October 08, 2008

Ditching your Diet?

The Decline of Dieting?

A couple of weeks ago, a survey came out suggesting that fewer folks than ever are on diets. A market research group asked 5,000 people about their eating habits, and found 26% of US women and 16% of men were dieting--the lowest it's been in more than two decades. By contrast, in 1990 39% of women and 29% of men were dieting.

As a nation, we're certainly no slimmer now than in 1990. So is this decrease in dieting a good thing, or a bad thing?

Reading two articles about this, one in the New York Times and one in the Boston Globe, I found myself with, as usual, mixed feelings.

"Positive" Eating

The New York Times (which may require registration) takes an upbeat approach. Their article focuses on the movement towards "positive eating." What's positive eating? It's "shunning deprivation diets and instead focusing on adding seasonal vegetables, nuts, berries and other healthful foods to their plates."

Hooray for this approach!

They cite sensible healthy trends like the slow foods movement, eating locally grown produce, choosing whole foods instead of the processed stuff, shopping at farmers' markets and spending more time in the kitchen cooking things from scratch.

These all seem like really cool things to do. And it sure seems like in the health/fitness/weight-loss/body image blogosphere, you see a lot more focus on health and nutrition, and a lot less on dieting.

(Check out, for example, Limes and Lycopene, among many others. Hell, just click on any blog in our blogroll, and you'll probably find lots of information on healthy eating and a move away from processed crap and toward nutritious whole foods.)

I'd say the "positive eating" approach is the one I take 90% of the time... when I'm not too busy cramming cupcakes in my mouth.

(It also seems like lots of exercise is part of the equation--a topic that seemed weirdly de-emphasized in both these articles).

Anyway, from the "positive eating" perspective, the decline in "dieting" seems like a great thing.

On the other hand...

Are People Really Just Saying Screw It, I Give Up?

I love this "eat healthy" stuff, and it's awesome news if it's getting to be more popular than dieting. But if I step outside of the world of health bloggers and the New York Times, and instead visit random food courts or chain restaurants or supermarkets... um, well, really?

People aren't dieting because they're eating so much healthy food now?

Maybe I've just shown up on the wrong days, at the wrong times. But seems to me there are still lot of people out there eating a LOT of crap.

Hey! You talkn' to ME?!

The Boston Globe article, however, mentions a few other factors that might have something to do with folks giving up on diets. Like:

Experts noting that "dieting is simply too hard" and that diets are "notoriously ineffective." Or that "a lot of people are saying I don't have enough money to spend on a diet, or I'm going to try surgery."

Or that there simply isn't an "exciting new diet" like South Beach out there now. According to the editor-in-chief of Publishers Weekly, "one of the real challenges for the diet book industry is - surprise - coming up with new diets."

Hmm. This is not quite as upbeat.

Is There a Place for Dieting?

It sure seems like there are a number of folks out there in blogland who were overweight and not happy about it, who then changed their lives for the better by dieting and getting serious about exercise. I find these success stories really compelling-- folks like Pasta Queen and Diet Girl and Roni and Mousearoo.

So I don't know what to think about the fact that there are fewer people attempting to do what they've done.

Is that a good thing? A bad thing? What do you guys think? Are any of you on "diets?" Or is the word getting so stigmatized no one wants to use it anymore?


  1. Honestly? I think it's verbiage. The word Diet has all sorts of negative connotations and there's this ridiculous little believe that if we change the word, we can change the world. (Ok, I don't believe that. If it's a spade, calling it a pigment-deprived garden implement doesn't make it anything other than a spade.)

    And yet, if you asked me if I was on a diet, I'd probably hesitate before saying yes. I am trying to change my life for the better, eat better, exercise more, etc.

  2. The move to positive eating is good move. I am so happy for slow food and local food and to learn we're punting the processing and turning to making our own. Scratch cooking is filling and fulfilling and forces us to slow down.

  3. "Scratch cooking" (thanks Leah!) is a term that I am hearing more and more often. I think we need to put more emphasis on the value of cooking our own food and using less convenience and fast foods. I think it is a great move that fast food restaurants are moving toward placing calorie counts on their menu boards. I think this is going to be eye opening information for some people.

    I heard Michael Pollan speaking once and he said -my paraphrase- that the problem isn't with eating fried chicken it is that we don't have to put the effort into making the fried chicken ourselves any more. If you have to put the effort into preparing the fried chicken yourself you aren't going to eat it very often. It was an interesting concept.

