Nutrition vs. Weight Loss: Consumers Shifting Away from Diet Culture

Lena Weib

U.S. consumer attitudes about health and wellness are shifting.

People have stopped focusing on diets and “can’t haves” and are instead paying attention to whole-body health and lifestyle changes they feel will be long-lasting, according to findings from the The NPD Group.

“Food and eating trends can be cyclical in nature, as seen with reiterations of low-carb trends from years past,” Cara Harbstreet, MS RD LD of Street Smart Nutrition, told The Food Institute. “But this shift is different in several notable ways, primarily in that many chronic dieters are starting to opt out of dieting altogether.”

So, what’s causing this shift?

NUTRITION VS. WEIGHT LOSS

“Consumers’ definition of ‘healthy’ is almost constantly changing,” Marie Molde, a registered dietician at Datassential, told The Food Institute. Today, eating healthy is about more than just weight loss.

“I think consumers are shifting from diets because they’ve learned that quick-fix approaches to health and wellness rarely or never work, and health and wellness is impacted by more than just what we eat,” said Molde.

Molde added that health should be addressed in a holistic way, “not just what we eat today but what we eat over several days, months and years matters, and even if we’re eating perfectly, if we’re not sleeping or managing stress, there will still be a missing link.”

As a dietitian practicing with a weight-inclusive lens, Harbstreet has also noticed this shift.

“I’ve seen a significant increase in the number of clients who seek support in healing their relationship with food after previously trying every diet under the sun,” she said.

She added that, as people realize their repeated attempts at weight loss haven’t yielded better health, they naturally start to look for alternatives.

“Dieting for the goal of health has become synonymous with dieting for weight loss, and our culture at large has conflated [weight and health] for many years,” Harbstreet continued. “However, we know there are numerous evidence-based practices and behavior change frameworks that can support better health without a disproportionate focus on the scale.”

WW DOWNGRADE

Of note, KeyBanc Capital Markets recently downgraded WW (formerly Weight Watchers), noting that the company has been faced with this shifting perception of dieting and body image among younger consumers in particular, reported MarketWatch (Jan. 20).

“The anti-diet movement is gaining steam and there has been a shift in diet culture among Gen Z and millennials, with a greater focus on body inclusivity,” KeyBanc analysts wrote in a report looking ahead to internet retail in 2022.

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