by Summer Worsley
In last month’s post, we looked at how the way we talk about bodies is changing (in the public sphere at least), with more emphasis being placed on body-positive terms. This is happening as part of a broader shift toward linguistic practices that are inclusive of bodies of all shapes and sizes.
On the face of things, it seems like some players in the diet industry, a market that’s worth tens of billions each year, are making these changes too.
It’s biohacking, not dieting
Several newer brands such as Viome and HVMN have changed rhetorical tack and ditched the strategies of the past, marking a change to the way weight loss is sold. Marketing collateral for these brands is less overtly about losing weight and more about health, wellness, well-being, wholeness, being your best self, and so on.
Instead of the hard weight-loss sales tactics, there’s a healthy dose of Silicon Valley biohacking picking up the slack. Proponents of biohacking — a broad term that covers a vast range of practices — view the body as a tool that can be optimised, much like we’d adjust a software solution to better meet our needs.
In the case of both Viome and HVMN, weight loss barely surfaces in their messaging, in fact, neither company calls itself a diet brand. They are both health and wellness companies, though, and factors such as weight remain part of the implicit package.
Viome sells fecal testing kits, for instance, and its flagship product is the US$599 Health Intelligence Test (put that on your Christmas wish list). According to Viome, its tests allow customers to ‘hack’ their gut health and discover their ideal nutritional plan based on their microbial results. The coded messaging here is that once you’ve discovered this ideal plan, you will be healthier and lose weight; there’s a reason the company chooses to feature reviews from buyers who lost weight.
HVMN is a little different, while the company’s website is not heavily focused on weight loss, most of its products are made to support people on the ketogenic diet, a plan which restricts carbohydrate intake to 20 grams or less per day. Initially designed to support epileptic children, the keto diet became the holy grail of swift weight loss in the late 20th century, with most low-carb, high-fat diets (such as the Atkins) incorporating its principles.
The implicit message remains
Despite a shift in how several newcomer brands market themselves and are subtly changing the discourse around their offerings, there are still plenty of classic weight-loss advertising strategies in place, and the connotative message remains the same: get slimmer. Several things sell weight-loss products better than promoting ‘solutions’ as fast, convenient, and easy — HVMN uses all three in its marketing.
Another interesting example is actor Gwyneth Paltrow’s book ‘Intuitive Fasting’, which did a lot to popularise the dieting approach. It contains advice centred on the work of Dr Will Cole, who has taken the concepts of intermittent fasting — which many experts believe promotes weight cycling and may trigger the same eating patterns seen in EDs — and intuitive eating and rebranded them as intuitive fasting.
One might ask: what about fasting feels intuitive? For any readers wondering how this particular approach works (or doesn’t), I can save you some money. The book’s central tenet is simple: only eat when you’re hungry.
We are currently in the midst of a fat politics movement, one that aims to undermine the systemic discrimination of larger bodies.
Anti-fatness is pervasive, it’s apparent when doctors tell patients to lose weight instead of addressing issues that have no link to the patient’s weight, it’s seen in the exclusion of design that accommodates larger bodies, and it’s readily apparent in the diet industry, which consistently and unrelentingly finger points and preys upon standards built up over years of demonisation.
The movement has had some successes, for example, a greater examination of diet culture has revealed that diets and dieting are largely ineffective. It might be bad news for the diet industry, but not one to be discouraged, it has merely switched to a focus on wellness, which as discussed is a rather vague yet still distinctly weight-loss-adjacent concept.
There’s also a greater amount of positive attention being lavished on larger bodies by people of all sizes on social platforms such as TikTok and Instagram, yet there’s still always someone (or three someones) parroting oft-touted and outdated statements that equate weight with overall health.
Fat politics still has a lot of work to do, and one worthy target is the vast and insidious complex that is the diet industry. Companies may be rebranding somewhat, but we can still recognise them for what they are and what they are doing: perpetuating and propagating the same old story.