Dieting, Research
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Food Journals in Popular Culture: Confessing Diet Sins or Legit Rehabilitation?

At times, diet literature offers the same recommendations that dietitians and eating disorder specialists proffer, but accompanied by an underlying message of guilt—in this case of biblical proportion.

Diet Confessions Image | Photo by David Harry Stewart

In the article, “Diet Confessions” from the June 2006 issue of O, The Oprah Magazine, Jim Karas (Chicago-based trainer to the stars and the common man alike) discusses keeping a food journal as a weight loss strategy.

The article is accompanied by a disturbing image of a thin young woman kneeling as if at worship itself with her hands pressed together in fervent prayer. A scale lurks forebodingly in the background, a menacing crucifix. Upon her face shines the light of whichever god one confesses dieting sins.

Karas discusses food journals utilizing religious descriptive language, including:

  •  coming clean
  •  every bite you take, every vow you break
  •  confessing what you’ve eaten

The article portrays an extra cookie as a sin that must be confessed to the food journal. Susan Estrich also refers to food journals in her diet book, Making the Case for Yourself: A DIET Book for SMART Women (1997), saying, “You won’t want to write down two potato chips, so you won’t eat them. Forced to confront what you’re doing, you won’t do it” (56).

Ironically, food journals are used in bulimia treatment “to provide the foundation for effective [therapy]” by identifying disordered behaviors and providing a forum for the therapist to offer suggestions and encouragement (Riess and Dockray-Miller 2002: 17). Dietitians often use a food journal as a diagnostic tool to help clients recognize nutritional deficiencies or excesses as a means to create more balanced meal plans. Food journals are not proof of an individual’s mistakes or a deterrent to eating, but a simple way to assess eating patterns so that positive changes can be made if necessary (Hollis 2008), which, as a 2008 study confirmed, effectively aids weight loss. (In this study, it doubled the weight loss.)

The improper use of food journals is yet another example of how the diet industry employs faulty psychology in its products and marketing practices. In fact, Oprah reader and recovering anorexic, Sarah Cole-Hamilton, critiques Jim Karas’ “Dieting Confessions” article (2006: 26) saying,

I could have written that article on my worst day as an anorexic.

The same damaging ideas about food and weight, which comprise the psychology of an eating disorder, are inserted into articles, advertisements, and books on dieting. This psychology renders dieters unable to relate normally to food or weight, and consequently, perpetuates dieting in the United States at the expense of the health of millions of Americans.


  • Cole-Hamilton, Sarah. 2006. “We Hear You!” [Reader’s Comments]. O, The Oprah Magazine August. 26.
  • Estrich, Susan. 1997. Making the Case for Yourself: A DIET Book for SMART Women. New York: Riverhead Books.
  • Hollis, J.  2008. “Want to Lose Weight? Keep a Food Diary.” Am.Journal of Preventive Medicine, Aug; vol 35.
  • Kaiser Permanente Center for Health Research News. 2008. “CHR Study Finds Keeping Food Diary Doubles Weight Loss.” July 8.
  • Karas, Jim. “Diet Confessions.” O, The Oprah Magazine June 2006:143-144.
  • Riess, Helen and Mary Dockray-Miller. 2002. Integrative Group Treatment for Bulimia Nervosa. New York: Columbia University Press.

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