By: Rebecca Pottash
Earlier this week, Weight Watchers announced that starting in summer 2018, teens can join for free. Weight Watchers is helping dangerous patterns, both of thinking and behavior, form at earlier ages. By inviting kids as young as 13 years old to join the program, Weight Watchers is sending the message in no uncertain terms that teens’ bodies need fixing. The teenage years should be a time of learning how to nourish a growing, newly bigger body, and figuring out how to make their own food choices with less parental oversight. The introduction of rigid rules and points systems at such an early age robs teens of the opportunity to learn how to eat for their own bodies – of the chance to learn what they, themselves, need to eat to feel good, and full, and strong. And as those of us in recovery know all too well, learning to recognize your own hunger cues when they’ve been stamped out and silenced is hard work.
Offering its services for free as a means of increasing its reach also betrays the pernicious business model Weight Watchers is employing. The hope, of course, is that the teens who enter the fray this summer for free will return as paying customers next time around. Which is precisely the point – there will always be a next time around. Weight Watchers fails if its customers succeed in their weight loss goals, because those customers will no longer need them.
Weight Watchers stakeholder and spokesperson Oprah Winfrey said in a press release that she hoped the new teen program would deepen the company’s ties to the community. If Weight Watchers is expanding its community, it is one of people who have been told time and time again that their bodies are not good enough as they are. Weight Watchers can give teens free access because they know that when those teens inevitably experience dissatisfaction with their bodies again, they will come back to Weight Watchers as paying customers. And they know that it will happen again and again. Because diet companies are not actually selling healthy lifestyles. They are selling body dissatisfaction, and they are selling the vicious cycle of yo-yo dieting that accompanies it.
Considering the well documented link between early dieting and the formation of eating disorders, we in the eating disorder support and recovery community should be especially concerned by Weight Watchers’ announcement. If we really want teens to be healthy, teach them how to have a healthy relationship with food. Teach them that the weight loss industry profits when their products don’t work. Teach them that they don’t need to change their bodies to be healthy, happy, or successful. Teach them that diets don’t work.
Thank you to BALANCE Eating Disorder Treatment Center for starting the #WakeUpWeightWatchers movement, and getting the word out to Weight Watchers that this new program spurs unhealthy habits in an already vulnerable population.
Photo credit: @mel_parrish via Twitter
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