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Dieting Is Out; Healthy Eating Is In

How giving up diets could help you succeed in weight loss.
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

After years of obsessing about weight loss, first shunning high-fat foods and then high-carb ones, it seems Americans are giving up formal diets in favor of healthy eating and wholesome foods.

A recent report by the market research firm NPD, based on a survey of 5,000 people, found that the number of Americans on weight loss diets was at its lowest rate in decades. As of February 2008, 26% of women and 16% of men surveyed said they were following a weight-loss diet, down from 39% of women and 29% of men in 1990.

At the same time, a 2008 American Dietetic Association survey of nearly 800 adults found that 79% said they aren’t doing more to improve their diets because they're already satisfied with the way they eat; 73% said it's because they don't want to give up their favorite foods.

The good news? They don't have to, say the experts.

"All foods can fit into a healthy diet, as long as you exercise and practice moderation," says Jeannie Gazzaniga Moloo, PhD, RD,a spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association.

Healthy Eating vs. Dieting

So why are fewer people going on weight loss diets? One reason, some experts say, may be that they have learned from past mistakes.

Diet books, low-calorie, fat-free, and sugar-free foods abound, but don’t appear to be making a dent in obesity statistics. Many dieters have been lured over and over again by promises of fast weight loss from the latest diet schemes, only to regain the lost weight -- and then some -- as soon as they go off the diet.

The truth is that if your weight loss plan is not sustainable for the long term, it's not worth following, says Michael Dansinger, MD, physician for the NBC reality show The  Biggest Loser.

Another reason, say other experts, may simply be that dieters are waiting for the next diet craze – the Atkins Diet or South Beach Diet of the moment.

There's no single, super-popular diet right now, says Cindy Moore, MS, RD, nutrition director for the Cleveland Clinic. "Even when the hot diet bursts onto the scene, just reading it is no guarantee you will lose weight," she adds.

Still another reason, some say, is that, with two out of three Americans overweight, overweight is fast becoming the new "normal." When your friends and family are overweight, your own extra pounds can seem less important.

Indeed, a 2007 study in The New England Journal of Medicine found that people tend to follow suit when their friends and family members become overweight, and likewise when they lose weight.

Better Food, Not More

Trends like the "slow food" movement, an interest in organic foods and in eating foods grown closer to home (being a "locavore") are further shifting the momentum away from foods to avoid to foods to enjoy.

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