Shame on you Weight Watchers

That, then, is loveliness, we said,
Children in wonder watching the stars,
Is the aim and the end
— Dylan Thomas

Weight Watchers announced last week that they will be offering free memberships to kids ages 13-17 beginning this summer. They justified the move by saying it would aid in “the development of healthy habits at a critical stage in life.” Nothing says healthy like introducing kids to a pattern of restrictive eating that they will have to engage in (and pay for) for the rest of their lives, I guess. Oprah Winfrey, who owns 10% of the company (and has pulled in $300 million since her investment two years ago), says it is a good idea. So it must be, right? 

I couldn’t disagree more. Here’s why:



Diets Don't Work

First, I want to address Oprah and the people like her who have influence in the dieting culture. She presents herself as an everyman. She knows what feels like to battle her weight. Therefore, if you battle with your weight, who better to look to, to identify with, than Oprah. And while her intentions may be good, the damage she and those like her who purvey diets as the answer to poor body image and the “health”problems associated with carrying too much weight, is undeniably immense. The dieting culture has been raging full throttle since the 70s. And we are, statistically speaking, getting fatter as a whole. Diets do not work. They simply do not. 

Something is broken in this culture. Something is dreadfully wrong. And the dieting industry has had NO positive effect. How many times have we heard that there is an obesity epidemic? It is spreading, It is overtaking us. Like cholera or tuberculosis or the flu. We watch its stealthy advancement, praying to God that neither we nor our children will be infected by it. Because we know how overweight people are seen and treated in this society. So, we diet and place our kids on diets, sending them to places like Weight Watchers, in an attempt to purge ourselves of the epidemic. But the diets do not work. They cannot possibly ever work, unless we are prepared to be on them indefinitely. Look no further than Oprah herself to see this is true. She has famously lost (and gained) weight repeatedly, which underscores that a diet is a temporary measure at best. And at worst, it is a lifetime of enslavement to counting calories, aka points. 


Is that what we want for our kids?? Do we want them learn as early as possible that the number on the scale correlates to happiness? Or approval from their families?


A friend told me recently that when she was a little girl, her father offered to pay her $100 to lose weight. She desperately wanted to lose the weight. She wanted to please him, to please herself. But she never managed to succeed in losing and keeping off the weight. She said, “I’m a fully grown woman and I still feel like that little girl who is forever trying to earn $100 and make her daddy happy.” 

At this point you might say, ‘Well, Oprah and Weight Watchers are offering tools to help me process through the emotional baggage that has led me to gaining so much weight. They are offering a community of support to do so.” Ok. For the sake of being agreeable lets decide that it’s true. Maybe you can find some sort of emotional catharsis at Weight Watchers. Maybe you will uncover, at long last, the reason you have used food in such maladaptive ways. 


But. That is not what they are selling.

They are selling WEIGHT LOSS. Their name is Weight Watchers for crying out loud. Nobody buys a membership at Weight Watchers for an emotional revelation. We pay to lose weight. 



Show Me the Money

This brings me to my second point. It’s all about the money. Cold hard cash. 

In 2016, Weight Watchers generated $1.2 billion in revenue. Billion. Naturally, as a fiscally “responsible” cooperation, Weight Watchers knows that if they acquire a new customer at age 13 versus age 35, they would then acquire over 20 years worth more of that person’s money. Make no mistake. Offering a free membership to kids is not being done out of benevolence, out of a desire to help kids develop healthy habits at a crucial age. It is being done to hook a new client at a crucial age. 

Weight Watchers’ success has been built on the backs of repeat customers. If the program really worked, there would be no need to come back and rejoin. The truth is, if a kid loses weight when they are 13, they will have a positive association with Weight Watchers. Therefore, when they are older and gain back the weight, they will be immediately drawn back to Weight Watchers. They will think, It worked the first time. It will work again. The problem was me. I didn’t make the right choices and my body has turned once agin into something that needs to be fixed. Weight Watchers rides in on a white horse and comes to the rescue. 

Time and time again. 

Dollar after dollar again. 


And the $66 billion diet industry becomes richer, profiting off of our insecurities. Insecurities that they create, advertise and sell to us. 

The diet industry is a bloated spider, which, having spun its web, waits for its prey. It spins its web of insecurities, doubt, shame, fear, longing, loneliness, failure, hopelessness, eating disorders…and it waits for us to wander by. 



There is a Better Way.

The third point I would like to make is this: There is a better way.

Lori Ciotti, a regional assistant vice president of operations from the Renfrow Center in Boston, which treats eating disorders, says this: “Dieting is a slippery slope into an eating disorder. It sends a message that one should not listen to their body’s hunger or fullness cues…The statistics are already about 35% of people who diet, it turns in to an eating disorder, so I think they’re [Weight Watchers] sort of walking them right into that statistic.”

That means that 1 out of every 3 teens who go to Weight Watchers will develop an eating disorder. That is unconscionable. Eating disorders are not more effective ways to lose weight and stay really thin. They are not phases in a teen’s life. They are life threatening mental disorders that, if untreated, will lead to death. According to the DSM-5, eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any psychiatric disorder. 12 times higher. People with eating disorders die from medical complications, organ failure, suicide and substance abuse. 

1 in 3 is not a roll of the dice that I would ever want to subject my child to.


Kids ages 13-17 are people, too. They experience the same emotions that we as adults do. They, like us, also have to find ways to cope with life when life it too hard to bear. They use and abuse food for the same reasons we do. But they have significantly less autonomy over their own lives. They do not have the ability to control circumstances in their lives like adults do. If they are in an abusive home, they do not have the choice or the means to pack up and leave. If they are being neglected, they cannot go out and get a job to provide better for themselves. It makes sense then, right? That a 13 year old would turn to controlling food and her body in an attempt to control what is uncontrollable in her life. That food and her weight are not really the problem. That they are not what need to be addressed. That going, at age 13, to a diet meeting with the express goal of losing weight, would set her up for a lifetime of engaging in a new, equally unhealthy pattern of behavior to cope with her life. That it would send a signal to her that her body was the problem 

When nothing could be farther from the truth. 


Not to mention that programs like Weight Watchers leave no room for the beautiful diversity of life and the human body; no room to believe that experiences in life should be measured by their richness, not by how good we looked in what we were wearing on that particular day.

I had an eating disorder for over 20 years. Sadly, I recall events by remembering how much I ate, how tight or loose my clothes were, or what I weighed. What a waste! I will never be able to have those days back. I will never be able to drink in the joy of those moments. Why would I want that for a child??? Kids should be living life to the fullest, not counting points. They should be embracing their body, in all of its uniqueness, rather then being shamed by it. They should be leaping into the water at the swimming pool with reckless abandon, instead of feeling too embarrassed to put on a bathing suit. I don’t care if they weigh 100 pounds or 250 pounds. 


They should be able to be.


Therefore, I will refuse to buy what Weight Watchers is selling. And I would encourage you to do the same. Because freedom from the impossible, unattainable standards of this culture is possible. And it worth fighting for. 

Our kids deserve to know what a life of freedom feels like.