cover image Anxious Eaters: Why We Fall for Fad Diets

Anxious Eaters: Why We Fall for Fad Diets

Janet Chrzan and Kima Cargill. Columbia Univ, $35 (360p) ISBN 978-0-231-19244-6

“Fad diets aren’t a product of ignorance, lazy or wishful thinking, or purposeful mendacity” but “a product of deep and enduring cultural and psychological processes and needs” according to this sharp study from nutritional anthropologist Chrzan (Food Health) and psychologist Cargill (Food Cults). The authors contend that all fad diets—which they define as “a novelty diet that makes big promises and often has little scientific evidence supporting it”—are similar in that they’re a response to a “set of concerns or anxieties,” which makes them exceptionally easy to fall for. Chrzan and Cargill dig into Paleo eating (with its “firm belief that the problem is located within the cultural food system”), the Atkins diet (which “shifted the discourse about how and why people gain weight and how best to lose it”), and food addictions (a growing concern for people, despite not being recognized as a mental disorder by the American Psychiatric Association). The authors are especially sharp in their examination of “clean eating,” which they note has no agreed-upon definition despite its ubiquity, and in pointing out that fad diets are so pervasive in America specifically thanks to a “cultural goal of conquering and mastering nature, self, and destiny.” Students and scholars of psychology and nutrition will want to check out this smart and comprehensive survey. (Aug.)