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.

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