The Thing About Weight Watchers

Yesterday in response to a post that I made in which I said that Weight Watchers doesn’t work, reader Jen left the following respectful question:

“While nutrisystem and that medi-diet crap is prepackaged nonsense that REQUIRES you continue to buy, it appears to me that weight watchers is more about portion control and teaching appropriate eating habits vs insta-slim, freeze dried scams. The only ‘on’ you do paying attention to what you are putting in your body and how much, so being ‘off’ is…not paying attention? An unaccounted for buffet is just as bad for my obesity as it is for my crazy in shape, vein popping, bicep curling, best friend…. I’ve never done it, but if I understand correctly it is misleading to lump it in with the prepackaged ridiculousness of Jenny Craig or the fad diets of Atkins or Stillman. I think everyone’s goal is the slowest rate in which you die, right? I’ll take healthy over slim any day, which seems like what they promote. I have no personal interest in weight watchers, but am interested why this is treated the same or if I am totally off their concept all together. I would love some feedback! Thanks!”

I’ll break this all down, but let me start here:  Weight Watchers markets and sells weight loss. Their success at that is abysmal.  And they know it.  One study showed that participants lost around about 10 pounds in six months and had regained half of that two years later (after which they just stopped tracking them, I imagine so that they could avoid having to talk about how they eventually regained it all.) Karen Miller-Kovach, chief scientific officer of Weight Watchers International at the time, said: “It’s nice to see this validation of what we’ve been doing.”

So if they are so comfortable with those numbers, why doesn’t their advertising say “Join Weight Watchers and you have a decent chance of being 5 pounds lighter 2 years from now?”

It seems to me that they are trying to have their Weight Watchers Brand One Point Cake Square and eat it too.   First, they take credit for the short term weight loss that almost everyone can accomplish on almost every diet and then they blame their customers for the long term weight regain that almost everyone experiences.  They promise that anyone who tries hard enough can lose weight, and when they are challenged with the fact that their product almost never does what they say it does, then their messaging is “we’re just about health and portion control.”

Giving people options for healthy eating is fine, but then the diet companies add “...and then you lose weight.” Not because they have any proof or reason to believe that will happen long term but because people are willing to pay for the promise of weight loss without caring about the proof (or lack thereof)  Interestingly, one of the reasons that people will pay for it is that Weight Watchers has spent billions of dollars in marketing and advertising to convince people that they need to be thin in order to be attractive or healthy, and that anyone who tries hard enough can be thin.

There is not a single study where any weight loss method is shown to be successful over the long term.  Not a single one. Not one.

Yet I have witnessed the following:

  • The college’s Dietician tells a group of students (who have come to hear a panel on eating disorders) that diets fail 95% of the time because people lose the weight too fast, and that people can keep the weight off if they lose 1/2 pound a week.  I asked if there was research on that and she reluctantly admitted that there wasn’t. But if I hadn’t been there those students would have probably believed that, as a professional, she was giving them advice based on evidence.
  • Weight Watchers and other diet companies have been successfully sued by the Federal Trade Commission for Deceptive Trade Practices, and yet they continue to sell weight loss because people ignore the legally required disclaimers
  • Personal trainers claim that they have the secrets to weight loss even those research shows that while exercise will likely lead to better health, it probably won’t lead to weight loss.

Anyone who says that they know how to help people lose weight and keep it off is lying.  (At least I consider telling someone that you can get a result that you know only happens 5% of the time time to be a lie.)

I think everyone’s goal is the slowest rate in which you die, right?

I don’t agree.  I think that this is demonstrably incorrect (and dangerously close to breaking The Underpants Rule.)  It’s totally cool if that’s what you want to do but there are plenty of people who choose something other than the longest possible life as their priority.

I’ll take healthy over slim any day, which seems like what they [Weight Watchers] promote.

I do not think that is what they promote – I think that they promote weight loss.  I think that because every commercial  they air is about weight loss, because I get postcards from them once a month telling me how many dress sizes I can lose before the next event in the Diet Axis of Evil (Bikini Season, the Holidays are Coming, New Years Resolutions).  If they were promoting health, their name would be Health Watchers, I would not see commercials with Jennifer Hudson saying “I lost weight and you can too!”, they would not do weigh ins, and people would not win prizes for meeting weight loss goals or be chided for not meeting them, and their marketing would not conflate weight and health or weight and beauty.

if I understand correctly it is misleading to lump it in with the prepackaged ridiculousness of Jenny Craig or the fad diets of Atkins or Stillman.

I disagree.  First of all, although their clients aren’t required to eat it,  Weight Watchers has a ton of pre-packaged food.  But mostly I think that they should be lumped together because all of these diets encourage using food as a way to manipulate body size and all of these diets have the same abysmal success rate at doing that.

There’s a term for a health program that actually focuses on health by the way – it’s called Health at Every Size, it’s what I practice and I chose it based on my love of research and math.

So that’s my take on it Jen, thanks for asking!