  4. When I finally gave up "dieting" and just started eating right and exercising, I got down to my goal weight. I'm still eating right and exercising, and I'm still at that weight.

    I have to set a good example in this area for my daughters. After all, they are even more pressured now than I was when I was young to do anything to stay thin. I want them to see that good health is the main goal, not conforming to someone else's standard.

    It's possible that many people are thinking that since they will never look like the people on tv, why bother. I used to feel that way. I think those are the ones we see with plates loaded high at all you can eat buffets.

    Also, I was always resentful of those who could eat whatever they wanted and not gain weight. Maybe that resentment is more widespread than I thought.

    It could be that the people who used to diet have learned to just eat better and not worry about a "diet" per se, and those who weren't on diets way back when still aren't.


  5. Yay for positive eating! I find that it takes dedication and commitment (much like a diet) but without feeling deprived. I also find that it is not just a matter of eating my fruits and vegetables (which is what I long pictured as the be-all, end-all of health), but that I have to make sure that I'm getting protein and good fats. I thought the New York Times article definitely captured this.

  6. In 100% agreement with Lynn, this is purely a case of semantics. Dieting always used to mean eating healthy. But if the media declares a "diet" now then it's generally a new-fangled fad or a quick-fix requiring meal plans or supplements, or at the very least counting or measuring SOMETHING tangible.

    My dad got put on a diet waaaay back in the 1950s. No high-protein/high-fibre/low-fat confusion, it was just what we would now call plain old healthy eating. Because that's what a diet was back in those days.

    Maybe we would have got a more accurate response if the subjects had been asked if they were trying to lose weight or improve their health by using diet, rather than asking them if they were On A Diet? It's such a loaded phrase now.

    TA x

  7. Based on conversations I've had, I think that a lot of people don't really have much knowledge of what constitutes healthy eating - what is a portion size, how many calories are in food items, how many calories we should be eating, how to choose the right foods, etc. If you don't have a general understanding of that stuff, it's hard to make healthy choices.

    I could be wrong about this, maybe people do know. But I've had conversations with otherwise intelligent people that have left me shaking my head. (Obviously not talking about the readers here - people who take an interest in health & fitness generally do know.)

    So while I think the idea of 'positive eating' - choosing healthy foods, etc - is great, I'm not sure how many people are really equipped to do it.

    As for the word "diet", I don't think dieting is necessarily bad, but there are a lot of bad diets out there, which have given the word a negative connotation.

  8. I think it's a combination.

    The word "diet" is becoming so anathema that it's almost shameful to admit you're on a diet. People associate "diets" with purging, anorexia, fads, deprivation...the whole gamut of the negative side of trying to get thinner.

    People who are simply eating healthier would never say they're on a "diet".

    If the people doing the study simply said "Are you on a diet?" and left it at that, they're (and I mean this in the politest way possible) morons.

    But. But I also think that the percentages cannot be accounted for simply by that, as you said. I think so many people have done so many fad diets that they're tired of it. Tired of trying, and most of all, tired of failing.

    The percentage will go up when we get the next popular diet to try, and will dip again when people remember that there's no magic easy road out.

    I would say that I am dieting. For me, the word simply means to be aware of what I'm shoveling into my piehole, and trying to make good decisions regarding it.

    The way I eat would drive a carb-counter nutters, and my unconcerned ignorance as to my exact calorie input would send a calorie-counter into heart palpitations.

    But I'm definitely paying attention to what I eat, and how much of it. I'm also exercising, but as you noted, that wasn't part of the survey. *snorts*

  9. For me, it all depends on the diet. Weight Watchers made me crazy, but for some reason the healthy eating think kinda clicked for me when I did South Beach. I'm not really on any diet now, but I try (most of the time) to eat as healthily as I can. But honestly, being on a diet is what lead me to regular healthy eating.

    I think people are afraid to admit they are on a diet or need to go on a diet. I look at being on a diet as taking a class - sometimes you learn nutritionally helpful information and other times you can't wait to ditch and go smoke a cigarette in the girl's bathroom (not that I have ever done that, ahem).

    As far as fewer people being on diets, my first reaction is that it's a good thing, but then like you said, if you go to the local food court, you see a lot of overweight folks, so maybe it's not such a good thing after all. So basically to answer your question, I don't know.

