The Food Journal and Food, Nutrition & Science

An alliance between The Lempert Report and The Center for Food Integrity

It’s All About Balance

It’s All About Balance

In the News

March 24, 2013

The word ‘diet’ may have become a negative word, but that doesn’t mean people aren’t dieting or thinking about losing weight. Frequent contributor Jennifer Shea Rawn MS, MPH, RD shares her thoughts about the decline in self-reported dieting (see our report from last month’s issue on the decline here), and the need to achieve balance when maintaining a healthy lifestyle. 

Why do you think women are leading the decline in dieting? What’s changed in the last 10 years overall?  

Diet has become a four letter word and for good reason. Most women (and men) have found diets don’t work, and, if they do initially, most are not sustainable. Many diets are extreme and involve giving up entire food groups, which leads to deprivation and in the end, disappointment in not achieving the end goal. Some Americans are realizing there is no quick fix, no magic bullet – though many still hope that there will one day be that miracle weight loss pill. The truth is, losing weight takes time, effort and consistency. If diets worked, we would all be at our ideal weight. But they don’t, as evidenced by the 20 billion dollar annual revenue of the weight loss industry. Many of us continue to buy diet books, pills and other paraphernalia. But some are realizing that the thing that “works” in the long term is what most dietitians have been touting for decades – but it’s not sexy. It’s a healthy lifestyle that includes a clean, healthy and balanced diet along with regular exercise. It’s a focus on whole foods – fruits and veggies, whole grains, nuts, beans, fish, lean meats, dairy, water and teas and putting effort into mindful eating and listening to our body’s hunger cues. This is a challenge, yes, but once this cleaner lifestyle becomes habit, we will lose weight naturally, feel better and look better without the need for magic pills, potions, fasts and diets.

Additionally, there may not be a decline in dieting per say, but rather an increased awareness and participation in healthy lifestyle behaviors versus extreme behaviors to modify weight. Perhaps the “diet” experiences many Americans have been through, they’ve learned from, and now are taking a more balanced, healthful approach to weight loss and management. 

What about for women specifically? With more women working, are there shifting priorities? Do we have better public role models (Beyonce, Kelly Clarkson) who might not be stick thin? Other influences? 

Women, given the negative connotation of the word diet, may be choosing to categorize the journey to weight loss as a positive healthy lifestyle change versus diet. Many women are engaging in regular workouts as part of this healthy lifestyle. Women want strong, healthy toned bodies – that feel good and look good and that can lift multiple shopping bags while carrying a toddler. A strict extreme diet doesn’t fuel the body for everyday household tasks or workouts like Pilates, yoga, running, Zumba or Pure Barre. The key is fueling the body with the right fuel in the right amounts. And it’s awesome that there are many wonderful women role models – athletes, singers, actresses, newscasters – that are positive examples of healthy, strong women that aren’t stick thin.

Additionally, baby boomers, who are the largest consumer segment shopping in the grocery aisles, are looking to eat well to help manage chronic diseases (diabetes, heart disease, obesity) and aren’t looking for a short term weight loss solution or for purely appearance benefits. Rather they are looking for healthy foods that will benefit their condition, provide aging benefits, provide more energy and provide a better quality of life. 

Are our attitudes about dieting changing? Why? 

Being overweight is now the norm with over 2/3 of us categorized as overweight or obese. So, the majority of people we interact with regularly fall into the overweight category. So, we are judging less, because we are living in and seeing the norm on a day-to-day basis. Additionally, a recent JAMA study suggested, building upon some previous controversial research, that those who are slightly overweight (but not obese) may live longer than those with a normal body weight. This is not a message to gain weight if you’re in the healthy BMI range, but it is food for thought that perhaps being an active, healthy slightly overweight individual isn’t such a bad thing after all and may even help you live longer than your stick thin counterparts. 

What are the implications of fewer Americans dieting? Could it affect the diet food industry? What about obesity numbers? Are we just out of time to care about our bodies? Or is this just a healthy new, more balanced attitude? 

This is a more balanced attitude and hopefully a focus on nourished healthy bodies versus just being model thin. Until we are all at body weights and shapes that we are happy with, I don’t foresee there being a lack of diet industry sales, considering it’s over a 20 billion dollar industry. The majority of Americans continue to look for ways to manage their health including eating better and exercising more and will continue to purchase books or items that they believe will help them achieve that goal. They will continue to look for insights into how those who have succeeded in weight loss or a sustainable healthy lifestyle do it and how those “secrets” can be applied to their life. 

 

Jennifer Shea Rawn, MS, MPH, RD is the Retail East Corporate Dietitian for SUPERVALU®, covering the supermarket chains of SHAW’S and STAR MARKET, FARM FRESH, SHOPPERS and ACME. Shea is an active member of the American Dietetic Association, the Massachusetts Dietetic Association and the Food and Culinary Dietitians Practice Group. In 2009, she was awarded the Women of Influence in the Food Industry Award by the Griffin Report of Food Marketing.