Hot Diet and Fitness Trends for 2005

Low-carb is out; satiety is in

By Gina Shaw
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic - Feature

Reviewed By Charlotte E. Grayson, MD

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."