Happy New Year! January marks the unofficial “official” start of the diet season. The pressure of New Year’s resolutions, coupled with added weight (and guilt) from overindulging over the holiday season, seems to send the nation into a dieting frenzy year after year.

Yet Americans’ well-meaning intentions may be in earnest. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one-third of the adult U.S. population is currently classified as obese. With overweight, obesity and obesity-related health conditions on the rise, it’s no wonder that weight loss is top of mind for most people this time of year.

The increase in demand for healthy products doesn’t go unnoticed. To say the commercial weight loss market is big business is nothing short of an understatement. According to Tampa, Fla.-based Marketdata Enterprises Inc., it comes in at more than $60 billion a year. And with up to half of Americans committing to health-related resolutions, business is booming.

Unfortunately, what’s not booming is sustainable weight loss. Everyone wants fast-acting results and magic-bullet strategies when it comes to weight loss. The aggressive fad diet plans and books, weight-loss supplements and juice cleanses that fuel this industry overpromise and underdeliver.

Research shows about half of all dieters give up within a month of starting their new diet plan and consumers typically end up back where they started by Super Bowl time.

As the mother of three children and as executive director of the Grain Foods Foundation (GFF), a nonprofit organization dedicated to educating the public about the important role grains play in a healthy diet, I am determined to help consumers break this cycle. Let’s get back to the basics and focus on achieving health and wellness with common sense—not with a cayenne pepper and lemon juice cocktail.

The option of making small behavioral changes and following a sustainable eating pattern that promises improved health over the long term is much less attractive, but the reward is much greater. Here are some guiding principles for those thinking about changing their eating plans:

• Avoid the “free” diet plans. It’s best to avoid eliminating whole food groups (dairy-free, gluten-free, egg-free, etc.) from your diet for reasons other than medical, such as an allergy or intolerance. The gluten-free diet has become hugely popular among the general population for weight loss. According to a review in the Journal of Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, gluten-free diets are critical for people with celiac disease and gluten intolerances, but there are no scientific studies to support that a gluten-free diet leads to weight loss in people without these conditions.

• Aim for balance. Recent Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA) call for six 1-oz. servings of grain foods daily, half from whole-grain sources and half from enriched sources. Overconsumption of any one food is not ideal, so balanced eating of all the food groups is best.

• Aim for sustainability. Dietary practices need to be sustainable and achievable to provide results. There’s a vast difference between calorie reductions and starvation. Be wary of diets that call for drastic measures for weight loss. If it sounds too good to be true, it usually is. 


Christine Cochran, executive director of the Grain Foods Foundation (GFF), is past president of a Washington-based trade association representing commodity futures exchanges and exchange participants. She also has worked extensively with lawmakers, regulators and other associations, as coordinator for the Alliance for Agricultural Growth and Competitiveness and as the agricultural section co-chair for Women In International Trade.