On Saturday in my Weight Watchers meeting, my leader mentioned in passing the news that Weight Watchers was going to start offering free memberships to teens 13-17. I didn’t think much of it other than an “oh, that’s a cool idea.” That is, until tonight when I started seeing the backlash – specifically, this article.
While I understand her points and her opinion – I 100% respectfully disagree with her. If you go read the article, she immediately launches into a conversation about body shaming and its effect on children. And I have to wonder.
Has she ever been to a Weight Watchers meeting? Has she been to one in the past 2-3 years, when the program shifted focus? And does she know what it’s like to be an overweight teenager?
Because I can say yes to both those things – and that I firmly believe that had the Weight Watchers of today (and this is an important distinction) been around when I was that age – I might have changed my relationship with food and my body a LOT earlier in my life, back when that habit was much easier to change.
Let me tell you something about being an overweight teenager – no one has to tell you you’re overweight. You already know. No program or meeting or person is going to push body shame on you – you’re already feeling it from yourself, the magazines, TV, and now social media.
I was probably overweight by the time I was 10 or 11. I’ve had a lot of experience with it, and if you weren’t overweight as a teenager, I can tell you – it completely sucks. Most people around you seem healthy. Most people around you can shop in any store they want to. Most people around you have more than 3 or 4 prom dress selections – but you don’t, because that’s all that comes in your size. Most people around you are dating, hanging out, and having fun – but you’ve just got your head down, trying to survive – because you have absolutely NO IDEA what to do about it.
You have absolutely no idea how to become healthier. You have no resources to learn a correct portion size, or how to listen to your body telling you to stop. You don’t have people around you that understand that you’re winded after going up a flight of stairs. You don’t have support for that moment that you completely avoid the junk in the vending machine for a day and instead eat a nutritious meal and snacks. You don’t have anyone that understands the blame and pressure you put on yourself, with no idea how to fix it.
Now, let me tell you about the Weight Watchers I know TODAY. It’s an important distinction, that I’m talking about the Weight Watchers of TODAY and not the Weight Watchers of 5, 10, or 15 years ago. Because nowadays, it’s the best it’s ever been. The one thing that hasn’t changed is the most essential part – support – and that starts in the meeting.
Have you been to a Weight Watchers meeting? Because I have, more than I can count. If you haven’t, I invite you to attend mine – the first one is always free. I have a fantastic leader, Becky, who leads my meeting every Saturday morning.
Becky has never ONCE asked me about that number on the scale. Nor has any other leader I’ve ever had.
So what does Becky do if she doesn’t talk about the scale? She asks how we are feeling. She asks how the plan is working for us. She talks about a prescribed topic every week – and each of them is designed to give us tools to help support our journey, whatever that journey entails.
I remember one week we talked about protein and the importance of it. Another week we talked about body image and focusing on the things our bodies are capable of. Yet another week, we focused on our busy lives and how to fit activity in. But every single meeting focuses on providing one important thing, and it’s not the number on the scale.
Weight Watcher meetings focus on support. And that support is something I DEARLY wish I had as a teenager. It’s something that may have changed my life, given the chance.
If I had the support and tools I have now as a teenager, I would have understood my body a lot more. I would have understood that it wasn’t healthy to eat tons of carbohydrates, and that protein, fiber, fruits, and vegetables were an important part of my diet. I probably would have started exploring new flavors earlier and eaten a few more salads – without coating them in dressing. I would have understood things like the importance of drinking enough water, getting enough sleep, and doing something active every day.
You may say, oh, you could’ve gotten that somewhere else, someone should have provided that to you.
But I am telling you – no one did. And the Weight Watchers I know today would have given me that.
I know the concern is that parents will blindly put their kids into Weight Watchers due to a number on the scale, that teens will feel pressured. But I’m telling you – that pressure is already there.
That pressure and shame are going to happen anyway. The well-meaning parent who gives a child a strict plan of eating is still going to be there. The school nurse who sends home a note about a teen’s weight is still going to do that. Most of all, the teens who aren’t at their healthiest or don’t feel good about themselves – they’re still going to feel that way.
So what is wrong with giving another option? What is wrong with a place that offers support, teaches about healthy habits, and offers tools for teens to be healthier? What is wrong with giving teens a free option that so many of them would want?
I don’t expect everyone to agree with me. I can only speak from my own life experiences as an overweight teen and adult. But I ask you to put yourself in that position. I invite you to talk to a Weight Watchers member, to attend a free meeting, so really see what it’s all about.
Because it’s always a choice – and it might just be a choice that some teens are looking for.