“Stop dieting, start living!” says…WeightWatchers?

Weightwatchers screencap

My eyes are rolling so much I’m about to lose my balance. WeightWatchers takes the friendly route with their new campaign. (Warning: This link will take you to the WeightWatchers web site. Enter at your own risk.) Their web site is mosaic-ed with positive messages for women like, “Diets are mean!”, “Di*t”, “Make the New Year’s resolution to not go on a diet,” and there’s a short video montage of all the messages we are bombarded with every day at the grocery checkout counter, in magazines, on TV.

The only problem? Um, WeightWatchers is a diet. Secret’s out, guys. The definition of “diet” is “a regimen of eating and drinking sparingly so as to reduce one’s weight” (Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, 11th Edition). They’re called “WeightWatchers.” They sell a specialized weight-loss program. Their system assigns a points system to all types of foods, based on a Core Plan or a Flex Plan. I’ve seen women dragging their WeightWatchers points booklet around with them at every meal, doing mental math to see which foods are in their points range. Sounds like a diet, huh?

The difference between WeightWatchers and other diets is that it does not restrict which foods may be eaten, only when and how much. However, it does assign food types subjective values, and sets people down a disordered path of thinking — one that makes food morally good or bad.

How about this? Let’s do as they say and not as they do. Let’s stop dieting, start living, and take action when we see WeightWatchers’™ ads. Yeesh.

— A. I.

14 thoughts on ““Stop dieting, start living!” says…WeightWatchers?

  1. I gotta say, I must disagree. I know the definition of a “diet” is to limit your intake of food to lose weight, and I understand that people think of Weight Watchers as a “diet”, and stuff like that. But it’s not. They even tell you when you go to the meetings/online communities that if you go into it looking at like it’s a diet, then you don’t belong there.

    To me, the difference is this: a “diet” – like Nutri-System, South Beach, Atkins – you name it – they’re all in the market to make money off selling their products and to help you lose weight by limiting your intake and taking things out of what you normally eat so you can’t have them anymore. When you’ve dropped all the weight, then you’re done, and “off the diet”. Usually what ends up happening is you end up gaining it all back.

    Now, for point #1, it’s still true for WW – I won’t deny the fact that they’re out there for the $$. It’s way too expensive right now. I have my irritating points with them – but it has nothing to do with the plan itself, it has to do with the fees they drop on you.

    That aside, WW is not a diet. It is in a technical way – because you lose weight my monitoring what you eat. BUT – I think the point that anti-WW people are missing is that it *is* a lifestyle change. Once you meet your goals, it doesn’t end there. The “diet” changes and is no longer a diet. You don’t restrict yourself anymore – instead you monitor yourself to see what works for you so you can maintain your healthy new self.

    Let me see if I can explain it better. Most people who want to lose weight do it, yes, for the reasons this site is against – wanting to look better to match some idealistic view of women that doesn’t really exist. I totally agree with this POV. But you join WW when you realize that it’s NOT all about fitting in to a size 0 jean and “getting the guy”, or getting approval from others on your appearance. Most people who belong there, and stick with it, are people who realize they want to be HEALTHY. The weight loss is actually secondary. Yes, it’s the big draw, but if you get into it, and realize what the program is about, it’s not all about losing weight. It’s about un-learning the bad habits you’ve constructed for yourself, and re-learning what is healthy.

    It’s not about restriction. People think that initially, because you’re assigned points values to certain types of food. But what you’re missing is the fact that you *can* eat WHATEVER YOU WANT (when I was on it, I *refused* to cook with “fat free” or “low fat” crap like margarine, sugar substitutes, fat-free anything. As a former chef, the idea is *appalling* to me taste-wise, and do you know how much bad stuff is in that? Do you *know* what they replace the natural stuff with? Disgusting. I cooked with real butter and ate real sugar, and I still dropped 80 pounds – and didn’t limit my intake on anything.) You just need to realize how your choices affect you. It’s a learning tool, and a flexible one at that. The main thought along this program is not that you can’t have this or that – it’s that you *can*, but you need to realize how it affects you. After a while, you realize that if you choose healthier foods, then you get more value for your “point” (for example, when I made a cake, replacing the butter with applesauce, or frying chicken in olive oil rather than butter). Then you realize you’re eating healthy foods out of habit, and you don’t even need to count anymore. You’re eating until you’re full. You’re recognizing how you should eat, and eat healthy.

