I recently attended a local Weight Watchers meeting to speak about an upcoming charity walk/bike ride. Much to my surprise, when I walked in, the receptionist at the front table asked if I “needed to be weighed.” No, I don’t “need” to be weighed, I told her. No one “needs” to be weighed. To me, weighing people in public is just offensive and humiliating. And it goes against everything I believe in about how to get people healthy.
I get that Weight Watchers is all about helping people lose weight. Really, I do. But I don’t believe in scales. As a matter of fact, when I used to be a personal trainer (who worked with a lot of women trying to lose weight), I always advised them not to weigh themselves. Because, quite simply, weighing yourself is a recipe for disaster.
How many times have we stepped on a scale and actually liked what we saw? Not many. In my experience, getting on a scale is like being in grade school all over again–it’s yet another way of being judged and graded. This can lead to shaming, anxiety and self-loathing for many women whose self-worth is tied to a number. The truth is, our bodies are meant for so much more than that.
Instead of advising my clients to weigh themselves regularly like many weight-loss programs do, including Weight Watchers, I told them to throw out their scales. Get rid of them. Because from now on, we’re going to measure your health–not your weight. And we did that by training for a 5K run, a 10K walk, a triathlon and sometimes even a marathon.
I worked with my clients to focus on what their bodies can do–not how much they weigh. By getting in shape and training for a race or some type of physical accomplishment, the weight naturally took care of itself. People began eating better because they knew they had a long workout the next morning and didn’t want to bonk. They began making better choices at the grocery store because, all of a sudden, their food became a source of energy and fuel–not a source of feeding their emotions. And they began seeing their bodies differently. Instead of focusing on getting “skinny”, they focused on being thankful for a body that was allowing them to be so active and strong. It was a dramatic shift that ultimately led to dramatic weight loss–and self-esteem gain. In some instances, their blood pressure lowered, they came off certain medications and they slept better. In short, their bodies became more of their natural size, shape, ability and health, and they felt proud of themselves. And that forever changed my view of the scale.
I’m happy that everyone at Weight Watchers has a source of encouragement and support for their weight-loss goals. I just wish they weren’t so focused on weight–as ironic as that sounds.
One such member of Weight Watchers, Nancy, told me that she agrees about the weigh-ins being offensive:
I have been a Weight Watcher for more than 40 years and this issue is my pet peeve…there are some employees who still feel compelled to say the numbers out loud. I threatened to have one fired for doing so. I attend a meeting now where computers are not available. One person weighs you in and writes the number in your book. That would be OK, except that you have to THEN show your book to another person who takes your money. Those records are laying there on the counter in front of God and everybody, as I like to say. I avoid it like the plague. If it weren’t for the fact that I really like this particular Weight Watchers leader, I’d find another place to go.
She went on to say:
So, bottom line…they have the technology to do it privately and quietly, and that’s how it should be done. I stayed away for years because of the embarrassment of the public weigh-in. You know, for years, they kept your card in a card file on a counter and you had to pick yours out when you came in…and the WEIGHTS are listed right on the cards! I simply refused to have a card in that file…made them crazy every week.
But not everyone agrees.
Another Weight Watchers member, Leigh, wrote to me and said:
I feel that being weighed in holds me accountable for my behavior and progress. After all, people who have joined all have at least one goal in common—to lose weight. The weigh-ins are not done in front of everyone. They are private and the person recording the weight does not (or at least should not) say anything in terms of loss or gain. They do, however, offer a lot of encouragement.
And another member, Amy, added:
I have been doing Weight Watchers via the At Work program (meetings held at our office) and it’s been wonderful. I’ve lost 62 pounds so far and still going for a few more. The weigh-ins are what makes it successful for me. Knowing I have to face our leader each week, no making excuses – it’s holds me accountable for my food choices I make each day and for my successes or blips. The weighing in process is private, more so at the official Weight Watchers centers, and I personally don’t feel any humiliation at all.
Catharine, a former member and receptionist at Weight Watchers (who left due to a disagreement with them pushing so much artificial, processed food) said the program is all about weight and the weigh-ins are what motivate people:
When it comes to success with Weight Watchers, there are lots of ways to measure the progress toward goals, including multiple “non-scale victories”: feeling better in clothes, having more energy, enjoying social events. Having said that, those NSVs tend to be subjective. Weight is objective. When someone steps on the same scale at the same time every week, it’s a direct measurement of pounds gained or lost. That gives members manageable measurements and can also give leaders and receptionists feedback on how the program is or isn’t working for that individual.
She went on to say that there is “room for improvement” when it comes to the way that Weight Watchers stresses weight over health, the bottom line is that people come there to lose weight:
The overall goal of Weight Watchers is weight loss, like it or not. Additional benefits like better health and self-image are crucial, but people don’t join WW for those.
Nevertheless, I stand by my belief that no one should focus their weight-loss efforts on a scale, including Weight Watchers.
Oh, and that Weight Watchers meeting that I spoke at? When I was introduced, the leader gave everyone my credentials and then said, “Now wouldn’t we all like to look like her?” Yes, I’m naturally thin and a very active athlete, but really? Telling everyone that they should strive to look like someone else? Geez. How about striving to look like your best self? Without weighing yourself to get there.