An Open Letter To Weight Watchers
Dear Weight Watchers,
I will just come right out and say it. I am absolutely over diet culture, fat phobia, and our society's obsession with thinness. I am disappointed in your encouragement of this behavior amongst the next generation.
A quick glance at your website was alarming to me. Although several health goals are encouraged, your app has a clear focus on motivating teenagers to drop pounds to feel accepted, and this is not okay.
As a Registered Dietitian, I prefer not to counsel individuals specifically for weight loss, but for total wellness and disease prevention instead. Why? It is possible to be genuinely healthy at every body size and obsessing over each food choice and every pound is NOT healthy. When we feel guilt and shame around our food choices we are harming our bodies too. Worth and health are not determined by the number on the scale, and children should not be in the pursuit of weight loss. Nor should they be spending a significant amount of time on their phones doing so.
Children are growing. Their bodies are developing. They are learning lifelong behaviors. Growing children are in need of optimal nutrition and have the ability to learn about foods that will truly nourish their bodies, while practicing behaviors that will nourish their minds at the same time.
Stoplight colored foods may be a useful tool for basic nutrition education, but without appropriate guidance, it can create orthorexic tendencies. Even with my background, I am perplexed as to why some of your food choices are labeled the way they are (to me, homemade hummus is a green light for sure!). I cannot deny that some foods are nutritionally superior to others; however all food choices vary, as do the unique needs of children. Encouraging children to log their good and bad food choices without this context does not teach them to eat intuitively-something I strongly recommend. Intuitive eating is a practice that challenges the "food police" and encourages leaning into one's own wisdom to trust the food choices that their body needs.
In addition, reading success stories of children who have lost weight leads to unrealistic comparisons. What about including other successes too? What about the child who has more energy to play after eating more fruits and vegetables? Or the child who can focus more in school or has had a decrease in undesirable health issues? The images on your website may promote shame among children who have not lost weight, yet are still healthy. What is wrong with feeling better and healthier at every body size?
Related: Dear Mothers: Let's Teach our Children to Love Their Bodies
Research has indeed linked higher BMIs to health issues; however, correlation does not always equal causation. There are many factors at play, including the gut microbiome, inflammation, nutrient status, and social factors too. Even if a nutrient-dense diet does not result in weight loss, it will result in a healthier you.
Health at Every Size® teaches us to respect the beautiful diversity of all body sizes and shapes and to nourish our bodies for overall wellness versus weight control. I would love to see this message promoted in your offerings.
While I am sure you intended to be helpful, and your app may indeed truly help many, I am most concerned about children setting goals to lose weight and assigning labels to foods without context. As someone who has personally struggled with disordered eating patterns in the past, I beg you to reconsider.
A Registered Dietitian and Concerned Mother of Two
Photo: Tero Vesalainen/Shutterstock