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66 thoughts on “The Thing About Weight Watchers

  1. I did weight watchers in my 20’s, when I was slim anyway. My husband forced me to go because I’d gained some weight after marriage. The fact that I had been seriously I’ll the year before and lost a shocking amount of weight so that I looked great but could hardly stand for 5 mins didn’t seem to come into his thinking. I divorced him eventually. But the point is, they don’t teach you about health because you are counting foods, then the score system was different, but it’s the same thing as points just wrapped differently. You can eat only crap food if you stick to your points.

    I have a long-time friend who has been obese since college. She has been a member of Weight Watchers or Slimming World ever since and she turns 50 this year. Once and only once did she loose many stones in weight, but regained it and more very quickly and since then its a pound here and there. She has no idea how to eat healthily and no idea how to be fit. She’s had 2 knee replacements and suffers terribly with her back. She needs a stick to walk outside. Yet week in and week out for decades she’s paid her fees to be weighed and sent home again. Just imagine how much money that equates to. I wish she would stop, but it’s her choice. Her underpants seem to have these diet company logos embroidered on them.

    1. I do hope that your friend is able to find health care that focuses on her pain and how to treat or manage it without being focused on weight reduction as the key. Although weight reduction can put less stress on the affected areas, there are many other ways to combat her issues. The knee replacements have hopefully helped her knee pain, perhaps alternatives such as physical therapy or acupuncture could further assist her.
      I have sciatica and a bum ankle. I was incredibly active up until the day I originally hurt my ankle. My weight has fluctuated since and I’m new to the concept of Health at Every Size. I’ve done my share of dieting. However, I do have a great doctor who is not fixated on my weight.
      I went to my doctor a few years ago with concerns that I was too heavy and did not believe that I was over eating. He first asked if I’d gained it in a short period of time, to which the answer was no. He then had a full panel of blood work done and told me that my body chemistry is good, I am indeed healthy. This news confused the hell out of me–how could I be healthy and fat? Since that time I get regular screenings to ensure that I reamain healthy on a body chemistry level.
      In that time I have had issues with both my ankle and back acting up. For neither issue did my doctor suggest weight loss, he got me into physical therapy and I worked with physical therapists who helped me with moving my body (“exercises”–but none focused on sweating or losing weight) that stretch/strengthen the affected areas.
      It seams I may have stumbled across a doctor who is practicing medicine in line with HAES without meaning to do so!
      Now I need to look at my approach to food and see if I can overcome my body image issues. I am “only” at the cusp of “Overweight” vs “Obese” on the BMI chart. I really, really hate those words.

    2. Slimming world has come to Dallas. They came about 2 years ago. It is growing here. I thought it was interesting they chose Dallas Tx. Nice people but same old same old.

      1. Well, of course they came to Dallas, Texas — they have plenty of victims to prey on from Allen to Frisco and even Oak Cliff. I’ve encountered more fat phobia in the 7 years I’ve lived here than in the 40+ I lived in Houston.

  2. I joined Weight Watchers at age ten with my thin mother, then again at 21. All it did was teach me to starve and then binge. I would save my points during the week, eating lettuce and “1 point bread”. Then, on the weekends I would eat until I felt sick, but still stayed within my points allowance.
    I also lost weight, so I personally believe my relationship with food and my eating habits are directly related to the Weight Watchers program.
    Atkins taught me to ignore my “full signals”, the cabbage diet taught me that living on a food with a laxative effect meant taking laxatives for weight loss is ok.
    The problem with diets, weather they result in weight loss or not, is that they often produce bad habits, while they promote producing good habits.

    1. No kidding! “Calorie counting doesn’t work, but counting exchanges does! Exchanges don’t work, but counting points does! Diets don’t work, but our food plan does!” etc. etc.

      I was a member three times. My first “counselor” had lost 20 pounds and explained “That was all I had to lose!” My friend and I wondered what qualified her to advise us. I was in high school the first time and cooking my own meals in the same kitchen where my mom was cooking for the rest of the family wasn’t an option, so I relied on the frozen meals. I remember one week where I’d struggled but succeeded in staying on the program and turned in my sheet only to get a shaming message for eating frozen meals that contained sodium. I hated that woman.

      The first time I went, I lost weight. The second and third times, it just didn’t work the same way. My body adapted.

      Oh, my other least-favorite piece of diet woo – the “plateau.” “Eat fewer calories than you burn and you’ll lose weight! If it doesn’t work, you’ve reached a plateau. Just keep doing the same thing, and it will start working again eventually.” And I’m supposed to believe that because? The very existence of a “plateau” shows that there is something wrong with their theory. Every time I gave up dieting, it was after a long “plateau” phase, and nowhere but in the HAES world have I ever read any explanation or acknowledgment of what is really happening in that phase.

      1. Amazing how so many dieters believe the “plateau” exists — but also manage to simultaneously believe that “it’s just calories in, calories out!”

