Why Weight Watchers can go to hell with their “FREE” teens membership

Where to start with this one? You’ve probably heard the news that Weight Watchers is targeting teenagers now with a free membership. Looks like they are on the hunt for more lifelong members. Lifelong being the word, because dieting behaviour tends to lead to a whole host of long-term problems — mental and physical.

For a starting point: Weight watchers doesn’t work. Neither does “Slimming World” or any of the other diet cults. Dieting doesn’t make people thinner. That’s a starting point and frankly it should be strong enough a truth to also be the nail in the dieting coffin. But it isn’t, and I still can’t really work out why. Maybe people are simply so desperate for thinness that they want to believe that dieting works.

Take, for example, this study here, which shows that “Dieting and unhealthy weight-control behaviors tended to be associated with weight gain, suggesting that they are ineffective in addition to being potentially harmful.” If it weren’t so tragic it would be funny, and it is certainly ironic that the quest for thinness leads to weight gain.

We still haven’t got the message through that body fat is not the enemy. We still have a world that believes that healthy means thin. Despite the masses of evidence to the contrary — much of which at this point is clear in people’s own self history and lived experience — people still believe that a fat on a person’s body is unhealthy.

I often wonder how humans are still here. For a species with such high intelligence, we can be really fucking dumb.

Yes for those of you who missed the memo: dieting leads to weight gain.

Thankfully for us, the human body isn’t stupid. If it were, we would have been extinct eons ago. The human body is designed to survive famine, and when a person does on a diet, the body perceives famine and reacts accordingly — that is, often, a reaction that leads to gaining weight and storing more essential bodyfat.

Okay, think of it this way. You have a great job that pays you a ton of money. Then you get fired. If you have any sense at all, when your income lowers you reduce your expenditure — you stop spending money on massages and expensive whisky and, instead, start saving more. Many human bodies (not all) react to perceived famine by storing more fat and lowering metabolism. Some human bodies react to perceived famine by wanting to migrate (mine, and maybe yours too if you have anorexia). Either way, the long term effect of energy deficit (dieting) is not good. Those of us with the anorexia genetics develop the anorexia response, and we all know what a shithole that is. Those with the alternative famine response to store bodyfat tend to put on weight after dieting. Yet, as with so many things, people continue to believe health myths about weight gain and loss.

Which is why Weight Watchers have such a brilliant marketing plan to give kids free memberships. They are going to start fucking with people’s metabolisms nice and early, so that by the time they are in their 20s, their natural set point will have risen. Then, all they have to do is keep selling shame like they are already so very good at, and convince people that fat bodies are undesirable, and they’ve got people hooked on counting points and syns.

 

Weight gain in teens is normal and optimal

Weight Watchers gets my goat when it targets adults, for sure, but teenagers is a whole other level. Weight gain is normal and optimal in teenagers. It is needed for development. Taken from this paper on teen growth and developement:

Approximately half of adult ideal body weight is gained during adolescence. Peak weight gain follows the linear growth spurt by 3 to 6 months in females and by approximately 3 months in males. Girls will gain approximately 18.3 lb (8.3 kg) per year during peak rates of weight gain, (12.5 years of age on average). Average weight gains during puberty among females are between 15-55 lb (7-25 kg), with a mean gain of 38.5 lb (17.5 kg). Weight gain slows around the time of menarche, but will continue into late adolescence. Adolescent females may gain as much as 14 lb (6.3 kg) during the latter half of adolescence.

While the accretion of body fat mass is a normal, physiologically essential process, adolescent females often view it with negativity. Weight dissatisfaction is widespread among teenage females, leading to an increased risk of health-compromising behaviors such as excessive caloric restriction, frequent dieting, use of diet pills or laxatives, severe body image distortions and eating disorders.

Yes, exactly, weight dissatisfaction is already rife, Weight Watchers, we don’t need your help in spreading further body shame and self-hatred.

Below, you will find a couple excerpts from people in recovery on how Weight Watchers influenced their eating disorder. If you have a story to add, please do so in the comments section of this blog.

 


I lived on their hideous ready “meals” for years as a teen (“salmon gratin” with the consistency of wallpaper paste and sufficient calorie content to sustain a gnat was a particular favourite). This really kept me stuck as it was an excuse to avoid family meals.

 

Weight Watchers success is based on shame. Let’s take a moment to reflect on how gross that is. They make money through people’s shame. They

 

weight watchers was always my start to loosing weight as it controlled how much I ate, I was also able to reassure everyone that “I’m fine” so it kept up my facade longer. It changed my brain and I still struggle to not think in points, as my brain is so programmed to do so. It definitely contributed to my ED only was concealed by “smart eating choices” (lol, my auto fill in switched the word choice to voice coincidence, or sad reality?)

 

I lived off Weight Watchers measly tomato soup and their 70% less fat cheese for a good couple of years at the beginning of my descent into anorexia.

 

weight watchers actually was the spark that activated my relapse of my eating disorder out of college. I started counting points innocently enough but the amount was extremely low reflecting back on it. It wasn’t an amount that anyone should be eating, even those wanting to lose weight. The drastic caloric deficit was enough to throw me back into the anorexia that started in college. Before I knew it I was trying to eat fewer and fewer points a day and could not go over that amount. I think the points are super triggering for anyone with ed tendencies and makes is so easy to hide the ed under the guise of a “healthy” eating plan. I know the tag line now is freedom but the whole thing provides anything but that.

