Diet Cults

How come specific diets often result in the forming of cult-like groups? The more extreme the diet, the more likely the followers exhibit cult-like behaviors,  it seems.

Kimkins was a typical example. Very low carb, very low fat, very low calorie. You really needed to be brainwashed to manage to follow such a starvation diet for any amount of time. The “high” came from seeing the scale go down every day and being cheered on by other cult forum members. The “lows” when you were hungry and/or feeling sick were overcome by visiting the forum and reading encouragement and tips of how to ignore the starvation symptoms and persevere.

Any criticism was efficiently shut down by the cult leader herself, Heidi Diaz or Kimmer. Negativity was not conducive for weight loss, according to her. When the critisism was no longer contained to her own forum where she could control it, an “us versus them” mentality was soon developed. The cult-like nature of Kimkins was addressed in several blogs at the time. One of the best posts is on Back Across the Line, where these cult characteristics are listed:

Cult members are “focused on a living leader to whom members seem to display excessively zealous, unquestioning commitment.” The leader is a strong-willed, domineering character who rules the group with tight control. He lets it be known in subtle ways that he is “in charge” of the movement. He makes the plans, he orchestrates the movements of the group or groups (sometimes he exercises his sway over several groups). He dispatches the workers, assigns their chores, etc.

Frequently, they even begin to imitate his mannerisms in terms of voice inflection, language patterns, aggressive attitudes, etc. They become “clones” of their esteemed leader. It is not uncommon that the leader knows of weaknesses or past problems of people with his group. Thus, through subtle intimidation and fear he keeps them under his control.

“Questioning, doubt, and dissent are discouraged,” and there can be pressure or social punishment when there is disagreement with the “boss.” Those who disagree are made to feel as though they are stupid or inept. They are brainwashed with the notion that they do not have the knowledge or experience to question the leader.

Younger people are particularly vulnerable to the leader’s “gift of gab,” and his feigned expertise. No matter how radical the leader becomes in his decisions or actions, the cult members will not criticize him. Even if there should be mild disagreement, no specific expressions are voiced. The members reason that though he may be mistaken in some of his judgments, yet the overall good he accomplishes outweighs any minor flaws.

Members are taught to “rationalize” the conduct of the leader in matters they have always “considered unethical before,” under the guise that the “end justifies the means.”

The cult leader always takes the major credit for the movement’s accomplishments. Members become psychologically dependent upon him. “What would we ever do without our leader?,” is the cult mentality.

The cult leader generates within his members “a polarized” mentality. His people evolve an “us-versus-them” mentality. Little-by-little he criticizes other groups with which his members might tend to associate, undermining confidence in them, attempting to discredit anyone who could have influence over his “flock.”

Cult members become suspicious; they imbibe the critical disposition. No one is really as “sound” as “we” are. We are an “elitist” group. And so, seeds of isolationism are sown. The movement leader discourages reading any material, examining any ideas that he does not generate. He seeks to control the inflow of knowledge relative to “his group.”

The cult leader has a clearly defined “anti-authoritarian” disposition. Within the context of the church, for instance, he would have an “anti-elder” attitude. Elders would be recipients of constant critical remarks. No cult leader would affiliate himself with a congregation having elders to whom he must be in submission. “Control” could not be maintained in such an environment.

Cult members are seen occasionally to take on a new personality. They begin to act differently. They become increasingly antagonistic to family members and long-time friends. They may even boast that, “I am not the old [name] that you used to know; I am a new person now.” And indeed they are. They have become strangers to those who knew them well. They have been transformed into the image of their leader.

Kimkins certainly operated as a cult at the time. Luckily, it didn’t last long. A diet too hard to follow, the discovery of the fraud by Heidi Diaz made the vast majority of members to abandon the forum, and the remaining group is not big enough to keep a cult atmosphere thriving.

Another diet cult, which on the surface doesn’t seem as dangerous as Kimkins, is Zero Carb.

The diet is simple. Eat meat (ground beef is the popular choice), drink water, don’t exercise and you will not only lose weight but improve your health in a multitude of different ways. No need for supplements. No need for organ meats or even a variety of meats. They ensure you that you get everything you need from supermarket ground beef.

