By: Tanya Rosen
You may be familiar with generational titles, two of the most popular being ‘baby boomers’ and ‘millennials’ which I will focus on in this article.
Millennials were born between the years of 1981-1996 and are between the ages of 22-37.
Baby Boomers were born between 1946-1964 and are 54-72 years old.
I first began thinking about the relationship of dieting to the generation one was born in when I overheard my mother telling a friend (who is also in her 60’s like my mom) how shocked she was that someone they know is getting divorced. The basis of her shock was that this couple still has several children living at home and they should have stuck it out for the kids’ sake. This made me realize how different today’s thinking is.
Although divorce is tragic and often a last resort, there is no longer the premise that “Just because we have kids, we stick it out”. In fact, the opposite seems to be happening in recent years where without even giving life together a fair chance, couples are divorcing after just a few short months of “trying” to make it work. The recurring theme I gathered from this was impatience, instant gratification, and a disposable society. Now, to be completely transparent, I myself am actually a millennial. I am however on the older range of the cut off AND I grew up in Israel with Russian parents before settling in Brooklyn at the age of 10, so I may have a little bit of a different perception than the typical younger American millennial.
I looked up research studies and asked my social media followers for their input as well. Not shocking but most of the responses came from millennials as they are more likely than the baby boomers to even have social media. To get responses from baby boomers, I reached out to clients of that age range as well as relatives. Some of the questions I asked were:
Age at which dieting started, reason why dieting started, shortest and longest time a diet lasted, most important factors when choosing a diet, how much research and in what form it is done before starting a new plan, and how likely or unlikely they are to knowingly go into an extreme plan.
In having these conversations, I found that each generation had its own positives and negatives when it came to dieting.
Positives of baby boomers:
Lack of social media
Why is this positive?
Social media can be overwhelming and confusing. Between Google, Yelp, and dozens of other platforms for reviews, one can get turned on or off simply based on good advertising, fake reviews, or inaccurately portrayed experiences.
Appreciation for education versus hype
Baby boomers appreciate going to someone who is educated and/or experienced versus someone that just has good marketing or media hype. Many of them are college-educated and hold value to that.
Real doctors versus Dr. Google
Baby boomers are more likely to ask advice from a qualified professional versus googling their symptoms (known as the “Dr. Google” trend). This means they are more likely to establish a relationship with a human professional who is also more qualified to give advice than google.
Slow and steady is perfectly ok for them
This is the generation that cooked on a stovetop before microwaves appeared, washed cloth diapers by hand, didn’t have Uber, and even managed life without cell phones. They know what it means to be patient and delay the reward versus expect instant gratification. Translated to dieting, this means they don’t expect quick weight loss or unrealistic progress. As my amazing successful 55-year-old client said “I am not capable of extreme diets. I know it will not work well for me and I know I will gain it back. I MUST have food”.
Not as entitled
Baby boomers don’t have an “I deserve it” or “It’s coming to me” mentality. Now before millennials get offended at this, remember that I myself am a millennial so I am included in this and have to admit am guilty of this as well. They know that to get something, you have to work for it and they’re ok with that. They also handle slight inconveniences such as having to prepare meals and even be a little hungry sometimes better than millennials since they are used to the process of working hard to see the reward/result.
Willing to cook
According to restaurant reports I came across, baby boomers are only recently becoming consumers for fast food items such as meals on the go. Baby boomers are much more willing than millennials to prepare and cook their meals which means they have more control of what they’re consuming and they’re saving on all the extras that inevitably come with restaurant meals.
Need less variety/don’t get bored as easily
Baby Boomers don’t need dozens of options or funky methods of prep. To them, food is usually… food. It’s not meant to be taken a picture of and posted on social media. It’s meant for consumption. Yes, it needs to be fresh and filling but “interesting” or “funky” or “different” isn’t on their requirement list. A study by Technomic found that baby boomers are not adapters nor are they adventurous when it comes to food. Translated to dieting, they are less likely to get bored with their menus and look for too many new ideas which may impact their diet negatively.
Negatives of baby boomers
Stubborn about change
Whether it’s their age or their generational pattern, baby boomers seem to be set in their ways and resist change. Even when logically knowing they need to change their eating habits, it is hard for them to change their ways. When an unpredictable situation arises such as running out of a staple diet item or a restaurant not having healthy options, they have a hard time being flexible and may feel stuck and even feel like they failed.
