Weight Watchers have announced that they are going to be offering free memberships to teenagers aged between 13 and 17 this summer, and my blood has reached boiling point. Not only am I aghast at the company itself for exploiting vulnerable people (however, that’s hardly surprising – they are a weight loss company after all), I am shocked (but then again, maybe not) at the response I have seen from adults discussing the topic. I respect that everyone has their own views but the fact that people are voicing opinions that this could be okay (“for some!” they cry. “For those who need it!” oh fuck off) shows just how dangerous this is, and just how dangerous our attitudes are to weight, food, and “health”.
Research has showed us time and time and time and time again that diets absolutely DO NOT WORK and that 95% (although this figure has now been said to be less than it really is) of people regain the weight within 2-5 years (and often more too). This frequently leads to weight cycling which has been shown to be extremely damaging for the body (far more than the “risks” of being obese).
Research on the weight loss of obese people funded by those NOT benefiting from the diet and weight loss industry has repeatedly shown that it is harmful, not helpful, for the body to lose weight – especially to weight cycle. Research has also shown that the links between obesity and disease are tenuous at most. We also know that BMI is complete bullshit (inaccurate and again, misused by those with ties to the diet and weight loss industry when it was changed to make a whole load of people overweight overnight) and that everyone has their own individual healthy weight that can easily be within these arbitary numbers that were never intended to be used as health indicators.
And that’s just physical health. We know that there is a strong link between dieting and eating disorders. We know that there is a strong link between body shaming/food shaming and eating disorders. This. Is. Deadly. Anorexia Nervosa has the highest mortality rate of any mental illness, and other eating disorders (such as OSFED and bulimia) are not far behind. The effects of eating disorders on the person suffering and their life (and those in it) is devastating. Even when it doesn’t result in eating disorders it often results in poor body image, poor self-esteem, and a poor relationship with food.
Weight Watchers (like other diet and weight loss companies) makes their money from people who weight-cycle. They wants their customers to receive a taste of “success” (sorry not sorry for that pun), and then for those customers to inevitably regain the weight, blame themselves for being “greedy”, “lazy”, “lacking in willpower”, and “out of control”, and to return once more to the flock. And repeat. Weight Watchers make their money from the deterioration of our physical and mental health. And if Weight Watchers and other weight loss companies and products “worked”, then they would be out of customers and money, and everyone would be thin by now.
Weight Watchers is a load of bollocks (and they know it), so to then lure teenagers into a harmful environment with harmful consequences is repulsive. Teenagers are going through a time of chaos and uncertainty; a time in their lives where they are confused about who they are and what they want to be, are going through puberty and therefore are going through body changes and experiencing raging hormones, are navigating new relationships and the world of romance and sex, and are desperate to fit in and belong somewhere. Being a teenager is one of the toughest times in life. It’s also when most eating disorders develop and when people are often feeling the most self-aware and self-conscious of their bodies. To target a group of people when they are so vulnerable is sickening, immoral, and dangerous and the fact that people are still able to read about this and still say that it’s okay shows how indoctrinated in diet culture we are. Teenagers need to be supported and encouraged to have a good relationship with food and their bodies, and this does not include being part of a diet and weight loss community where public weighing, weight and food shaming, energy restriction, and disordered views and habits are encouraged.
Anyone who wants to dissent against the opinion that Weight Watchers (and dieting) is damaging to your physical and mental health, please check out the Twitter hashtag #WakeUpWeightWatchers right now.
And if I hear “it’s not a diet, it’s a lifestyle change!” one more time I’m going to scream.
(More research and information on obesity and why it’s really not that much of a problem here)