Just as archaeologists trace the history of a civilization by excavating layer after layer of earth, you can also track the history of my diet and exercise programs by digging down through the layers in my closet. Or at least you could until I moved and was forced into a yard sale. Sorting through the old books, videotapes, and equipment was like jumping into a fitness trend time machine.
There was the Scarsdale Diet, the grapefruit diet, the Zone diet. Abs of Steel, Buns of Steel, Achilles Tendons of Steel (not really), Jazzercise, and Tae Bo were in the mix. And let's not forget the Ab Roller, the Thighmaster, or the Buttmaster. OK, I confess, I didn't really buy into every one of these diet and exercise crazes, but like many people seeking a better body, more than a few captured at least some of my time and attention.
With the high-calorie holiday season here, it's not too soon to start thinking about the diet and exercise trends for 2005, the ones that we'll soon be vowing to follow after gorging on turducken and pumpkin pie. What's on the horizon -- and will these new trends sizzle, then fizzle, or stand the test of time?
Low Carb on Its Way Out
The big diet headline of 2005 may be the beginning of the end of a trend. If 2004 was the Year of the Carb Busters -- with businesses from Lean Cuisine to McDonald's to beer distributors trying to cash in on the high-protein, low-carbohydrate craze -- many diet experts predict that 2005 will be the Year of the Crash for low-carb mania.
Just as the low-fat frenzy peaked in the early 1990s, then disappeared almost as fast as it came, carb-phobia seems to be on its way out. Harry Balzer, who tracks America's eating habits for the NPD Group, a leading national market research firm, predicts that low-carb dieting will start to decline after reaching its peak in 2004 (none too soon for companies such as Krispy Kreme, which has blamed declining sales on the carb police).
NPD's research shows that the number of people in the U.S. who say they follow carb-slashing diets like Atkins and South Beach hit a high-water mark in January at 9%. The number has since dropped to around 7%. That's not to say that you won't still be seeing low-carb products on supermarket shelves for years to come. After all, Snackwell's low-fat cookies are still around despite years of declining sales.
"But you can't fight statistics," says Bonnie Taub-Dix, RD, a dietitian in New York, and a spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association (ADA). "Just as with the low-fat craze, the low-carb movement hasn't really changed our rate of obesity. All the low-carb aisles in supermarkets aren't making Americans smaller. All they're doing is making [food] producers' wallets bigger."
ADA spokeswoman Cynthia Sass, RD, says that consumers have finally become clued in to the underlying flaws in the "good food, bad food" approach to eating. "When you single out one nutrient and try to make healthy eating all about that, it doesn't work," she says. "When we were fat-phobic, taking fat out meant putting sugar in. Now, taking carbs out means putting fat in. There are low-carb foods on the market that have more total net calories than their original versions because the manufacturer has replaced those carbs with fat."
The plus side of the low-fat to low-carb pendulum, predicts Sass, is that consumers may have learned a little more about the idea of balance in food choices from these wild back-and-forth swings. "It doesn't have to be all or nothing, it's really about how much you're taking in of any nutrient compared to what your body needs," she says.
So what might replace carb counting in the hearts, minds, and waistlines of weight-conscious Americans?
The New Satiety Diet
The satiety diet involves eating more of the kinds of foods that make you feel full but don't make you fat. Penn State nutrition expert Barbara Rolls, PhD, calls it "volumetrics," and will release a companion book to her 2003 release, The Volumetrics Weight Control Plan: Feel Full on Fewer Calories, in the spring. Diet experts think it's an idea whose time has finally come.
"People have often associated volume with calories, but that's not true," says Sass of the ADA. "Now they're starting to get the message that two foods can have the exact same nutritional value and calorie count, but one may have a much greater volume -- which means it makes you feel full faster. People like this, because it's satisfying, takes longer to eat, and makes you feel like you've had more food."
Consider, for example, grapes versus raisins. They're more or less the same thing: a raisin is a dried grape. But 100 calories of raisins fill only a quarter of a cup, while 100 calories of fresh, whole grapes fill nearly 2 cups. The difference, of course, is water content. "When a lot of the content of the food is water, that portion of the food basically doesn't count toward your calorie intake," says Sass. "You'll feel satisfied after eating 2 cups of grapes, but if you're eating raisins, you're more likely to keep tossing them in your mouth."