Less likely to share struggles
The negative side of being used to “roughing things out”, is learning to ask for help or share a struggle with their nutritionist or weight loss group. While millennials will easily tell me about a cheat or a binge, baby boomers are more likely to put on a strong front and have the “I got this” attitude. Because they are so used to being self-sufficient, it is hard for them to admit they need help.
Wait for a health concern to take action
Because Baby boomers are not as motivated by vanity or diet trends, it often takes a health scare or a doctor’s warning to take action. This can mean their condition could have been managed earlier if they had been proactive. This also ties into the point above about not asking for help unless absolutely necessary. Some common baby boomer health conditions which could be managed and even prevented with proper nutrition are type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and cancer.
Have a hard time wasting food
These are the children of Holocaust survivors so they grew up being told food doesn’t get thrown out, ever! When I tell them to use only one yolk and the rest whites, they will save those yolks. If they are full and some food is left on their plate, they will either force themselves to finish it, or wrap it up and save it. In the dieting world, sometimes it’s ok to throw out a little bit when it isn’t good for your health.
Positives of millennials
Millennials are used to setting goals and reaching them, be it with schooling, business, or their diet. Dieting is an item on their success to-do list and they usually treat it this way.
Resourceful with diet apps
Millennials are tech-savvy so they have no problem downloading water drinking reminders, bar code scanners that tell you all about the product, workouts on their phones, etc. When it comes to social media, even if they follow food bloggers and drool over their cookies, they will also follow health and fitness blogs.
Want to and can spend money
According to Business Insider, this year their purchasing power is set to surpass baby boomers’ which means they CAN spend on healthy food, professional nutrition help, and exercise programs.
Millennials don’t wait for a problem to arise or weight gain to creep up. They take a proactive approach and watch their weight even without officially “needing to”. When I took a poll, most millennials started dieting as young as 8 or 10 as opposed to the baby boomers which started no earlier than 20, some not even until they were in their 30’s.
A vain generation
Millennials put a lot of emphasis on their appearance. They also have a high standard of what is considered “thin” and are motivated to fit into this category. While vanity itself isn’t necessarily an admirable trait, in this case where it may motivate people to get healthier, it can be.
While millennials may not have the same ‘work hard’ ethic as baby boomers, they are used to doing a bunch of things at once. If motherhood AND a career AND chessed is possible, then so is ordering a salad while throwing in a quick workout DVD before the kids get home. Such is the generation, fast paced and multi faceted.
Negatives of millennials
Hype versus credibility
Millennials turn to social media a lot for their research on a diet or a nutritionist. They are more likely to believe a Yelp review than check out more important factors like education, experience, or even the safety of a diet plan.
Eat with their eyes
Millennials are very visual when it comes to their food which explains the craze with posting pictures of everything and restaurants having to almost have artistic skills when it comes to food prep. In dieting, this means they often will pick and taste and even fully cheat on something just because “it looked so good”.
Millennials have little patience for slow results, meals that take time, and even long appointments with their nutritionist. Interesting to note, their responses to my questions for this article were short and abbreviated whereas baby boomers wrote paragraphs in complete sentences. They’re always running to the next thing, so dieting needs to very conveniently fit in or they won’t do it. I came across a USDA study which said that millennials find it more inconvenient than any other generation to look for coupons making only 6% of their spending from coupons versus nearly 8% for older generations. This impatience makes them more likely to choose a plan that yields quick results but is either dangerous or non-sustainable. When I was in Chicago recently, 2 women were discussing their respective shuls. One said everyone in her shul is middle-aged, doing Weight Watchers and losing slowly. The other woman said she goes to a young shul where everyone is on some type of fad diet and always losing and gaining.
Online versus one on one
Many millennials will choose an online program or an app versus a one on one relationship and guidance from a nutritionist in person. To them, the financial and time savings override the real need for a relationship with someone who can customize, encourage, etc.
Go out to eat more and cook less
According to Business Insider, millennials have a strong preference for convenience and eat at restaurants more than any other generation. Business Insider also found that even though they are working less hours than the older generations, they spend the least amount of time on meal prep.
Even cereal seemed too tedious because it involved a bowl, according to a 2015 report from Mintel. The cereal maker Kellogg saw its sales drop 14% from 2013 through 2017 as younger consumers turned to more convenient options like yogurt and prepared breakfast sandwiches.
So what does this all mean?
Just like with horoscopes, birth order, or anything else, this isn’t a final predictor and just helps you to get to know your strengths and weaknesses, which you may not have been aware of and are just ingrained or inborn so to speak, based on when you were born or how you grew up.
Anyone, at any age, CAN do well on a sustainable and healthy program. No matter when you were born, you CAN do well.