The diet industry really needs you to lose weight this year

The focus on do-it-yourself diets has not meant fat profits for the industry.
The focus on do-it-yourself diets has not meant fat profits for the industry.
Image: AP Photo/Don Ryan
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Today—the first day of the new year—is also probably the first day of your diet. Just know that whether you’re drinking protein or modeling meals after cavemen, someone is cashing in on everyone’s newfound resolve to lose weight. In the US alone, dieting is a $61 billion industry.

But it’s hardly expanding (despite how your waistline feels after a holiday season).

Spending on diets stalled in the recession and hasn’t really grown much since then. Total revenues rose about 1.7% in 2012 and were expected to increase 2.6% in 2013, according to MarketData, which has tracked the sector for more than 20 years.  More than three-quarters of dieters are looking for a do-it-yourself, low-priced diet program, its report shows.

While the dieting industry needs some gains this year, potential losers are likely to choose a free app or low-priced diet e-book or book.  In 2014, Americans may increasingly turn to the Dash Diet or the Metabolism Miracle Diet or the Caveman Diet, according to Experian Marketing Services, which says it has tracked online diet information for a decade.  Their popularity and the Heart Healthy Diet’s have increased the most since 2012, based on consumer searches of 68 search engines.

But the most popular diet, according to Experian, is and will continue to be the Paleo Diet, a largely meat-based  “caveman” diet aimed at people who carry smartphones instead of spears. Paleo has plenty of knockoffs that offer guides and ebooks and more for sale—as well as some experts who debunk the notion that we ought to eat as our hunter-gatherer ancestors did.

The list of diets on Google Trends is also topped by Paleo but includes two juice cleanses, plus the Okinawa diet (which based on plants as food and allows you to eat until you’re 80% full)  and the Fruitarian diet (which made headlines when actor Ashton Kutcher landed in the hospital while using it to prepare for his role as Apple’s CEO).

From book publishers to meal replacements (Jenny Craig, Slim-Fast) to surgeries, the weight-loss programs added up to $61.6 billion spent in the US in 2012, with growth expected in 2013. The dieting industry is also eyeing emerging markets as obesity rates in the BRICs—Brazil, Russia, India and China—rise dramatically.

Some diet entrepreneurs and their fortunes have propelled them into serious fat-cat territory; Slim-Fast shake creator Daniel Abraham has made the Forbes 400 list, for example. But more recently, Slim-Fast has been shrinking—and that’s something a dieter might appreciate even if the industry doesn’t.