Want to write a best-selling pseudoscientific diet book? Look no further. Follow these tried-and-tested rules, and you too are guaranteed to have your very own pseudoscientific diet book best-seller.
1. Pick a calorie-dense, commonly over-consumed food;
2. Invent or cherry-pick evidence to demonize ingredients in such calorie-dense, commonly overconsumed foods using scientific-sounding jargon;
3. Recommend not consuming such toxic ingredients;
4. Enhance and “knit together” the above effect by tying the above facts into an emotional narrative commenting upon contemporary prevailing political, social, moral, or cultural concerns.
That’s it! But how does this work?
Now here’s the payoff that will allow you to understand the psychology behind your next best-selling pseudoscientific diet book.
People following these rules will lose weight by cutting the most calorie-dense foods, not because they are trying to cut calories, but they are trying to cut “toxins”. Because people are cutting toxins and not calories, they are doing two things, one POSITIVE with respect to one’s self-understanding and sense of personal efficacy. And the other NEGATIVE with respect to forbidden foods. The first thing they are doing is:
a.) Losing weight that was not one’s responsibility (the food was toxic, not merely caloric, and one never knew). This means a fresh start, renewed sense of psychological worth, and external enemy against whom one’s dieting efforts are a form of war (Big Food, Meat, Ag, etc.) Never underestimate the demotivating effects of self-blame and the value of having an external enemy to motivate purchasers of your prospective best-selling pseudoscience diet book.
The second thing they are doing is:
b.) Eliminating not just calories (somewhat innocuous) but toxins (dreadful). This means a new and stronger negative motivational frame toward toxic (read: calorie-dense) foods.
This is empowering because it frame-shifts people’s diet experiences: On the side of the person, all past failures meant nothing, the future is wide open, and everything was someone else’s fault. On the side of the foods, these are more terrifying and forbidden than ever.
Remember: toxins, not calories.
As mentioned, you must enhance the above effect by tying the above facts into an emotional narrative commenting upon contemporary political, social, moral, or cultural concerns. Examples include resentment toward impersonal corporations, anxiety/hatred of modernity and biotechnology, romanticization of the remote past or distant pre-modern places, animal rights, progress of science and modernity, masculinity anxiety, etc.
The incorporation of the above themes makes the dietary paradigm resonate with people’s personal identities and makes the rules fit within a broader worldview. This increases personal commitment to the diet recommended in your pseudoscientific best-selling diet book.
In this context, conspiracy theories are the very nearly indispensable components of the above worldview-reinforcement strategy. Conspiracy theories should be tactically deployed whenever a commonly recognized “fact” denies the possibility of important claims that your diet book requires to be made about the world but which is at odds with common knowledge or scientific consensus. In fact, you should be certain to make at least a few such claims. This serves to increase the sense by the reader that they are being initiated into a new world of previously “forbidden” knowledge, i.e. your readers should believe that they are “in the know” (versus the “normies” who are not). This increases the sense of exclusivity, prestige, and status in the adherents to your pseudoscientific diet and makes the reader more inclined to share the book with others. This also enhances adherence by making the reader more resilient to alienation from his or her peers for practicing the dietary habits prescribed in your book. Conspiracy theories when properly deployed moreover should not only “stitch up” the otherwise irreconcilable fabric of the ideas presented in the book; they should also be resonant with the worldview itself. A classic and often-used strategy is to claim in a book with a patently “anti-corporate” worldview that the sick have been lied to–and made more sick!–in order for nefarious forces to reap a profit.
If you implement the above steps and they are fully and successfully internalized by readers, those who achieve diet success will have a newly discovered inner power, an enemy, a worldview, and a dietary religion–and they will meme-ify your book and spread the word far and wide. This process is so psychologically powerful when it succeeds in provoking change that it will even convert many lifelong critical thinkers and otherwise highly intelligent and thoughtful people.
Welcome to your nutritional pseudoscience best-seller.
(Note: my speculations on this process are entirely those of an amateur. While I appreciate the field of psychology, I have no training in it apart from a few courses in college and some reading during adolescence and early adulthood. When I have commented on the psychological motivations of pseudoscientific thinking, it has been entirely an exercise of jotting down my own reflections as I have tried to make sense of a part of the world that often confuses and fascinates me.)
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