What’s got me in a tizzy

I want to share a few statistics with you:

  • 80% of 10 year olds have been on a diet
  • One-third of dieters develop pathological dieting behaviors, from which 25% will develop an eating disorder
  • 95% of people with diagnosed eating disorders are between the age of 12 and 25
  • 10% of teens with eating disorders die from complications
  • Only 10% of people suffering from an eating disorder will seek professional help
  • The #1 magic wish for girls age 11-17 is to be thinner

In other words, young teens, who are still growing and developing, are already trapped by diet culture – they’ve received the message that their body isn’t good enough. Not surprisingly, they develop aberrant eating and dieting behaviors that negatively affect health and well-being long-term.

Knowing this, I was shocked and saddened when Weight Watchers announced last week that it was going to offer free 6-week memberships to teens this coming summer.

Weight Watchers is doing this to boost their bottom line. How will offering free membership do that? Well, they expect that this recruitment tactic will create many young loyal customers who will continue pay for membership long after the initial 6 weeks has run out.

After all, the Weight Watchers business is highly dependent on repeat members. (In other words, it’s built on a model where their program doesn’t work.)

They are doing this despite the research showing that focusing on weight and dieting is not effective for teens. And despite the research showing that dieting increases the risk of weight gain and results in other physical and mental health consequences (read my book Food Fight for more on that topic).

And yes, Weight Watchers is a diet. Don’t let their marketing fool you. Their program is specifically designed to restrict your food intake for the purposes of losing weight. That is the definition of a diet.

Instead of reinforcing and magnifying the belief that their body is not ok, what these teens need is help in cultivating positive self-esteem. They need to see and appreciate their own amazing uniqueness and value. They need to understand that their worth is not determined by their body size and shape.

Teens have their own unique dietary needs and psychological needs.

Placing teens in a Weight Watchers meeting room with other adults who are themselves suffering from body image challenges is not the answer.

And yes, I once drank the Weight Watchers Kool Aid. I lost weight on Weight Watchers. I worked for the company. While I was working there:

  • I watched women break down in tears when the scale didn’t give them the result they hoped for.
  • I heard women tell me about how they were no good and would never be able to be in a loving relationship because of their body size.
  • I smiled as people came in to rejoin because “it worked for me before”. (Hint: if it had really worked, you wouldn’t need to rejoin.)
  • I remember one woman asking “Can I still weigh in?” as she was carted away to an ambulance because she had fainted outside the meeting room – she hadn’t eaten anything that day because she wanted a good weigh in.
  • Oh, and I developed an eating disorder.

Yeah, let’s add teens to the mix.

Funny, in my Freedom Circle membership group just the other day, I was talking about choice. The fact that we always have a choice as to how we react to something.

When I first heard about Weight Watchers targeting teens, I found myself reacting in anger. But I took a step back and asked myself: is this reaction serving you? If not, what other choice can you make here?

Well, my anger wasn’t serving me. So I am choosing to react with hope and gratitude. I am grateful that this issue is being highlighted in the media. Perhaps teens will finally begin to get the attention that they are needing, and we will begin to see initiatives that address their needs.

And perhaps parents will begin to look at their own body image issues and decide to make a change so they can set a different example for their children.

In fact, that’s part of the reason why I do what I do. One of the consequences I have seen of the transformations I am able to facilitate in women is that they are then able to set a positive body image example for their children.

So I am choosing to hope that good will come of this.