Dear Weight Watchers,
I am appalled that you recently announced a free membership for teens ages 13-17.
As I told my husband last week about this tactic as part of your $2 billion revenue plan, I found my body temperature rising, my heart rate going up, and my voice getting louder and louder as I
talked vented about it.
It’s safe to say I’m pretty freaking fired up about this news.
I remember my experience as a teen with your program. I wasn’t even overweight then, but I was definitely self-conscious about my body. I heard other girls talking about you, so I got my hands on my mother’s Weight Watchers guides at home. They were pretty simple to read through on my own. I made my own little trackers and started following all the rules from there, no membership even needed.
And so began the years of my life being preoccupied with my body and food.
I started focusing on how many points different foods were instead of factors that actually mattered, like whether the food would fuel me, how it would make me feel after eating it, or if I was actually hungry for it.
Counting points is what you told me to do, so of COURSE my little 16 year old self, always a rule-follower, was going to oblige.
I started weighing myself daily, unraveling a whole slew of self-worth issues as I started believing my accomplishments were directly related to what the scale told me every morning.
This continued through college and into my twenties. I remember trying to maneuver the points to trick the system for what I wanted to eat/drink that day. I exercised constantly to justify eating and would do extra cardio to “make up for” any extra points I consumed.
And the infamous restrict during the week and binge on the weekend cycle? I can thank you and your good friend, The South Beach Diet, for this. I’d follow all your rules so perfectly Monday through Thursday, but my body couldn’t take it come Friday. I was hungry as could be, my cravings were through the roof, and I’d eat #AllTheThings to the point of feeling bad about myself and vowing to start over again on Monday.
I never felt good enough.
Weight Watchers, it took me a loooong time to ditch the diet mentality you taught me, say good-bye to the guilt and shame game, and treat my body with kindness instead. I had to turn my back on your tracking and rules, learn to listen to my body, and find completely different strategies to reach my health goals, ones that actually worked for lasting fat loss and a sustainable fit lifestyle.
Weight Watchers, you say your program isn’t a diet, that it’s a lifestyle and a solution. I cannot get on board with this. If something isn’t a diet, it shouldn’t involve food restriction. If something is a lifestyle, it should include behaviors that are meant to be done for the long haul. And if something is a solution, it should be the LAST thing needed before success.
Weight Watchers, I will say that your program may initially educate people about portion control and serving sizes. It may be the thing to get people started on their fat loss journey.
But I don’t know a single person who only had to do Weight Watchers once.
Constant weigh ins, constantly thinking about food, and constantly tracking food is not sustainable, and it’s definitely not a solution when you look at the number of people who have had to either 1) move right along to the next diet or 2) return as a repeat customer time and time again.
Your “lifestyle” falls short at maintenance.
Weight Watchers, I am aware that a diet can simply be what we eat. Everyone HAS a diet, but let’s open our eyes. Not everyone should be ON a diet, and our general teenage population is certainly no exception!
Our general teenage population does not need to be on scales. Our general teenage population does not need to be tracking points, closely monitoring their food intake, and counting calories.
Our general teenage population does not need a program that promotes shame when they are ALREADY so incredibly vulnerable to body shaming, eating disorders, body dysmorphia, and low self confidence.
Not everyone who diets develops an eating disorder. However, most people who have eating disorders started with a diet, and food restriction programs have been proven to backfire and cause life-long struggles with yo-yo dieting and eating disorders.
Our teens are already incredible impressionable about what they should and should not do, and we shouldn’t be hooking them into the diet trap so that they’ll end up as life-long customers.
We do not need to recruit our youth to focus on dieting and weight loss. There is a better way.
What our teens DO need is encouragement and the right kind of education around their health.
They need the encouragement to move for fun, play, and to stay active, not be punished. They need to learn physical skills, with an emphasis on being strong and confident.
They need transparent conversation about the things they might see on social media, on television, in the movies, and in magazines. They need diet talk banned. Scales removed from their houses.
They need to be educated about nutrition. Instead of hearing how certain foods will make them fat, they should be taught how to eat mindfully. They should learn how foods don’t have to fall into good or bad categories. They should be encouraged to fill their plates with color.
They should learn basic kitchen skills and how to cook! They should be encouraged to think about how different foods will make them feel after they eat them. Food shouldn’t be used as a reward, and food also shouldn’t be off limits unless there’s a food allergy.
They need role models who talk about taking care of themselves instead of hearing people talk so much about weight.
My list goes on.
Weight Watchers, I truly hope that when you announce more details about how your teen memberships will differ from your adult ones, that you consider more than your revenue goals and take into consideration the lifetime battle you are setting up for so many.
Otherwise, I guess I’ll try to look on the bright side and thank you for pretty much guaranteeing my job security over the next couple of decades. I’ll have a lot of work to do and damage to undo when your new teen customers come to me in their 20s and 30s, sick of being on a diet, fed up with the restrict/binge cycle, and with a crap ton of mindset issues to work through.
But I’ll be here with open arms, ready to teach them how to achieve lasting change that comes from a place of self love. No trackers or scales included.
A Fired Up Fitness and Fat Loss Coach
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