    Not only that, but you *gain* more points when you add in exercise. If you do a certain exercise during the day, there are points values added to that as well – so if you accidentally “eat over”, then walk it off. If you want extra points for a weekend party, be sure you take that swim or go horseback riding or do your yoga (even bowling!) sometime during the week.

    It’s a program that’s about balance, and rethinking how you do things so you become *healthy*. It’s not about being *thin*. It’s about overcoming those issues you have that prevent you from being “the best you you can be”. I’ve known people who have Type II diabetes, and when they successfully completed the program, they no longer had the diabetes, or it was so under control that they had to do minimal maintenance. people with heart /cholesterol issues benefit from it. (My own husband – who wants to *gain* weight – has a serious cholesterol issue – doctor gave him all kinds of medication to bring it down. He did WW with me – he actually gained a few pounds like he wanted to *and* didn’t need to be on the medication anymore.)

    Yes, WW uses “lose weight” to get you in the door, and to make money. But if you use the program properly, you don’t *have* to buy their products and you don’t have to NOT eat anything you really want. The weight loss ends up becoming a “side effect” of actually living a healthy, active life.

    People who think it’s just a diet shouldn’t be there – because it *is* a lifestyle change. And it works.

    (and no, I don’t work for them. I don’t even go to the meetings anymore, because of the $$. But even so, if I weren’t so tight with the budget right now, I’d do it again. It’s a great program. In fact, since I have everything I need for it, I could do it in my own anyway – that’s the one good thing about it – do it once and you can get all the info you need and do it on your own – you just don’t get the support.)

    Okay, I’m done. Just thought I’d throw in the opposing point of view!

  2. Hi there,

    WW worked for me and I’m happy I could change my stupid eating habits for good – could have done that without WW, though. But it helps to have an orientation.
    Why should we stop dieting? So many people here are overweight and obese, it’s an epidemic. Maybe we should stop bullshit diets and start doing sports and stop eating sugar and cheap fat. You feel good if you eat good stuff and exercise – don’t tell anyone that it is ok to ruin your health by being obese! Those people should diet, and strictly so.

  3. Thank you for your responses. I would like to clarify a few points.

    First of all, the reason I wrote this entry was not to attack diets as a concept. I think, when it is done responsibly, thoughtfully, and in tandem with physical movement and spiritual enrichment, watching one’s food intake can be a beneficial thing for many people. WeightWatchers is not a crash diet, and makes attempts to ensure people are not yo-yoing. Shelly, I had noted in my original blog that “(WeightWatchers) does not restrict which foods may be eaten”, which to me seems like a much saner approach than Dr. South Hollywood All-Juice All-Colonic Cleansing– you get the idea.

    My only point is that, while it may be a responsible diet, WeightWatchers is still a diet. I know that word has been hated, reviled, and I imagine your responses stem from the word feeling too loaded with associations. However, I am using the very strictest definition of the word “diet”. WeightWatchers may not be mean, but it is still a diet. It may not be short-term, but it is still a diet. It may not make the size zero promises (quite rightly), but it’s still a diet. That doesn’t make it evil. That just makes it mismarketed, under their new campaign. And as someone who is looking out for muddled media messages targeted towards women, I find it intentionally misleading.

    And Jana, I would agree with your comment on bullshit diets and cheap fat. Both are totally gross. However, I think it is important for all people to eat healthy food that makes them feel better, not just “obese” people (not just rich people or white people or single people, either!). Healthy people come in all shapes and sizes, as do unhealthy people. Therefore, I would have to think long and hard before I made comments about someone else’s health, as you suggest.

