How many of you readers have been to a Weight Watchers meeting? I’m guessing at least this many:
You can count me among this group. My first visit was in my mid-20s, during graduate school. I went out of anxiety about weight gain, but without any plans or optimism, lasting only about 3 or 4 meetings. The second time I went, I lasted two meetings. What sent me running for the exit was the leader of the meeting, explaining why we should drink a lot of water: “it washes away the fat”. Argh. I’m outta here.
Times have changed since those days, 30 years ago. We all know that diets don’t work, and in fact have harmful effects– they reduce our resting metabolic rate, encourage disordered eating, and are often associated with disordered mood.
Weight Watchers has been paying attention to these developments– both in the science of body weight and in public opinion. And they responded by changing their… name. To this:
Oprah, who owns a 10% stake in the company, assures us that the new WW is no longer about dieting– it’s about wellness.
However, looking on the same web page, just above her head (so maybe she couldn’t see it), was this:
That sounds exactly like a diet program to me.
And then, looking to the right (on the same page), we see what their updated smartphone app looks like:
This looks exactly like their standard diet plan, with daily and weekly and meal-ly points assigned for total food consumption and restriction. My friends, this is a diet. Full stop.
There’s been a lot of media coverage of Weight Watchers’ attempt to rebrand themselves. Even the fancy international economics magazine The Economist noticed. The article is definitely worth reading, for its archness and detail. Here’s how they summarized some of the changes in the company:
… it has rebranded and adopted the tagline “Wellness that works”. It has stopped promoting before and after pictures, announced a partnership with Headspace, a meditation app, and encourages “beyond the scale” goals. Much of this is to show that the programme is not just meant for your mum.
… the firm is becoming less rigid about its system of points. Previously, members were given a strict daily allowance for anything they put in their mouths. In the early days avocados, yogurt and peanut butter were “illegal” and the banana-allowance was one a week. The new “Freestyle programme” is more flexible. “FitPoints” can be earned for exercise.
However, not everyone is applauding the shift. The Canadian women’s health blog Chatelaine, said this about the new WW:
One of the dangers of this rebrand is that it makes certain behaviours, like counting points and tracking food and exercise, seem benign. However, Toronto-based nutritionist Emily Tam says they’re anything but. “The repackaging is problematic to me because I think it will propagate the idea that carefully tracking what you eat and how much physical activity you do are normal wellness behaviours,” she explains. “It’s still a dieting program.”
…Their WellnessWins program still counts losing weight as a positive lifestyle habit. “What they’re telling us with this is that weight management is an important aspect of wellness, so to me, Weight Watchers and WW aren’t all that different,” Tam says. “Because the notion that ‘overweight’ and ‘obesity’ are ‘health problems’ that need to be fixed is so prevalent, weight loss or management is widely seen as a part of wellness.”
Here’s what I think:
- Calling a diet plan a “wellness plan” doesn’t make it so.
- Calling a diet plan a “wellness plan” messes with peoples’ senses of reality.
- Calling a diet plan a “wellness plan” when it is so clearly a diet plan is lying.
- Calling a diet plan a “wellness plan” makes it seem like dieting promotes wellness– but we all know it doesn’t.
- Changing its name from “Weight Watchers” to “WW” is a bald-faced move to prey on people who suffer from body dissatisfaction, for whom dieting will make them feel worse.
- I liked Weight Watchers better when they were Weight Watchers– at least it was clear what they were.
- What’s in a name? A lot.
Readers, have you had any experiences with Weight Watchers? With WW? What do you think about the change? I’d love to hear from you.