#WakeUpWeightWatchers (My WW Story)

Weight Watchers

A few weeks ago, Weight Watchers announced the company would be offering free signups for adolescents this summer. In a press release the company voiced, "Weight Watchers intends to be a powerful partner for families in establishing healthy habits. During the summer of 2018, Weight Watchers will offer free memberships to teenagers aged 13 to 17, helping the development of healthy habits at a critical life stage." The same release also revealed the company stands to increase revenue by more than $2 billion by new member growth and retention. 

This is both disturbing and problematic the company would take such a bold move to "hook" an audience and following at such a young and vulnerable age. With much of society targeting children and adolescents with alarming (and skewed) statistics citing that today's generation will be the first to not outlive their parents due to obesity, the company seems to be taking advantage of a "global problem." 

There is much that could be said on this subject and I'm sure there are numerous articles and information you can read which will share all of the data and research as to why this is such a bad idea. Instead of sharing that information again, I thought I could lend to speak to you from experience.

When I was 12 years old, Weight Watchers was my first introduction into the diet world. At this young and vulnerable time, I don't even remember being "overweight," or what society may have deemed as overweight for an adolescent. What I do remember is attending the meetings with my Mom and thinking that it looked like fun. I was intrigued by the community the women had and the idea of a weekly weigh-in where I would be showered with positive attention (if I lost weight) sounded like something I wanted to be a part of, too. Joining Weight Watchers felt like a rite of passage because all women who are grown-ups are on some sort of a diet - or at least that's what I believed.

Obviously I was young, at the age of 12, but I thought I would share here my memories that stand out the most for me from my experience of being a participant of Weight Watchers as an adolescent. My hope is that if you are a parent considering this for your child, that you will reconsider.

What Weight Watchers Taught Me:

  • That losing weight was positively rewarded and reinforced, while gaining weight was something to be ashamed of. Many women would even have meltdowns and end up crying after a "bad weigh-in" at the back of the room.
  • Lunchtime at school became very complicated and uncomfortable while on WW. During my time at WW, tuna fish sandwiches and carrot sticks were all the rage. So, while all the other children at school were enjoying their lunches with fun snacks and well-rounded meals, I was eating tuna fish and crackers. I remember it feeling very isolating.
  • Weight gain was something to be ashamed of. I can remember our WW counselor once posing the question, "What good things come from weight gain?" It was as if implying that only bad things come from weight gain, when really, this shouldn't even be part of the conversation we're having because a specific weight is not the only indicator of better health.
  • My Binge Eating began while I was a member of WW. It was almost a known fact that all the women would congregate after the meetings and have a "cheat meal" out together somewhere after the meeting. I can remember eating so much that afterwards I always felt sick and miserable. 

These are specific memories I have, but there are many other take-aways for how being an adolescent in WW would have a negative impact on my life for years to come. The program would be my first experience in positive reinforcement for weight loss, thus solidifying in my young mind the falsehood that a thinner body is a better body. Weight Watchers would be the first of many diets that I would try for the next two decades. Like many other individuals who are susceptible to an eating disorder after dieting, Weight Watchers would become my gateway onto this path where I would later struggle with anorexia, binge eating and exercise bulimia.

Considerations Before Enrolling Your Teen

Meeting Are Not Led By Professionals - Perhaps one of the most notable faults of Weight Watchers in considering the program for your teenage child is the program lacks medical or mental health professional guidance. Most community meetings are hosted by a "leader." The Weight Watcher leaders (at least during that time) were untrained professionals who usually were "graduates" of the program having reached their goal weight. As such, they have practically no training as a medical or mental health professional.

Diets Are Not Conducive for Development - Another criticism is the fact that due to this lack of professional guidance, the program would most likely lack the information and knowledge needed to be able to provide adequate care for a developing adolescent body. In present day media, we see numbers and bold, fear-mongering statements indicating that the vast majority of Americans are overweight and are just on the cusp of death! Other statements also tend to claim that childhood obesity is at it's highest ever recorded. However, there is very little said about how many young children and adolescents will actually gain weight during puberty. This is NATURAL and supposed to happen. I'm sure at some point, you've probably heard the statement that children, "grow out, then up." Placing adolescents on a diet could deprive their growing body of the needed nutrients and resources to aid their bodies in the maturation process. This could have a significant impact on brain development, psychological functioning, as well as cause lack of energy.

What Message Do We Want To Send Our Youth? - Lastly, another consideration - do we want the conversation with our youth about better health to be based on their appearance? If as a parent, the concern is of your child's health, are there other areas you can provide improvement without labeling them as a WW member? Are there sports clubs or groups they can become involved in which may also lend to healthy discussion about their changing body? For example, Girls On the Run is a national organization which teaches young girls about their body and has mission to encourage confidence, self-respect and empowerment. There may be other ways to help your adolescent rather than a central focus on their weight and appearance, which could only further solidify a negative relationship with their body.

As stated previously, it is my hope that this discussion will give you pause and consideration before you decide to sign your teen up for Weight Watchers. Perhaps instead of Weight Watchers, you might consider an intuitive eating or Health At Every Size therapist for your teen's weight concerns. I would be more than happy to answer any questions or concerns you may have! 


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