    A long and rambly comment just to say, "I don't know". Obviously I should drink a cup of coffee before I try to post anything. =)

  10. For so much of my life "diet" meant "allergy diet" that I still have to think twice to remember most people use it to mean "low calorie diet."
    Where I used to work, more than half the people were always dieting, always trying to lose weight and never succeeding more than temporarily. They talked about food All The Time, and I would get hungry two hours before lunch just listening to them. I was the only one who always brought lunch (me and my allergies together--although some of them did bring lunch about half the time.) They also talked a lot about needing to save money, and yet there they were spending more on lunch than I spend on food for a whole day.
    Yet another way in which I fail to understand Modern Life.

    Mary Anne in Kentucky

  11. My guess is that a lot of the people you see in a food court are on a 'just this once' diet.
    "Oh, sure, I know I should eat vegetables but the kids were tired and I didn't have time to go home and cook. Besides, french fries are vegetables, aren't they? And it's just this once."

  12. I am hesitant to say I am on a diet, because I'm not obese. Saying yes to that is opening myself up to all the "You don't need to lose weight....how much do you weigh? How much do you want to lose? Why do you think you need to lose weight?" lecture.

  13. I am actively trying to lose weight right now (12 lbs so far yay!) ahem. But I am not on any special diet. You can find all sorts of rants and raves on my blog about how I feel about diets but for here I'll just say that going on a diet is not beneficial because that implies a temporary change or doing something drastic whereas changing how you see food and incorporating more healthful foods into your meals and snacks is a change you can stick with and not feel so guilty when you just gotta have that cupcake!

    whew. that is one long sentence.

  14. I agree with javachick when it comes to the general lack of understanding with healthy eating. I don't think "diets" are all bad. If I hadn't ever tried one, I don't think I'd have the foundation for healthy eating that I have now.

    (but I hate that most women feel immense pressure be on one..."dieting" is not something I aspire to..."positive eating" is...ironic that dieting helped me get there? probably!)

    good post. I know I'll be thinking about this ALL day now...

  15. I just ditched my diet (weight watchers) about 2 months ago....not sure why, I have just lost the motivation. It worked really well for me in the past, but this time, no motivation on my part. I am trying to eat healthy, more veggies, etc. so I haven't gained any weight, but also haven't lost any....hmmmm Maybe after the election...or Christmas, or in the spring.

  16. I wholeheartedly agree with Javachick. I think most Americans have no clue as to what a serving size truly is. I get overwhelmed each time I go back to the states, because a small drink size in the states is the equivalent of a large in Europe. Not to mention just general restaurant portion sizes which are freaking astronomical in most restaurants in the states.

    The thing I love about the bloggers you singled out as great examples to follow (because they are!) is that they didn't approach it as a diet, but as a new and better way of living. People need to have that mentality when wanting to get healthier and fitter, because if you only focus on the negative (i.e. what you are cutting out) you are doomed to failure before you've even begun.

  17. I feeling ya! Just posted about a similar topic!

  18. hmmm. seems like the study wasnt thorough enough. they arent on a diet, so what are they doing?

    assuming they arent stuffing their faces, i think its a good thing. but if they are than obviously not.

    wow, that entire comment did nothing to further this conversation. my appologies.

    Kelly Turner

  19. I think that there's a fine semantic difference between being "on a diet" and "having a healthy diet." Me, I'm the latter. I eat healthy, in moderation, and I'm not averse to having a cupcake now and then (or now now now). Diet to me says something temporary, a fad, and it isn't going to last very long. Whereas people who "change their diet", rather than "going on a diet," tend to have more success.

  20. Personally, I'm on a lifestyle.

    I can eat as many fruits, vegetables, and sources of lean protein as I want, and up to 2 servings of chocolate/junk food a day. And I work out for an hour and a half, and do yoga 3 times a week.

    Excessive? Maybe. But it works for me.

  21. I am constantly watching what I eat and trying to be selective. I have dieted on and off for years. I think I enjoy the drama of restricting myself or having some sort of rules around food...something to keep in the back (or forefront) of my mind.

    On the other hand, my sister who has dieted for years right along with me is scheduled for weight loss surgery in Nov. She believes that dieting is what has brought her to this point. Whereas I believe that it's me that has brought me to where I am.
    I am determined to come to peace with the food drama thing before I croak.

  22. "Are People Really Just Saying Screw It, I Give Up?"
    I think so...but if it is a move towards positive attitudes to food and eating well, not less, I approve. When I did that, together with exercise, was when I actually got healthy and lost the weight I needed to. And cooking from scratch? It's getting to be a lost art - we need to feed ouselves well. There are too many people my age (mid 30s) that I know that don't know how to cook from scratch...that scares me a bit.

