Diet culture sucks.
I say this from personal experience. Growing up as a heavy-set kid, I never learned proper nutrition. I learned how to diet.
As a result, I have an unhealthy relationship with food that developed into a binge eating disorder in the last few years. Now, in therapy, I’m having to unlearn everything that Weight Watchers and TOPS taught me.
No more restricting.
No more treating this as a temporary existence until I reach that goal weight.
No more focusing only on scale victories (Non-Scale Victories are big in the weight loss community right now).
No more feeling bad for having that cookie.
And more importantly, understanding that it’s okay to eat pasta and chocolate cake (within reason).
But now, Weight Watchers is dropping the “Weight” from its name. Now, WW emphasizes the message of “Wellness that Works.” Part of their new program includes a laundry list of “free” foods that users are supposed to have at the core of their diet, focusing on tracking foods higher in sugar, carbs, and saturated fat.
For example, eat all the chicken breast and vegetables you want, but pay attention to how many cookies you grab out of your secret jar. While they don’t suggest you can eat three pounds of fruit a day, they highlight a move towards intuitive eating that promotes an overall healthy diet.
While I still think the idea of tracking food can be dangerous for young girls, I think Weight Watchers is taking steps in the right direction to rebrand diet culture. Instead of telling girls it’s about how much you lose, it’s now about loving vegetables and bread.
I wonder how different my relationship with food would have been if someone emphasized an overall healthy existence than “lose weight, get rewards.”
And the weight loss became a high. People would praise you! If you went to meetings, you’d get public recognition. If you lost enough weight, you might even get a bracelet! Third grade me wanted that shiny silver charm bracelet, but she also wanted to eat Ding-Dongs and Cheese Wontons and stay in bed and read all day.
But then, if you gained, having to watch your line go up on the chart, have to sit back in silence as everyone else got praised for their success.
As the only kid in a room full of adults, I learned my body was not okay. I became aware of how different it was from the petite girls in my fourth-grade class. These girls didn’t have to write down everything they ate, didn’t have to tell their mom and a roomful of adults whether or not they had a “good” week or not, and didn’t have to worry about their bodies needing to be made smaller.
Looking back, I realize my experience with my body and my weight was an inherently gendered experience. The majority of people at these meetings were women. The gym my mom took me to, Curves, was a gym designed for women. Weight Watchers, or WW, or whatever we want to call it, uses predominately women in its advertisements.
Women had created communities whose sole purpose was to breed a mutual hatred for our bodies. Because self-love wasn’t a thing in the 90s. These meetings didn’t preach love your body first and then weight loss will come. No, lose weight and when you hit that goal, then you become worth loving. But at what number are we finally worthy of love?
And I don’t blame my mother for taking me to these meetings. She was trying to help, and this is all she knew. She was trying to prevent me from having to be one of these middle-aged ladies in these meetings, fretting over eating a single Hershey Kiss at the end of a bad day.
I want to eat the Hershey Kiss. I want to eat the bread. I want to not have to constantly worry about every crumb I consume.
The constant obsession over consumption breeds eating disorders.
So many articles (both academic and not) have linked diet culture to the rise in eating disorders. And diet culture obviously goes beyond Weight Watchers, we can’t blame one company for everyone’s problems. Diet culture is anything that praises thinness and weight loss.
Fat girl revenge stories (looking at you Netflix).
Fashion models having to be a size 0.
Praising the thinness actresses as the most beautiful.
Anything equating health to thinness (YOU CAN BE THIN AND NOT BE HEALTHY!).
Maybe the change in Weight Watchers to Wellness that Works is a step in the right direction towards ending one small part of diet culture.
Maybe a generation of girls’ will grow up and not have to see the before and after weight loss photos on TV (you know the ones, where they look so miserable when they’re fat and so happy and glowy when they’re thin).
Maybe they won’t feel worthless if they aren’t dieting.
Maybe they’ll learn to love their bodies before they learn to change it.
Maybe one day, I will, too.