In January, the month of New Year's resolutions galore, it might seem like everyone is on a diet... but in general, dieting may not be as prevalent in the U.S. as it was in the past.
New data from market research company the NPD Group suggests that fewer American women are on diets than ever before. 23 percent of women reported being on a diet at some point in 2012, compared to the 35 percent dieting in 1992, according to a press release.
Harry Balzer, vice president of the NPD Group and national eating trends expert, also indicated in the press release that Americans on diets are sticking with them for a shorter amount of time: “Our data suggests that dieters are giving up on diets more quickly than in the past. In 2004, 66 percent of all dieters said they were on a diet for at least 6 months. In 2012, that number dropped to 62 percent. Perhaps people are not seeing results quickly enough." NPD collected the data through its National Eating Trends® (NET®) telephone surveys of approximately 5,000 Americans in 2,000 households.
Additionally, the data showed that Americans' ideas about what constitutes an attractive weight have shifted. The surveys asked participants: "Do you agree or disagree with this statement: People who are not overweight look a lot more attractive?" Only 23 percent of respondents in 2012 agreed with the statement, compared to 55 percent of respondents in 1985. “This is one of the biggest changes in our attitudes about health over the last 30 years,” said Balzer in the press release.
So, why the change in dieting practices and attitudes about body weight? Balzer observed that the two are linked.
"There are three ways you can take care of your weight," Balzer told the Huffington Post in a phone interview. "You can exercise more, increase your energy expenditure. You can reduce your energy input -- eat less. Or you can change your attitude. What’s the easiest way? That’s who we are as humans... we always seek out the easiest way." In other words, human beings would rather change their belief system than go through the difficult process of changing their behavior. According to Balzer, coming to accept and appreciate larger bodies will lead to higher body satisfaction, and in turn, less dieting.
NPR's The Salt offered an alternative explanation for the decreased numbers of people dieting: "It's entirely possible that many of us are watching what we eat and consciously limiting calories, but we're just not calling it a 'diet.' So maybe the term 'diet' is becoming passé."
Dietician and Shape blogger Elizabeth M. Ward, who describes "diet" as "a four-letter word," wrote that she felt optimistic about the NPD Group's recent research. Ward blogged: "I hope [the data] is a sign that people have finally embraced the message to adopt reasonable lifestyle changes instead of trying to stick to low-calorie plans."
What could such attitudinal changes mean for the $40 million a year diet industry?
"I don't think the diet industry has anything to worry about," Balzer told HuffPost. "The number of dieters is bigger than the diet industry. There’s plenty of room. I think we’re going to get what we always get, which is 'What’s the new diet? And is this one easier?'”
Each person has unique nutritional requirements, so when experts say "eat whole wheat" or "dairy is good for you," it's a generalization - one person's food may be another's poison. It takes great personal attention to determine what type of lifestyle changes and diet regimen is best for you, and it'll be based on your age, activity level, genetic heritage, and personal preferences. So instead of trying to fit into a cookie-cutter eating plan, remember to be true to yourself. Learn how to eat a well-balanced diet-and one that's based on your specific needs.
Think about it - you'll never come across an overweight deer or a bird that's had too many seeds. Animals in the wild know when, what, and how much to eat - and it's not because they read the latest diet books, it's because they trust their inner needs. If you depend on external sources to tell you what to eat, it becomes impossible to trust your body. Try replacing advice and opinions from others on what feels right to you. Tune in closely to your body before, during, and after every meal, snack, or beverage. You'll begin to recognize how certain foods change the way you feel, and you'll learn that your body already knows exactly what it needs to thrive.
Many diet plans significantly reduce - or even eliminate - foods high in nutritional value. Whether it's low-carb, low-fat, or low-calorie, a diet lacking essential nutrients can cause your body to crave non-nutritional forms of energy. Plus, your body's ideal state is balance, so eating too much or not enough of a food will cause you to crave its opposite. For example, eating too much meat can cause cravings for sugar or alcohol. In order to form healthy, life-long eating habits without the cravings produced by diets, it's important to couple listening to what's right for your body with a well-balanced diet of whole foods.
Diet plans sound promising at first: Eat this, not that, and you'll lose weight and feel great. Problem is, no one likes to be told what to do - and that includes your body. You'll always want more of whatever it is you "can't" have. That's why it's critical to learn practical tools for making healthy food choices without the strict guidelines of a diet. You'll avoid the feelings of deprivation and submission, plus you'll prepare yourself for a lifetime of nutritious eating.
Worrying about what you can and can't eat puts your body in a constant state of stress. And, since your body can't distinguish real danger (an attacker) from that which you've created ("I shouldn't have eaten that!"), your brain produces the same "flight or flight" survival response. This causes the brain to trigger the stress hormone cortisol, which boosts insulin, a hormone that signals the body to stop building muscle and store more fat. So even if you follow a diet perfectly, stressing about food can create a metabolic environment within your body that actually prohibits you from losing weight. On the other hand, by learning how to be mindful of and happy with the food you consume, you're creating a more relaxed body, one that's conducive to maintaining a healthy weight.
Diets promise to help you lose weight, be healthy, and find happiness. However, eating isn't always just about food - it's often used as a substitute for entertainment or to fill a void we feel in other areas of life. Dissatisfaction with a relationship or job, a poor exercise regimen (too much, too little, or the wrong type), boredom, or stress may all cause you to make poor nutritional choices. So, take a step back and think about whether there are other aspects of your life worth paying attention to. You might find that there are ways to nourish your body, mind, and soul that will help you live a healthier life much more quickly than dieting.