  23. Although it happened slowly, once I got the lifestyle thing down, I never thought about being on a diet again. I really like being healthy and fit, and it motivates me to keep with it.

  24. I don't think its neccessary to diet or give up on dieting either. Being aware of what passes our lips is probably the greatest way to determine where we can make positive lifestyle choices.

  25. Dieting has never worked for me. I've said it before, but it's a four-letter word in my book. Eat healthy and workout consistently and never deprive yourself too much.

    I'm glad people are dieting less, but I hope it's because people are eating more intuitively...not eating that burger regularly, like you pointed out...

  26. I think it's verbiage, too. It's all about our perspective on what we're doing. What is a diet, anyway?

    I guess I could say I'm on a diet. I don't eat processed foods (or at least, I try very hard to avoid them). So because I'm restricting certain foods from my diet (ie. cheeseburgers and salt-filled packages of soups and trans-fatty cookies), does that mean that I am in fact "dieting"? If anyone asked me, I would not say that I am "on a diet".

    It IS good that there's starting to be a bit of a movement toward slow food and all that... there's more awareness these days! Not sure if that's really stopping people from eating a load of crap, though:)

  27. Javachick, EXACTLY! I am always shocked to discover how little the average person really knows about basic nutrition and what they think is "healthy". Why do you think 100-calorie packs are so popular? People view them as healthy food.

    As far as dieting goes, I've given it up. I lost 40 pounds with WW and began to freak when I gained a little bit of it back. Then I decided, "so what" - I will eat healthy and exercise regularly and everything will be fine. No more "dieting" for me.

  28. I've just started reading "Intuitive Eating" and am loving that. I haven't 'dieted' for a while - although I would definitely consider my time on WW dieting - regardless of what they'd prefer I call it (anything that involved obsessive counting is a diet - not a lifestyle change).

    I am trying to lose 15-20 pounds, but I wouldn't say I was on a diet.

  29. "Dieting" is bad all around (gaining back all fat when you lost both fat and muscle, etc.), but I think it reflects more people not trying then eating better and not calling it a diet.

    I do think we need to shift to just better eating - either through the intuitive diet stuff or through other eduction books/programs like Dr. Oz(love him)and Dr. Roizen's book. Denying yourself is bad, but never trying to be healthier isn't good either.

  30. I personally said, "Screw it, I give up." I'm concentrating on living well instead.

    But hey, it's a moot point, because in the near future we will all be out of a job and starving and getting all our exercise standing in bread lines (woe to the carb counters). So no worries!!! HAHAHAHAHA. The end.

  31. Everyone looks at the word differently.

    Any dictionary will give you a few definitions before telling you diet means "eating sparingly," which puts it in a negative light.

    I see diet as just habitual nourishment, nothing more. Whether it be chock full of fatty goodness, following Canada's Food Guide or reducing calories\fat\etc., it's still the the norms of what I eat.

    Personally, I think "eating healthy" has become the new replacement for diet so that people don't take any crap for watching what they eat...but that's just my opinion.

  32. Well, I am not dieting, I am trying to change bad habits and replace them with good habits. If that results in weight loss, great, if not, well, I will still be eating healthier.

  33. I'd say I'm on a diet as I have ten pounds I'm trying to shed. But it isn't a diet in a book or a program, it's my own personal watch-how-many-desserts-you're-eating and re-evaluate portion size diet. The word diet doesn't bother me.

    As for less people on a diet? I'd like to see that poll re-taken at New Year's. It seems everyone I know joins some game called the Biggest Loser where they binge and then purge for money. And when the game is over, they gain all the weight back and then do it again next year.

  34. If people are ditching their diets for unhealthy food? Not good. Positive, (mostly) healthy eating? A very good thing. I like to think I stick with the positive, healthy eating most of the time, but I could definitely do with more fresh fruits/veggies (not to mention more variety in general -- I eat a lot of the same stuff on a regular basis).

  35. I am always on a diet. It just depends on whether it s a weight loss effort or a "see food" moment! Everyone else is lying, they are all on diets as well!!!

  36. I can't say I'm on a diet because then I get all weird about it. And because of my history, I don't do well with restriction. So I focus on adding good stuff and lots of exercise, which lowers the stress eating and kinda just crowds out the bad stuff. Almost 20 pounds down so far! The behaviors are what matter for me -- not the specific magic foods or the miracle plan. I yo-yo dieted my way WAY up there. Never again.

