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Dieters move past calories, food makers follow


Apr. 10, 2014 11:50 AM EDT
NEW YORK (AP) - Obsessing over calories alone has left dieters with an empty feeling.

The calorie counting that defined dieting for so long is giving way to other considerations, like the promise of more fiber or natural ingredients. That is chipping away at the popularity of products like Diet Coke, Lean Cuisine and Special K, which became weight-watching staples primarily by stripping calories from people's favorite foods.

Part of the problem: "Low-calorie" foods make people feel deprived. Now, people want to lose weight while still feeling satisfied. And they want to do it without foods they consider processed.

Kelly Pill has been dieting since her son was born in 1990. But the 54-year-old resident of Covina, Calif., made changes to her approach in recent years. She doesn't eat Lean Cuisine microwavable meals as often because she doesn't find them that filling. She also switched to Greek yogurt last year to get more protein.

"Regular yogurt is really thin," Pill said. "It was low in calories, but it wasn't filling."

It's not that people don't care about calories anymore. Nutrition experts still say weight loss comes down to burning more calories than you eat.

But dieters are sick of foods that provide only fleeting satisfaction and seem to make them hungrier. The new thinking is that eating foods with more protein or fat keeps will make dieters less likely to binge later, even if they're higher in calories.

"People are recognizing that it's not enough to just go on a diet and lose weight. Nutrition comes more into play," said Margo Wootan, director of nutrition policy at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a health advocacy group.

Many top brands are trying to keep up with the trend:

- Special K cereal's sales are down 7 percent in the past two years, according to IRI, a market research firm based in Chicago. Kellogg last year rolled out "Special K Nourish" hot cereals that tout a blend of grains such as quinoa and barley. A Kellogg executive noted at the time that people are looking for nutritional benefits rather than just reduced calories.

- Nestle's Lean Cuisine saw a 27 percent drop in sales in the past four years, according to IRI. So the company introduced an "Honestly Good" line that boasts of natural ingredients and offers more generous servings at about 390 calories per box, rather than the 300 calories for regular Lean Cuisine meals.

- Both Diet Coke and Diet Pepsi saw sales volume fall by nearly 7 percent last year, according to the industry tracker Beverage Digest. That was steeper than declines for their full-calorie counterparts.

Executives at Coca-Cola Co. and PepsiCo Inc. blame customers' move away from artificial sweeteners and say they're working on sodas using natural low-calorie sweeteners. The drinks are likely to have more calories than traditional diet sodas, but the thinking is that people will accept the tradeoff to avoid artificial ingredients.

- Weight Watchers updated its famous "Points" system in 2010 to consider the protein content of food; the new system is called PointsPlus. It also introduced a "Simply Filling" option that lets people eat from a list of "power foods" without counting points.

"We know that while calories are calories, how satisfied you are with eating those calories makes a difference," said Karen Miller-Kovach, chief scientific officer at Weight Watchers.

Perhaps most emblematic of calorie counts as a marketing gimmick are the 100-calorie snacks that flooded the market a decade ago. Some food companies are retreating from the strategy.

In the past four years, sales of 100-calorie snack packs of Oreos have plummeted 72 percent, according to IRI. Parent company Mondelez International Inc. also has pruned varieties from its 100-calorie lineup and now offers only four.

Mondelez spokesman Richard Buino said the company is focusing on healthy snacks that are about "more than an arbitrary calorie amount."

Frito-Lay also made its last shipment of 100-calorie pack Cheetos and Doritos this past summer. The chip maker's new "ready-to-go" packs still have about 100 calories, but the trait is no longer advertised on the bag's front.

The sales declines for diet brands are a reminder that what's in vogue today may also eventually be seen as marketing gimmicks.

In fact, Miller-Kovach of Weight Watchers points to a pitfall: The belief that a food is wholesome is sometimes used to justify eating too much, she said - in other words, consuming too many calories.

"Just because something is simple doesn't mean it's going to give you your desired weight loss," she said.


Follow Candice Choi at www.twitter.com/candicechoi

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JOHN April 11 2014 at 12:41 AM

While the food companies are at it PLEASE reduce the sugar. I personally look for no added sugar in all the food I eat. Americans can blame so many of there health issues on all this added sugar the food companies shove down our throats .
+++++++++++++++++++++NO ADDED SUGAR++++++++++++++++

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isisreptiles JOHN April 11 2014 at 3:53 AM

Please reduce the salt, too!

