body image · diets · fat · fitness · weight loss

I hate you Weight Watchers

Inspired by this recent anti-WW rant, Weight Watchers Probably Won’t Help You Lose Tons of Weight, So Maybe Stop Dieting?, I decided to write my own.

There aren’t many companies I have strong feelings about but WW is one of them. These are my feelings based solely on my experiences and your mileage may vary, yada yada yada. If it works/worked for you, great, though I suspect you are in a very small minority.

Like the author of the above post, I first went to Weight Watchers as a child, accompanied by a loving, well meaning parent. My mum has struggled with her weight all of my life and was at that point a regular attender of WW.

These days she’s also moved on from WW or “wrestling” as we dubbed it–you know a blend of fighting fat and WWF.

So when I first went to a WW meeting I was 12 or 13 years old. I have intense memories of this period of my life: my first diet. I was in Grade 6. I felt very grown up.

I did it part because I wanted shorter, grown up hair, but ‘friends’ thought I ought to lose weight first. Short hair was for svelte girls, not chubby awkward girls in knee socks.

I weighed 133 lbs when I first stepped on those scales and that number appalled me. The last I looked I wasn’t yet a 100 lbs. Where had those extra pounds come from? Keep in mind though that I was the tallest person in my class. I was probably 5’4 or so that weight shouldn’t have been as horrifying as it was.

I’m not sure I was even really overweight. When I look at pictures of me then I don’t see a fat kid. I see a slightly chubby almost teenage girl, on the verge of hips and breasts. I think she ought to have run more, played outside more but young me was a bookish, studious introvert, no lover of sports and games.

The people there were kind to me. No one thought joining was a bad idea. Indeed, I was called mature and told that it good to take care of this little problem now, before it got out of hand.

And in their defense I don’t think they knew then what we ought to know now about the dangers of dieting, especially setting up dieting habits in children. They really did think they were helping.

I remember coming home to find out there was lemon meringue pie for dessert (my parents were bakers) and that I couldn’t eat it, too many points. My mum gave me a one night reprieve for pie. I was to start the diet tomorrow.

I don’t remember how many weeks that first diet lasted. Not very many, I don’t think. I don’t think I lost any weight. It was the beginning though of a lifetime of weighing and shame associated with my size.

The good news was that even though I quit/stopped going, I did get my first real haircut anyway and it looked just fine. The world didn’t end.

Weight Watchers and I had an off and on relationship for about 30 years. A bad relationship but I kept going back, thinking they’d changed and that this time it would work.

Fast forward now to the last time I tried Weight Watchers.

Here are three things that I realized that will forever keep me away:

First, lots of the long term members and leaders seem to have seriously disordered eating habits. I actually heard an argument between a long term member, probably a life member, and a group leader about how many points you’d have to write down if you put a muffin in your mouth, chewed on it for a bit, and then read the label and spit it out.

Yes, gross. Disgusting. Ew.

The ‘chew and spew’ method never actually occurred to me as a method of sort of having your cake and not eating it too. Just yuck.

Maybe I’ve led a privileged life but the most messed up eating habits I’ve ever encountered were at WW. Life members boasted of still carrying their scales everywhere so they could measure and count every morsel they ate. They seemed thin but scarily obsessed with ever gaining the weight back.

Second, the WW approved weight for my height seems to me to be absurd. As absurd as it was to call 12 year old me overweight. I just laugh at their numbers. Even at a size 8, I’m not in their range for my height. I’m too muscular. I feel vindicated now after my visit to the Bod Pod which measures your per cent body fat. I’m almost out of the WW range for my height with 0% body fat!

My doctor offered to write me a note recommending a higher, more reasonable goal weight but the leaders refused to change my goal weight. They thought I should try it out first.

Third, they can’t handle people who actually exercise and do lots of physical activity. The leaders looked in disbelief when I told them how much I was riding my bike. Why would you want to do that? Clearly it’s not helping you with weight loss.

And yes, you get extra points for physical activity and you can spend those points on food, but you can spend them on whatever you like. Above the basic minimum for food groups, there’s no guidance at all how physically active people ought to supplement their diet. You want to spend them on all aspartame sweetened WW desserts, then go for it.

