Why Weight-Loss & Diet Commercials Are Dangerous
I have a big problem with both women’s magazines and health publications because of their shaming and dangerous messages. But I have an even bigger problem with weight-loss and diet commercials — mainly because there’s no escape.
Yes, you can turn off the channel. But lately, these commercials are everywhere. Clearly, these companies have bought more airtime in the hopes of making big bucks over shaming viewers for the New Year, a time our society likes to equate with deprivation and restriction.
That’s why it’s critical to discuss and dissect them. Because instead of questioning ourselves — whether we’re thin enough, whether we need to go on a diet, whether we need to kick up our workouts for weight loss — we need to question these companies and the manipulative, detrimental messages they send.
Because the more we question them, the more we realize that there’s nothing wrong with us. Nothing.
These companies are in the business of making money. And they’ll do anything to get you to believe their message and buy their products.
I hate diet and weight-loss commercials for many, many reasons. But here’s just a few:
1. They portray weight loss as healing. I always find it interesting how weight-loss commercials make it seem like losing weight has finally given the person some peace. We hear spokespeople time and again talk about how a diet program helped heal their overeating and yo-yo dieting.
This makes viewers think that diet programs are a viable solution for their eating problems. Talk about misleading!
If you’re struggling with eating issues, the worst thing you can do is go on a diet, where you’re counting calories, portions or points, possibly recording what you’re eating and restricting your intake.
Neither food nor your willpower is the problem. It’s that a) diets don’t work and b) your food issues likely run deeper. (For instance, you might need to learn healthier coping skills and how to process your emotions — a shake won’t help with that, contrary to what advertisers say.)
2. They portray weight loss as a great accomplishment. Isn’t it funny how weight-loss commercials portray losing weight like it’s your biggest, most impressive accomplishment? Remember when Jennifer Hudson said that she was more proud of her weight loss than her Oscar?
She told this to Self magazine this summer. She also mentioned wanting to be a good role model to her son. I wonder how putting weight-loss on a pedestal — over an Oscar, which is probably the biggest accomplishment for an actor — equates to being a good role model.
What does this teach kids? To prize weight loss over talent and hard work? Above such amazing accomplishments as being recognized for a compelling performance?
Other spokespeople have hinted that they’ve never been able to conquer their weight issues until some weight-loss program came in and saved the day. In reality, this is a mirage. This is another gimmick to get you to buy and invest in these companies.
3. They insinuate that the world will be your oyster. Spokespeople always talk about how miserable they were before their weight loss. After however, we’re made to believe that these individuals suddenly not only feel happier but also are more successful. As if it’s the weight that’s been to blame all these years, not certain underlying issues, such as perhaps low self-esteem, a battered body image or maybe even disordered eating.
This theme of success post weight loss is especially prominent in Janet Jackson’s recent Nutrisystem commercial, which just makes me sad.
4. They insinuate that dieting makes you superior; not dieting is shameful. Ever notice how diet commercials love to make you feel guilty over eating? How they shame you into losing weight? How they highlight the guilt of eating regular foods? In fact, they like to use the words “guilt” and “guilt free” often.
One of the worst commercials is for the new sugar substitute Truvia. I HATE their commercials. They’re the ones with the horribly annoying song. Here’s an excerpt from one commercial:
I love your sweetness. But you’re not sweet. You messed with my head. All day and all night we’d argue and fight. You left guilty crumbs in my bed. But I found a new love, a natural true love that comes from a leaf, oh so green. Zero calorie, guilt free, no artificiality. My conscious feels scrubbed, new and clean…
These commercials also encourage and perpetuate an adversarial relationship with food. They urge you to despise real sugar, since real sugar makes you feel guilty, since the two of you stay up at night and fight. Really?
I hate knowing that some individuals watching this commercial start to feel dirty and ashamed for eating real sugar. (There’s also the emphasis on morality and having a clean conscious, which honestly just makes me sick.) And, of course, this shame may extend to other foods. It might make viewers think twice about eating what they like in general.
In another commercial, which is worse, Truvia shows a woman eating a slice of cake, while a similar tune plays on about how the cake made her butt fat and drove her insane (“self-conrol down the drain”). Sugar is also said to be akin to grief.
Again, we get the message that eating a slice of cake will lead to horrible things. What horrible things I’m not sure. But basically the lesson is that we’re all out of control and eating a piece of cake is a bad, bad thing to do.
Here’s my message to the advertisers and companies: You should be ashamed for misleading people about the success rates of your programs, for equating eating to something immoral and dirty, for portraying weight loss as some incredible thing when it’s not. For shaming people. For perpetuating weight stigma along with detrimental and false messages about health.
And here’s my message to spokespeople: Why would you want to be known for your body and how many pounds you’ve lost? Why would you want that to be your biggest accomplishment? Why would you want to teach people to feel bad about their bodies? To suggest that weight loss suddenly means being more attractive, sexier, more successful and somehow superior?
Personally, I want to be known for spreading an empowering message to everyone. I want to be known for my talents and skills, for the positive things I can contribute to this world. Not that I finally dropped X number of pounds after dieting and working out excessively. These are not the accomplishments I find worthy of celebration.
I’m not necessarily blaming spokespeople. I’m sure they’re just as confused as many of us are about what it means to be healthy. I just wish that they used all the resources at their disposal to become better informed and used their celebrity status for more meaningful things. Not peddling products that don’t work and representing companies that broadcast false and unhealthy messages.
What are your thoughts on diet and weight-loss commercials? Which ones do you especially despise?
Tartakovsky, M. (2013). Why Weight-Loss & Diet Commercials Are Dangerous. Psych Central. Retrieved on July 31, 2015, from http://blogs.psychcentral.com/weightless/2012/01/why-weight-loss-diet-commercials-are-dangerous/