The weight loss market is moving strongly away from a focus on dieting towards a focus on health and wellness instead. This is because dieting is now seen as "tacky" and "arcane", even "anti-feminist". People instead want to be "healthy" and "strong" rather than just thin. The main causes of this movement seem to be increasing awareness of the downsides and limited usefulness of dieting, body positivism and feminism, and social media. In this brief, I'll look first at the trend itself and the effect it's having, then at its causes, and finally at the history and roots of this trend.
While dieting has long been a popular means of losing weight, lately there has been an increasing trend away from focusing on dieting and towards focusing on living a healthy lifestyle more generally. In order to understand the trend against dieting, we first need to understand what we mean when we talk about dieting. Often, the word can be used to simply mean what someone eats, and focus on that has gone up tremendously. In fact, when asked whether people are focusing more on eating healthy foods compared with twenty years ago, 54% of Americans report that they are, with just 26% saying people pay less attention, and just 19% saying people pay about the same attention.
Clearly then, there isn't much of a trend against focusing on what we eat. Rather, there is a movement away from dieting in terms of restricting the amount one eats in order to lose weight. The New York Times interviewed senior management at Weight Watchers, a prominent dieting company, and found that the company was facing serious declines in its membership. Research done by the company found that the key reasons for this are that people, "no longer wanted to talk about "dieting" and "weight loss". They wanted to become "healthy" so they could be "fit". They wanted to "eat clean" so they could be "strong"." This is backed up by figures. Research from the University of Georgia found that from 1988-1994, 56% of adults considered to be overweight reported that they tried to lose weight. However, in the most recent period for which data is available, 2009-2014, just 49% said the same. This is also matched by social media data - most notably on Pinterest, where posts related to "anti-diet" jumped 42% in 2016.
This trend has also been picked up the media and corporations - Varsity asks, "Is 2018 the year of the Anti-Diet Revolution?", while the New York Times describes it as the, "Anti-Diet Age". Women's Health has decided to drop phrases like, "drop two sizes" and "bikini body" from its cover, following a trend among many women's magazines for which such phrases were once a staple. Similarly, the popular food brand LeanCuisine stopped calling itself a diet company, instead preferring to be called a "modern eating" company, and even going so far as to introduce an extension on Google Chrome which would filter mentions of the words "diet" and "dieting", just to show users how anti-diet it really was. Similarly Kellog's cereal brand Special K is moving away from weight loss related marketing to focus instead on "nutritional value".
causes and accelerators
One of the main causes of this trend seems to be the fact that while diets have long been popular, they haven't been very effective. A notable 45 million Americans do go on a diet every year (proving that the anti-dieting trend is hardly universal) however, 80% of people who do manage to lose weight by dieting eventually regain it. Moreover, WeightWatchers notes that for their users, even the initial weight lost is not as much as one might expect - on average just 5% of body weight after six months of dieting.
Increasing awareness of this fact has prompted increased opposition to dieting on the grounds that it simply isn't effective. However, there are other causes as well. Increasing support for body positivism, partially influenced by feminism, has been a major driver as well. Bethany Doerfler, a clinical dietitian at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, says that, "We can characterize the anti-diet movement as a combination of women's rights and feminism sort of coalescing with women really pushing back on trendy diets and some of the things that seem really restrictive." Similarly the New York Times notes that dieiting is now often seen as "anti-feminist" because "all bodies should be accepted".
Social Media has proved to be a crucial accelerator for this trend. As noted already, Pinterest has become a popular forum to promote anti-dieting, with references to that phenomenon increasing 42% in 2016, which was enough for Pinterest to name it one of the top emerging wellness trends for 2017. Varsity also notes that, "Prominent social media influencers, bloggers and instagrammers, such as @rhitrition and @goodnessguru, have actively fought back against [dieting] and sought to encourage individuals to seek a more positive relationship with food and their bodies." Indeed, this trend of seeking a positive relationship with food and eating well rather than just eating less, is reflected in many other accounts of the trend away from dieting as well.
Though it may seem trendy, the roots of the modern anti-dieting movement are actually quite deep. The New York Times identifies them with a man called Lew Louderbeck, who in 1967 published an essay in the Saturday Evening Post arguing that, "fat people suffered physically and psychologically when trying to maintain thin-person weights". He eventually wrote a book on this same theme, called "Fat Power" which precipitated the rise of the "fat acceptance movement", which argued that in fact it wasn't healthy for overweight people to focus primarily on becoming thin. Hence, many elements of the modern trend have actually been around for quite a while. A key catalyst of the current trend may have been Linda Bacon's 2008 book, "Health at Every Size", which emphasizes the notion of trying to be healthy rather than just trying to be thin, and generally eating better rather than eating less, two of the key components of the modern trend.
The current trend in the US away from focusing on diet emphasizes the notion that health is not most closely correlated with weight, and therefore people should focus on being healthy rather than simply on losing weight. It has been driven by increasing awareness that dieting is actually not effective for many people, feminism and body positivism, and social media activism.