If you are biking, running, swimming….whatever, on a regular basis, then you need information about sports nutrition and WW isn’t set up at all to help with that. I ended up supplementing WW with advice from someone whose expertise was sports nutrition and then eventually, I just dropped out for good.

Good riddance Weight Watchers.

31 thoughts on “I hate you Weight Watchers

  1. Wow, it’s really interesting to see the other side of it. All you ever hear are the success stories, and the celebs that dropped x number of lbs. It’s really sad to hear that this group would, essentially, callout a 6th grader as overweight (I believed myself to be chubby at this age, too, and when I look at pictures now, I still believe I was … but my mother always said “everyone goes through that awkward phase,” and yes, I did outgrow it once those puberty hormones figured themselves out). I’d rather be strong and at the higher “recommended” weight for my height if it means I can continue to work out and be active the way I am today – that I love 🙂

  2. Sam, I don’t know you and I’ve never met you in person but I’ve seen a number of photos of you and have to observe that you don’t look remotely “fat,” “chunky” or even “sturdy. ” You look completely NORMAL to me.

    You’ve called yourself “fat” on a number of occasions in this blog, so I can only assume it’s a label that was put on you, when you were younger. Your story about being sent to Weight Watchers in grade 6 confirms this notion. Yikes!

    Anyway, I’m glad you’ve ditched the WW habit and that you’re able to celebrate your remarkable fitness. Have you thought, perhaps, about stopping weighing yourself? There are many more worthwhile, important things to measure than weight.

    1. As you may have read I’m ambivalent about the label “fat” too, I use it when I want people to realize that when they talk about the obesity epidemic–“What will we do about all the fat people?” I’m part of the story too. Certainly I’m fat in this context, by WW standards. Always have been. I’ve been over their weight range for my height, which last I checked topped outs at about 155, my entire adult life. Today, I’m significantly overweight using BMI as the standard and often I’ve been obese. I’m in the usual clothes size range but that’s the only measure by which I’m normal. And mostly–hill climbing on the bike aside–I’m OK with that.

      1. Oh, I wish that BMI standard would get thrown out the window! And maybe scales should, too. Weight really doesn’t tell us much that’s worthwhile. For example, I’m the same weight as my son’s 20-year-old girlfriend, but we LOOK much different. In part, because she has a (much) younger body but also because she’s a lifeguard and has a lot more muscle than I do. Weight is a great distractor. It doesn’t focus on what’s really important.

  3. Weight Watchers is definitely an interesting company. On paper, the idea of assigning “points” to items as a way to learn balance in food isn’t so unsound, but I’d have to take my shoes off to count the number of times I’ve met women on WW who’ve taken the points to a competitive extreme. Not how the program is intended, but if that’s how it shakes out then there’s a problem! Thanks for posting your story!

  4. A lot of what you say about WW is so true, especially the part about the disordered eating of many leaders and longtime members. I do realize that yesterday is said it might help some people. But I too have reservations and am done with WW. My own concerns, such as they are, are a bit different and even more general. I am not convinced that the sports nutrition approach is any more likely to fend off disordered eating and obsession with food (even if it serves those up in the guise of providing sound information about what is required to fuel an active body appropriately). I have been thinking about this a lot since having a couple of sessions with a sports nutritionist recently and will be blogging about it sometime soon. My goal in this area is to overcome food/weight obsession. Focusing on sports nutrition just fosters the food obsession. That’s my experience with it anyway. If it works for you I’m a healthier way than WW that’s great.

  5. For me the sports nutrition perspective shifts the focus to healthy eating and eating enough to help with sports performance and training recovery. I’m very busy with kids and work and need to be reminded that eating well needs to be a priority. I don’t focus on the scale. I focus on getting faster and stronger and on how I feel. That’s pretty different for me than WW, where the scale is the only thing that matters.

  6. This is a very interesting article! My first successful weight loss attempt was on WW as well, and I remember (I was 20) the women that were there were appalled by my physical activity and several seemed irritated with my successful losses. Keep in mind I was doing about 90 minutes a day of plyometrics, walking to class, and then practice to be in top condition for my sport. I ended up going back to my old ways, rejoined several times on and off for 5 years until I decided enough was enough. I was done spending money on failure. I do look back though and realize that they love money and hate success and they always welcome you back with open pocketbooks, errr arms.

