whole does a disservice to those of us in it who work tirelessly to change minds and hearts about what it means to “be well.”

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I, too, once believed that it was all about my weight or how I looked in a bikini. Along my journey, not only as a wellness professional, but also as a human, I discovered many years ago that it embodies so much more than that.

As long as there are people looking for the quick fix, there will be someone promising one, so my mission is to create “better beings” by informing, influencing and inspiring others to define wellness in their own terms, and put practices in place to help them achieve it. Having been in the wellness industry for over 22 years, I am seeing a shift of mind-set.

Jessica, let’s do lunch!

Michelle Zellner
The writer is the founder of Better Beings, a wellness company, and the author of “YOU Revolution: The Journey of a Better Being.”

To the Editor:

I work with women who are experiencing some of the more serious effects of the culture described in “Smash the Wellness Industry” — those who are underfueling and exercising to a point where they have lost their periods. In this case, the pursuit of “health” has actually been less healthful. Ovulation, periods and the associated monthly hormonal changes support women’s heart health, bone health and brain health. Not to mention, one cannot get pregnant without ovulating, so many thousands of dollars are spent unnecessarily on fertility treatments.

The solution is not rocket science — eat more and exercise less. But in our diet- and exercise-obsessed wellness culture, it is incredibly difficult to push back against the current norms. Women need to make choices that lead to true health: nourishing their bodies and getting off the obsessive exercise hamster wheel.

Nicola J. Rinaldi
Lexington, Mass.

To the Editor:

Although the author presents valid concerns about our cultural emphasis on beauty, she overstates her case. Personally, I have made changes in my eating habits over the years; however I am not on a “diet.” I generally avoid sugar and processed carbs, as science clearly demonstrates their negative impacts on health. I eat food I love and I don’t feel deprived. My husband does the same. It’s not a female thing.

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Am I fussy about what I eat when I go out? Yup. Does it ruin my time with friends and colleagues? No way. The author may make different choices and that’s O.K. too. Wellness is personal.

Though we need to be on alert for fads and dubious approaches, let’s not throw the whole wellness industry under the bus.

Christine Stanton
Wayne, Pa.

To the Editor:

Growing up, I had a fraught relationship with food. My dad was obsessed with weight, and he saw my minor chubbiness as a huge character failing.

I finally came to terms with my body in college, when some friends and I found a book called “Fat Is a Feminist Issue,” by Susie Orbach. It taught us to trust our bodies to return to, and stay at, their optimum weights if we’d only stop dieting.

Now, at 60, I’d still like to lose 10 pounds to fit into that tight cocktail dress. But it doesn’t run my life.

I hope that “intuitive eating” will allow other women to get off the diet treadmill.

Liz Pagan
Bloomfield, N.J.

To the Editor:

I wholeheartedly agree that the diet industry (as well as the cosmetics and fashion industries) does little to help anyone in the long run. They are just a drain on women’s brainpower and self-worth and a way to control women and make money off their insecurities. But because society has told women that we have “worth” only if we are beautiful, thin and attached to a man, we must attain these “prizes” at any cost.

So many wasted opportunities, and so much wasted time on things that, in the end, don’t really ever satisfy us.

Marlene Moore
New York

To the Editor:

Food is good for us. The wellness industry demonizes food and tells us to avoid fat, or sugar, or gluten or dairy, even in the absence of disease. Rather than worry about what not to eat, we can achieve health by focusing on what nourishes our bodies and our souls. We need food; we need protein, we need carbohydrates and fats, and we need to have fun. Sometimes we need comfort. Enjoy.

Janet Smuga
Red Bank, N.J.

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