Singer Jessica Simpson reportedly followed the 5 Factor Diet to get her million-dollar body. Rock star Courtney Love insists she reclaimed her rock-hard frame through a combination of diet shakes, fish, steamed vegetables and exercise. No matter who you are—a celebrity or a face in the crowd—a good number of us want to lose extra baggage.
According to The Food Marketing Institute's U.S. Grocery Shopper Trends 2007 report, one-fifth of shoppers say they or someone in their household is on a weight-loss diet. If this statistic brings up bad memories of cabbage soup or missed meals, think again. Instead, today's dieters plan to adopt sensible and sustainable approaches to weight loss. "Consumers are turning away from fad diets," says Robin Steagall, R.D., manager of nutrition communications for the Calorie Control Council. "They are embracing a long-term commitment to weight loss."
How, specifically, does this shift translate into what people put into their mouths and what they do with their bodies? And how can grocery retailers help customers achieve their goals in a healthy way? To find out, we asked nutrition experts and food marketers to weigh in on the top weight-loss trends for 2008.
TREND #1: Do-it-myself diet of watching calories
According to the FMI survey of 2,307 U.S. shoppers, 61 percent of those on a weight-loss diet do not adhere to any kind of formalized diet, but are focusing on counting calories.
What works: "Many people have a problem with mindless eating," says Leslie Bonci, R.D., director of sports medicine nutrition at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. "By virtue of the fact that you're paying attention, you'll have some success."
What's missing: "If this worked well, I suspect there would not be a multi-billion-dollar weight-loss industry," says Dr. David Katz, associate professor, adjunct, of public health in the Yale School of Medicine and director of the Yale Prevention Research Center. "People don't have the skills and knowledge needed to make this work." According to Bonci, you can get by on this diet without eating even one healthy morsel. For example, you could conceivably fulfill your calorie quota with chocolate cake. "You've met your goals," Bonci says, "but it's not the best nutritional makeup."
Retailer tip: For help encouraging sound nutrition as part of a successful weight-loss strategy, retailers can join FMI's Take a Peak program (www.tapintomypyramid.com), which helps stores develop comprehensive and customized marketing plans to promote the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Dietary Guidelines for Americans through in-store signage, informational kiosks, store tours, community outreach and more.
TREND #2: I still believe in low carb
It may not be the go-to diet for the general population anymore, but counting carbs still appeals to 33 percent of dieters, according to the FMI report.
What works: "These diets are usually pretty darn successful," says Bonci. Why? The theory is that carbohydrates raise blood sugar, which then produces insulin. Insulin drives that blood sugar into the cells and prevents the breakdown of fat. Steer clear of carbs, and you not only lose weight, but you're satiated because you're eating more protein and fat than allowed on other types of diets.
What's missing: You can create nutritional imbalances and increase your risk for certain diseases when you cut out carb-rich fruits and vegetables.
Retailer tip: Make it easy for shoppers to grab good, nutritious carbs, such as fruits and vegetables, rather than bad, pound-producing carbs, such as cakes and cookies. For example, Steagall sees more produce aisles stocked with packaged apple slices and broccoli, which makes it convenient for people to get their nine servings of fruits and vegetables a day.
TREND #3: Nix the sugar fi
According to the Calorie Control Council's 2007 survey of 1,200 Americans 18 or older, 87 percent of people name cutting down on high-sugar foods as their top weight-control strategy. What works: The value of this approach depends on how much sugar you eat in the first place. For example, if you typically drink a lot of soda, you'll probably lose weight when you stop, Bonci says. However, if you eat something else in place of soda, you won't have as much success. What's missing: Katz says only very savvy people will achieve weight loss with this approach. "They won't realize they still get loads of sugar in foods they don't think of as sweet: crackers, pasta sauces, salad dressings and more."
Retailer tip: To help consumers get a big-picture view of nutrition and to red flag products containing added sugar, consider instituting a program like the Hannaford Bros.' Guiding Stars. The Maine-based grocery chain ranks the nutritional value of foods on a scale of zero to three stars to help steer customer purchases toward healthier foods. A food gets credit for the presence of vitamins, minerals, fiber or whole grains and debits for trans or saturated fats, cholesterol and added sodium or sugar.
TREND #4: Get moving
According to the Calorie Control Council's survey, working out is the second-most popular weight-loss strategy.
What works: Exercise is of irrefutable value to both health and weight control, Katz says. For proof, Bonci points to a study from researchers at the University of Missouri-Columbia who found that when people walked a dog 20 minutes per day, five times a week, they lost, on average, 14 pounds in a year.
What's missing: "Most people overestimate their exercise and underestimate their calorie intake," says Katz. Consider this: A marathon burns a whopping 2,700 calories, but you need to give up 3,500 calories to lose a pound of fat. "So as a stand-alone, this won't work for weight loss," says Katz. "But it's good for people anyway, so I'm a proponent."
Retailer tip: Because exercise isn't a product sold at the store, it may seem like an unnatural fit. But physical activity is an essential component of FMI's Take a Peak program. "It has to be a total message," says Farr. Through Take a Peak, retailers develop fitness-promoting brochures available at the store or on the Web site. Another idea: Organize a bike ride or power walk that leaves from the store.
TREND #5: Eat fewer favorites
Eighty-two percent of those surveyed by the Calorie Control Council eat smaller portions of their most-loved unhealthy foods to control weight.
What works: The benefit, according to Bonci, is that people can feel as if they don't have to give up something. "A big problem for people trying to lose weight is that they can't eat foods they like," she says.
What's missing: "People are inclined to eat until they're satisfied," says Katz. "If smaller portions were satisfying, people wouldn't eat as much as they do." Bonci agrees: If you put less mashed potatoes on your plate, you end up with a big gap that you may fill in with other foods, defeating your calorie-control efforts.
Retailer tip: Stock more packaged, one-serving snacks and meals. Since childhood obesity is also a growing concern, retailers and food manufacturers can offer tasty, lower-calorie munchies that kids can grab and toss in their lunchboxes each morning.
Pamela Emanoil Bond is a freelance writer in Eldorado Springs, Colo.
Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXVIII/number 11/p. 26,28