It happens to all of us from time to time. A friend decides to undertake a crazy new diet and spends every moment telling you how wonderful it works. "The enthusiasm some people have for the way they eat can sometimes seem a lot like religious fervor,” writes New York magazine. This is no coincidence, according to Alan Levinovitz, professor of religion and author of The Gluten Lie: And Other Myths About What You Eat. He says:
Two thousand years ago, there were these Daoist monks who decided that if you avoided these five grains — and these were the staple crops of China, what the everyday person subsisted on — you’d live forever, you wouldn’t get any diseases...I’m looking at this and I’m thinking, You know, this sounds a lot like the kinds of promises that modern, secular so-called diet gurus make to their followers.By using our fear of mortality, diets can function like religion. When it came to diet and health,” he said, “people were prone to irrationality and they were susceptible to promises that in other contexts perhaps they’d be more critical [of].” Religion tells us to do good things, avoid bad, and save your soul. Diets say eat good foods, avoid bad, and save your body.
“Why would you want to live in a world filled with toxins? Why would you follow the Food Babe — isn’t that a terrifying world to live in?...I see people who come to believe that what you eat is so ethically charged, that they are like committing terrible sins [if they mess up.] It’s this idea that if you sin once it’s the end,” Levinovitz says.Melissa Dahl, who wrote the above mentioned New York magazine article, suggests that the similarity between diets and religion is not actually about the evil of toxins but about a sense of belonging:
One of the things I’ve been surprised about is that changing the way I eat essentially came with membership to a secret club I didn’t know about. I’ve become close with a group of vegetarian and vegan friends, and together we’ve formed an unofficial food club...it’s given me a sense of belonging, in other words, an idea that can certainly apply to devout churchgoers.What do you think? Do you practice your diet with religious devotion? Do you feel intense guilt when you slip? Or, do you get your biggest charge out of feeling good and being an active member of a like minded community?