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When Wellness Meets Weight Loss

An anti-diet movement is gaining steam, fueled by new apps that promote an intuitive approach to healthy eating.

Calorie counting is so 2021.

As consumers embrace all things wellness, dieting is now a dirty word, replaced by the idea of intuitive eating and a slew of apps hoping to make mindful eating easier to navigate.

According to YPulse, there has been a shift in diet culture among Gen Z and Millennials from focusing on weight loss to nutrition and fitness. YPulse also tracked that 57 percent of this group said their diet is unrestricted. Half of the females surveyed shared that they care about their health and being healthy, 13 percent noted they are currently on a diet, diet plan, or taking diet pills, and 14 percent said they count calories daily.

“Dieting, in general, is about weight loss and quick fixes,” said Mia Rigden, Los Angeles-based board-certified nutritionist. “It’s not about health and wellness.”

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That is now changing as an anti-diet approach takes root. According to MaryLeigh Bliss, chief content officer at YPulse, there are many reasons behind the shift to mindful eating. As Gen Z and Millennials have grown up, they’ve been exposed to different information about nutrition. “These generations have been fueling the body positivity and body acceptance movement for years, and that has had an impact on how they view diets,” she said. “Weight loss becomes less of a goal when bodies of all sizes are more accepted and represented.”

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Whatever the approach, weight loss is big business in the wellness world. The Global Wellness Institute reported that healthy eating, nutrition, and weight loss grew from $858 billion in 2017 to $912 billion in 2019 to $945.5 billion in 2020 and is forecast to grow 5 percent annually through 2025, to reach $1.2 trillion.

Trying to tap into the new zeitgeist are apps like Flourish, Wellory and The Body Love Society, which are looking to shift mind-sets around dieting via coaching with a nutritionist or dietician and reestablishing healthy habits.

Flourish, an invite-only app was founded by Claire Siegel, a registered dietitian who believes traditional diets impair physical, mental and emotional health. The app pairs members with a nutritionist and psychotherapist to help them heal from diets and create sustainable healthy habits instead.

Clients start with an initial strategy session to talk about their goals and history. From there, they choose either Basic membership, $79 a month, which includes unlimited group coaching, or a Premium tier, $149 a month, which includes unlimited one-on-one and group coaching every week. The Premium level accounts for about 70 percent of all members, according to the company.

“On the app, you’re not tracking your food,” said Siegel. “You’re not eliminating food groups. Our end goal for members is that they tune back into their body signals around what to eat, when to eat and how much to eat.”

That approach is often called intuitive eating, which eschews the idea of weight loss and restriction and a prescriptive approach to what to eat. “Intuitive eating is the opposite of dieting,” said Shana Minei Spence, MS, RDN, CDN. “It’s about getting in touch with your body and its needs. The way to do this is not relying on an app to tell you what to eat and when.”

“Diet culture is so ugly,” said Emily Hochman, founder of Wellory. “It’s so bad for your mental health and it doesn’t lead to long-term results. Eighty-three percent of dieters end up gaining more weight than they’ve lost within the first two years.”

Wellory’s methodology is built on positive additions versus negative subtraction. More than 65 percent of its customer’s primary goal is weight loss, but the path toward that is different from programs that encourage calorie counting.

“Most of our customers are between the ages of 28 and early sixties,” said Hochman. “They’ve tried all these different diets, but none of them work and, most importantly, they’re sick of doing it alone. So what we’re solving for is sustainability, a personalized plan, and the support and accountability for someone to talk to.”

On Wellory, the registered dietitians and licensed nutritionists are known as  Wellorists. When signing up, a member goes through a questionnaire and its algorithm matches each client with a Wellorist, who educates clients on how to build out meals, while providing grocery lists and recipes to build healthy habits. Hochman noted the average person stays with Wellory for about six months. Membership costs $49.99 a month.

Hochman said that in 2022, Wellory will partner with a health insurance company to help offset some of the membership cost.

Through community and technology, The Body Love Society, an anti-diet app that launched this past December, is also helping its members heal from their experience with diets. Founded by Jenna Free and Lauren McAulay, who are both intuitive eating counselors, The Body Love Society, $9.99 a month, includes an array of audio workshops and classes by contributing experts like dietitians, physicians, fitness experts, intuitive eating counselors, therapists and yoga instructors, all who come from a non-diet approach.

“People are catching on more quickly that dieting and being obsessed with food isn’t the only way they can do something different,” said McAulay.

Down the line, The Body Love Society is planning to roll out a free version of the app so that everyone can get help in this area regardless of what they can afford or want to invest. “Intuitive eating is a long-term endeavor,” said McAulay, “but it’s what will bring people that peace and freedom and ease with food that they always thought dieting would give them.”

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