The Non-Diet Movement
Summary & Comment
As far back as 1992, the media had begun to discuss a growing anti-dieting "movement" among women. These are women that formed support groups and chose not to diet. Several dozen HMOs and corporations had dropped weight loss programs, substituting them with anti-diet methods that promoted more healthy eating, exercise, and weight maintenance.
Did this movement succeed in putting diet companies and products out of business? Obviously not, as American grew even heavier over the past decade. Did a significant share of Americans shun weight loss centers, products and programs for good? Again, a resounding NO.
Groups such as NAAFA and other overweight activists are now mounting a major protest against what it feels is the U.S. medical establishmentís campaign against obesity. Right now, this is highlighted by NAAFAís annual convention (starting August 4th, in Newark, NJ).
The anti-diet movement is scrambling to answer the federal governmentís claims that obesity is a major public health problem. Anti-diet groups were dealt a major setback when the Federal government announced in July 2004 that Medicare was discarding its declaration that obesity isn't a disease. This policy change will be likely to spur overweight Americans covered by Medicare to file claims for treatments such as bariatric surgery and other weight loss programs.
This movement that began in the early 1990s was partly a short-term reaction to negative publicity at the time about some weight loss companiesí marketing and sales practices, coupled with the recession of 1990-1991, when consumers had less discretionary income to spend on weight loss programs. Remember, most weight loss programs were more expensive a decade ago. The diet websites and online information and counseling had not yet appeared. Cyberdieting has had the effect of driving down the average cost of weight loss.
When times are tough and money is tight, consumers shift to self-help, do-it-yourself weight loss plans, inexpensive methods such as using retail meal replacements or OTC diet pills.
BestDietForMe.com/Marketdata believes that there will always be a certain small segment of the population that resists dieting, but in light of our national obesity trends, do not see this movement gaining momentum. One simply does not hear much from "non-diet" groups these days. The evidence is overwhelming that itís NOT OK to be very overweight, and that the medical costs are staggering. The media has not been giving the movement as much press as in past years, in light of the barrage of messages put forth by the medical community that Americans have real health risks of being overweight.
Strength of The Movement
NAAFA and others have attempted to counter what they see as widespread discrimination against obese people, but progress has been spotty. If anything, what the non-diet movement has done is simply alter the way weight loss companies advertise and position themselves. "Diet" has become a negative term and is now avoided more frequently. Slim-Fast no longer calls its product a diet product. Rather, it talks about "nutrition for a healthy life". The terms lifestyle management, wellness, and healthy are much more common today. Diet implies denying yourself the foods you want to eat, deprivation, smaller portion size and "rabbit food."
BestDietForMe.com/Marketdataís opinion is that the non-diet movement has remained stable during the past several years. Most of the self-help groups we contacted reported the same or slightly smaller number of groups or attendees today than in 2000. This is also the opinion of top management at several of the leading commercial weight loss companies.
According to a Dr. Joseph McVoy of an association known as AHELP (which may now be defunct), the so-called anti-diet or non-diet movement is not well organized, comprised mainly of a collection of small support groups throughout the U.S. There is also a lot of confusion regarding common terms and classifications.
"Diet bashing" has become less popular, although isolated instances still exist. Furthermore, the "movement" is fragmented and poorly organized, therefore lacking clout and exposure. Each non-diet group or association seems to have its own agenda. Individual book authors and therapists are still active, but basically work independently of each other, competing for book sales and workshop/seminar fees.
Based on discussions with several leading groups, BestDietForMe.com/Marketdata estimates that approximately 500,000 people may be involved in this movement, or subscribe to its philosophy.
However, itís clear that the more general self-help movement in the U.S. is strong and growing. For example, in 1978, 2-5 million people were reached by self-help, mutual support groups. By 1984, 12-14 million were involved. Today, more than 500,000 self-help groups meet across the nation and 20+ million people turn to them annually. In fact, research by a Harvard study finds that 7% of the population was in a member supported group in 1999, and 18% had attended one during their lifetime.
Studies find that Baby Boomers are more prone to be part of a self-help group than other age groups. Women in this age group are now entering menopause and are likely to join groups dealing with that topic, as well as caring for elderly parents (i.e. the "sandwich" generation - caring for those older than they plus their own children).
In addition, with growth in usage of online services and the Internet, we find an explosion of online support groups. These online groups offer privacy for small populations of people with very specialized needs (men with breast cancer, young persons in their 20s that have had hip replacements, for example).
The anti-diet movement seems to be stronger and have originated via national health policy in Canada. The Sept./Oct. 1992 Obesity & Health Journal reported that the movement calls for wellness rather than weight loss, and that official support comes from the research of Canadian eating disorder specialists such as Janet Polivy and Peter Herman, Univ. of Toronto.
The Top Anti-Diet Movement Books
Following are some of the major books and programs associated with the anti-diet movement:
Overcoming Overeating, Jane R. Hirschmann and Carol H. Munter, 1988. Softcover, $8.95, 260 pages. (Ballantine Books, Random House, NY).
Making Peace With Food, Susan Kano, 1989 Softcover, $10.95, 256 pages. (Harper Collins Publishers, 1000 Keystone Industrial Park, Scranton, PA 18512, 800-242-7737)
The Beauty Myth: How images of beauty are used against women, Naomi Wolf, 1991. Hardcover, $21.95, 348 pages. (William Morrow, 1350 Ave. of the Americas, New York, NY 10019)
Beyond Dieting: Psychoeducational Interventions for Chronically Obese Women: A Non-Dieting Approach, Eating Disorders Monograph Series 5, Donna Ciliska, 1990. Hardcover, 176 pages. (Brunner/Mazel, 19 Union Square West, NY, 10003).