  3. I joined Weight Watchers a number of times over the years. In recent years, I found myself getting really upset with group leaders who would only laud a couple of people in the meetings, people who had taken off the kind of weight you lose right at the beginning of the diet — water weight, etc. — that amounted to 10 pounds or whatever. Even though it may make me sound like a wireless-microphone-wearing saleswoman, I would’ve applauded every single person in that room just for showing up and for everyone’s weight loss. I worked HARD for my two pounds or whatever I’d taken off. This, of course, I would have done before moving towards SA/HAES or what I like to call “F*ck you, there’s nothing wrong with my body.”

    I left WW for a variety of reasons: I couldn’t afford it (in every sense of the word), I was tired of being weighed by women who had lost a whopping 20 pounds (!!!) in 1978 and had kept it off since then (Oh struggle! Oh torture!) and I was tired of my every waking moment going towards thoughts about points and whether or not someone had noticed I’d lost a pound or five. I much prefer eating whatever I want (if it’s salad, awesome; if it’s cake, awesome) and committing to regular exercise/activity/movement.

    I’m glad a friend posted on Facebook about this blog. I’ve learned a lot in just a couple weeks, such as the lawsuits Weight Watchers has been involved in. I can’t wait until they find some other celebrity to shill for their program because I am O-V-E-R Jennifer Hudson.

  4. I went on Weight Watchers three times. I lost weight all three times. So I suppose that it does work if temporary weight loss is the goal. What they didn’t tell me was that every time I lost the weight, I would eventually gain that weight back plus more. I’m 60 lbs heavier than when I did Weight Watchers for the first time. I would always reach a point where I would plateau and then the weight would start creeping back. Sigh….I wish I had known the 95% statistic when I first went on weight watchers. Weight watchers will never get a cent of my money again.

  5. Thank you so much for this post. I just had basically this conversation with a client the other day, and it did not go well. I get from this post (1) validation, and (2) support in continuing to try to spread the message. I’m sharing, re-tweeting, etc. your post everywhere I can, and somewhere, somebody, will read it and “click!” the lightbulb will go off for them.

  6. Bravo Ragen, My belief has always been diets are nothing more that a way to teach you how to eat 1000-1200 calories a day and nothing more. If the reason I am fat has nothing to do with food, then why is eating less food the answer? It isnt. It is all a bunch of crap.

  7. I think one reason people believe it will work is because usually you see someone saying “I lost 100 pounds! (results not typical)” and you think – hey, that’s okay, I only need to lose 30 pounds, not 100, so I don’t care if losing 100 pounds is not typical. You don’t realize that losing (permanently) 30 – or 10 – pounds is not typical, either.

    I did Weight Watchers online for a while. I quit my subscription when I realized that it cost as much as a World of Warcraft subscription and for that you got an ENTIRE WORLD to mess about in, but Weight Watchers gave you… a spreadsheet.

    1. Yes, exactly this! It’s that whole loop-hole thing. They get around not telling the full truth because they tell enough of it to placate the lawsuits they have “suffered” for false advertising.

  8. Having lost 50 lbs on WW a few years back I can honestly say that it does NOT teach you healthy eating habits. It teaches you how to eat the most for the least amount of points. While I may have been smaller, I guarantee my nutrition levels were worse. 100 calorie packs of cupcakes, chips, etc. are only 1-2 points?! SQUEE – load up the shopping cart!! Expensive, chemicalized diet bread is only one point compared to cheaper, whole grain bread’s 3-4 points? Well, duh – chemicals it is! That way I might be able to have a tablespoon of dressing on my salad later!

    UGH. I have since gained the weight back and then some, but while I am not perfect I choose many more nutritionally dense foods now than I did then, and I haven’t bought a 100 calories pack of anything in years. In spite of the temporary effectiveness, I will never do it again, as I refuse to go back to pickling myself with fake food and do not want to go through the process of gaining back even more than I lost. While I’m ok with being big, I don’t want to pay for shrinking temporarily with gaining later because of a knee joint issue. Since I stopped actively dieting and exercising for weight loss, I have maintained my current weight within 5 pounds +/-.

  9. Hey Ragen, have you ever thought about starting a not-dieting club? Where people go to learn about HAES and different yummy recipes and fun ways to move your body that they might not have tried before and either there are no scales or maybe have the Yay! scale with all the nice messages on instead of numbers, I really thing you could pull it of because you are awesome.

  10. I did WW for the first time in high school to lose weight before prom. (Looking back at pictures, I’ve always been big, taller and wider than other girls, but I didn’t get fat until I hit puberty.) I honestly don’t remember what happened that time except that I was still fat at prom.

    The second time I did WW was as a newlywed, believing I needed to lose weight to be the kind of wife my husband deserved. (Oy, I’m rolling my eyes big time at my past self.) I did well on it, losing from 290 down to 230. But then no matter what I did, I couldn’t lose any more and it took everything I had to maintain. Then my husband went off to war, I lost my job (which meant losing my gym membership), he came back from war, we moved halfway across the country, found out we couldn’t have a baby, etc, etc. In other words, LIFE HAPPENED and it needed my attention and sure enough, the weight crept back on and added another 60 pounds.

