How Women’s Magazines Fatten Us Up to Nourish The Diet Industry’s Feeding Frenzy

How Women’s Magazines Fatten Us Up to Nourish The Diet Industry’s Feeding Frenzy

Women’s magazines are obsessed with helping us lose weight. Or this is what they would have us believe. In reality, they are obsessed with helping us diet.

These might sound like the same thing. The magazines would surely claim that they are. In reality, these are opposing concepts. Diets don’t lead to weight loss, as many modern studies have shown. Up until now, it’s been kept rather quiet, however. If you read a lot of women’s magazines, you’ll note that this concept is still rather hush-hush. It’s starting to leak out, though.


This month the National Eating Disorder Information Center of Canada (NEDIC – began running television commercials that bluntly tell women that dieting makes them fat. There couldn’t be a better time to tackle this issue. According to NEDIC, “70% of women and 35% of men are dieting at any given time,” and “95% of all diets fail.” Why? NEDIC explains it well:

The Set Point theory of weight is well established in medical settings. This is the weight range at which we will naturally settle with a healthy lifestyle. A complex mix of genetics, metabolism and lifestyle determines our weight, shape and size. Our body will vigorously defend the weight range at which it is most healthy: If we go below our set point, our body will create a drive to eat, and sometimes even to binge, in order to get back to its natural weight. If we are above our set point, our body will work harder to lose the weight. Set point can be altered through extended periods of weight loss and regain. In these instances, the body may act to protect itself from future famine- which it cannot distinguish from restrictive eating or dieting – and set its set point higher, and slow metabolism.

Put more succinctly – when we starve ourselves, our body starts storing fat in self-defence. You’ll then have to eat less and less to stay thin, and after long-term dieting, even a normal, healthy diet will make you fat. We all know that people with high metabolisms can eat what they want and stay thin, and that people with slow metabolisms gain weight easily, but what we often do not understand is that metabolism is not set and can be altered – for better, or for worse. People with high metabolism have eating habits that tend to keep it high.

Skipping breakfast, for example, is one of the best ways to slow your metabolism over the long term. Why? People who skip breakfast routinely go 15 or more hours without food. These same people often say they are not hungry in the morning. They probably aren’t. Over time, fasting will slow the metabolism and train the body to function longer without fuel. If you aren’t hungry in the morning, your metabolism is probably slow. The result is that what food you do eat at lunch and supper will be much more fattening because you are burning fewer calories. You probably also have less energy. To make matters worse, you might binge when you finally do eat – loading up on fats and junk-foods. Skipping breakfast is one of the habits common to people who have a slow metabolism. Dieting, over time, has a similar effect.


If this is so, why do women’s magazines rely so heavily on articles that promote diets? The answer is simple – advertising. Look through any women’s magazine, and you might be surprised to find dozens of ads for diet products, low-cal foods, body sculpting creams, and fat burning supplements. You’ll also notice that these magazines are obsessed with food. Recipes for meaty entrĂ©es and gooey desserts are often advertised right on the front cover. Inside, there is usually an entire section devoted to food. It has been suspected for some time that mass-market magazines not only are primarily supported by advertisers dollars, but also may tailor their content to please these advertisers. It is completely logical, from a business standpoint.

The problem with this is that women tend to view these same magazines as reliable sources of health information. Indeed, a survey by Jan Hill and Kathy Radimer (Journal of Nutrition Education, Nov-Dec 1996 v28 n6 p313(8)) found “adults’ sources of nutrition information have consistently found magazines to be nominated most frequently particularly among women.” Concern over this issue is already being expressed by researchers who have noted a distinct link between cigarette advertising in women’s publications, and these magazines tendency to gloss-over the dangers of smoking.

The diet industry in America generates profits of $40 billion ( a year. It thrives on the insecurities of women – and works hard to foster these insecurities. They are well aware that diets don’t work – in fact, they count on it. Dieters buy diet products for life. Because fad diets do produce some nominal results (mostly dehydration or muscle loss), women return again and again.


This scam is not new. Women have long been victims of industries that hook them for life. Birth control pills are a premier example. Not only do we purchase these every month for decades of our lives, but once we reach menopause, we are convinced that we must continue taking hormones to prevent premature aging and loss of sexual desire. Research has isolated a number of risks from these post-menopausal estrogen supplements, but this has done little to reduce the rate at which they are prescribed. It is no accident that the manufactures of Premarin also make birth control pills. From a sales standpoint, it’s brilliant. A similar tactic has been employed by the manufacturers of baby formula. Decades ago we were convinced that our babies were better off with canned formula than with our own milk. This ensured a year or two of heavy sales. Now liquid meal replacers are being marketed to seniors as an essential part of an active, older-person’s diet – despite doctor’s warnings that these oily, sugary drinks are only indicated for persons who have difficulty eating, or who need extra calories during chemotherapy or other such treatment.

Nevertheless, similar products are being targeted at athletes. The aim is to have us all on formula for life. Gerber baby food has followed suite by introducing bottled toddler food called Graduates ( Soon there will be Gerber teen-chow in bottles too (fortified, concentrated nutrition for growing adolescents!).

Diet products are just another in a long line of products that have profited greatly by hooking women for life (and why not, it’s worked like a dream for the tobacco companies). Information that dieting does not work could topple this multi-billion dollar industry faster than you can say “soy-cheese.” You might think that fast food producers would love the see the diet industry fail, but they, too, profit from its machinations. People on diets tend to binge – and fast food restaurants offer a quick fix – profiting greatly from people who make bad food choices while coming off of restrictive diets. Even diet counseling companies, like Weight Watchers and Jenny Craig, make their money from repeat business. Their aim is to convince you that they can help you lose weight, but not to help you to keep it off.

Next week: Part 2 – How women’s magazines help ensnare women in the dangerous “?dieting for life’ cycle.

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