  7. There is no doubt that even the doctors employed by weight loss clinics usualy know next to nothing about sports nutrition, relying instead on the very little that they learned at medical school on such matters – which is often very general snippets which are sometimes unsupported by current studies and cannot be employed universally. For instance, the doctor at a weight loss clinic which I attended advised me of the dangers of having more than approximately 75 g of protein a day, even though I cycle and weight train for about 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 hours 5 or 6 times a week, and walk alot. I attended Dr. Bernstein and lost a lot of weight. I had to lose weight for medical reasons. Dr. Bernstein works; there is no doubt about it. The real challenge is maintenance. I have maintained the weight loss (actually dropped a few pounds) for about a month now. My goal is to maintain the “fat loss” and to keep my waistline at 35 inches, no matter what; I couldn’t care less if my weight goes up because I put on more muscle. My performance levels took a nosedive because of the fast weight loss, but for me it was worth it – more than worth it, for medical reasons. I now need to rebuild from a performance perspective while maintaining the fat loss and the waistline – which could take some time. But I couldn’t care less what some GP employed by a weight loss clinic says about protein intake and sports nuitrition in general, as he quite simply doesn’t have a clue about these things from either a personal or a professional standpoint. After learning of his ignorance at one meeting, I simply humoured him at subsequent meetings, smiled, nodded, politely treated him as he deserved to be treated, i.e. humoured, then took my leave. I would advocate the same approach to persons employed by WW. Take what you need from them, if there is anything you can get from them, but recognize the extent of their ignorance regarding such matters as sports nutrition.

  8. Thanks for sharing, Craig. Yeah, WW is even worse because the staff are qualified solely in virtue of having lost weight on the WW plan and maintained it. Often it’s not very much weight and their experiences don’t really translate into those of the very many desperate people who land on their doorstep. And maybe it’s better that they offer no advice on how you should ‘spend’ the extra points earned through exercise. Better no advice than bad advice? What worries me is how unhealthily you can eat and still be ‘on plan.’ Also, because it’s a business–and a big business at that–they’ll take money from anyone–the very active, children, people who really don’t need to lose weight, etc etc. I’m staying away for good and so far happy with my slow progress while training pretty seriously in the activities I love. I get that some people need to lose weight quickly for health reasons. I know a few men who’ve been given stern marching orders by their doctors to lose weight asap. I’m very healthy and have other reasons for wanting to weigh less, so I’ll see how the slow and steady plan goes. Again, thanks for sharing your story.

  9. I think I understand your concerns about WW, and how this program is worse – actually much worse, than Dr. Bernstein (which does get you to eat a lot of vegetables – the amount of vegetables you are allowed to eat is actually more than you can eat, albeit on a severely restricted diet from a carb perspective, and on which pasta, bread and especially any real dessert is just out). Dr. Berstein at least does promote a very healthy balanced diet – it tries to make you into a healthy eater, although I do not know how appropriate it is in the weight loss stage other than for those who must for medical reasons lose alot of weight. Dr. Bernstein is not at all concerned with having one become fit! Most people who are not truly committed to some form of serious exercise program will likely regain alot of the weight they lost on Dr. Bernstein. Nevertheless, I actually learned about myself from attending the clinic. I learned that my problem in the past, although I ate in a very healthy manner – was that for me as an individual, I ate too much bread and dairy – both of which for me as an individual are deadly from a “fat gain” perspective. There is no possibility at Dr. Bernstein of using “points” so as to eat chocolate brownies or donuts! Sam, I think I now understand that you are really concerned about the people, primarily women with real body image problems, who go in to these weight loss clinics without already having exercised seriously and who also go in with almost no knowledge of sports nutrition. You are thinking about the truly vulnerable people – whose unhealthy body image problems are simply fostered by unknowledgeable employees of a ridiculous points-based system of eating. I really do hear you – and how my experience is markedly different from those who you are considering. I have also read about your own experiences and concerns and fears. From what I have gathered, you are a remarkably fit and committed athlete, who actively seeks out types of training, including skills training, to which you are drawn personally, while maintaining a balance in your life between being a mom and a philosopher and an athlete. Your only true concern is your body fat perecentage, to the extent that it hinders your athletic performance and your potential ability to continue exercising in years to come, although you still have some remnants of the body image problems you suffered in the past. Your plan regarding body fat percentage at the present time, which is always subject to change based upon needs, wants and results, is to continue performance-based training while trying to remember to eat in a healthy and balanced manner. Sounds like this approach might work out for you. I really do sense that we have a few things in common, Sam, but I both understand and appreciate that my needs are not your needs, or those of most people, hence you and most people should not do what I have done and am doing. Thank you for thanking me for my contribution, in spite of the fact that I now understand that my experience differs markedly especially from that of the women most vulnerable to the exploitative effects of WW and perhaps any weight loss program or clinic, and could if misinterpreted actually become “part of the problem”,