    Earlier this year after I found SA/HAES, I had a moment of weakness and logged back into the WW website. I found out that I had never cancelled my membership and they were autobilling me every month for years. However, when I went to cancel, I had a major panic attack. I found it interesting that their message was so deeply ingrained in me that it took a massive amount of sheer willpower to cancel my account.

    These days I just thank God for the invention of DVR and I make sure I fast-forward through all of the NutriSystem, Weight Watchers, Atkins, etc commercials. I don’t need those kind of messages in my brain or in my house.

    1. I know a lot of people have had very bad experiences with OA, but I had a great experience with them. As far as I know, the one in my area didn’t require following a specific food regime so you could define your own goals. I stopped going to the meetings a while ago and long before I found Ellyn Satter and HAES, but at least in my area, I don’t see the two as being entirely incompatible. Although, as I type, I’m reflecting, I know at the time I was going to OA, I was sitll very much in the mindset of wanting to lose weight and thinking back on some of the comments made by others. maybe it’s not as compatible as I think. Hmmm….

    2. I have close family member in OA. I have the same problem with it that I have with all 12 Step programs: It is specifically designed to keep you in the program forever, and it specifically teaches powerlessness and reliance, a message I think women in particular get quite enough of. I also have major problems with the framing of eating as addiction.

      In addition, I have watched my family member go through twenty years of weight cycling, blaming herself when she isn’t “abstinent”, blaming herself when she gains weight again, blaming herself for damn near anything because she wasn’t strong enough, all while piously speaking the 12 Step-approved jargon about how it’s not really her fault, but now she needs to work the program harder. She has remained utterly committed to the idea that weight=health and that long-term weight loss is possible, no matter how many articles, studies, and books I send her.

      She will tell you that OA has helped her with her compulsive overeating — but I still see her binge on corn chips and popcorn and nuts, and then cut them back out again because they’re addictive. She has a dozen things she hasn’t eaten in a couple of decades, and another dozen that go on and off the list. Every one of them is there basically because she enjoys it too much.

      Maybe OA really helps some people, but it’s kept my family member in the same diet mindset, and indeed more thoroughly invested in it than she was before she joined OA. OA in general doesn’t have a diet plan (although my relative has one she is really committed to) but it still is very much about the idea of good ways and bad ways to eat, and that eating in bad ways is just like being addicted to heroin, instead of being a psychological pattern often caused by fat shaming and dieting.

  11. I did Weight Watchers with my mum as a teenager, I wasn’t actually fat, but I have broad shoulder, large chest and I am soft bodied. The leader was a woman who had lost the majority of her weight starving herself after she lost her two grown up children in separate incidents. Even then I found it odd that a woman who lost weight on ‘the misery diet’ should be trying to tell me how to eat healthily. She also looked very gaunt as if she’d not stopped when she hit her ‘perfect’ weight but kept going until the point it was impossible to lose any more. I have no idea if she was eating a reasonable amount while running the Weight Watchers group but as an adult I find it dreadfully irresponsible that they put this woman in charge of a group of people and implied that we should emulate her.

    1. The leader of the one group I was in had lost a lot of weight, can’t remember exactly how much though, and then later on, had cancer so I think she lost even more weight and was very thin when she was a leader. Which to me didn’t seem all that healthy but at the time, it sort of gave me something to focus on while I was waiting for my mom’s trial to start. Of course, it all eventually derailed and I ended up regaining the weight and then some.

    2. I went to fat camp as a kid and the woman running the camp was a marathon runner who stated on the first day that she wanted to get thin enough that her period stopped and even as a 13 year old I knew that was f’d up.

  12. I earned a lifetime membership to WW in the 90s. I lost 14 pounds and kept it off over five years. I don’t go again because I see no point in paying money to do that again. I have the sheets to write down daily points and a card that calculates points so I tried doing it again on my own. I lost weight temporarily. I was still dieting and exercising as the weight returned. Eventually, I ate normally and stopped exercising in excess of three hours a day since the weight was returning no matter what I did.

    I see no point in trying to lose weight again. It’s too much effort for too little reward. I still feel ashamed that I gained the weight back that I lost four five years ago. (This time without WW.) I don’t want to go to the doctor’s office now that I’m fat. Losing weight messes you up. If I didn’t lose that weight, I wouldn’t be embarrassed that I gained it all back.

  13. I did Weight Watchers when it first began by Jean Nidetch; powdered skim milk, white bread, 6 ounces of meat, 5 fish meals a week, number 3 and number 4 vegetables; three fruits a day, and my all-time favorite: never eat a tomato after dark!

    I am convinced the original Nidetch program was genuinely well-intentioned. It was meant to help people. Based on the New York City Board of Health diet program, the food was awful, bland and boring but it was balanced and there was plenty of it. You had to eat it all; no substitutions.

    I followed it to the letter and because I was young and fairly active, the weight came off quite easily despite the mock macaroons made of cauliflower; and the unforgettable apple pie made with non-fat dry milk crust……Disgusting doesn’t even begin to describe these….but I did lose weight.