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Laurak303 April 11 2014 at 5:01 AM

Calories in, calories out, does not make you lose weight. Calories don't even count at all! If you really want to lose weight and be healthy and never be hungry, eat low carb! It's so simple! And eat REAL food! Meat and lots of fresh vegetables! Yes, eggs, cheese and real butter! Best way to lose weight and be healthy!

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Dolores Laurak303 April 11 2014 at 5:48 AM

Amen! All this stupid follow the leader ads I ignore. Do what's best for your own body. Screw the ads that push their products. Most of which lie to the public. I don't buy into this. Enjoy life, be active and take care of yourself as best as you can. Keep working...and keep brain working, too. I'm 76, and will be 77 in Nov. and still actively working and love myself and everyone else. But, refuse to follow the crowd. I think for myself and resent when reporters on TV or in newspaper, or magazines state, That, "we all want to do or know"..boloney. Don't include me. I think for myself about everything. I have a geat life, not rich in money, but rich in love. Enjoy your life in great health.

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mario54671 April 11 2014 at 3:16 AM

I don't "control my portions," I don't merely "cut" certain foods, I just eat foods that are highest in micronutrients. (Mostly fruits/veggies/beans/nuts/seeds and a little bit of lean meat) They tend to have less calories by their very nature, and they satisfy my nutritional needs. I was tired of getting sick all the time, so I just started eating better foods. Aside from the fact that I've been resistant to most illnesses lately, I just happened to drop 30 pounds (I wasn't even looking to lose weight). I don't count calories. I eat as much as I want, but the amount that I want is exactly what I need.

You just need to make time and buy all the ingredients and cook ahead of time.

People eat these horribly small portions of junk food, thinking that by just cutting calories, they lose weight. No, that just makes you MORE deprived, and you're just more likely to eventually snap and overeat like hell.

Just eat the right food, eat as much as you want of it, and you'll feel better. As a bonus, your weight will just correct itself. It's really quite simple actually.

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hmadden April 11 2014 at 12:52 AM

I drink Diet Coke, and its competitors, because I like the taste. Sugared soft drinks are too sweet and too filling. Also, if you peruse the history of medicine over the last several decades, you'll find that everything is bad for you. Nobody gets out alive.

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Lou Politano Jr April 10 2014 at 7:51 PM

Finally more consumers are becoming health concious! Consumers have all the power when it comes to getting the produc6s they want. If you buy shitty food, they'll supply shitty food. If you buy healthy, they'll supply healthy. This article is proof. As a Certified Personal Trainer, this makes me happy.

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1 reply
ga7smi Lou Politano Jr April 10 2014 at 11:50 PM

not really

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karen April 10 2014 at 8:07 PM

My philosophy is to eat whatever I want, within reason (avoiding fat-laden desserts and limiting breads and sugar), and eat half of my normal "portion". This has allowed me to lose weight very gradually over time without feeling as though I'm on a "diet". I even succumb to a fat-laden dessert once in a blue moon and I enjoy it without guilt because its a rare treat. No more counting calories or munching on tasteless, unhealthy prepared "foods". If you feel deprived, you won't maintain your "diet".

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Sherry April 10 2014 at 11:44 PM

The best way we found to lose weight is to only shop the outside isle of the store. We load up on Produce, fresh veggies and fruits. Move on to meat and we replaced ground beef with ground turkey and only use boneless skinless chicken. We rarely eat beef at all. Whole grain breads. The only "Cereal" I buy is regular old fashion oatmeal. Head to Dairy for Milk, eggs, butter and low fat cheese. Nine times out of ten trips we never go down the regular isles except for paper products and personal care items. We basically grill all meat and either grill or steam veggies and eat lot's of fresh salads. We no longer eat processed foods. Without doing much more, just a slight increase in exercise in a little over a year I lost 93lbs, my husband lost 76lbs and my son lost 80lbs.

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1 reply
ga7smi Sherry April 10 2014 at 11:48 PM


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ga7smi April 10 2014 at 11:49 PM

try increasing your activity level

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lizandco7 April 10 2014 at 1:41 PM

The public is wising up. Eliminating process foods,not buying genetically modified foods and sugars.

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hman570 April 10 2014 at 7:08 PM

Eat what you like not what these fools tell you what is good for you. Life is to short and there are many I mean many great foods to enjoy. As long as you eat and enjoy life, unless you are a vain person who has to look like a movie star. Then this crap is for you if you like others telling you what to eat.

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Lou Politano Jr hman570 April 10 2014 at 7:56 PM

So all people "who look like movie stars" are vain?

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1 reply
ga7smi Lou Politano Jr April 10 2014 at 11:50 PM


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