I was reading an article on NPR that interviewed the actress who plays “Kelly” on The Office, and she brought up an interesting point. Dieting is an American pastime. As soon as I read this, I jotted down the idea to write about it because it fascinates me.

I will try to count the number of diets that I’ve seen people on first hand: Dash, South Beach, Atkins, Metafast, Slimfast, Special K, Weight Watchers, Mediterranean,  I’m sure there are more that I can’t think of right now. There are so many diets where you can eat this, but not this, or this, except on Tuesdays . . . unless it’s the third Tuesday of the lunar calendar. . . . Right. Perplexing!

Now I am not trying to make anyone feel bad, because I understand losing weight is an immense struggle for a lot of people, but it frustrates me a little bit to see companies and the market really take advantage of people struggling. The only real advice people need is to go exercise! And then actually exercise, run, walk, whatever!

So, I want to delve further into this a little bit and talk about why affluent, educated societies struggle with such a basic concept, and why we need to develop all of these secondary plans to fight weight gain.

I think one of the fundamental reasons why dieting is so important in American culture is because we really do have an obesity problem. I myself classify as obese, being just over the BMI of 29. People may look at me and go, “You aren’t obese!” but yeah, I am. My lifestyle doesn’t lend itself to being overly in shape, as I sit in a chair at a desk for 7 to 8 hours a day, with little to no movement all day long. This is the case for a huge portion of the population.

With the problem of obesity being so prevalent, we, as humans, look for ways to solve it. If you’ve ever done anything in computer science or bioinformatics, you may know that there are often ten or twenty different ways to solve the same problem. You can use any number of programming languages, any number of coding approaches, and so on. They may all accomplish the same-ish results, but all have different paths to get there. We create all of these solutions, some being way more complicated than they have to be. One of the phrases I keep near and dear to my heart while programming is, “Keep it simple, stupid.” Because the more complex the solution, the more chances it will fail. The same goes with diets: the more rules you have to follow, the easier it is to fail.

We focus so much on dieting because  we really don’t have any other persistent struggle in our lives. We don’t worry about having to find and hunt the food. We don’t worry about drinking water, war in our backyards, and other disasters (save a few occasions). We really don’t have much else to really struggle with consistently. It gives us something to do, something to creatively try to solve, something to worry about, and something to unite around. Seems kind of twisted doesn’t it?

I think we all know deep down how to lose weight, and how to keep it off. We just toy with all of these novelty diets to give us something to do, something to read about, something to play with. Weight loss is a struggle, and choosing the diet of the week gives us a way to point at something else when we falter or fail, and say hey, this diet wasn’t for me, maybe the next one will work. Let’s all do ourselves a favor and just get out and run and play, and lose weight while doing that, rather than struggle with our noses behind books and charts and eating plans. Let’s get over this American pastime and do something more fun. Let’s all worry about the environment or something.