    I lost over 75 pounds, was 11 pounds from my goal and just couldn’t stick to it anymore. Over the next decade, I tried 4 or 5 more times to go back to Weight Watchers after regaining 20 or 30 pounds, but I just couldn’t maintain the momentum after a few weeks on the program. Eventually, I regained all the weight I had lost, plus added pounds more. I lived my life in guilt and felt like a complete failure.

    I wasn’t the only one.

    At some point Nidetch, a regular on the talk-show circuit during the late 1960s and early 1970s, stopped appearing in public. Photographs of her still appeared, but never below her chin. I suspect she regained her weight, just like the rest of us.

    Then she sold the business to Nestle for millions$. Good for her! That’s when all the gimmicks began with the points, et. al.

    Nestle’s Weight Watchers is not well-intentioned, nor is it about losing weight, it’s about marketing gimmicks to make money. Don’t be fooled. If you want to lose weight, fine, but don’t be fooled.

    1. I started WW about the same time you did..1967, as I recall. I weighed 154 when I started. At that time they did not tell you your goal until you were within 10 lbs of it. When I got to 122, I asked how low they expected me to go, and they said “oh, you met it.” I became a lifetime member. Went back a couple times plus dieted a-plenty. Now I weigh about 350. That’s how well the program worked for me.

  14. Also, at least as I’ve experienced on Weight Watchers, “portion control” is really, really similar to food/calorie restriction (or points restriction or exchanges restriction or however they want to market it). As someone who went in with a more or less healthy relationship to food (I ate to give me the energy I needed to be able to do the life activities I wanted to do), teaching me this method of “portion control” was not healthy since it meant they were teaching me to prioritize both my weight and staying within my points allowance over actually living my life.

    Now, as someone with a history [guess where it came from] of restriction-turned-disordered-eating-patterns, doing something like Weight Watchers could be downright dangerous for me.

    1. Agreed on the whole “portion control” thing. I’m sure they’ve changed it up a bit since I did it almost 10 years ago but back then it seemed like glorified calorie counting. They give you a number that’s well below what most adults need so that people will usually lose weight. They have weigh ins, give tips and tricks to eachother, reward the weight loss. How is that anything different from a diet?

      I also agree that plans like WW are an especially bad idea for anyone with eating disorder history regardless of weight status (though obviously it is well within anyone’s right to do so) With my ED history too I know that even if I WANTED to diet “right” it would inevitably lead down the same path it always did.

      1. Yup. I also think it operates on the assumption that people are fat because they’re eating a surplus of calories (or fat or sugar or whatever = the target of the specific program) and therefore need to learn “portion control” — which is certainly not true across the board.

  15. “An unaccounted for buffet is just as bad for my obesity as it is for my crazy in shape, vein popping, bicep curling, best friend”

    I’m still trying to parse this sentence. “An unaccounted for buffet” ??? It sounds like a company lunch gone wrong or something like that. And “vein popping” sounds rather disturbing.

    1. That one struck me, too. I think “unaccounted for” means you have yet to do your penance for the sin of “overeating” by either undereating by an equivalent amount or extra exercise.

  16. Weight Watchers is based on the premise that it is totally normal to “count” every bit of food you put in your mouth, write it down, and eat less than you are hungry for. Little did I know that eating less than we are hungry for is completely abnormal for our bodies’ internal regulation systems, and would lead me to massive binges after being “good” (as we in WW called it) all week. Also, as someone who worked for WW (albeit briefly, before I came to my senses and found HAES), they really do push their prepackaged foods at the meetings. The pressure to sell that crap constantly is enormous. I tried a few of those snack bars to see what it was I’d be selling and they are truly awful. I’m not even sure you can call them food. Workers have to weigh in monthly to make sure they’re at their goal weight in order to keep working there, yet they never wanted to know if someone’s blood panels were good – so no, they are not really at all about health, they are everything about weight loss. They do get lumped in with Jenny, et al in my opinion.

  17. What I’d like to understand is why no enterprising lawyer has latched onto “big diet” the way they have “big tobacco”. You might see a lawsuit here and there, but no really massive “tipping point” movement. I do think we live in an overly litigious society, but if there’s one industry that truly deserves to be bled dry, it’s that one.

    1. I think it’s because most of us are convinced that if we fail at a diet, it’s our own fault, we didn’t try hard enough. That is kindof the whole reason we felt we needed some “expert” to tell us how to eat in the first place, right?

  18. If anyone has seen the HBO 3-part documentary “Weight of the Nation” they will understand why permanent weight loss is a myth. I thought the documentary was going to be another excoriation of fatties. I was wrong. It was very clear-eyed and balanced. The only people who say permanent weight loss is possible are the hucksters and diet meisters making money off of a lie. The science is clear at this stage, once you’re fat, the best you can do is eat fruits and vegetables mostly and a little meat occasionally in normal portions. That will keep you healthy, which is the goal. Thin is a concept — not a reality. A little exercise is important for health, not for weight control. Sad but true. Health is the goal, not thin-ness. So Jenny, and Nutri-System, and Weight Watchers and Overeaters Anonymous are all Jillian Michaels, and Dr. Oz are just hucksters in the business of blaming the victim for the crime.

