A plausible explanation for crash dieting

Posted on May 23, 2013

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I recently read The Mirror Effect: How Celebrity Narcissism Is Seducing America, by the well known Dr. Drew Pinksy.

dr. drew the mirror effect

Dr. Drew is the guy from Celebrity Rehab, Loveline, amongst other things. He is very well known for being an addiction specialist who works with celebrities. Truth be told, I never gave him much thought. I always assumed he was just “part of the show.” After seeing some people who I really respect recommend him, I decided to give something from him a chance.

I’m very happy I did.

Here are some tenets from The Mirror Effect:

  • Celebrities are more narcissistic than your average person. I know, not surprising. (Side note: The book goes over in detail how narcissists seek celebrity, opposed to celebrities later becoming narcissistic due to their fame.)
  • Narcissism has a plethora of negative effects, many of which are seen in the outbreaks from celebrities. Think excessive drug or alcohol use, dysfunctional families, abuse, self-worth issues, etc.
  • Because celebrities are constantly in the media, their behavior can seem desirable or just even normal, rather than self-destructive, which is what it really is. Those who have narcissistic tendencies of their own are most likely to think this behavior is desirable / normal.
  • Due to the constant influx of celebrity culture, as well as the way the current crop of young adults and teenagers has been raised, the younger generations are more narcissistic than the older. (Again, probably not be surprising, However, before the older generations go “I knew it!” remember who taught my generation entitlement, lack of self-reliance, weak work ethic, etc. The younger generations didn’t come flying out of a vaginal cavity thinking we’re better than everyone else, you told us we were.)
  • Therefore, as a society we are increasingly mimicking (mirroring) celebrities behaviors.

Simplified: We are becoming a more and more narcissistic society, we look up to those who we think are of a similar vein, celebrities are by nature more narcissistic, thus, we observe and mirror them more and more.

The book cites one study where I think I can make a poignant connection to weight-loss. The study is called I Am Too Just Like You: Nonconscious Mimicry as an Automatic Behavioral Response to Social Exclusion.

Briefly going over this study:

  • The study made certain participants feel they were being either excluded or included from a group activity.
  • They found if a person was excluded from a group activity, that person is more likely to later mimic the behavior of a person in the group. The hypothesis being mimicking the group member will help get / keep one in the group.
  • This is even more evident if the person feels they belong to that group.
  • The mimicry specifically referenced in this study is unconscious. People don’t know they are doing it.

A couple quotes:

“Individuals increase their mimicry of people who can restore their status within the in-group.”

 

“People whose need to belong is threatened do not necessarily mimic the first person they see; they take into account aspects of the situation and act accordingly, all unconsciously.”

Let’s use an example: John is on the football team and identifies himself as a football player. He feels excluded from the group one day because everyone gets the ball but he doesn’t.

Later on that day at dinner, John ends up laughing at many of the instances other guys on the team laugh, probably more than he typically would. He (unknowingly) mimics their behavior more after feeling excluded that day in the (unconscious) hope of staying accepted into the football team.

On the flip side, if this happened to John at a pick up basketball game, he wouldn’t be as prone to mimicking everyone else’s behavior at dinner because he doesn’t identify himself as a basketball player.

(This is obviously a rough example. There are many other variables that could change things.)

Application to crash dieting

Crash diet

Let’s describe a hypothetical person, Christine.

-Christine is considerably overweight.

-Christine doesn’t feel too great about herself. She often has feelings of not being good enough, self-loathing, body image issues, etc.

-Christine didn’t have the greatest childhood. Perhaps she had neglectful parents, parents she could never please, parents who just weren’t supportive, etc. (Childhood issues are a precursor for narcissistic traits. The book goes over the genesis of narcissism very well.)

-She consumes a great deal of media through television and the internet.

-A considerable portion of this media contains celebrity news / gossip / drama / whatever.

It’s pretty easy to make an argument not only is Christine a common person, she is becoming the everyday woman (or man) in the United States. We already know most people are overweight, they watch a lot of television and are on the internet a ton, a great deal of this time consists of celebrity culture, and you can check out the book for statistics on how crappy upbringings are becoming more common.

Said another way, you have a woman with narcissistic tendencies spending an inordinate amount of her time observing the behavior of narcissistic people (celebrities). However, what’s one way an overweight woman will often not feel included in the celebrity culture?

How she looks.

What happens when you feel excluded from a group? A group you specifically feel you have a greater sense of belonging to?

You mimic, or mirror them.

And what group of people are notorious for rapid body changes, absurd diet practices, ridiculous supplement marketing, and crash dieting bullshit?

Celebrities.

I think this may be one of the more plausible explanations for crash dieting / insane eating practices I can come up with. I know everyone likes to dismiss crazy diets due to factors such as people are just lazy / want quick fixes / are idiots, but I disagree. At this point I’ve talked to a lot of people about how to eat. I’ve talked to some incredibly successful, smart, NON lazy people.

I’m talking lawyers who spent 3 years agonizing in law school and have been in practice for 30 years, doctors who spend THIRTY years in school delaying the gratification of one day actually getting paid, entrepreneurs who spent decades building businesses, academics and military personnel (a group I’m not sure could be more disciplined). All these people have also exemplified the ability to suffer in the hopes of one day getting something in return. (Sound like how many people approach dieting?)

These are some of the figures we hold in our society to be the hardest working, smartest we have to offer. You cannot tell me they struggle with diet practices simply because they’re idiotic and lazy.

You can tell me many of these people get their diet information from celebrities, celebrities who we give a high status to in our society, and by mimicking these celebrities behavior we assume (conscious or unconsciously) we’ll get the same results and be a part of the “in-group.”

Of course, practically every time we’re being sold things without knowing the whole story.

-The Biggest Loser doesn’t weigh in every week like they say they do. Many times they’re weighing with an extra week in between to help manipulate how much weight the contestants lose. They also manipulate people’s water intake causing massive swings in weight.

-That celebrity who looks perfect on the cover in US magazine, “candidly” being photographed on the beach? Yeah, that was staged.

-Photoshop. Need I say more. A professional model can you tell you plenty about that.

-Your favorite actor who got ripped for his newest movie? He looked like that about one week all of last year…The week he needed to look like that for the movie shoot. And he’ll never look that way again. See: Gerard Butler.

You get the idea.

Something to keep in mind the next time you hear someone declaring, “It’s not that complicated! Just eat less!”

Calories in, calories out isn’t complicated; human psychology is.

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