It’s time to gain some insight into where our society stands on dieting.
As someone who doubles as both a health blogger and a fitness influencer on Instagram (I hate the word influencer, but it applies), I’m naturally very curious about where everybody stands on dieting.
I took to Instagram to conduct a survey of health-conscious individuals (those who follow me have some level of interest in nutrition or fitness) to see how they feel about dieting and eating. I received 4,098 responses, which is a fantastic sample size to give us a solid picture.
Here’s a breakdown of the 15 questions asked, which provide some extremely valuable insight into the world of dieting.
The majority of people want to lose weight
When asked what their current weight goals are, the majority of people said they are trying to lose weight.
In fact, weight loss is 9 times more common than having no weight goal at all.
These results come to us in March of 2022, so enough time has passed to limit the New Year’s Resolution period where many people strive for weight loss. Still, with this audience representing people with an interest in health & fitness, it is not surprising to see weight loss at the forefront.
Results take time
Whether it be weight loss, weight gain, or maintaining their current weight, I was particularly interested to find out how long people have been pursuing their specific goals.
It turns out that nearly half of all people have been pursuing their goals for at least one year.
Dieting for that long is typically not recommended unless you have a very large amount of weight to lose, which shows that yo-yo dieting is likely the case here.
Many people find themselves dieting, giving up, and starting the process all over again. When all is said and done, that can quickly lead to a year or more.
When combined with the previous results, this equates to 32% of all people striving for weight loss for one year or longer.
Recruiting the help of fat burning products
When it comes to weight loss, it’s not at all uncommon to rely on the help of fat-burning products.
Over 50% of all respondents said that they’ve used at least one product or supplement to aid their weight loss.
Note that this does not include hiring a trainer, dietitian, or coach to assist in weight loss. This strictly refers to fat-burning supplements or physical products such as waist trainers.
While fat-burning supplements are far more common than physical products, 27% of people said that they’ve used a combination of multiple products to help them achieve their weight loss.
Based on the previous responses showing that the majority of people have been trying to lose weight for over one year, it’s safe to say that these products have not been very effective.
How common is tracking macros?
There is a ton of talk about “macros” (macronutrients) in the fitness community, so you might expect to see the majority of people keeping track of their macros.
This survey proves otherwise. While the result is nearly a 50/50 split, more people report not tracking their macros.
Why might someone want to track their macros over simply counting calories? Emily Field RD explains it well…
Tracking macros puts you in the driver’s seat of how you want to feel, look and perform. By manipulating the protein, fat and carbohydrate content of food and therefore, what the body receives – we give gentle direction. Put another way: if macros are like the language our body speaks, tracking macros is like learning how to speak that language right back to your body to give it instruction.
If half the people out there are choosing to not track their macros, are they counting their calories instead?
Counting calories is extremely common
While only half of all people track their macros, 85% count their calories in some capacity.
The health & fitness community very heavily revolves around calories and caloric intake, so these results come as no surprise.
At least 60% of all people report counting calories often, with 40% saying they count their calories every single day.
Counting calories is a great way to stay on track with weight goals, which is something we’ve seen takes quite some time.
But many people might argue that counting calories leads to obsessive behavior and damages one’s relationship with food.
Alissa Rumsey, a Registered Dietitian and intuitive eating coach, described to Huffpost.com how counting calories can affect one’s ability to detect hunger cues.
“Our bodies know how much we need to eat each day if we tune in and pay attention. Trusting your body means you don’t need to micromanage your caloric intake. Some days you will naturally need more food than others.”
Counting calories can be a very effective tool, but it definitely has its downsides.
Considering this, how exactly would people describe their relationship with food & dieting?
How is our relationship with food overall?
Is there a correlation between counting calories and a poor relationship with food?
According to this survey, there very well might be.
36% of all people think that their relationship is either below average or terrible compared to the norm.
Knowing that 85% of people count their calories in some capacity, it’s clear that a large portion of people who count calories also have a poor relationship with food.
Now, we can’t definitively say that counting calories causes a poor relationship with food, but there may very well be a correlation.
In fact, I tend to believe the opposite: I believe that counting calories can actually help our relationship with food through the likes of flexible dieting.
This may be shown by the 64% of people who believe their relationship with food is average or better.
As time goes on and people continue chasing various goals, is this relationship with food improving or getting worse?
The vast majority of people feel their relationship with food is improving over time, which is incredibly encouraging to see.
While many people may be yo-yo dieting, turning to fat burners, or feeling discouraged about their progress, it’s clear that they are learning along the way.
Even for those who feel they do not have a great relationship with food, it’s great to see the potential for that turning around as time marches forward.
Relationships with food are improving, but eating “healthy” is still stressful
You could have an extremely healthy relationship with food but still find yourself stressing over the choices you make.
With so much information out there, much of it conflicting, trying to make the “right” choices can be extremely stressful.
I get it, and clearly, I am not alone.
Over 80% of all people report stressing over their food choices, with a whole 37% stressing over their food on a regular basis.
As time goes on, I don’t expect this number to drop. While relationships with food may overall improve, that stress is going to continue rearing its ugly head.
With the continued rise of social media, anybody can provide diet information, so it can become extremely confusing (and stressful) to navigate it all.
Part of what I do here is to help lessen that stress around food, but that’s a topic to dive into separately.
How well do we understand nutrition as a whole?
Calories and macronutrients are some of the basic components of nutrition, and with so many people counting calories, it’s no surprise that most people feel they understand the basics of nutrition.
In fact, 95% of all respondents believe they have at least a basic understanding of nutrition concepts.
Over 40% of people feel they understand nutrition very well beyond just the basics. With so much of the fitness world revolving around food, it has become even easier to learn nutrition concepts without doing any formal studies.