The point, she says, isn't to stop eating raisins (or chocolate, cheese, and other high-calorie, low-volume foods). Remember, we're not about eliminating entire categories of food from our diets anymore. Instead, fill up first on foods that are high in volume but low in calories, so you don't gorge on the low-volume treats.
Foods that are high on the satiety scale include those that are naturally rich in water: fruits, vegetables, beans, fish, and poultry. Anything that contains fiber, such as high-fiber cereals, will also last longer in your system, says dietitian Taub-Dix. "High-fiber foods create bulk, especially when they're combined with liquids like water or milk."
Nutrition expert Rolls also recommends "water-rich dishes" as part of the satiety plan -- foods such as soups, stews, and casseroles (they're back!). Even calorie-dense foods like pasta can be OK, if you go light on the noodles and heavy on accompanying vegetables.
Fit to the Core
The fitness buzzword for 2005? Core conditioning. This trend -- all about strengthening and stabilizing the muscles of your midsection -- began bubbling up a few years ago, introduced to the fitness world by physical therapists, but it took fun equipment and classes to make it the hottest thing in the health club.
"Ten years ago, I don't think we had the toys that we have now that make it more enjoyable to work on the core," says Kathie Davis, executive director of IDEA Health and Fitness Association, which represents some 19,000 exercise professionals in 80 countries. She's talking not only about the big, bright stability balls but about BOSU balls, wobble boards, and foam rollers -- all of which are becoming must-haves at many fitness centers.
In IDEA's latest survey, 60% of its member centers offer balance equipment like BOSU balls and wobble boards (up 67% from last year), 64% offer core conditioning classes (up 59%), and 87% have stability balls (up 56%).
"People have begun to realize that strengthening the core is the most important thing to enable them to do all the activities they want to do," says Davis. "If I want to ski next season, it's imperative that I strengthen my core. I love to play tennis, and I know that it's going to improve my serve and I'll be quicker on the court." And core conditioning isn't just about sports: A stronger midsection helps with more everyday tasks, such as carrying the groceries or toting a recalcitrant 2-year-old.
Expect to see more creative ways to build your balance and strengthen your core in the coming year, says Debi Pillarella, the American Council on Exercise's Fitness Director of the Year for 2004. Foam rollers, one fairly new toy that's already on the way up in the IDEA survey, takes the BOSU ball one step further. "The BOSU ball is one device that you stand on, while with the foam rollers, you put one under each foot," says Pillarella. "It's like trying to balance on logs, and it takes the challenge up a notch." Beginners can start with foam rollers (which look a lot like pool noodles) sliced in half, to give them a flatter base to balance on at first.
And guess what's back? The hula hoop! And it's not just for kids anymore. This time it's weighted to add challenge, says Pillarella. "It adds an element of play and fun to core stability work," she says, predicting that it will be a hit during the holiday season.
Exercise for the Mind and Body
With apparently no end in sight to the popularity of Pilates, savvy health clubs have combined the popular body conditioning program with other hot mind-body exercises, such as yoga and tai chi, to create hybrids like Yogilates. They're also pairing up strength training with Pilates or yoga. According to a survey by the IDEA Health and Fitness Association, more than a third of health clubs offered Pilates-yoga fusion classes last year, and more than two-thirds predict that the trend will become more widespread this year.
"For those of us who are baby boomers, and were doing high-impact aerobics in our 20s, now we're in our late 40s and are looking for gentler activities that still challenge us," says Davis. "Yoga and Pilates work similar muscles and both have a quieter, low-impact approach, so they work very well together."
The aching joints of aging baby boomers may also account for the growing popularity and increasing variety of water exercise classes. Some 35% of clubs in IDEA's survey offer water exercise programs, which now include everything from deep-water running to ai chi (water tai chi) and Aquando™ (yep, martial arts in the water). "It adds resistance and gives you a fantastic workout, while reducing the risk of injury at the joint level," says fitness director Pillarella.