    1. Thank you for the comment. I agree with you that dieting just doesn’t work and that healthy habits are the best path to a health body. The thing that stuck me in your comment was the phrase “sad but true”. I think part of the problem is that people think that being fat is sad and I think most of that has to do with the social stigmatization of fat people which doesn’t have to happen. I think that the way that fat people are treated is sad, but I don’t think it’s sad to be fat.



      1. “The science is clear at this stage, once you’re fat, the best you can do is eat fruits and vegetables mostly and a little meat occasionally in normal portions.”

        How is this not a diet? Some people just need more food to function at their best, and I’m one of them. In my opinion there’s no one size fits all–which is more like one size fits none-answer, and to say there is is misleading. This is my opinion and I mean absolutely disrespect to the commenter.

    2. My fat? Is not sad. My fat is happy. My fat is fucking overjoyed. I am not sad to be fat. It’s really pretty condescending to come into fat-positive space and say that sort of thing.

      Also: Don’t tell us how to eat, how to be healthy, or how much we should care about being healthy.

  19. You don’t see law suits because they can claim that they warned the consumer that “results are not typical.” There is also the ingrained idea that all of it relies on individual will power. They can’t make you lose weight or make you keep it off…they can only charge you for the tools that “help.” That’s the think about Weight Watcher’s that puts it in the same category in my mind…Weight Watchers is all about the benjamins. You have to pay for the subscription to receive the tools. You have to pay the weekly fee (until you lose the weight that is) to keep going to meetings. Once you do reach goal weight (and they have a proscribed goal weight range for each height that they will not budge from unless you get a written doctor’s note allowing you to be at a higher weight), you can only come free if you go to a meeting once a month and stay within your goal by 10 lbs or so.

    1. I hear you about the “results not typical” disclaimer, but cigarettes have warning labels and that hasn’t stopped the laywers from piling on the suits. I just wish something similar would happen to the diet industry, some watershed. I think it would be a first step in the very important work of denormalizing dieting. In my opinion this needs to happen for the mental health of all women.

  20. If WW sincerely and truly wants people to lose weight than why even make them pay and force them into weigh-ins and meetings? That just sets a lot of people up for fail. My mom joined WW in the 80’s, lost about 25 lbs but put it right back on.

    Also, I don’t want to spend my entire life trying to count points. I’m not a math person anyway so it would be just misery for me. I think because I refuse to join WW or do any of these franchise diet plans, I don’t constantly think about food and can eat without feeling guilty. If you’ve been a dieter or have been around them, food and their diets is all they talk about, and there are a lot more interesting things to discuss and do than dieting.

  21. Weight Watchers doesn’t require one to eat only their pre-packaged meals, true, but they do sell pre-packaged foods, cookbooks, and plenty of other ‘helpful’ extras on top of charging their fees.

    And of course every time the program changes, they can sell newer, shinier versions of all the same ‘support’ items. In the ten years I worked in bookstores that sold their cookbooks, that was roughly three times. Every three years and change, there was a whole new set of books, foods, tools, and so on to buy.

    So yeah, even though they don’t officially require members to buy special food, they’re in it for the money, and they’re raking in the dough telling us our bodies are wrong.

    What’s right with that?

  22. I have no idea if my Weight Watchers experience is typical, but when I did not lose weight* (following the program exactly; no cheating, always at the low end of my points, never using my [considerable] exercise points), the leader:

    a) told me to stop eating the points I earned. When I pointed out that I never used exercise points, she

    b) told me I was not measuring my food correctly. When I convinced her that I was not a complete idiot, she

    c) tried to further restrict my eating, telling me to eat less fruit, more protein. When that did not work, she

    d) brandished me a liar.

    Sadly, this was the second leader I dealt with. The first one took me aside, on my second meeting, and asked me why I went to Weight Watchers. I told her that I needed a forcing function. Prior to my wedding, I would stay on my very restrictive diet (1200 cal/day, 6hrs of exercise a week) because I had that goal (looking back, how silly was that? He met a fat woman, he fell in love with a fat woman, he proposed to a fat woman, but I felt I should change for a ceremony?) But, without that event, I was just too comfortable with myself to suffer for a minimal weight loss (I have no idea what I weighed at my wedding, but after 7 months of the behaviors noted above, my pants went from being snug to pretty comfortable — certainly not loose.) This woman actually said, “well, I want you to imagine something that you cannot do at your weight.” I said, I couldn’t — I simply was not restricted by my (size 18 at the time) body. She was like a dog with a bone. “What about going to an amusement park?” I have season passes to Disney World; I do that all the time. “What about running around after the kids?” Thanks for assuming this is “baby weight”, but I don’t have kids and based on my workouts, I think I can effectively run around after any kids I should happen to take care of. “Well, what about wearing a bikini at the beach?” I can do that. Up until then, I had been polite, but at that one I called her out, telling her that I did not think that it promoted good mental health to encourage her “followers” to dwell on — or even try to find — something they cannot do. She said that I was not being honest with myself. I complained to WW corporate, to no effect. Heck, they probably loved her tactic.

