We are gathered, dear friends, to pay honor and, just maybe, to say farewell forever to an acquaintance not-so-dearly departed: the calorie-restriction diet. Because in this world where women sip small-batch nut milk before barre class, legions of people who aren’t actually sensitive to gluten won’t touch a dinner roll, and eating like a cavewoman is considered a viable nutritional plan even though most cavewomen didn’t survive past 35, it has become devilishly hard to find someone who admits she follows a straight-up calorie-counting diet anymore.
Skeptics will say the shift is purely semantic, a case of political correctness in which everybody is still dieting but nobody wants to utter the dreary word itself. But if you doubt that the trim-at-any-cost mass culture is changing, consider that Lean Cuisine, which has had two years of falling revenues, recently revamped its frozen-food recipes and added words like “organic” and “freshly made” to its packaging. “We realized that low fat and low calorie were not the modern definition of what people were looking for in healthy cuisine,” says the company’s marketing director, Julie Lehman. It’s a similar story at Weight Watchers, the company that first implanted the calorie-counting chip in the collective brain of American women more than 50 years ago. “It’s a different age,” says R. J. Hottovy, a consumer-equity strategist at Morningstar, an investment-research company, which keeps an eye on Weight Watchers, whose sales had taken a hit thanks to things like fitness trackers and meal-plan apps (the brand has since gotten in on the game, too). Even with the help of the planet’s most effective pitchwoman, Oprah Winfrey, “[the company is] still facing headwinds,” says Hottovy.
And the most recent weight-loss trend to gain popularity, so-called intermittent fasting, alternates periods of “normal” eating with short bursts of severe calorie restriction. By some jujitsu of dieting logic, these programs, like the 5:2 plan, allow those who follow them to enjoy a sense of balance and satisfaction at most mealtimes.
The hard truth is that the once nearly universal obsession with cutting calories and eliminating entire food groups is simply no longer trendy. When was the last time you heard someone say she was doing the South Beach Diet, the Master Cleanse, or Ideal Protein? Women from all walks of life (including but not limited to bloggers, social-media stars, actresses, and activists) have dropped more-restrictive regimens in favor of plans that promise health, wellness, and mind-body balance. ” ‘Diet’ has become”—wait for it—”a four-letter word,” says Susan B. Roberts, a professor of nutrition and psychiatry at Tufts University in Boston who studies weight-loss habits. It’s not that people don’t want to lose weight and get healthy and feel better; even if they don’t use the D word, more than half of all U.S. consumers are on a diet of some kind, according to a 2015 report by the market-research firm Mintel. “The problem is that they’ve tried so many things and struggled, and for what?” Roberts says.
Deprivation, after all, has a dark side. Remember this scene from the front lines of weight loss? You’re in your bathroom, you haven’t eaten a carbohydrate in weeks, you’re living on foods high in protein but no individual servings larger than your fist, and you’ve just urinated on a small wooden ketosis strip to see if it’s working. “All of these diets have created such angst for people around eating,” says Judith Matz, a coauthor of The Diet Survivor’s Handbook (Sourcebooks), who advises her clients to eat a wide variety of healthy foods. “It’s meant to be a source of nourishment, energy, and pleasure. But when you have to pee to make sure you’re eating properly, you take that pleasure away.”
Not that calorie-restricting diets don’t work. They generally do—just not for long. Many studies have shown that, except for a small sliver of the population, the average dieter sheds perhaps 10 percent of her weight during an exhilarating honeymoon phase, then returns to her original size within a couple or three years or even puts on extra pounds. Traci Mann, a professor of psychology at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis and the author of Secrets From the Eating Lab (Harper Wave), echoes a newly familiar sentiment: Eat healthy and stop counting calories. She has delivered her message about the futility of food restriction to audiences around the country. These days, she often feels she’s preaching to the choir. “I talk a lot about all these physical changes from calorie deprivation that make it harder to keep dieting, and people say, ‘That’s exactly what happened to me. I started dieting, and suddenly I was hungry even when I ate things that used to make me feel full,’ ” she says.
Even among the very large number of women who still eat for their bathroom scale, the tendency now is to dispense with calorie counting in favor of a “lifestyle.” Thirty-day challenges, the paleo diet, eating “clean,” even locavore or artisanal-food obsession can be ways to limit your overall intake without having to refer to a system of points—although any experienced nutritionist will tell you the only reliable way to lose weight is to take in fewer calories than your body burns.
