When does a fad diet cross the line to become an eating disorder that the publishing industry endorses?
That's the question raised earlier this week after the New York Post announced the imminent publication of The Manhattan Diet, a book that "sets out to uncover the tricks, rules and regimens behind some of the borough’s tiniest bodies."
No, "the borough's tiniest bodies" does not refer to the pre-K set but to women so preyed upon by the diet industry it's a wonder there's any flesh left to pick off their bones. It's basically Sex and the City mated with French Women Don't Get Fat, advice that presumes an audience envying affluent, cosmopolitan women who can do stylish things with silk scarves and wash their Klonopin down with Champagne instead of tap water.
The Manhattan Diet was written by Eileen Daspin, the wife of an Italian chef known for his prowess with cured meats, which makes the "advice" Daspin doles out even more perplexing. She begins the book with the admission that she's been dieting since the age of 12 and goes on to cite her privileged friends as women to emulate. There's the one who pours water on her leftovers so she won't be tempted to eat them, another who sticks to white rice and string beans when ordering Chinese, and others who forgo the sinful temptations of Tasti D-Lite for the safer pleasures of a single Tootsie Roll or 3.5 Twizzlers, a daily rationed "cheat."
Daspin writes that she herself uses a "teaspoon to scoop up a few grains of risotto” and adds milk to green tea to make it taste "like melted green-tea ice cream." She also endorses GG Bran Crispbread, "the appetite-control cracker," as the Manhattan woman's snack of choice. Somewhat redundantly, she adds, “I taste everything but eat almost nothing.”
If this sort of thing sounds familiar, it's because it's remarkably similar to the advice you can find on the pro-ana sites littering the Internet, the ones proclaiming that "anorexia is not a disease, it's a lifestyle." The ones that dispense advice like "when you get the urge to eat, chew sugar-free gum," "drink herbal teas. They have no calories," and "frozen yogurt takes forever to eat so you feel occupied longer."
Daspin and her friends would obviously dispute any such similarities, just as they would undoubtedly argue that they're condoning healthy eating, not an eating disorder. But the book stinks something rotten, and manages to be an insult to Manhattan, diets, and women. If there's any justice, it will inspire not sales but riots in front of the headquarters of Wiley, the book's publisher.
Daspin has written that she came up with the idea for her book after reading a New York Times article that compared obesity rates in New York's five boroughs. Manhattan emerged as the skinniest, and while Daspin seems to have taken that as evidence of its innate superiority, she ignores the fact that the borough's relatively wealthy population can afford to eat well and selectively (food deserts: so outer borough!) before spinning it off with private trainers.
You know how Manhattan women stay skinny? Dragging double-wide strollers and shelving units from the Container Store up flights of subway stairs, walking our asses off, and coping with the constant stress of living here. The last thing we need is someone telling the rest of the world that we can wear skinny jeans because we're obsessive, half-starved lunatics. Bitch, please.
Image source: Wiley