  10. 0% body fat? I don’t think so, Not possible and too low isn’t healthy. You need body fat to cushion your organs and to insulate your body to help maintain your body temperature. Obsessive, sick eating and exercising behaviors are everywhere; Weight Watchers followers are no worse than the population at large. Many of them are actually sustaining their losses and doing it much healthier and saner and far better than self-help dieters. Children should not go to Weight Watchers and they actively try to discourage parents from signing up their children. Kids under 10 years of age are forbidden. 10 -16 year-olds need doctor’s written permission and the doctor must give the child a weight goal or weight goal range. Your experience is precisely why parents should not take their kids to Weight Watchers. It’s an adult approach to weight management and despite what you experienced, a very good one. You can’t blame the program for the way some folks use it.

  11. I am a recovering WW. It took me almost 4 years to lose 30lbs through them and I’ve gained it back, slowly, but surely over the last four years. They helped me created disordered eating habits for myself, that I am slowly, slowly getting rid of. Some weeks I actually took to taking laxatives because I hadn’t lost any weight for a few weeks. I truly believe that WW was the biggest factor in my being unable to lose the weight now. Thye helped me ruin my metabolism. I’m just startingwith Matt Stone’s stuff now, and any time I mention the overhydration thing, people look at me and treat me like I’m crazy. So they keep drinking their flouridated water until their eyeballs float – I’m going to work on raising my basal temperature. It makes more sense than running to pee every five minutes like I was when I was drinking two litres of water a day on WW. We let too many people with expensive educations who haven’t ever been in the trenches of weight issues tell us how to live and it’s just not working. I love finding other people who feel their lives have been ruined by WW, as petty as it sounds. It makes me feel less alone.

    1. Hi Jennifer,

      Your body requires water. This is part of what helps your body flush toxins out of your system. This is not a myth but a fact and the 2 litres a day you were consuming is not enough. If you stuck with it your body would have adjusted and you wouldn’t be running to the bathroom every 5 minutes. Focusing on raising your basal temperature is not going to resolve your issues. Good luck with the Matt Stone program, keeping in mind it’s just someone else you are opening your wallet to just like you did with WW.

  12. WW and all the other weight loss companies out there prey on the vulnerabilities of people who are insecure about their weight. What is truly disturbing is the misuse of the word “diet”. The word has taken on the meaning of a short term fix not a life long way of eating. This is why people cannot maintain their weight and constantly “yoyo” up and down. The way you eat is a lifetime habit not a temporary one. People need to be educated on healthy eating for the long term. I laugh when I see the commercials where one specifically says it’s ok to eat a cupcake but not the whole cake. This in itself is defeating and does nothing but lead people to temptation and not being able to control those temptations. Companies such as WW should be teaching people about what they are actually consuming! I have never been to a WW meeting nor have I ever used any of these programs but I am going to assume they do not teach people to do the simple things like read the labels of what they are buying in the grocery store! Not all calories are created equally! For example, there are good carbs and bad carbs, that’s a fact! It’s common sense that FRESH produce and FRESH lean meats etc. are what people should be eating and not the pre-packaged stuff. All the weight loss programs are a business out to make money and nothing more. Also people need to realize that in order to maintain a healthy lifestyle, physical activity is a must! You don’t need to turn into a fitness “junkie” but people do need to incorporate it into their lives. Society has become lazy. People seem to have plenty of time to spend on facebook and twitter, watch TV for countess hours etc, but say they are too busy to go for a walk or go to the gym. It is absolutely mind boggling the excuses people come up with. Then there are the people who blame all the fast food places for their weight issues. Come on people! No body is holding a gun to your head forcing you to shovel in that big mac into your face. We make our own choices, and ultimately we are to blame for consuming food that we shouldn’t be. But like they say I guess it is easier to blame someone else then take responsibility for our own actions! Just because it’s there doesn’t mean you have to eat it. Bad carbs, sugar, and bad fats is what fast food is. People need to get off their backsides and start cooking at home, spend some time educating themselves on healthy eating, and getting active again.

