With the week-long food and drink binge of Christmas and New Year fading into a shameful memory, weight loss is once again high on the agenda.
Usually this time of year means a fresh round of celebrity fad diets. Past examples have included the Beyoncé cleanse, which instructed miserable participants to consume nothing but half a pint of water with freshly squeezed lemon, organic maple syrup and cayenne pepper up to 10 times a day.
The high rate of fainting then instant weight gain as soon as survivors return to solid food should have been sufficient to show that quick fixes aren’t conducive to health or long-term results. Yet still, virtually any food plan backed by the likes of Kim Kardashian will see an immediate and ungodly quantity of volunteers raring to take it up. And this year has seen another tranche of restrictive diets.
The 2018 Annual Detox plan by Goop, the lifestyle site run by self-proclaimed health guru Gwyneth Paltrow, is determined in its desire to make January joyless. The detox instructs followers to eliminate from their diet all caffeine, dairy, gluten, ‘nightshade’ vegetables (tomatoes, eggplants, peppers and potatoes), soy, refined sugar and eggs, to name a few. This, from the woman who advocates apitherapy – the practice of getting stung by bees – to reduce inflammation and scarring (possibly caused by being a Paltrow devotee).
Still, it seems an element of sanity is finally starting to cut through. In a blog post today, M&S notes that consumers are becoming less likely to follow restrictive regimes such as the ketogenic diet (one of the more popular diets of 2017, hailed by celebs from Halle Berry to Vanessa Hudgens), which allows just 20g-100g of carbohydrates per day. “Rather than no carbs it’s moved to healthy carbs, and eliminating all dairy has moved to less dairy or fermented alternatives like kefir,” says M&S nutritionist Helen Seward.
This more moderate approach is favoured by specialists. “The main reason to not exclude whole food groups is the risk of nutrient deficiencies,” says nutritionist Elke Westerkamp. “In order to get all the nutrients our body needs to function well, we need to make sure we consume a wide variety of foods – no one food group or food provides all the nutrients our body needs. For examples, carbs and grains are a great source of many nutrients including fibre, B vitamins and magnesium, all of which are beneficial for heart and gut health but also for weight management.”
The industry has already started to promote this more balanced health message. M&S is talking heavily about ‘wellbeing’ and ‘eating well’ rather than weight loss in its healthy offerings. Waitrose introduced the Good Health label, devised by nutritionists, across hundreds of its products last week. Messaging includes positives such as ‘high in fibre’ and ‘source of vitamin D’ rather than focusing on what the food is without. For customers willing to fork out for their health, it is trialling a £95 personal nutritionist service that includes a health questionnaire, private consultation, a personalised diet and lifestyle plan. In smaller changes, Sainsbury’s has a ‘healthy meal plan’ on its recipe site that includes previous no-nos such as carbs (see the healthy Thai curry with sticky rice).
Clear labelling and promotion of healthier choices is a positive step. But surely they can push further? Particularly in January, the month when so many will be looking to lose weight after the festive period, further investment into informing and educating customers on the benefits of a balanced diet could do a lot to reduce the numbers of Brits taking up cleanse or detox diets.
Retailers have a real opportunity – and responsibility – to equip their customers with everything they need in store to make sensible, healthy decisions. So who is ready to step up to the plate?