A strong charismatic leader with a powerful, us versus them message. A narcissistic fake saviour willing to twist the facts, fabricate lies and sow the seeds of doubt.
According to the diet guru, the other experts in the field are misinformed fools or even corrupt. He wants us to believe that the solution to losing fat and keeping it off (in most cases) is far more complicated than decreasing lamingtons and increasing the daily activity.
And it definitely isn’t about doing both of them persistently for a long term. Hell no. The words gradual, sustainable and reasonable are a poor bedrock for a sexy, sensational marketing campaign that rallies people together.
Rather, it’s about that one rogue hormone, a demon macronutrient or the deep bloodlines of our ancestors. And he wants us to join him on this crusade to expose the truth.
To move the masses (and their wallets) one needs catchy words and ballooned promises. One needs captivating stories, perhaps a tribe hidden in the jungle, and a sprinkle of that special supplement made of a rare alpine flower that can capsulate it all for the modern audience.
All of this of course fits it into his narrative and the solutions he has created to help us. We can sign up for his ninjitsu training and drink the anti-venom potion his team has cooked for us. Either literally or figuratively.
The struggle to differentiate between familiarity and the truth
The guru is trying to discredit the institutions and their information. He doesn’t want us to believe what we see. He encourages us to do our own research. Starting by reading his. And so people with zero expertise in the field get pulled into these rabbit holes, trying to solve the mysteries of fat loss.
It’s easy for us to fall for these false narratives as they fill our newsfeeds. As the social media algorithms are built to keep us engaged, they feed us the information we’ve been searching and browsing. Only to strengthen our beliefs. The more we see, the more we believe.
The diet cult becomes the tinted lens through which we view our world and the way we eat, even behave. The manufactured stories become real. The more we get drawn into the vacuum of what the guru and his devotees are saying, the more we believe their gospel.
The echo of the diet cult’s message, however absurd to an outsider, sounds like the only explainable truth for those who listen. And so more and more people join the guru’s orbit.
Our beliefs amplify when we come across the true believers of the guru’s message.
As we inch deeper in the hole, the cult draws us into the forums, social media groups and passionate online meetings devoted to the guru’s message. Here is where we find the true believers, the highest priests of the diet cult.
People who are walking testimonies that what the guru is saying is the truth. People who were unfit, overweight, unhappy and down on their luck. And their stories move us. We see ourselves in them. These people had tried everything and were at a point of giving up.
Then one day they stumbled on the guru’s YouTube video or Twitter feed. Exactly like we did today. The one where the Fat Blaster Grandmaster Wiz raged about the injustice of the world. Spraying convincing “facts” about how the organisations in charge have lost their way. How the clues are right in front of our eyes.
And it felt like this man was talking directly to them. He understood what the people were going through. He explained how the system and science had failed to help them. He said that they were not alone.
Then came the promise of something much more valuable than just fat loss or a better health. Something that no one else could offer. Hope.
That they’re even in this point is a failure of our system. The failure of the coaches, trainers, nutritionist, doctors and dietitians whose role was to support and guide them.
Then, along with this hope, came some results. What the guru said did indeed work for some. It made sense. It fit into the narrative the listeners wanted to hear. But the reason we think something works isn’t always why it works.
It’s hard to think things happen at random.
If there is a connection, however faint, our minds will find it. In our head, significant events are supposed to have consequences. And we need a cause to explain them. Knowledge, even if wrong, makes us feel safe and in control.
The promise of a simple, black and white solution is appealing. We hate the feeling of leaving something unsolved. We want a clear-cut answer. An honest scientist running on integrity and data can never sooth most souls the way a guru can. She can only reflect on what the science tells her.
And so we rather believe the guru with a pin sharp focus, the inspiring black and white answer. Something to label as the wicked vehicle of fat. We want to believe in the promises of a six-pack in thirty days.
A cult without a moral compass can give us all of it. While scientists are too busy to do science, the guru with a set narrative and a marketable offer can devote his time and money to build up hype. To create an appealing case for his solution.
He can cook the facts, tell us lies (intentional or not) that make us feel comforted. To make promises that the science can’t. It is comforting to have a definite answer, instead of “it depends”.
The illusion of knowledge
As non-experts of a topic, we think we know more than we do.
We can’t see and feel the Donning-Kruger getting a neck hold on us. We don’t understand the limits of our knowledge. We believe in our own biased research. We think we know more than the top scientists do. “Haven’t these experts seen this YouTube clip of Fat Blaster Grandmaster Wiz?!”
We are all guilty of it. We think we can reason our way through scientific literature. But most of us don’t have the skills to think statistically. It’s too easy to believe the conclusions and arguments that seem to support our current beliefs. No matter how little sense they make.
Neither are we rational. Once we have accepted a theory or a narrative, it is extremely difficult to notice its flaws. It’s difficult to look objectively at anything that contradicts what we believe. Holding a paradox is not what most of us can do without some deliberate training.
Of course, some don’t even go that far. Instead, they just become parrots that copy, paste and share information from others without fully understanding what it means. And then it becomes a ratchet of status and tension leading us all astray.
All of this might not be what our irrational minds want to hear. Especially when it goes against what Fat Blaster Grandmaster Wiz says on YouTube.