As “proof” they show pictures of themselves. However, there is no way to verify their claims that they follow the ZC diet they prescribe. You just have to take their word for it.

The Zero Carb forum has all the characteristics of a cult. It is interesting that several ex-Kimkins dieters are members. From one cult to the next.

The ZC forum is led by a guru. He exhibits all characteristics of a narcissist, as given in this post I wrote a while back about Kimmer: The Cult of the Narcissist.

The guru sets up rules for forum participation as he sees fit, and they change over time. Initially anybody was allowed to join as a member, and were only thrown out (banned) for criticism. If you have not followed this regimen for 6 months, religiously, you can not question anything. The latest change on the forum include a registration screening process. Members just lurking, or members not posting under their (supposedly) real name are not welcome. This has pretty much become a forum “by invitation only.”

Even then, any criticism is shut down. If you are not following ZC you are not welcome on their forum. As the guru himself said it:

We’re changing the world one steak at a time. Get with us or get the hell out the way!

Whatever. It’s their forum. It’s just surprising that they choose to limit access to outside people as they all seem to want to bring their message to the masses. Of course, as a guest you can still read but it’s a tedious process as the search function is not available unless you are a member. You can just wade through so many posts before you give up to try to find out why Vit A, or C, or exercise, or .., is not required.

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I remember when that Back Across the Line blog post was written, and thinking how perfectly it described the Kimkins situation. But wow, it describes the zc site even more accurately. I thought about highlighting each paragraph that applies, but found that they almost all do! The one that might not is “Members are taught to “rationalize” the conduct of the leader in matters they have always “considered unethical before,” under the guise that the “end justifies the means.”I’m not sure I ever saw that, unless you count the verbal abuse heaped on anyone who has questions or trouble sticking to the diet. The rest is so dead on that it’s creepy.

I’m sure members there don’t appreciate being compared to cult victims. I feel bad about that. After all, they’re just there to lose weight, right? But really I hope that they can objectively look at how the site operates and how people interact and realize how unhealthy it is to be there. (And I’m not even talking about the diet!) I don’t think it’s any coincidence that so many members there have/had eating disorders, either.

I think back over all the people who emerged from Kimkins after weeks or months of absolutely denying anything was anything wrong with the culture at Kimkins. They didn’t think it was like a cult there either, until suddenly the lights came on for them for whatever reason. Some are still trying to recover from the damage they experienced there.

Well thought out comments, OYB.
I agree, the one with the unethical conduct might not be obvious. But, I saw something to that effect when they moaned about how unfair it was to be banned from LCF but praised the guru for doing the same on their forum.

[…] Zero Carb forum that has tuned into something that very much resembles a cult. (I actually wrote a post about that a few weeks […]

I am not now, nor have I ever been, a member of Zeroing In On Health. I am a happy, successful and independent zero-carber. However, I consider your interpretation of events a delusional attempt at feces-disturbing. Charles is no pied piper guru, and his forum members are no ignorant children or sheep in search of a leader.

I beg to differ with you, there, damaged justice. Many of these ZIOH folks were critical or disillusioned with ZC for a long time, yet, they became very starry-eyed (or was it glassy-eyed?) when along came Charles. It is a very scary thing when someone can come along and act the way he does and get all kinds of attention and admiration and god-only-knows what from sheeple just looking for a guru who has all the answers, and, believe me, I’ve never seen anyone who thinks he has all the answers in a worse way than Charles Washington! That may only be because I was not living when Hitler was. Sorry to sound so cynical, but, I have been on the ground witnessing all of this activity for a very long time, and it is quite disturbing to say the least.

Ground beef hey? Well, since supermarkets are notorious for putting all sorts of disgusting exotic ingredients in ground beef (skin, gristle, organs, brain, meat with pus and sores, etc), it’s just possible that people who eat this are getting a whole lot more variety than they ever bargained for. Haha. Maybe zero carbs are onto something.

These types of groups seem to be coming out of the wood work increasingly frequently. I’m going to look up methods for cult group prevention. There needs to be some form of checks and balances, like *gasp not actually having a team of only 43 people people that leads a group of 1,000 into a group that claims to be visited by Aliens.

No, I’m not even kidding.

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