Dieting doesn't work. How many times have we heard that, especially at this time of year? The evidence for the high long-term failure rate of dieting is difficult to ignore but not something some sectors of the media want you to know about because diet industry advertising spend is high and if you were to hear the full truth, there would be considerably less profit for them. After all, you couldn't have a page ad for Slimming World next to an article containing the full truth about dieting. So here is a short course for journalists and editors in how to report dieting and weight-loss research, keep your readers in the dark and either sell your own diet or keep the diet industry sweet:
Technique 1: Twist the meaning.
Directions: Whenever you use the word "dieting", prefix it with the word "crash", "fad", or "extreme". It's OK if you know research has shown all types of dieting to be ineffective, your object is to distort the story in your favour. To add emphasis to your angle, throw in references pointing the finger at skipping meals or using food substitutes. Another way of twisting the meaning is to refer to 'normal' dieting as old-fashioned, sensible, down to earth and dependable. You can even get away with making the whole report about how diets don't work then let your feature trail off with a weak quote from an 'expert' stating what does work, which is always a 'lifestyle change' or a 'whole new way of eating' (which is really no different from dieting).
How it works: Implants the suggestion that crash dieting equals bad, regular dieting equals good. It guides your reader to trust in your advertiser's diet product or service which has been cleverly rebranded as a 'lifestyle change' or a 'sensible meal plan'.
Technique 2: Blame the victim
Directions: Make the dieter the one responsible for the failure of the diet. The most effective way to do this is by publishing diet industry funded research into the effectiveness of diets (funnily enough, this always comes up in favour of the actual company funding the study) which will provide you with endless reasons why dieters' lack of willpower or poor judgement cause them to fail to lose weight. This will really pack a punch if you place it right next to an advert from your sponsor and you can even make the end of the piece into a direct recommendation. This is actually against the law if you're pretending it's an editorial when it's really an advert, but no one notices.
How it works: This leaves your reader feeling guilty and rather than steering away from dieting, it reinforces attachment to diets with the added feeling of 'I must try harder'. This is one of the best to rake it in for your advertisers.
Technique 3: The Blindside (Derren Brown style)
Directions: This takes balls, but it seems to work well. All you have to do is say dieting doesn't work and then blatantly sell them a diet.
How it works: The focus on the first message about dieting's high failure rate seems to distract the reader from the obvious contradiction, or maybe it's because it is so blatant that the reader can't believe it would happen, therefore it doesn't register in the brain. Whatever the cognitive process it leaves the reader thinking along the lines of "I'd better stop dieting and take this advice instead," which, of course, is your advertiser's diet.
Examples: I'm not suggesting Anne Diamond is being paid to use this technique, but this is a good example of its use.
There you go. There are many more tricks but use one of these three techniques and jobs a goodun.
For readers, however, stay alert when you read a diet report in the press and don't be fooled. Remember this: the media that reports it is the media that supports it. (I'm really pleased with that quote.)
Next time I'll be revealing tips for writing about the obesity epidemic - another good way to keep your weight-loss industry advertisers sweet.
Follow Sue Thomason on Twitter: www.twitter.com/Antidieter