If you aren’t a member of the eating disorder recovery and body acceptance movement, you may have not noticed that social media blew up last week.
Freaking Weight Watchers.
Since the beginning of time, or at least the beginning of life as I know it, Weight Watchers has been trying to convince people that the real them can only be found through weight loss, restriction, and point counting.
Now they are giving away free memberships for adolescents this summer.
I want to take a look at some common defenses of this decision and really dissect them.
“What is wrong with trying to make our kids healthier, isn’t that what weight loss is all about?”
Dieting doesn’t generally make people healthier. We are seeing the research that 95% of all diets fail and only result in weight gain, poorer relationships with food, lower self assessment and confidence, and even clinically significant eating disorders.
“Weight Watchers really helped me gain confidence and improve my health.”
That’s Great for you, unfortunately you are a statistical outlier. Most people (95%) find diets failing them and dieting is considered the number one cause of the onset of eating disorders (not necessarily the cause). It is estimated that over 30% of casual/occasional dieters will go on to develop disordered eating and 25% will develop clinically diagnosible eating disorders. May the odds be ever in your (or in your adolescent’s) favor. Seems like a gamble not worth taking.
“Weight Watchers isn’t a diet, it is a lifestyle!”
Are you counting something (points, carbs, calories)? Are you looking to external sources to determine what, when, and how much you can eat? That’s a diet.
“Weight Watchers is just trying to do something nice. It’s refreshing to see a major company giving back!”
Make no mistake, Weight Watchers isn’t going to lose money. The dieting industry is a billion dollar industry, that increases its profit every year. They are in the business of making money and selling weight loss and “health” to people. They do this by making people believe they are actually helping solve the very problem they create. It’s sickening and as my colleague Sara Upson points out this is generally called racketeering.
“But Celeste, Weight Watchers would really help my loved one increase their self worth and esteem. If they could lose a little weight they would feel better about themselves.”
Have you ever looked back at an old picture of yourself and thought “why couldn’t I accept my body at this point in my life?” I have personally experienced this and a lot of my clients have too. Or maybe you experience constant negative body image thoughts when you are at home but notice they go away on vacation? Maybe you only feel poorly about your body around certain friends. We all have experienced this to some degree. What this tells us is that our worthless feelings are actually not about our bodies. Even if you feel bad about your body all day everyday, I can assure you those thoughts are not really about your body.
You can’t change anything externally and expect that to change how you feel internally. Our physical bodies are temporary, ever changing, and not worthy of our constant focus. The way I try to increase my daughters self worth and esteem is by letting her know without a shadow of a doubt her worth is immeasurable and absolute. If she makes her worth about the physical, it can be lost in an instant. If I make her worth and value contingent on what she does, she might never feel like she measures up. However if I make her worth about who she is, that can’t ever be changed.
“If we don’t focus on weight loss what is there to focus on?”
We focus on values, things that we find meaning in. We focus on actions based on those values. I met with a new friend the other day, who does all the things. She amazed me. She is raising four small children, blogging, writing, working. All. The. Things. She told me people often ask her how she has time for all of this and her response is “I stopped dieting. I stopped obsessing over food and my body.” I have experienced this too! I have so much freedom to live my life and do things that truly add value and bring me joy now that I am no longer counting points, calories, carbs and beating myself up for a number on the scale.
“So, you are just saying we should all be unhealthy?”
Nope. Actually letting go of the constant weight obsession can increase health. However, I disagree that health should be our main focus. Health, like beauty, can be so fleeting and so subjective. I love eating fruits and veggies and moving my body. Dieting, actually made me think these things were punishment. How many times have you experienced this? You start walking a few days a week and you find you truly love it. Then you step on a scale (side note, throw that scale away!) and that number hasn’t changed at all or as much as you wanted. You immediately say “I guess my walk isn’t working!!! I give up!!!” This is what happens when we use external methods of determining a behaviors value. Of course your walk was “working!” That walk brought you joy. That walk gave you energy! That walk did increase your well being. This is why external measures, point counting and weigh ins (hello! The company is called WEIGHT WATCHERS!!!) will only decrease health.
Guys, this has to stop. This is too important. Our kids deserve more than a life of weight watching. They deserve to live fully, to enjoy relationships, to mature and learn. They deserve connection and to dream big.
I refuse to teach my children to hustle for worthiness by adding up points and stepping on a scale. That is such a reduced version of living life fully. I won’t tell them that these things matter more than the sum total of all that they are and all that they mean to me.
The same is true of my clients. I won’t teach them that their worth can be reduced to the goal of watching their weight. Where has that ever gotten a single one of us? You can spend your whole life on this endeavor, but I don’t know a single person that would be proud of this pursuit on their death bed. Give the adolescents in your life a chance to live free from dieting. Give them freedom. Give them the ability to know they can trust and be kind to their bodies.