    The WW program uses a point system which is absolutely rediculous! So you inhale a cupcake and that’s “x” number of points you have eaten, so then that leaves you with “x” number of points you are allowed to eat. So if someone inhales a big mac meal that basically uses up all your points for the day. So eating once a day is supposed to be healthy based on the points system?!!! No wonder people have blood sugar issues etc, because if they over eat early in the day they are screwed for the rest of they day and don’t eat or they do eat and then end up exceeding their recommended calorie intake for the day! And we wonder why WW and other programs don’t work! In order to maintain a healthy blood sugar level and keep your metabolism going and stop your body going into starvation mode (which forces your body to store fat), you should be eating 6 times a day! Now some are going to say what?? 6 times a day??? The answer is yes, BUT these are not 6 meals that are as big as a platter.

    The bottom line is people need to simply educate themselves on what a healthy “diet” is and not confuse diet as a temporary fix! Eating healthy is a lifetime commitment and no weight loss program is going to do that for you! All the weight loss programs out there are only interested in your wallet! These companies are successful because people are looking for a quick fix and think that by paying someone will solve their problem. These programs are designed to make people keep coming back. If these programs actually worked they would have been out of business a long time ago.

    1. Since you said you have never been to Weight Watchers and I have I’d like to answer to several assumptions you have made in your statement. Weight Watchers does encourage its members to read food labels carefully. They also specifically tell people not to splurge on one meal but to use their points plus in a balanced way throughout the day. They also emphasize that the plan is not a “diet” but a way of life. It is all about changing habits and eating balanced meals in reasonable portions. Like anything else there are those who hear what they want to hear and not what is being said. I know that when I follow the Weight Watchers plan I loose weight and when I don’t I gain weight.

  13. I’m happy to see this post. I have done WW about 15 times, always losing about 5-7 #s in the beginning and then getting into the “honeymoon” phase that ‘oh, I can eat whatever I want and still lose weight’, which is sort of what WW teaches. I inevitably blow through my extra points each week and the days crawl by and the nights I am hungry and crave sweets and usually give in. I am trying it again this week, thinking that *magically* this time it will work for me, because all you ever read is how great WW is and how much you can lose, but I’ve already blown through my extra points again and I’m only on day 4. 😛
    The factor for me that, I think, is a disadvantage is that I’m on two anti-depressants and these are both appetite stimulants. One (of the various) times I was doing WW, I mentioned this to a leader and she tsked “Medicine makes such a difference.” I thought, ‘thanks, Lady!’ Maybe she was trying to give me a hint.

  14. Hi Sam. Im very sorry you had a bad experience with Weight Watchers. I don’t know how far back your story goes, but it sounds like a way long time ago. I am a WW leader. I’ve been leading for 6 years and I’ve been a member for 8. I joined cuz I was diagnosed with Diabetes and needed to lose weight. I lost 42 lbs and became a receptionist, then a leader. I can tell you as an emloyee that 12 year olds are not allowed to join unless with a doctors note, so the fact that you were enrolled, is a “shame on you” for that leader and receptionist. That is NOT WW policy. You must be at least 18. Secondly WW has no such thing and Chew and Spew. That also much have been something from your leader. That is deplorable and absolutely not something WW would EVER endorse. I noticed you said you tried them again even though you had a “bad relationship” with them hoping THEY had changed.
    I’m sorry you had a bad leader that ruined your experience and allowed you to thik that that is the norm. It is not.

