Waist trimming trends

by Eric Schroeder
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Although January and its accompanying "New Year’s Resolution" period is typically the time of year when dieting takes center stage, weight loss trends have maintained their momentum through the first third of 2007.

Food and beverage companies continue to flood the market with products that promise to help consumers watch their weight while delivering health, wellness and convenience. From Thomas’ 100 Calorie Original English Muffin and Mini Squares Bagelbread to Chicken of the Sea peel-and-eat cups, portion control stands out as a key element in consumers’ current weight management plans.

Connie Diekman, director of university nutrition at Washington University in St. Louis and president-elect of the American Dietetic Association, said smaller packages, "natural" choices, fortified foods, energy beverages and foods designed to burn calories all hold prominent positions in the weight loss trend movement. But she cautioned on how much value should be given to each trend’s ability to control weight.

"Smaller packages are a help for many people since they make it easier to control how much you eat," Ms. Diekman said. "The other options are lacking much science to show any benefit to weight loss at this point."

Ms. Diekman said the focus on portions has changed from five years ago, shifting away from what type of food is being consumed — low-carb, low-fat — toward a greater focus on portion size, a strategy that has helped consumers manage weak behaviors.

"Diets will never die, but they are rarely the answer to long-term changes, so new diets are always evolving," she said. "Currently, the big focus is ‘whole foods,’ so fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains and finding natural options. While this trend is significant for many people, these foods are part of what they do, not in place of other foods, so often calorie intake is higher than needed."

One thing that will never change, Ms. Diekman said, is people always will feel a need to choose diet foods.

"Perception is special foods will make it easier to lose or ensure weight loss, when of course the ‘magic’ isn’t in the foods it is in the proper portions of all foods and regular activity. Some people are using food journals to see what they eat, why and how much, but most people could benefit from adding that to their weight control routines.

"The other significant issue people need to change is frequency of activity. Fewer than 25% of Americans get regular activity, so adding small amounts of activity to the daily routine would help many people."

Christine Emerson, M.S., R.D. and president of the Montana Dietetic Association, wrote in a recent "Eat Right Montana" newsletter there are no short-cuts on the path to a healthy weight.

"Americans spend more than $40 billion on weight loss every year," Ms. Emerson said. "Sadly, many people waste their hard-earned dollars on fad diets, weight-loss gimmicks, and modern day snake oil."

Like Ms. Diekman, Ms. Emerson said the real solution is to make healthful eating and physical activity an everyday way of life.

"The key to success is to ignore all the misleading weight loss promotions and focus on taking permanent steps toward a healthy lifestyle for your whole family," Ms. Emerson noted.

Trends to watch

According to the Calorie Control Council (C.C.C.), an association that represents the low-calorie and reduced-fat food and beverage industry, more than 71 million Americans are currently on a diet, the highest number of dieters in the past 15 years. What those dieters are looking for, the C.C.C. said, varies, but most appear to be looking for ways to cut calories.

"Consumers must be aware of the calories they are consuming and the calories they are expending," said Robin Steagall, R.D., nutrition communications manager of the C.C.C. "By choosing lower-calorie foods and beverages and incorporating exercise into the daily lifestyle, weight loss and improved health can be maintained for life."

The C.C.C. has identified five dieting trends it believes will hold sway during 2007:

Restaurants will serve more low-calorie and reduced-fat foods. Following a report from the Food and Drug Administration, more restaurants will make it a priority to market lower-calorie and reduced-fat foods, the C.C.C. said. The Council pointed to New York City as an example of this philosophy playing out, as the city’s regulators passed legislation requiring restaurants with standardized menus to clearly label the calorie content of each item.

When it raised the proposed menu changes, Dr. Lynn Silver, assistant commissioner for chronic disease prevention within The New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, said the city wanted to "put more information into the hands of consumers."

"By knowing how many calories a food contains before they buy it, New Yorkers can make more informed choices," Ms. Silver said. "New Yorkers have this information available to them when they buy their groceries; under this proposal, it would be available to them, where feasible, when they buy food in restaurants."

Consumers will create personalized eating plans. The Internet has become a valuable tool for individuals looking to watch their weight. According to the C.C.C., people are creating low-calorie, customized meal plans via on-line dieting web sites. The sites help consumers choose from a variety of meal plans to determine which one best suits their needs. Ms. Steagall said web sites, such as www.caloriescount.com, allow consumers to use a food journal to add calories for the day and calculate the amount of calories burned by certain exercises. She said consumers appreciate the privacy web sites provide.

Last week, Health eTechnologies, L.L.C., a Westminster, Colo.-based company working in the areas of health promotion, disease management and quality improvement, launched a "Ready to Win" component through its NewStartDiets on-line diet and exercise program. The new program, accessible at www.newstartdiets.com, allows would-be dieters to complete a survey that assigns them to one of five levels of diet readiness and ability. The program is based on establishing a lifelong approach to healthy eating with sensible options.

Exercise will become part of the "everyday." The C.C.C. noted a greater willingness by people to incorporate exercise into the daily lifestyle. By taking the stairs instead of the elevator and parking further away in the parking lot people should be able to cut calories, the C.C.C. said.

