The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift.
Last week, Weight Watchers announced that they’re offering free memberships to teens aged 13-17 this summer.
I saw the backlash and have been thinking about the issue, and realized that I had to share some thoughts on this. I’ve already written about my opinion of counting calories, but I’ve primarily dealt with this issue from the framework of an adult, rather than a teen. I worry (and know) that Weight Watchers for teens can create doshic imbalances and disordered eating in teens.
Caveat: I have to say that I do know multiple adult women who have used Weight Watchers for years and have enjoyed their experience and the community. I don’t want to demean or minimize their experiences. I think that Weight Watchers has been great at creating a community for women to share their experiences with food. Creating community and reducing shame is so positive both psychologically and for actual behavior change. Everyone is allowed to have their own experience. I’m coming at this topic from a behavior change and psychology perspective as well as the history of me and my friends who grew up during the age of Weight Watchers.
Introduction on Weight Watchers
If you’re less familiar with the Weight Watchers program, they’ve created a point system for foods based on fat, calories, sugar, and fiber. You’re allotted a specific number of points per day based on your weight loss goals, and there are meetings to help accountability.
The program has grown and changed over the years with the introduction of technology and apps, making it easier to find and track the foods you are eating.
Here’s why I think this program is a dangerous one for teenagers.
A Point System Creates Disordered Eating Habits
Points. A game, right? As someone who has dealt with disordered eating in the past , I can tell you how teen Sam would have dealt with this Weight Watchers program: eaten as little as possible. If less points are better, you win the game when you eat the least, right?
This is the deductive reasoning power that a teenager has. Our brains are not fully formed until age 25, and we have much higher impulsivity in our younger years. Theory aside, I know girls who ACTUALLY did this in high school with Weight Watchers. Making it a sanctioned activity will not have good results.
Weight Watchers creates another way for girls to keep score
Who ate less points today? I remember the conversations at the lunch room tables “I ate so much pizza last night. I can’t eat today – I’m so full!” “Ugh. I can’t even look at chocolate. It’s just too fattening.” …on and on and on trying to one-up each other on how little we could eat. That is, we were trying to eat as little as possible until there was something like a cinnamon roll or pizza, and then it became a “who ate more” competition.
Teenage girls are already secretly tracking other people’s amounts of food and exercise…adding an explicit point system to the mix just exacerbates the problem by making it that much easier to compete for who ate less.
Weight Watchers for teens helps us inherit our mothers’ eating issues
I’ve been thinking a lot recently about how so many of our patterns aren’t OUR patterns; they’re the patterns of our mothers, fathers, grandparents, teachers, and other adults from our youth.
I get uncomfortable when I hear friends moms comment on my weight. I get sad when I hear aunts express shame at their inability to control their appetite.
Weight Watchers has taught us to be afraid of food, that less is better, and that we need a system to control us, because we don’t have willpower or the ability to choose on our own. Let’s not give that gift to our daughters.
Thanks for reading, and have a wonderful day,
Samantha Attard, PhD, is the founder of Happy Healthy Human. Sam is a performance coach and yoga instructor who helps people eat, move, and live with intention. Learn more here.