    This is why WW works and doesn’t work. #1 WW is NOT a diet. It is a lifestyle change. Without behavior, habit and thought changes anything weight a person loses will probably return. New Habits and knowledge of healthy foods and stragegies to eat what you love have to be learned. (That does not include chew and spew or if it tastes good spit it out). WW asks members to track what they eat (write it all down) so the member is aware of what they are really eating and to use points because counting 26 points for example is easier than counting calories every meal. No one forces anyone to weigh or measure their food but we do encourage it because a lot of times you get MORE to eat when you weigh it! Also, it helps a member to visually SEE how much a true portion size is. We stive to teach members about healthy foods and foods that will keep you fuller longer. We teach the “My Plate” FDA recommended servings of each category of food. We teach about emotional eating, changing your food environments, making healthy habits, how it manage resturaunt foods and so much more…

    I do agree that it seems the weight ranges are low but I’ve seen those same weight ranges in the Doctors office and in my nutrition txt book. They are not something that WW scientists came up with just for WW. Your leader should have happily taken your doctors weight recommendation and stuck with it. That is what WW policy.

    All Weight loss is is using more energy (calories) by activity than we eat. WW helps members do that by giving them a guideline in points. We also offer an interesting, fun and informative meeting ( if members choose to stay) to help members be accountable and responsible for their own actions.

    Again, I appologize for your horrible leader and your bad experience. I wish you had of been MY member. You would have left feeling loved and valued for who you are as a person just they way you are. I would have been open and ready to give advice in a loving and respectful way and loaded you up on easy tips to be successful. This is me, but it is also the majority of leaders that can be found all across America.

  15. I’ve been a going weekly to WW for 8 1/2 yrs and I’ve had about 5 leaders in that time. I joined for the sake of my health and I have never experienced anything like your experience. I had to put up my goal weight, (that is, higher than the national BMI guide.)..not WW.) I got a doctor’s note and WW accepted it with no question. The group, leaders, and receptionist I’m in are supportive and non-judgemental and..not once have I heard comments like the ones you report. EXERCIZING is recommended strongly, and points can be earned..However, you can choose to use the points or not. I make the choices. I am not on a diet, and will never go on one. With WW, I’ve learned portion control, and how to make heallthy choices. I lost 42 lbs over the first year, and I’ve kept the weight off. I enjoy a large variety of foods, and eat healthy.,

  16. Wow I know this is two years old but I read it with my jaw dropping it was like I was reading my own ww experience anytime I spoke “against” weight watchers I was looked at like I had two heads I thank you for writing this you hit it dead on about excercise I love to run and it does not fit with ww I got sick of being lectured for trying to be physically healthier

  17. I’d like to say I read this article and another one I found on the same topic and I’m relieved. I felt the exact same way. I did my WW online entirely, but since I started back in 2003 I lost about 25 lbs which put me around 140 (I am 5’6). I maintained that for 7 years by being obsessive and compulsive about my food and my points to the point where my friends would roll their eyes and sometimes didn’t want to have meals with me. People told me I looked like a bobble head doll.
    I got pregnant and went off WW and gained 65 lbs for a couple of reasons: sure I would’ve gained 35-40 lbs anyway, but it was the first time in years that I didn’t write down every morsel of food I put in my mouth. I ate when I was hungry. I didn’t subsist on cucumbers and 0 point soup. The way I figure it, I was living on around 850-1200 (at that time 18-22 points a day) calories and I think it really screwed up my metabolism when I stopped.
    I re-joined a couple of times after I gave birth, and at that time the program changed. They boasted eating as much fruits and vegetables as I wanted but the carbs were double the points. I could eat 12 bananas but my cereal was 6 points? What? I didn’t lose anything either time I tried the program.
    Always, even to this day, I equate food with points, even when I don’t want to. I do the best I can. I lost most of the 65 lbs but about 10 has still stuck around. I chalk that up to being 10 years old and not as active (I do what I can). I do, however, firmly believe that while WW tries to say their all for health, blah blah blah, it’s just a money making machine and is really a tool for disordered eating.

  18. Reblogged this on FIT IS A FEMINIST ISSUE and commented:

    Weight Watchers is in the news again with a new name and a new attitude. See They’ve added mindful eating and meditation, broadening their focus from weight loss. (But still charging people for weekly weigh-ins.)

    “We will never abdicate our leadership in the best healthy eating program for weight loss in the world, but we can be so much more today,” the company’s president and chief executive, Mindy Grossman, said Monday on TODAY. “We can inspire people for healthy habits, to help them eat better, move better, use their mind to help support their efforts and really be about total wellness.”

    I blogged about the company some years ago. And I still think they take advantage of vulnerable people and sell a bill of goods that can’t make good on.

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