NEW YORK — Obsessing over calories alone has left dieters with an empty feeling.
The calorie counting that defined dieting for so long is giving way to other considerations, like the promise of more fiber or natural ingredients. That is chipping away at the popularity of products like Diet Coke, Lean Cuisine and Special K, which became weight-watching staples primarily by stripping calories from people’s favorite foods.
Part of the problem: “Low-calorie” foods make people feel deprived. Now, people want to lose weight while still feeling satisfied. And they want to do it without foods they consider processed.
Kelly Pill has been dieting since her son was born in 1990. But the 54-year-old resident of Covina, Calif., made changes to her approach in recent years. She doesn’t eat Lean Cuisine microwavable meals as often because she doesn’t find them that filling. She also switched to Greek yogurt last year to get more protein.
“Regular yogurt is really thin,” Pill said. “It was low in calories, but it wasn’t filling.”
It’s not that people don’t care about calories anymore. Nutrition experts still say weight loss comes down to burning more calories than you eat.
But dieters are sick of foods that provide only fleeting satisfaction and seem to make them hungrier. The new thinking is that eating foods with more protein or fat keeps will make dieters less likely to binge later, even if they’re higher in calories.
“People are recognizing that it’s not enough to just go on a diet and lose weight. Nutrition comes more into play,” said Margo Wootan, director of nutrition policy at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a health advocacy group.
Many top brands are trying to keep up with the trend:
•Special K cereal’s sales are down 7 percent in the past two years, according to IRI, a market research firm based in Chicago. Kellogg last year rolled out “Special K Nourish” hot cereals that tout a blend of grains such as quinoa and barley. A Kellogg executive noted at the time that people are looking for nutritional benefits rather than just reduced calories.