Weight Watchers needs no elaborate introduction.
The company was founded in 1963 by an American homemaker in Queens, New York and has grown in the following decades. Today, it has branches in 30 different countries and a 2017 yearly revenue of $1.3 billion.
But Weight Watchers has a problem.
These days, consumers don’t like the word “diet”. Case in point: January usually sees the highest number of new subscribers to Weight Watchers as people set weight loss goals for the new year with sign-ups increasing yearly. In January 2015, though, new subscribers dropped by 20% when compared to January 2014. This prompted a flurry of investigation and research. The results were in: diets were decreasing in popularity.
It’s pretty great that fewer people are investing in diets. Put simply, diets don’t work.
In fact, weight loss attempts, in general, do not work.
The science on this is pretty clear. Somewhere between 95 – 98% of weight loss attempts are unsuccessful, a woman classified as ‘obese’ has only a 0.8% chance of achieving a ‘normal’ weight and no country in the world has reduced its obesity rate.
Diets are particularly notorious, with two-thirds of all dieters ending up gaining more weight than what they started with.
Weight loss may also be wholly unnecessary. We usually equate thinness with health, but that’s a false equivalency. A 2007 UCLA review of 30 diet studies seemed to support this conclusion, with the head researcher remarking, “Diets do not lead to sustained weight loss or health benefits for the majority of people”.
Another study found that between one-third and three-quarters of people classified as obese are metabolically healthy whilst a 2016 study posited that plus-size fit people are two times less likely to be diabetic than skinny people. Overweight people may also not face greater mortality when compared to normal-weight people and fit people (regardless of size) were likely to be healthier than those who were not fit.
A growing body of research asserts that weight-stigma – not weight – may be the primary reason why plus size folks suffer.
Weight stigma increases the risk of chronic disease and diabetes via a culture of shame that makes larger people suffer mentally and physically. Many doctors refuse to see plus-size patients and those that do often have shorter appointments with them, make disparaging comments about weight and ignore their primary pressing health concerns.
Weight stigma, therefore, prevents plus-size folks from seeking timely medical care and can lead to yo-yo dieting and eating disorders which are associated with a host of mental and physical diseases. It also brings with it significant anxiety and depression in navigating a fat-phobic world that sees a larger body as a moral failure.
When Mindy Grossman became CEO of Weight Watchers in 2015, the body-positive movement had already started changing the way people see diets.
Slowly but surely, more people have realized that diet culture is harmful, thanks to the fat-acceptance movement and radical plus-size activists who have been arguing against diet culture and weight-based discrimination for decades.
So Grossman decided to rebrand. Weight Watchers became WW in 2018. Now it will make money off “wellness.”
Same shit, new package.
if you doubted that most of the “wellness” you are sold is actually just diet culture in disguise, go ahead and google what weight watchers changed their tagline to today
— april korto quioh 👀 (@aprilkquioh) September 24, 2018
Tragic that weight watchers is trying to rebrand as WW: wellness that works’. 1. Weight watchers quite clearly doesn’t work. 2. ‘Wellness’ is a meaningless buzz word used to repackage & sell us the same toxic diet culture 3. Weight watchers meals look fucking gross
— George (@noughty_g) September 25, 2018
This is diet culture, which “worships thinness and equates it to health and moral virtue” and “demonizes certain ways of eating while elevating others”. Most of the modern culture’s obsession with ‘healthy’ eating and ‘lifestyle changes’ is just diet culture without the d-word to make it more palatable.
Weight Watchers acknowledges this upfront with their senior vice president Deb Benovitz saying, “We realized that if we talked about [Weight Watchers] differently and we upped certain things and played down other things, we would really be giving people pretty close to what they wanted.”
So, Weight Watchers has the same philosophy as WW. It’s just differently worded.
If diets don’t work, what approach should we take to health?
One way of being healthier is the Health At Every Size (HAES) initiative.
Started in the 1960s, the technique has ties to the radical fat acceptance movement. It encourages intuitive eating and making peace with each individual’s relationship with food and the space their body occupies. Proponents encourage exercise and listening to a body’s natural satiety clues. A study comparing dieters to HAES members found that the latter had many sustainable health benefits while the former did not. These benefits included a lower LDL (low-density lipoproteins, also known as ‘bad cholesterol’) and better self-esteem.
It’s time to hold companies accountable for making a profit off the scam that weight loss is mandatory and achievable, even if they attempt to disguise their strategy in newer, ‘woke-r’ words.
We deserve so, so much more than a culture that punishes larger people simply for existing in their bodies.