I apologize in advance for this. I had just polished off a glass of pinot noir when Dana sent me an Instagram post about Weight Watchers.
Weight Watchers gets me real riled up.
If you love Weight Watchers, or it works for you, feel free to skip this one. Rock on, happy calorie counting.
But, like the majority of humans, if you’ve joined and rejoined the program multiple times with little to no success, let’s carry on shall we?
You may have seen their latest initiative floating around the Internet, which plans to offer free memberships to teenagers ages 13-17 this summer.
From a marketing perspective, this tactic is comically transparent. And yet, I understand the confusion around it. Because we see these sponsorships popping up with Well+Good, DJ Khaled and Oprah and other trusted influencers, touting the benefits of the program. And I love Oprah.
But make no mistake, this is a marketing tactic.
Could it be possible, that programs like this have to pay millions of dollars in advertising and spokesperson fees for a reason? That they’re struggling because they don’t work? Just spitballing here.
After learning about this new campaign I meandered over to the Weight Watchers website and discovered some interesting things.
Turns out, according to hook number one, they’ll now pay you $100 to lose weight and get healthy. Which, hey great news, you can do by chowing down on a piece of buttermilk bundt cake for dessert every night.
At this point, I hop over to the Weight Watchers Facebook page, where I fall into a deep black hole of reading comments and I cannot stop.
William here lost a ton of weight but is now gaining it back (despite exercising like crazy and eating less) and is confused AF about his points.
Morgan jumped on the “200 free foods” incentive but that didn’t seem to work, so she keeps switching back and forth between point systems.
Heidi lost 54 pounds freestylin’ but oh, see asterisk, you should know that she did another program before that and you’re probably not gonna lose that much weight.
Here’s the part that breaks my heart. Loads of people are “falling off the bandwagon” and keep berating themselves because they’re failing. There are so many “my fault” sentiments, and people lamenting that they just “love to eat” or can’t stop “goofing off”. This dieting business is serious, after all.
Here’s why Weight Watchers is not a healthy plan, in my opinion:
- Encourages a restrictive diet mentality
- Creates a negative relationship with food
- Focuses on decreasing caloric intake as opposed to nutritional density
And here’s why teenage weight loss programs are particularly dangerous:
When you read between the lines of all these comments on Facebook and promotional copy on the website, you can just barely make out the restriction mentality that comes with any diet program. It’s tough to see, but it’s there, regardless of this whole “freestyle” rebrand (it’s called wellness now, not weight loss!) or promises that “all types of food” are allowed. At the end of the day, your food is restricted in some capacity.
So now, Weight Watchers plans to wrap tons of teenage girls into a thinly veiled dieting mentality, advising them not to listen to their bodies for cues on hunger or fullness levels, or recognizing food as a tool to nourish themselves, but that counting points (calories), without regard to the nutritional density or type of food, is the most effective way to feel good about their bodies (read: get skinnier). And ultimately, that the number on the scale is how they should evaluate their self worth.
These are the programs that sustain a culture of shame and guilt around food. That take the joy out of food and replace it with a negative, almost fearful frame of mind.
Perhaps the most dangerous part of all, is that restrictive dieting is a slippery slope to eating disorders.
Scientific research has shown that the obsession around weight can have severe effects on physical and mental health.
The National Eating Disorders Association said it was “very concerned” about Weight Watchers’ promotion in a responsive statement, because 35 percent of dieters can develop disordered eating, and teens are at an especially vulnerable stage of life.
Furthermore, that putting kids on diets puts them at far greater risk for disordered behavior and unhealthy habits throughout life. And at such a critical time, when habits and behaviors and ideas are being formed, seems like a dangerous message to send to teenage girls.
In a follow up statement, Weight Watchers said “Our goal is to help those who need healthy habits to develop them at this critical life-stage; this is not about dieting.”
But, like, if it’s not about dieting, what is it about…?
I still have vivid memories of when I was kid, advised to walk on the treadmill for 30 minutes, and hiding candy bar wrappers in the trash so I didn’t get caught. I understand the pain of being told “don’t eat that” and “you don’t look okay” which is exactly what we’re telling these kids when they’re dragged to Weight Watchers meetings.
Much, much later I’ve reached a far better place with it all. But man, the past 20 years would have been a whole lot easier if I learned from a young age that mindset matters so much more than the mechanics. If I had learned how to form a positive relationship with food. Because that positive relationship is the key to maintaining any form of consistency.
If I was told that I was just fine the way I was, and that I deserved to feel happy and loved, regardless of my dress size.
Because when we tell teenage girls that they’re not hitting the (unrealistic, ridiculous) beauty standard our society has created for them, that they’re not good enough, we perpetuate the problem.
And what do we think happens after this “free summer” by the way? Do we not think all these teens are going to get slapped with a membership fee in order to continue their weight loss journey? Do we not think hooking them with a couple free months is part of the plan the company announced in this press release to grow to $2 billion in revenue?
Sorry, warned you. This stuff gets me heated.
And the craziest part of it all, is that I don’t actually think Weight Watchers is out to get anyone. I think they do want to help people lose weight and reach a larger audience (and yes, of course, make a lot of money doing it). But I think their intentions are misguided, and ultimately the program is not sustainable for so many people. People who are really struggling along the way and end up worse off, believing it’s their fault that they failed.
So while Dana and I are not out to take down Weight Watchers, we’re not so sure it’s the best solution for teenage girls.
And if you’re debating joining Weight Watchers (or maybe you already have), we’re also not here to sway your decision. We’re just here to poke holes in the theory that it’s the right program for anyone who wants to lose weight.
To share the personal experimentation and expert advice we’ve come across in our research to provide alternative options, if that’s what you’re looking for. Because we were. And we found some ways to develop sustainable, healthy habits, that don’t leave you feeling like a failure when the system fails you.
We’ve got a whole bunch of resources listed on this page: trusted books, websites, podcasts and programs.
We’ve also written about our own experiences and what we’ve learned, in case it’s helpful. Because boy do we get it. We’ve been there:
Most importantly though, we’d like to gently remind you, no matter how you go about trying to eat healthier or change your body, or generally live your life, that it’s the intention that matters. Are you joining Weight Watchers because you love yourself and want to do something good for your body? Or are you counting calories and monitoring points because you feel like you have to punish yourself, and need to hate your way into a body you love?
Something to think about, if you’re considering a diet program this summer.
I’d love to hear your take on Weight Watchers, or any other common weight loss program. Feel free to share in the comments!