  4. Hi,

    I must say that WW has worked for me too! I used to be a size 22 and I was very unhappy with how I looked. I know that I felt that way as a consequence of the BS that society and my family had forced upon me . I hate that I didn’t feel beautiful and that I didn’t feel like I was worthy of male attention and compliments solely because I was overweight. So, I lost the weight.
    1st 1 lost about 40 or 50 lbs with the help of my roommate and then I joined WW and lost another 20lbs. Ok, it took me 2 years, and I’m now a size 10-12 and I weigh 175lbs; and proud of it!
    know many of you are probably annoyed at my message right now, but here’s the kicker… I lost all that weight and I’ve kept it off for 5 years but guess what… IT DIDN’T MAKE ME HAPPY, It didn’t make me feel like I was worthy of male attention and compliments, it didn’t make me feel like more of a “woman”.
    I must admit that in the beginning I was in lust with my new body, but just like any trophy boyfriend, that wore off after a short time.

    What made me feel good about who I was inside and out, and what made me feel like I was worthy of compliments, and beautiful, and what made me feel like I am an amazing woman was websites like About Face, and educating myself on the messages I was surrounded by, and some therapy to unlearn the crap lessons that had been rammed down my throat. WW and losing the weight made me learn 1 amazingly important thing though, as cliché as it sounds; happiness and confidence does come from the inside!

    So was WW and losing all those lbs for not? Was it a big stressful waste of time since I could have just skipped all that and gone straight to the About Face lessons and therapy???
    I have to say NO, the reason is, what I did get from WW was a feeling that I could understand why I was overeating and why I choose certain foods. That really allowed me to open up my heart to more important questions. As a consequence of that process I lost the weight and I feel like a stronger human being because I went through it! I also learned how good you feel when you choose healthier foods, more appropriate portions and participate in more athletic activities.
    So, I must say that it’s been a long road but 5 years later I’m still a member of WW, and I’ve never been on a diet in my life 🙂

  5. Jana — we definitely should all be healthier and understand whatever food issues we have, and the effects that our culture has on us. We should also stop putting ourselves through painful starvation diets that help us flagellate ourselves for breaking the diet. Does this mean I’m anti-dieting? Who knows — it’s all semantics. About-Face is pro-health and anti-harmful–and-mixed-cultural-messages. –Jennifer (About-Face Exec Director)

  6. I think we don’t disagree too much. I’m just opposing the view that healthy people come in all shapes and sizes – this is simply not true. Obese people are very, very sick and urgently need to lose weight. If they feel bad about themselves, it’s because they know they are too fat.
    Attractiveness: of course you can weigh some pounds more than the so-called ideal and still be self-confident about your beauty. But not if you are obese as in BMI>30.
    It’s just not natural that we find a sickness attractive.

  7. Well, actually, healthy people do come in all shapes and sizes. Assuming that someone who is large is not healthy is one of the major myths we hold as a culture. I encourage you to check out “Health at Every Size: Toward a New Paradigm of Weight and Health” for more info from a medical, scientific perspective. Obesity can be the result of unhealthy eating patterns, but not always. This assumption that fat=unhealthy fuels sizeism, the discrimination against a person due to his/her size. -Jennifer

  8. Jana fat people feel bad about themselves, because they keep having to hear negative things about themselves from sizeists like you. It’s not because they’re fat, it’s because how people treat the fat.

    You are right about it not being natural to find a sickness attractive. Currently it seems Anorexia is seen as beauty.

  9. WW is very much a diet. it worked for me, for a while untill it became and obsession. i was down to a perfect weight for my hight and told i needed to loose more to get to “goal”. maybe im weak but it turned into a full blown case of bulimia. i still never met “goal” and now that i’ve stopped dieting all together and gained back some weight people tell me “boy, you where looking like a crack head for a while.”

  10. Weight Watchers is in fact a diet. Plus, the company wouldn’t be raking in BILLIONS of dollars if the plan actually worked – they would LOSE money if it did.

    I’m sorry, but I think Weight Watchers is total B.S. !

