QUOTE-UNQUOTE UNHEALTHY food. That’s how Christy Harrison, one of a new group of rogue dieticians, describes Chicken McNuggets.
I can’t get enough of how she, formerly a food purist and determined orthorexic, uses that quote-unquote locution on her podcast Food Psych, a deceptively sweet piece of heresy that takes aim at the pieties, sophistries, and perils of diet culture.
At its heart, Harrison’s podcast is an intensive project of pop deconstruction—and if liberation is your goal, it works. It’s ecstatic. It’s terrifying. But while an antidiet project can almost certainly make you happier, freer, and more productive than you are now, you may also be fatter. So there’s that.
A podcast about dieting that might lead to weight gain? Yes, I realize: no. But a friend pushed Food Psych on me, and now I never miss an episode. What once sounded to me like modish self-help has become an authentic philosophical endeavor, chronicled in academic papers, podcasts, books, and social media. At the same time, in seeming to put up for grabs the self-evident connections between food, weight, and health, it can smack of disquieting science denialism.
I’d argue it’s not, and I’m prepared to spell that out. In the past 15 years, public health journals have steadily documented the health risks posed by food restriction. Moreover, the antidiet project is above all a cultural one—a breaking of chains that makes a priority of sustained mental health over the illusion of bodily thinness.
The work of the anti-diet crowd asks anyone touched by diet culture to entertain the possibility that body weight doesn’t, in itself, cause health issues. Some activists challenge dieters to exit the cult of food restriction by doing rad things like skipping the gym and eating salty, fatty, sugary fast food (including McNuggets)—whenever the spirit moves you. As rites of passage into freedom go, this one is pretty great and includes the jubilant breaking of a legitimate taboo. For chronic dieters like myself, it also demands a measure of courage. Because, let’s face it, in eating trans fats you’re not just preempting your chances of ever matching Balenciaga’s beauty ideal. You’re crossing the World Health Organization, which still maintains that fast and shelf-stable foods are unsafe at any dose.
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