Janet Chrzan and Kima CargillOct 9, 2023
Why We Fall for Fad Diets
Columbia University Press 2022
What makes fad diets so appealing to so many people? And how did these fads become so central to conversations about food and nutrition?
Anxious Eaters: Why We Fall for Fad Diets (Columbia University Press, 2022) shows that fad diets are popular because they fulfill crucial social and psychological needs―which is also why they tend to fail. Authors Janet Chrzan and Kima Cargill bring together anthropology, psychology, and nutrition to explore what these programs promise yet rarely fulfill for dieters. They demonstrate how fad diets help people cope with widespread anxieties and offer tantalizing glimpses of attainable self-transformation. Chrzan and Cargill emphasize the social contexts of diets, arguing that beliefs about nutrition are deeply rooted in pervasive cultural narratives.
Considering dietary beliefs and practices in terms of culture, nutrition, and individual psychological needs, Anxious Eaters refrains from moralizing or promoting a “right” way to eat. Instead, it offers new ways of understanding the popularity of a wide range of eating trends, including the Atkins Diet and other low- or no-carb diets; beliefs that ingredients like wheat products and sugars are toxic, allergenic, or addictive; food avoidance and “Clean Eating” practices; and paleo or primal diets. Anxious Eaters sheds new light on why people adopt such diets and why these diets remain so attractive even though they often fail.
Janet Chrzan teaches nutritional anthropology at the University of Pennsylvania. She is the author of Alcohol: Social Drinking in Cultural Context (2013) as well as coeditor of Research Methods for the Anthropological Study of Food and Nutrition (2017) and Organic Food, Farming, and Culture (2019).
Garrett Broad is Associate Professor of Communication Studies in Rowan University’s Edelman College of Communication & Creative Arts, where he also serves as Provost’s Fellow in the Catalysts for Sustainability Initiative. His research and teaching explores the connections between contemporary social movements, food systems, and digital media technology. He is the author of More Than Just Food: Food Justice and Community Change, as well as a variety of articles on food's relationship to environmental sustainability, economic equity, and the health of humans and nonhuman animals.