You Count, Calories Don't, Linda Omichinski, 1992. Softcover, Canadian $27.76; U.S. $23.95, 312 pages.
The Major Non-Diet Movement Groups
This is a New York City-based group headed by Jane Hirschmann and Carol Munter (psychotherapists and faculty members at the New School for Social Research, NYC), co-authors of a 1989 book by the same name.
The National Center for Overcoming Overeating is an educational and training organization working to end body hatred and dieting. It was started in 1989 by Carol Munter and Jane Hirschmann, authors of Overcoming Overeating and When Women Stop Hating Their Bodies. Jane is also the co-author of Preventing Childhood Eating Problems. Carol started the first anti-dieting group for women in 1970. Both are psychotherapists in New York City who have been working with women with compulsive eating problems for more than 25 years. The National Center for Overcoming Overeating has offices in New York City, Chicago, Houston, New England, and Atlanta.
The National Center for Overcoming Overeating launched The Womenís Campaign to End Body Hatred and Dieting in March 1995, with a series of Speakouts on the topic of body hatred and dieting in cities throughout the country.
"We believe that the pressure to diet and body shape is part of the ongoing backlash against the changes in the status of women. It seems that the more space we occupy in the world , the more pressure there is to reduce ourselves."
Munter and Hirschmann hold frequent conferences and workshops across the U.S., and may be reached at:
Jane R. Hischmann
315 W. 86th St., #17B
New York, NY 10024
Carol H. Munter
350 W. 50th St., #34E
New York, NY 10019
The Centerís address:
National Center for Overcoming Overeating
P.O. Box 1257
Old Chelsea Station
New York, NY 10113-0920
Contacts: Carol Munter, Jane Hirschmann
Munter and Hirschmann believe that the deprivation of dieting actually causes compulsive overeating, that such overeaters use food to manage anxiety, contending that people fight back by binging. Their approach is a 3-phase program--accept your body the way it is, "legalize" foods and eat whatever you want (no forbidden foods), and learn to distinguish between real hunger (physiological) and psychological or "mouth" hunger (reaching for food for comfort). Workshop attendance usually reaches about 30-40 per session.
Munter and Hirschmann believe that the growth of the anti-diet movement is due to a renaissance of the 1970s feminist movement, coupled with publicity from past NIH findings about the shortcomings of weight loss programs, and the fact that the movement is branching out into corporations and medical facilities, beyond individuals.
Several other groups BestDietForMe.com/Marketdata has identified include the following:
Womenís Therapy Institute
The Womenís Therapy Center Institute
562 West End Ave., Suite 1A
New York, NY 10024
Phone: 212-721-7005, Carol Bloom
Breaking Free Workshops
P.O. Box 2852
Santa Cruz, CA 95063
Phone: 831-685-8601, Geneen Roth
The Womenís Therapy Institute trains therapists in the anti-diet approach, holds body image workshops, and helps women with eating disorders. Geneen Roth has authored four books (When Food is Love, made the bestseller list). Roth has held workshops since 1979. Attendance typically is 300-500, with a 1-day session fee of $55-90, and an evening and next day session costing up to $185 at the door (with special rates for seniors and students). Workshop sponsors can be hospitals, individuals, counseling centers, or professional promoters.
Council on Size & Weight Discrimination Inc.
P.O. Box 305
Mount Marion, NY 12456
Contact: Miriam Berg, President
Following are some of this groupís projects and activities:
National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance (NAAFA)
P.O. Box 188620
Sacramento, CA 95818
Contact: Maryanne Bodolay
This was formed in 1969. It has 50+ chapters in U.S. and Canada (vs. 60 in 1998), 5,000+ active members now vs. 3,500 in 1993. Regular members pay $35/year. NAAFA is an all volunteer organization. Members have appeared on 60 Minutes, Sally Jesse Raphael, Geraldo, Oprah Winfrey and Donahue talk shows.
This human rights group seeks to educate the public and to promote acceptance of larger-than-average people and is currently focusing on fighting the major drug companies that manufacture prescription diet pills. NAAFA fights offensive advertising and negative media images, and participates in studies concerning job discrimination. It also works to increase the availability of fashionable large size clothes, has national conventions, regional gatherings, special interest groups, and provides social networking events. NAAFA produces a newsletter six times a year, and holds seminars three times a year (in CA, NY and at its national convention - rotating site).
Food Addicts Anonymous
World Service Office
4623 Forest Hill Blvd., Suite 109-4
W. Palm Beach, FL 33415
Contact: Charlotte Brinkey
This is a 12-step fellowship of men and women whose main goal is to recover from food addiction, especially to abstain from three items--sugar, flour and wheat. This group is not related to any diet programs, treatment facilities, or religious organizations (although their "Guide to Abstinence" pamphlet is heavily sprinkled with religious overtones). A "how-to" packet on creating a local FAA group is available for $10. FAA has 40 groups worldwide: 14 in Florida and others in: OH, ME, NJ, NY, PA, MI, NC, GA, CT, MD, Nebraska, TX, OR, and Canada. For more details, send a self-addressed, stamped envelope to the address above.
Other Non-Diet Organizations
P.O. Box 44020
Rio Rancho, New Mexico 87174
Margie Karns, Director
International. 7,000 groups (vs. 10,000 in 1998). Founded 1960. A 12-step fellowship which meets to help one another understand and overcome compulsive eating disorders.
Rational Recovery Systems
P.O. Box 800
Lotus, CA 95651
Jack Trimpey, Director
Founded 1986. Helps people achieve recovery from substance abuse and weight problems through self-reliance and self-help groups.
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