PhotoThe diet industry would have you believe that “health” requires a book, a meal plan, a membership fee, some protein shakes, and maybe even some pills. But these days, consumers aren’t buying it — literally.

According to a Mintel report, 91% of US consumers believe it’s better to eat a well-rounded diet than use diet products. And the weight-loss industry is feeling the burn. Sales of weight-control tablets have dropped nearly 20% over the past year, and low-calorie products have been steadily falling out of favor since 2009.

As the focus shifts from fad diets to fresh foods, experts say consumers have become more wary of what’s actually in those diet products ... and if diets themselves are even effective.

Consumer skepticism

Instead of buying diet-specific products, says Marissa Gilbert, Health and Wellness Analyst at Mintel, people are turning to a well-balanced diet and products that support it.  

“The diet industry faces downward pressure as US adults remain skeptical of ingredients in diet-specific products,” says Gilbert. “The effectiveness in managing weight and the fact that in reality a magic weight loss pill likely doesn’t exist.”

Seventy-seven percent of consumers surveyed in a Mintel report said that diet products are not as healthy as they claim to be, and 61% said most diets are not actually healthy.

In addition to being skeptical of the ingredients in diet products, consumers are being more realistic in terms of their ability to resist temptation.

Anti-deprivation culture

Diets often equal deprivation, which is not exactly enticing to the vast majority of consumers. Eighty percent of consumers say their diets have been thwarted by a tempting indulgence, and 84% believe that it should be okay if that occasionally happens.

"Dieting is not a fashionable word these days," Susan Roberts, a professor of nutrition and psychiatry at Tufts University tells NPR. "[Consumers] equate the word diet with deprivation, and they know deprivation doesn't work."

Consumers do, however, acknowledge that dieting can be worth the effort in order to achieve their ideal weight, says Gilbert. It’s just that they’re going about dieting a little differently these days.

Calorie restriction

In the past, if consumers weren’t able to lose weight from a particular diet, they did at least gain something from it  the ability to count calories. And they've learned that they can do so without additional costs, resources, or "miracle" diets.

Currently, the number one form of dieting is calorie counting, according to Mintel. Half (50%) of US consumers say they watch their calorie intake when dieting or managing their weight. 

When it comes to making these calories count, consumers are taking a much simpler route towards weight loss. Instead of shakes and pills, the spotlight has shifted to good nutrition, healthy eating, and pursuing fitness goals.

Which means, concludes NPR, that the diet industry has begun selling "health."

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