Ditching the D word

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In December, the Chicago Tribune reported that Kraft Foods Inc. was scrapping the word “diet” from its popular line of diet foods. They’re now called South Beach Living, thank you very much. The South Beach line has been a winner for Kraft, according to the article, growing from 50 products to 70 and being named a “Product Pacesetter” in 2006 by market researchers Information Resources Inc. Still, negative connotations to “diet” have prompted the move.

And now Weight Watchers, a company whose very name is synonymous with dieting, has come out against it. The word, at least. Their new advertising tagline shows exactly where they’ve planted their new flag: Stop dieting. Start living. Their current ad campaign, all over taxi roofs and subways here, takes D word dissing even further, with headlines like DIETS ARE MEAN, GO ON A DIET DIET and PEOPLE DON’T FAIL, DIETS DO.

An article in ADWEEK this month reports that the company has hired prolific video blogger or vlogger Faint Starlite to promote their new attitude. She’s been posting video blog entries about a wide range of topics since 2006, including chronicling her weight loss after joining Weight Watchers.

So why has the D word fallen into such disfavor? Because diets don’t work—at least not by themselves and not in the long run. Consider this. At any given time, roughly a quarter of Americans are on a diet. Yet according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC], 64% of us are overweight or, worse, obese.

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Being overweight is more than just a fashion or appearance issue. The CDC reports that deaths due to poor diet and physical inactivity rose by 33 percent over the past decade and may soon overtake tobacco as the leading preventable cause of death. It doesn’t exactly make living a barrel of fun either. Weight problems can lead to many health issues, including high blood pressure, heart disease and diabetes.

There are any number of reasons diets don’t work. Psychological, practical, cultural, physical… One of the most insidious is our own bodies trying to save themselves. If you try to lose weight by cutting calories alone, your body will play along for a while. But at some point, all the eons of humans surviving famines kicks in—your body decides you’re starving to death and reduces its caloric needs, causing weight loss to grind to a halt.

So what does work? Living, according to Kraft and Weight Watchers. Specifically, sensible living. You know. Moderation. Balance. Not just cutting calories, but burning them. Anyone who’s honest about weight control will tell you losing weight comes down to burning more calories than you consume. In other words, exercising, not just starving yourself. I once heard someone sniff that Americans are the only people who try to lose weight by eating.

Which brings me back to these two companies ditching the D word. All Kraft has to sell is food. So for them, I think it’s mostly an effort to expand the line’s reach beyond dieting to lifestyle. Kraft’s vice president for strategic marketing initiatives Howard Brandeisky said as much: “We think [the name change] is going to broaden the appeal of the brand and fuel its growth trajectory.”

Weight Watchers has a bigger story to tell. Besides their food line, they’ve got a program, a chance to deliver on the promise of this ad, my favorite in the series. The headline says: DIETS TAKE AWAY THE THINGS WE LOVE, THEN MAKE US HATE OURSELVES FOR LOVING THEM. The copy goes on to read: Weight Watchers teaches you to replace deprivation with moderation, so you can finally learn how to lose weight and keep it off. And then love yourself like crazy for it.

I’ve already seen some bloggers railing against both of these companies for this latest move, saying of course they’re selling diets. And maybe they are. But if they even further the conversation about living and lifestyle decisions instead of always relying on the D word, maybe they’re doing something good after all.

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