"Energy expenditure is the area most people are less likely to stick with when it comes to weight loss," Ms. Steagall said. "Doing it daily, meeting the required exercise to help with weight loss, often gets pushed aside." She added consumers would be well advised to remember they may spread exercise throughout the day, incorporating several periods of physical activity during the daypart as opposed to limiting exercise to just one block of time.

• Functional light foods will gain popularity
. Foods and beverages that are considered to have health benefits beyond basic nutrition are another way consumers are looking to lose weight. Ms. Steagall pointed to low-calorie soft drinks containing added vitamins as a growing trend. In addition, new sweeteners are being developed and marketed around the world.

Healthy living will become a family matter. The C.C.C. said significant steps will take place this year to diminish the growing rate of childhood obesity.

In general, Ms. Steagall said weight loss trends five years ago centered on the high-protein, low-carbohydrate diets that focused on a particular food group. Today, the popularity of fad diets has waned, she said.

"It comes down to sustainability in the long run," she said. "Every diet in its own way produces weight loss, but can you maintain it? About 84% of consumers are turning to diets of their own creation, taking diets and modifying them."

Looking to the future, Ms. Steagall sees two factors playing out in weight loss trends. First, obesity will continue to play a prominent role.

"Obesity is not going away overnight," she said.

Second, she said nutrigenomics could play a larger role in weight loss. Nutrigenomics is the application of the sciences of genomics, transcriptomics, proteomics and metabolomics to human nutrition. In plainer English, Ms. Steagall said nutrigenomics could eventually allow health professionals to examine a person’s genes and analyze them for predisposition to such things as heart disease and diabetes.

Study renews diet focus

While the sense among several health professionals is fad diets such as Atkins are on the way out, a study published this past month in the Journal of the American Medical Association provided interesting data on the long-lasting impact of such diets.

According to the study, which was conducted by researchers associated with Stanford Prevention Research Center and the Department of Medicine at Stanford University Medical School, low-carbohydrate dieters over the course of a single year lost more weight than subjects on other popular diets but appeared by the end of the study to be on track to regain their lost weight. The research also supported the idea diets in general do not work.

Conducted between February 2003 and October 2005, the study placed 311 overweight/obese women on one of four diets — Atkins, Zone (Barry Sears), Ornish (low fat) or LEARN (based on the U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans). Subjects on the Atkins diet at 12 months lost an average of 10 lbs; LEARN, 6 lbs; Ornish, 5 lbs; and Zone, 3 lbs.

But there were reasons to question whether the diets were actually successful. With an average starting weight of approximately 189 lbs, the average woman on each of the dieting regimens remained overweight when the study concluded. Those results raise questions about the long-term success of such diets.

"Weight-loss trajectories for each group had not stabilized at 12 months," the researchers said. "The trajectories of weight change between 6 and 12 months suggest that longer follow-up would likely have resulted in progressively diminished group differences."

Compliance questions also stood out in the study, the authors noted.

"Other limitations included the lack of a valid and comparable assessment of individual adherence to the four different diets, the lack of data on whether participants had familiarity using any of the specific study diets prior to enrolling in the trial and the lack of assessment of satiety," they said.

In a March 9 posting on the Wheat Foods Council web site, Marcia Scheideman, M.S., R.D. and president of the W.F.C., said a closer look reading between the lines showed "no significant difference in weight loss after one year." Ms. Scheideman added that a year is "not nearly enough time" to evaluate weight loss success, and nutrition experts are still researching what long-term effects high protein, high fat diets may have on health.

Ms. Scheidman wrote:

"What is the definition of ‘effective weight loss?’ Clearly the authors of this study define it as fastest. I do not. My definition of ‘effective weight loss’ is long-term weight maintenance and developing a healthy lifestyle. Atkins clearly does not meet these criteria. So what is the answer? Losing weight and keeping it off is a function of adopting an overall healthier lifestyle not cutting out entire classes of foods. A healthy diet is the same as it ever was — focus on health by choosing healthier foods, consuming less calories and incorporating moderate daily exercise; commit to the long-term life changes and your weight will take care of itself."

New venture aims to broaden menu options

ATLANTA — Morrison Management Specialists, a food service company providing dining services to the health care and senior living communities, has partnered with Weight Watchers to offer a rotation of more than 160 Weight Watchers menu items in Morrison’s hospital cafes nationwide.

Beginning this spring, Morrison will offer Weight Watchers menu selections in five categories: main entrees, combos, side dishes (hot and cold), grab-and-go, and desserts. The diet program’s values include fat, grams of dietary fiber and calories that are listed on each menu item.

"As a major food service supplier to the health care community, we play a role in encouraging our customers to enjoy great-tasting, healthy foods," said Scott MacLellan, chief executive officer for Morrison. "Our multi-year national partnership with Weight Watchers underscores our commitment to provide our customers with a better-for-you dining program. The result — we deliver delicious, healthier menu items that can help our medical staff and hospital visitors achieve and maintain a healthy body weight."

Stacy Gordon, vice-president of products and licensing for Weight Watchers, said the partnership will allow hospital visitors who follow the Weight Watchers program to continue to do so.

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