In case you haven't already seen it, weight watchers has developed a new, and free, app for CHILDREN -- as young as 8 -- complete with weight loss progress pics and "success stories". To say that I'm horrified, disgusted and enraged would be an understatement and I'm not alone. Twitter has been consumed with not only nutritionists, dietitians, eating disorder clinics but also regular women like you and me who know first hand because they've lived it, speaking out against the damage this is sure to cause to another generation of kids.
Take a second to think about when you were a young girl (or boy) -- think about the messages about food, weight and your body that you received.
What did they teach you? How did they mold your life? Your feelings about yourself? How did they impact your size, even?
We're taught at a young age that those weight and food restrictions and obsessions are to help us. As though, if we just go on that diet and suffer through it by sticking to their rules for long enough that we're going to end up living happily ever after, in our new skinny and confident lives when we're done the diet.
How's that worked for you so far?
We're taught that we can't be trusted to make one of the most basic of human choices for ourselves -- what to eat.
We're taught that gaining weight is failure - that it's a sign of weakness, of laziness, even of being worth less. We're taught to feel shame -- in ourselves, and in our bodies. We're taught to fear food and to fear and hate our growing bodies.
How's it been working?
Are you happy, skinny and the picture of health, self-esteem and confidence now? And how many years have you wasted chasing that outcome? Is repeating that same legacy really what we want for our children?
That's the message they sell us, right? That's what we're told dieting does for us. That's the story weight watchers, and every other diet on the planet has been selling us since the 1950's (or earlier).
As someone whose relationship with food and battle with weight started in her teens after she did her first diet, as someone who was pushed to bulimia in her thirties from dieting, as someone who gained weight for almost 2 decades and hated herself because of dieting, and as someone who has spent almost a decade listening to other women -- including weight watchers lifers and even ex-weight watchers "leaders" -- talk about how dieting has done the exact same things to their lives, I'm disgusted and furious.
And I mean do mean furious. I want their heads. I want them out of business. I want them sued. I want them broke and penniless. I want them to be seen for the piranhas that they are.
Back then, we didn't know any better. We didn't have the decades of experience. We didn't have the years of new research. Back then, there may have been some excuse to get away with continuing to promote dieting but now, there is no excuse. We KNOW better now.
We know better.
We NEED to do better.
HERE'S JUST SOME OF WHAT WE NOW KNOW ABOUT DIETING:
1 in 4 people who try to control their weight by dieting, or however you choose to frame food rules & restriction for the purpose of weight loss (lifestyle, wellness, etc) will develop an eating disorder. Galmiche M. et al. (2019). Prevalance of eating disorders over the 2000-2018 period: a systemic literature review. AJCN. 109:1402.
Research presented at the Society for the Study of Ingestive Behavior (SSIB) in 2014 found that the younger a woman is when she goes on her first diet, the more likely she is to experience several negative health outcomes like extreme weight control behaviors (eating disorders), misuse alcohol, and be overweight or obese by the time she reaches her 30's. Society for the Study of Ingestive Behavior. (2014, July 29). Dieting young may lead to poor health outcomes later: Trends in dieting strategies in young adult women from 1982 to 2012.
Food restriction (like that promoted by dieting and weight loss programs) creates food obsessions, compulsions and binge eating. Keys, A., Brožek, J., Henschel, A., Mickelsen, O., & Taylor, H. L. (1950). The biology of human starvation. (2 Vols.). Oxford, England: Univ. of Minnesota Press.
A study on 4,000 Finnish twins (16-25 yo) found that dieting, independent of genetics was associated with accelerated weight gain, in a dose dependent manner with each dieting episode. Says the author, "It is now well established that the more people engage in dieting, the more they gain weight in the long-term." Pietiläinen, K.H. et al. (2011). Does dieting make you fat? A twin study. Int J Obes Mar; 36(3):456
A study on nearly 17,000 kids ages 9-14 found that dieting was a significant and consistent predictor of weight gain. Scientists conclude, "...in the long term, dieting to control weight is not only ineffective, it may actually promote weight gain." Field (2003). Relation Between Dieting & Weight Change Among Preadolescents & Adolesc. Pediatrics, 112:900
Kids who diet were 12 times more likely to report binge eating, compared to their nondieting counterparts. Field (2003). Relation Between Dieting & Weight Change Among Preadolescents & Adolesc. Pediatrics, 112:900
In 2016 the American Academy of Pediatrics concluded that dieting is counterproductive & increases risk of eating disorders. They urge no focus be placed on weight. AAP Committee on Nutrition. Preventing Eating Disorders Pediatrics; 138(3):e20161649
Companies like weight watchers have, for literally generations, been feeding a diet culture that's built upon the back of weight stigma to promote shame, fear, and distrust in ourselves. They feed on our insecurities and fuel the story that we are only worthy of love, acceptance and goodness if a scale displays the “right” number or we eat the “right” things and that happiness is only found on the other side of the next diet promising miracles.
75-97% (depending on the study) of women report having unhealthy thoughts, feelings or behaviours towards their bodies at least once a day. That's a learned behavior from diet culture and weight stigma.
80% of 10 year old girls report having been on a diet and more than half of girls as young as six report wanting to be thinner. That's learned behavior from diet culture -- and almost always, from watching their moms do things like weight watchers.
We don't come into this world hating and criticizing the chub on our thighs and being ashamed of ourselves for the cute little roll on our bellies. That's a learned behavior that's destroying us mentally and physically.
Studies have shown that people who feel shame over their weight are roughly 2.5 times as likely to experience depression and/or anxiety disorders than those who do not.
Strong, negative associations between internalized weight bias and poor psychological health have been shown… these include high levels of depression and anxiety, lower self-esteem, disordered eating, eating disorders, increased binge eating, and poorer mental health-related quality of life.
Further, higher levels of weight bias internalization are linked with lower motivation to engage in healthy lifestyle behaviors, poorer dietary adherence, poorer weight loss maintenance, and increased odds of metabolic syndrome.
It’s incredibly difficult to not internalize weight stigma and when we feel bad about ourselves because of our weight or the food choices we make, we feel less confident in our ability to engage in healthful behaviors and are more prone to self-sabotaging, self-punishing, and unhealthy behaviors like binge eating, avoiding physical activity, and other things that contribute to weight gain.
Those things are a direct result of promoting weight loss being a measure of success and something to celebrate, weight gain as being bad, and labels being placed on foods -- all things the new kid's weight loss app are doing.
People who experience weight stigma:
Engage in more frequent binge eating
Are at an increased risk for eating disorder symptoms
Are more likely to have a diagnosis for binge eating disorder (BED)
Are at a higher risk for depression, suicidal thoughts and behaviors, body dissatisfaction and low self-esteem
As much as weight watchers pretends to care about the health of our kids, one look at their new app proves otherwise. Putting children on the new weight watchers diet is like giving them a 24/7 weight stigma generator -- right at their fingertips.
No longer do kids have to go through all the trouble of getting their weight stigma and body hate second hand from the adults in their life -- weight watchers is cutting out the middle man and going straight for the kids because they KNOW that by doing so, they're creating a new generation of lifers.
It's abhorrent and I cannot even believe it's legal.
If this outrages you, too and you have a long history of dieting and weight/food shame as a result, I want to hear and highlight your story for a project I'm working on. If you're interested in hearing more about it or helping to make a change, please email me at email@example.com. I'd love to connect with you.