    So, to add my anecdotal evidence to the pile, Weight Watchers will allow you to eat a variety of foods (while aggressively marketing their prepackaged stuff) in restricted quantities IF you are losing weight at their expected rate. If not, you may be told to further restrict food (eat less points than you are awarded for size/exercise level), or change balance of foods (turn WW into a point-based Atkins/South Beach diet). They will happily skewer your honesty and guide you through self-shame if they think it will help.

    “Appropriate” eating habits fly out the window when the participants don’t lose weight.

    * oh, yes, I asterisk-ed something; “no” weight loss was a loss of 17 lbs after approx. one year following their program.

    1. My experience wasn’t as extreme as yours, but the beginning was definitely similar. I followed the program, “slighted” myself “earned” points, did not lose weight — and had my coach-person tell me I was either lying or unable to count — and then restrict my points even further.

      Enough of that, and I eventually did lose weight, but — for what?

  23. I did WW for years too. What turned me off was all the body-hating and eating-disordered behavior I heard and saw there, and how it started me down the same path. I was smart enough to stop before it truly became an eating disorder but it certainly played havoc with my brain and emotions.

    On paper it looks reasonable compared to a lot of diets. However, in practice, what I saw was an awful lot of eating-disordered behaviors and attitudes, and a lot of people introduced to MAJOR weight cycling, far beyond how they probably would have cycled on their own.

  24. I am so glad this has come up and you chose to address it (and in a non judgemental way). I am a lifetime weightwatcher member,(payer not achiever) and have 25 years of guilt over being unable to succeed! My 19 year old daughter has full blown eating disorder (EDNS) and slowly slowly I have to relearn that WW is not a positive message. I can never fit the catagory they insist I belong in! A catagory invented by insurance companies to have a scale to determine health. I have taught my daughter to obsess about the number and size that she is and every molecul e that she puts in her mouth. I am ashamed and horrified that I have taught shame and self loathing to my daughte based in the WW principles!

    Your website blog helps me every day, I just wish I knew about it 20 years ago!

    Thank you bernie

    1. Hi Bernie,

      I’m so sorry that you and your daughter are going through this. I think that we do the best we can with the information we have and it makes me so angry to see Weight Watchers touted as a great plan for health etc. when I know that there are so many people like you, your daughter, and me who have been harmed by the messaging. I think that you are being really brave and strong to work hard to unlearn those things to be there for your daughter and I wish you the very best. If there is anything that I can ever do to support you please just let me know.



  25. Weight Watchers Lifetime Member here. I haven’t actually been to a meeting since 2004 though. It was great at first, but it got so old. I felt like I was encouraged to eat processed foods and to starve myself so that I could enjoy birthday cake at a party or something. I gave up on it because even with the amount of work I put into it, I wasn’t able to get back down to my “Lifetime” weight. I am trying to rid myself of disordered eating now and accept my body for what it is, but it’s still hard.

    I hate how so many of my friends are on Weight Watchers and I find myself walking a fine line between wanting to support them and totally disapproving of Weight Watchers. Honestly, when I was on it, I found people who talked to me about how I don’t need to diet or I should accept my body and eat what I want, etc to be condescending, and I don’t want people to look at me like I looked at them. Sigh. Everything is a battle.

  26. I’ve never done WW but I had a friend that did. She once told me that she used to eat non fat cool whip with a spoon as a snack becuase it was 0 points, and according to WW diet pepsi is the same as drinking water. I just remember thinking there was something very wrong about that.

  27. Some of these comments made me think of the hilarious novel Results Not Typical by Catherine Ryan Howard. It spoofs all the diet companies.

  28. Since there seem to be a lot of knowledgeable people responding to this post about Weight Watchers I would like to ask a question. The book “Who’s Got Your Back” was recently recommended to me. In this book, the author describes Jean Nidetch’s reason for founding Weight Watchers. He describes her as being 5’7″ and having reached 216 lbs, going from a size 18 dress to a size 44 dress. Now, I am youngish (34), but I didn’t think dress sizes had changed that much. I am 5’7″, I weigh 300 lbs and I wear a size 24, I am an apple shape. I realize that we are all different and size isn’t universal across everyone of the same height and weight. But, it seems to me that a size 44 is a complete exaggeration for the size of clothing Jean would have been. Seems like scare tactics and hyperbole to me. Does anyone have any thoughts about this?

    I have a similar experience with Weight Watchers as a lot of other people. My doctor told me I was going to die from diabeties when I was 23 and weighed 240 lbs. I joined weight watcher’s lost 18 lbs and then had a mental break down from not getting enough protein in my diet. I get really sick if I don’t eat enough protein. I am trying to follow HAES, and mostly I do well at it. But, I do have some health problems (PCOS and Sleep Apnea) that my doctor insists will go away if I lose weight. I keep arguing with him and mostly he listens to me; but I still can’t overcome that feeling that I “should” be doing something to be healthier. UGH.