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What do you think?

  1. My dad enrolled me in WW when I was 11 years old. In WW, I learned that a thin body was ideal, that my body was unacceptable, and that food is just points. I began fearing high point foods with lots of fat, and obsessing over what I should and shouldn’t eat. I became anorexic at 16, which eventually retaliated into bulimia for the next 10 years. WW was negligible in accepting me at 11 years old. It stole the joy out of eating, and caused me a lifetime of being concerned with weight and body image. My case is NOT the exception. This is the norm for adults that began in WW as teens.

  2. I wasn’t put weight watchers but my parents put me on slimfast when I was a child my mother was always on a diet. My father also exercised excessively. Weight watchers and all of those companies feed on shame. I spent years hating my own body. I am now just learning how to love my body and give up my diet foods. I think this could be distaserous for anyone who might have ED tendencies. I know it was for me.

  3. I’m sorry to tell you, but I was a Weight Watcher teen at 19. I had gone through a bulimic state long before that, simply because I was compared to my peers at school. Weight Watchers is a tool. Simply that. Just like Gastric bypass. Just like pills. Just like any number of other things. The difference is that they teach you healthy options, to weigh your portions, etc–so that what actually happens, is your body and your mind relearn what is a normal and healthy amount of food for you to eat. To imply that being overweight is healthy either is just ridiculous. What Weight Watchers promotes is a normal healthy weight at a normal rate of loss. Sorry this just doesn’t fly with me–and I’ve been at both ends of the spectrum.

    • Weighing portions is disordered. It is literally a disordered, eating disorder behaviour. Weighing your food is not normal or healthy? Humans existed without scales. Gastric bypass and pills are not normal, natural or healthy either.

      Body weight doesn’t determine body health. I have been underweight and VERY unhealthy, and I know plenty of people who are statistically “overweight” and perfectly healthy.

    • As a teenager, I didn’t obsess about food before WW gave me the language to. A better treatment for my weight gain would have been to leave me alone. Teens gain weight in puberty. Also, if my eating behaviors were so erratic as a teen, don’t you think psychotherapy would have been more effective than putting me on a restrictive diet and telling me my weight is the problem. You can defend WW, but the research (percentages of people who keep weight off and have a healthy body image) shows it doesn’t work.

    • Except that Weight Watchers is not healthy, it is not teaching healthy behaviours. It centres around the idea that people are only healthy if they are at x weight, which is not true. (Because a number on a chart cannot tell you if your body is st it’s optimal weight). It centres around the idea that we should not listen to our body and instead use our minds to measure how much food to give to our bodies, which is disordered and unhealthy.
      Measuring portion sizes is disordered. Weighing food is disordered. Eating in any way other than giving your body the food it is asking for is disordered.
      Basically, Weight Watchers is disordered and is in no universe healthy for anyone.

  4. I don’t know which WW plan these people followed, but the WW plan I am in teaches mindfulness, and teaches me how to eat real food and how to stop at one serving. It is NOT a diet, it is a lifestyle, one that my husband and I are embracing together. We have lost almost 100 pounds and are happier, healthier, and more active than we have been in years. WW today focuses on “Beyond the Scale” and WHY are you interested in losing weight. It is not body shaming or fat shaming. If your goal weight does not fit into the range they have set, a simple doctors note is sufficient to change your goal. WW today is about a HEALTHY relationship with food. If I had learned that as a teen and young adult, I might not need it now. Our culture teaches us more is better, and our bodies react to that “more” by gaining weight. How is that better? I think if a teenager who enrolls in Weight Watchers and learns to have a HEALTHY relationship with food, s/he will avoid the eating disorders you describe.

  5. I cannot love this enough! I am living proof that diets don’t work (long term) and you end up bigger than when you started. I was 11 stone the first time I joined WW at age 23… I’m so much heavier than that now (at 48) despite rejoining WW or Slimming World numerous times! I wish I’d known then what I know now.

  6. Teaching people how to control and restrict what they eat, stopping at one serving even if the body needs more, is diet behavior, not mindfulness and not intuitive eating.

    The big problem is that WW is a large multi-billion dollar business with a main goal of keeping people tied to the false belief that you need to be thin to be successful, healthy, and happy. Health at all sizes isn’t considered because that won’t bring the company money.

    A healthy relationship with food can be taught, but it doesn’t include “watching” weight. It includes a focus shift away from beauty aesthetics and toward Heath and feeling good while trusting your body, not trying to control it.

    Keep speaking out and exposing these companies for what they are. It is not a coincidence that Oprah bought stock in the company before she became a spokesperson.

  7. Yeah, the thing is that WW wouldn’t exist if society didn’t fat shame us all. My parents made me go to WW when I was sixteen, because they thought I was huge. I weighed 142 lbs! I guess that’s a little chubby for 5’4″, but certainly within normal limits. I would love to weigh that today. My weight stabilized at about 127 a couple of years later with no outside assistance. I only went to WW about four months. I just didn’t get anything out of it, and I hated feeling like a failure if the scale didn’t show a loss for the week. Of course now I weigh 185, and am miserable. I don’t sit around doing nothing but eating junk food all day; there just seems to be a genetic component that I can’t escape. I hate the fact that people judge me on
    my weight like it’s a moral shortcoming on my part. Not all of us were made to be rails.

    • I agree with you! AND, weight watchers is part of society that fat shames. It’s a cycle with many contributing parts.