    I also think this is what works for me. We all need to find what works for us. Others who aren't neurotic about diets might be able to follow them just fine!

  37. As much as I'd like to believe this heralds a shift in our cultures obsession with thin=good, better, best .... I think it's much more likely there's just not a big "MIRACLE DIET" buzz right now. It's also probably a question of semantics as others have said--"diet" is such a highly-charged word that everyone has a different definition.

    Basically, I think there are just as many people out there punishing themselves for being "fat", just as many people out there damaging their metabolisms, and just as many people with no idea what is and isn't truly healthy. Beyond "thin", of course.

  38. I think the crap economy is going to be good for the fast food places and bad for the diets.

  39. I love thinking about how small changes in wording can create big changes in our psyches, so I love these articles and links! I think I'll start telling myself I'm not "on a diet" but instead trying to embrace "positive eating" and see if that makes me feel a bit more content with myself

  40. I think everybody who needs to be dieting has a good excuse as to why they aren't. When I was overweight, I was very unhappy with my size but I kept saying "tomorrow I'll start my diet". I always had a reason or excuse. But I broke that habit and lost 70 lbs. I won't ever get into that rut that I have to drag myself out of.

  41. I think a lot of people are still on diets. The popularity of weight loss books and Magazines can testify to that.

    People might say they are not on a diet out of embarrassment or just call it "watching what I eat"

    Instead of being on a diet I prefer to think of it as being on top of my diet :)

  42. "Diet" is a dirty word these days.

    Over the past year I've gained an enormous amount of knowledge about nutrition and fitness and I am healthier than I've been in my entire life due to the changes I've implemented. I am proud of this and I will chit chat with people about my running and newfound love of vegetables and things like that. But if they start to ask *specific* questions, I start to feel uncomfortable.

    I've lost 100 pounds. I've been counting calories. There, I've said it. It's embarrassing! It's the most uncool thing there is. People think you're anorexic, obsessive, or just plain crazy.

    You know what? It worked for me and I feel relatively sane (at least as sane as I was before all this). I look at the counting I'm doing now as Training Wheels. I will take them off and learn Intuitive Eating. I am all about Positive Eating and eating for pleasure.

    But if someone asked me if I was on a diet, I'd probably say no. I don't want to be judged.

  43. I'd probably say I'm not on a diet because I think of diets as short term rather than a permanent healthy pattern of eating.

  44. I think there is a fair element of semantics in this, but then again I've noticed a change in the dietetic profession over the last couple of years. Weight loss advice has become all about helping people to take up healthy eating habits, and not a "diet" as such. But to be honest the dietary changes we suggest aren't that different to those you'd expect for a normal 'eat less calories, lose weight' kinda diet. I guess the big change is in the more relaxed approach; as lots of the people who have commented before me have said, it's when people stop being on a "diet" and cut themselves a bit of slack that they find a way of eating that they can stick to (and finally reach a healthy weight, yay!). But this is really what dietitians/nutritionists have been saying for ages - there's no point commiting yourself to something so strict and scary that there's no way you can actually stick to it

  45. There is a dangerous assumption that you are either "on a diet" ie eating zero net carbs or nothing but brown rice or doing the cabbage soup diet (to use only some that friends of mine have adopted) or "off the diet" and inhaling everything in sight. Whereas you in fact always have a "diet". The question is, is it unhealthy or healthy, balanced or unbalanced?
    In a similar vein I hate the modern use of "detox" which I seem to recall used to imply temporarily giving up the more "toxic" elements of the diet like alcohol, red meat and sugar in favour of more water and fruit and vegetables, and now seems to require some form of special tea, seaweed, juice or other supplements. The new version is more complicated and much more expensive!

  46. Great Information! I think that a lot of people do give up on diets because they hear about all of these weight loss miracles that are unrealistic. People go on a diet then they hear an add that so and so lost 5 ponds in 3 days with a different diet and all of a sudden they feel discouraged and they stop what they are doing. People need to realize that weight loss takes time, and although there may be supplemets out there that really do help with shedding some pounds, they will not completely replace a healthy diet and regular excercise.

  47. Of course…. I too want to get rid of extra weight. But it will be a healthy weight loss on the advice of expert.


Thanks for commenting, Cranky Fitness readers are the BEST!

Subscribe to comments via RSS

(Note: Older Comment Threads Are Moderated)