Still, what the lifestyle plans do enticingly offer is a sense of control, possibly even joy. Maybe this is the most crucial point of all: You’re signing on to a new way of living, rather than chipping away at the one you’re used to. And some of them, at least, like the so-called Mediterranean diet, actually emphasize health and well-being over rapid, unsustainable weight loss. “As we get away from calorie counting, we move closer to nutrition,” says New York City registered nutritionist Keri Gans, the author of The Small Change Diet (Gallery Books). “People are starting to realize they have to be patient, move slowly, and give themselves time to create new habits.”
The lifestyle approach has another advantage. By choosing to go macrobiotic or to explore the benefits of cold-pressed juices, to name a couple of examples, the modern dieter can at the same time be a part of the infectious fun of the food-cultural revolution that is so dramatically remaking our grocery stores, restaurants, and entire channels of cable TV. “I don’t care if you live at the very edge of the forest during this Whole Foods moment, you still know there’s a buzz about kale and avocado,” says Amanda Chantal Bacon, the founder of the Moon Juice plant-based apothecary and food stores in Los Angeles, where Gwyneth Paltrow and Shailene Woodley come to shop for things like reishi mushrooms (believed to boost the immune system), mineral-rich maca root, and shilajit tonic, which is used in Ayurvedic medicine. In that sense, the new way of dieting is all about the benefits (#gainz, if you do your boasting online) and not just the losses.
Bacon’s esoteric brand of holistic living—a combination of kundalini and Vedic meditation, exercise, and meals designed to promote wellness—includes managing one’s weight without being consumed by it. A typical lunch might be zucchini ribbons with basil, pine nuts, and sun-cured olives with a cup of green tea. Outside experts could debate for days whether that actually constitutes a healthy meal or is just low-calorie dieting dressed up in New Age finery. But Bacon is evangelical about the need to “bust the myth of traditional dieting,” as she puts it. “I stand in good company, which includes medical doctors, when I say that what I put in my body can definitely help me maintain my weight. But along with that, my skin is different; my energy levels are very different; my personality is different. Food affects everything.”
THE ONCE NEARLY UNIVERSAL OBSESSION WITHCUTTING CALORIESAND ELIMINATING ENTIRE FOOD GROUPS IS SIMPLY NO LONGER TRENDY.
The scientific community has long accepted that idea, of course, along with the understanding that our weight is also determined by genetics and other physiological factors beyond our control. All of which encourages the emergence, in a parallel universe that coexists with all the super skinny fitness stars of social media, of the idea that a woman’s body can be considered beautiful and healthy no matter how it happens to be shaped and sized. Hashtags like #fatkini (accompanied by photos of large women in bathing suits) make the rounds on Instagram, where the extraordinary yoga instructor and “fat femme” Jessamyn Stanley has 168,000 followers and counting.
Popular women’s websites decry fat-shaming and celebrate body positivity. When Kelsey Miller, the author of Big Girl: How I Gave Up Dieting & Got a Life (Grand Central Publishing) and the creator of the Anti-Diet Project column at Refinery29, first joined that website in 2012, one of the dieting buzzwords of the day was “detox.” (“We now know what bullshit that was,” she says.)
Today’s buzzword is more like “DGAF” (look it up). Miller, who says she has spent her entire conscious life in the dieting cycle, now practices what’s known as intuitive eating, in which her meal choices are guided by what she’s hungry for coupled with an understanding of which foods make her feel healthy and energetic and, conversely, which ones slow her down. “It’s about getting over the idea that kale is the savior and the cheeseburger is the enemy,” she says.
Here’s what it looks like at mealtime: When Miller is in the mood for, say, a steak, potatoes, and spinach, she eats it. Or she gives it some thought and decides, “You know what? That sounds really heavy and not comfortable right now,” says Miller. The goal either way is to take worrying about her weight out of the equation and to focus on comfort, health, and satisfaction—to reach a state of Zen-like food neutrality.
Miller is the first person to say there’s a utopian, if still somewhat attainable, quality to her anti-diet philosophy. And there’s no going back—for her, and many others who have had enough of the old way of dieting. Elizabeth Angell, a digital editor in New York City, can’t imagine ever going back to Weight Watchers, although she found the program helpful when she wanted to lose baby weight after the birth of her daughter three years ago.
But ultimately it was no more helpful than accepting the fact that her weight will fluctuate, and the best thing she can do for herself is eat lots of fresh vegetables, prepare as many of her own meals as possible, keep sweets out of the house, and try to limit her consumption of carbs to once a day. “On a diet, you’re always ten pounds away from your goal, and I just don’t want to always be short of my goal,” Angell says. “I’m tired of saying no.”
Originally Posted HERE