    1. Sizes used to be very different at one time and I think this was before vanity sizing kicked in. If I remember correctly from what I used to see on some of my mom’s clothes, 44 is twice the number you see now on plus size clothes so it was probably a size 22 she was and that still may have been on the high side, again, due to vanity sizing (it would probably be considered a size 20 or 18 today).

      To give kind of a comparison idea, I can remember reading a Barbie book when I was a kid that was written in the 60’s or 70’s and one of the stories was about a size 10 dress. Now we all know that size 10 in this day and age is considered plus size in the fashion world but back then, size 10 was average. In the books, Sweet Valley High (which would be the 80’s Barbie comparison), the twins were a size 6. In the REMAKE of the series (redone to add in current technology and whatnot) the author also resized the girls to a size 4. So yes, sizes have changed throughout the years, plus sizes especially because I think women were kind of put off at wearing such large sizes (can’t say I blame them).

      1. You seem to be imply “vanity sizing” is a phenomenon of “plus sizes” why? When the clothing industry has barely bothered to cater to fatz, until relatively recently. VS comes from those the industry is centered around and that’s size 10’s etc., When enough of them stop buying clothes because they do not wish to go up a size, that hits industry profits. Whereas they tend to ignore potential profit to be made from making clothes for fat people-still.

        The idea of fat people struggling for a life time to find any clothes to wear that aren’t horrible, baulking at wearing clothes because of size is actually hilarious.

        Also, “bad for my obesity.” Please no.

    2. About dress sizes. Years ago dress sizes ended at size 18, then they skipped to size 40 which was related to chest size. So when someone was a size 22 it would have been a 42. Sometime in the early 70s it changed and went chronologically from size 2,4,6……20, 22 etc. Hope this helps you understand why she was a size 44

  29. Hi Ragen,

    I have been reading your blog, and I notice how often you say that diets don’t work 95% of the time. I just was hoping you could give me a little more clarification. I understand that a lot of people can lose weight initially, but most of the time it comes back, and people give credit to their diet for the weight loss but blame themselves for the following weight gain. Are you saying (or are the studies showing) that people re-gain the weight because they stop following the diet, or they re-gain the weight even though they stay on the diet? In my own experience, I re-gained weight after doing diets because I found the diet to not be sustainable for me and my life, and so I think that’s what happens for a lot of people, that they fall off their diet plan. Are there studies that show that people regain the weight or stop losing weight even if they stick to the diet plan? Are there any diets out there that show that people can stick to them long-term? Thanks!

    1. Hi Leslie, Thanks for asking. No, there aren’t any studies that show long-term success with diets of any kind. . There also aren’t any studies that show that long-term weight loss results in improved health because so few people have maintained long-term weight loss that there aren’t enough to put together a study. You can start with these blogs and then let me know if you have questions

      You might also check out the evidence section of this blog:



    2. There are many studies where after a while on any diet, the body will regain the weight. The body thinks you are starving it so it takes what little food (fat) it is given and replaces the fat lost so it doesnt starve. Of course there is more to it than my breif discription…there are many books and scientist who have found that to be the case.

      1. I have a friend who recently gained a lot of weight in a short amount of time. She went to her doctor to see if it could be a thyroid issue–as thyroid issues do run in her family. It should also be mentioned that she recently lost her father and the weight gain happened in conjunction with the funeral, cleaning out his house, etc. Anyway, she went to the doctor who refused to test they thyroid and told her “In my experience, when a person is fat it is because they eat too much.” I should also point out this friend is not really what you would consider a heavy person. I’d guess she is maybe a size 12 at the most but this doctor agreed she was “too fat” but refused to consider anything outside of the fact that she must be eating too much. The doctor actually prescribed a 1000/cal a day diet. This friend decided to make it 800 cal/day. I tried to tell her that her body needs calories to function. Your organs need calories to function! I tried to explain her metabolism can’t even function on 800/cal a day. I tried to explain she is setting herself up to gain MORE weight in the long run. She refused to listen. Calories=bad–starvation=good. We’ve got that so ingrained in our society it is ridiculous.

        1. Agreed. I think it’s really important to keep in mind that a lot of diets just aren’t sustainable over the long term. I mean, I’ve been on a number of Patented Sensible Weight Loss Programs (TM) where my daily calorie needs during the “loss” portion of the program were calculated at 1000-1200 calories per day but where the “maintenance” calories were calculated at 1400-1600 per day — as in, I was supposed to subsist on that amount of calories for the rest of my life. Additionally, with the amount of exercise the programs recommended, an “average” person (because I get that people absorb and expend calories differently and individually) would be using about 2600 calories per day.

          Which, um — Even in the most reasonable of those circumstances, that would be a 1000 calorie deficit per day for the rest of my life.

          It really is like strapping concrete blocks to people’s feet and then blaming them when they can’t fly.

          1. I would like to clear up where the 1000 calories started in the first place. Why 1000? Back during wwII studies were done to see how little they could feed the prisoners and still keep them alive. 1000 calories was the magic number. It is a kind of starvation.

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