Today In Fact, 6 May

Two things strike me about today. The first is that it is International No Diet day. The second is that Sigmund Freud was born today in 1856. International No Diet Day was invented by Mary Evans Young in 1992 as a way to protest the futility of dieting. Originally intended to be a UK-based National No Diet Day, a week before the event, International Clear Your Desk Day was declared and Young was inspired to make her holiday also an international one. It was a small affair to be celebrated by a dozen women with a picnic in Hyde Park, London. Ages ranged from twenty-one to seventy-six and they all wore stickers saying: Ditch That Diet. It rained, and so Young held the picnic in her home.

Young shares a birthday with Sigmund Freud, that founder of psychoanalysis who has revolutionized the way we think of ourselves. Most people who know a little about Freud think of him as a sex-obsessed psychiatrist who interpreted dreams. Although much of Freud’s writings can be treated as complete waffle, he did make three useful contributions to our self-understanding.

The first insight that Freud introduced into our civilization is that at least some of our motivations for doing things may be explained by the operations of our subconscious and cannot be said to be consciously rational. The second insight that Freud gave us is that all behaviour is meaningful and is open to analysis. The third insight, and perhaps the most profound, is that we are primarily motivated by emotions not reason.

Armed with these three propositions, we can, thanks to Freud, explain many of the more baffling actions of our fellow citizens and explore our deeper desires. Take dieting for example.

Freud allows us to discern that we overeat often to fill an inner emotional need rather than simply because we are greedy gluttons. We are still greedy gluttons but Freud offers us a deeper analysis of how we got that way. The food we eat may be seen as a displacement activity allowing us to act out our socially unacceptable subconscious desires by eating. Eating of course involves oral work and Freudians might be drawn to thinking that something we lacked during the oral phase in our infancy, oh, say lack of breast feeding from our mums, might induce us to eat excessively in the subconscious desire to suckle at our mother’s breast. Not an activity a grown woman or man could do in a socially acceptable manner, even should mum be prepared to offer her breasts.

Of course I am being a bit trite here but you get the gist of it? Enjoy International No Diet Day and accept yourself.

Doug Racionzer (you can find a full archive of these daily historical takes at