In fact, since much of what I post about here revolves around food & nutrition, it makes great sense that my audience has a firm understanding of nutrition.
Not to toot my own horn or anything, but I guess I’m doing a decent job!
How well do we navigate eating out at restaurants?
We know that the majority of people count their calories in some capacity, but how does eating out at restaurants affect this calorie counting?
First, we need an understanding of how often the average person eats out at a restaurant (fast food included).
Most everyone eats out at restaurants (aside from the 3% of people claiming they never do) with almost 50% of all people saying they eat out at least once per week.
From our previous questions, we know that 85% of all people count calories, so that’s a large percentage of people faced with an age-old dilemma: do you try to track calories when eating out, or just order whatever you’d like?
1/3 of all people say that when they eat out, they try to stay on track with their goals. Not only does this mean attempting to track the calories of the meal, but that also implies selecting food based on dietary goals and not necessarily based on what menu item sounds the best.
Personally, I fall into the majority on this one; it depends on the day.
While sometimes I will order a meal in an attempt to stay within my daily caloric goals, most often I will just order whatever sounds best on the menu.
It may not necessarily be a bad idea to be conscious of what you’re consuming while eating out. Ben Carpenter summarized a 2003 study in an article on Pescience.com, which shows us how portion sizes are continuing to grow over time.
When presented with larger portion sizes, we are inclined to try to finish it, often leading to an overconsumption of food & calories.
Given that information, sometimes trying to “stay on track” while eating out can definitely be beneficial.
Holidays and vacations are driven by our diets
Eating out at restaurants is one story, but vacations and holidays are completely different stories.
Holidays and vacations are all about enjoyment. We should be creating memories, spending time with loved ones, and yes, enjoying some great food.
But is that food stressing us out?
It turns out that the majority of people attempt to stay on track over holidays and vacations in some capacity.
While I can fully respect wanting to sometimes stay on track, as is the case with most people here, I truly believe we should enjoy these moments to the fullest without worrying about our food choices.
Now, we can’t assume that everybody who attempts to stay on track on vacation is also stressing out over those choices.
However, we know that 95% of people stress over their food choices in some capacity, so it’s not unusual to think that some of that food-related stress falls on vacation.
There’s absolutely nothing wrong with wanting to stay on track, but my sincere hope is that it isn’t hindering our ability to enjoy our vacations.
What are we looking for in our food choices?
When we talk about “staying on track” with our diet, what does that mean for most people?
According to this survey, it mostly means eating low-calorie & high-protein.
Given that the audience surveyed has an interest in fitness, this low-calorie, high-protein diet preference makes a ton of sense.
It is interesting to note the slight differences between meals and snacks, however.
When it comes to meals, more people are interested in that meal being high protein than they are in it being low calorie. When it comes to mealtime, we’ll gladly sacrifice some extra calories in the name of protein.
But when it comes to snacking between meals, our preferences shift slightly. When choosing snacks, 50% of people are likely to choose a snack because it’s lower in calories.
Regardless of how it’s sliced, it’s clear that low-calorie, high-protein food options reign supreme when it comes to dieting.
We can’t ignore micronutrients… or can we?
This survey touches on food choices, calories, and macronutrients, but micronutrients must be mentioned as well.
Micronutrients refer to the vitamins and minerals in food, and there are many people out there who aim to eat plenty of micronutrients in their diets.
But that number may be way smaller than you think…
According to this survey, 1/4 of all people say they never consider micronutrients when choosing food. Almost 1/3 of all people say it crosses their mind occasionally, but it isn’t a determining factor in choosing food to eat.
That means that over 50% of all people rarely consider micronutrients in their diets, which may come as a surprise to many.
With the rise of supplements, namely multivitamins and greens powders, it’s very possible that a large number of people rely on supplements to cover their daily micronutrient requirements and never consider it when it comes to their food choices.
As someone who follows flexible dieting and tracks macros, I must admit that I fall under the “occasional” category as well. While micronutrients are not in the front of the mind, it’s something I consider from time to time.
Only 6% say that micronutrients are a very important part of their diets, which is a clear representation of just how prominent calories & macros are that they put micronutrients on the backburner.
Julie Andrews, a registered dietitian, and chef behind The Healthy Epicurean, shared her thoughts on the topic…
Each micronutrient has a specific function in our body (say, vitamin D, magnesium and calcium, for example), so it’s important to also focus on including nutrient-dense foods in your diet (like fruits, vegetables, beans, etc.) that provide the nutrients we need. We have to look at the diet as a whole rather than just counting calories and shooting for a goal that doesn’t support overall health.
Julie Andrews, MS, RDN, CD, FAND
Conclusion: Our relationship with dieting in 2022
While this survey was conducted through a group of individuals with an interest in health & fitness, we can use these responses to make some general conclusions about the state of dieting in 2022.
We can all draw our own conclusions based on the data, but here are the major takeaways from this survey:
- Weight loss is still the major goal for individuals
- When pursuing weight loss, we’re not being nearly as effective as we could be (concluded by the fact that goals are taking over one full year to achieve, if ever)
- Tracking macros and counting calories are tools widely used by many
- As a whole, relationships with food & dieting seem to be improving over time
- Micronutrients play a minor role in common diets
Thank you to everyone who participated in this survey, and thank you for reading through the results!
I found this all extremely interesting and informative, and I hope you did, too.
Methodology & data collection
The respondents of this survey are all individuals with some level of interest in health & fitness and may not fully reflect the general public.
- All 4,098 survey responders follow @cheatdaydesign on Instagram, which is an account dedicated to health, fitness, and nutrition.
- Responses were taken in March of 2022
- Nobody was compensated or incentivized to complete this survey
- Data was compiled using Instagram’s polling features which allow all users to submit responses directly through the app