  11. It’s interesting how, if you criticize WeightWatchers in even the slightest way, or call it out for being what it is — a diet — people will come out of the woodwork to defend it, and to emphatically proclaim that it is NOT a diet. It’s interesting how successfully WW has co-opted the messages of Health at Every Size and used them to their financial advantage, and to build good-will with their target market, when really they are pushing the same old thing: food restriction for the purpose of controlling your body size/shape. It really doesn’t matter if they give the excuse of “health” or the fact that it is supposed to be “a lifestyle change” — every diet I know of has made these same claims, and it hasn’t changed the fact that, if you read the scientific literature, the vast majority of people who lose weight gain it back within about five years.

    Anyhow, I applaud you for sticking up for HAES and also for this blog, which I didn’t know about until just now! I have been a fan of the About-Face website (especially Gallery of Offenders) for many years, and I’m glad you’re updating regularly.

    I’m a nutrition student, and I’m very interested in preventing eating disorders, and promoting size acceptance and health at every size. If you haven’t already, you might be interested in checking out the growing Fatosphere community of bloggers interested in these topics:


    Some of them deal specifically with eating disorders, with how bodies are portrayed in the media, and in the medical literature. Please do check it out, and if you’re interested in having your blog appear on the same feed, you can email the creator/administrator of the feed to have yourself added. The growing interest in size acceptance and HAES has received some mainstream media attention recently.

    Anyway, glad I found you!

  12. Peggy – I gotta say I still disagree. (And for the record, I didn’t “crawl out of the woodwork”. I won’t say what my status is around here, but I can say I’m not a one-time only visitor – there’s no woodwork to crawl out of.)

    Jennifer, yes, I get what you’re saying about “diet” BUT what I’m saying is you’re using the term as “a diet”. “A diet” is saying something very different than “diet” – the definition being simply what you consume. tacking on a simple letter prior to that it was transforms the meaning.

    I’m not saying WW doesn’t use food restriction, but so would your doctor. My own doctor (when he wanted me to lose weight) instructed me to cut my calories by 1000 per week, max. (Actually, I had *two* physicians tell me this) – they said the quickest way to do that was by taking out 500 calories from my diet, and through exercise.

    This is *exactly* what WW promotes. The thing about WW is, they have support in place, as well as easier tracking methods by using the points system. That’s what they’re making their funds off of – but their advice is no different than what an actual physician would give to you.

    When you hit “maintenance”, your diet will change – drastically. You aren’t cutting the calories anymore.

    For the record, if you’ve ever been a part of the WW system, you’ll also notice that they frown upon losing the weight too quickly (more than 2 pounds a week and you get a slap on the wrist).

    I think if you’ve never been a part of the system, then you can’t really understand why placing the term “a diet” on it is so uncomfortable for people who have done it. It’s not just WW members who gain the weight back in 5 years, it’s ANYONE who goes on a diet. (There was something else on this site where they were explaining 95% pf people who lose a lot of weight gain it all back and then some within 5 years.) My own mother went on any kind of diet you can think of (anyone remember the “cabbage soup” diet?) and she’s still the same. She never did WW though. For me, it was a positive experience – I slimmed down – and believe me when I said “screw *their* ideal, my goal weight was never in the “perfect BMI range, and I didn’t care – and I was happy with myself. I could run around with my kids and not feel like dying after two seconds.

    The thing is WW does it in a healthy manner. They teach you how to keep it going. They give you support and encouragement. There’s no “lose 10 pounds in 5 weeks!” promises, and they advocate *against* pills, powders and shortcuts. The point is healthy weight loss, period. I think if any weight loss program should be scrutinized, WW would be the lesser of all evils.

  13. I’m going to be one of those coming out of the woodwork people here, defending WW.

    My biggest bugbear is that in our quest for body confidence, we start to ignore health issues. True, one can be healthy at every size, but a lot of people AREN’T healthy and don’t know how to be. WW teaches you about portions and to listen to your body. It doesn’t advocate speedy weight loss and insane calorie restrictions. It is not about cutting out a food group or starving yourself.

    Perhaps I AM “sizeist” but I think we need to look at health FIRST because body confidence is vital but health is tops. For me, WW was not a diet – I resist diets, I hate diets. WW was and is a lifestyle adaption. I am healthy now and as a result, I love my body, whatever it looks like.

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