When Weight Watchers recently announced their new teen program, the critics came out in full force. Even though the program would be free and require parent or guardian consent, there were a lot of concerns around body image, especially for girls.
“Dieting culture, which is grounded in calorie restriction, counting, and weight obsession, is linked to eating disorders, poor body image, and negative self-talk,” says Chelsea Gloeckner, a registered dietician and owner of the nutrition company VICTAE.
The Neverending Obsession with Body Image and Weight
This is a serious concern. In fact, the Dove Self-Esteem Project found that around half of girls have a poor body image, and of those, many will put their health at risk because of it. “Dieting creates a vicious cycle of restriction, food cravings, binge eating, then guilt and shame,” Gloeckner says. “Then guilt and shame begins the cycle once again with more restriction. Over time, this yo-yoing between states of restriction and binge eating can lead to emotional eating and steady weight gain over time.”
Gloeckner is familiar with the Weight Watchers program and its statement of providing “healthy habits for life, not a diet,” but she says there should be less emphasis on the scale and more on living and performing well in life no matter what size or shape you are.
“I would argue that a program grounded in weight loss and ‘points’ does not equate to wellness and healthy habits,” she says.
Why Teens Need Better Resources
Tracey Pinder lives in Florida, and she remembers first getting chubby around the age of 12. At one point in her life, she weighed more than 358 pounds. Over the years, she tried several diet programs and had success on Weight Watchers, losing more than 160 pounds. She believes this program could actually help (not hurt) teens with poor self-esteem and body issues.
“If a teen is struggling with their weight and then they make progress, they’re going to feel better about themselves,” she says. “There are studies that show they will do better at school. They’ll do better at sports. And these are good things.”
According to the CDC, the number of children who are obese has tripled since the 1970s. This epidemic is turning into a crisis, and everyone is trying to figure out how to reverse these staggering numbers.
Tracey wishes she would’ve had a program like Weight Watchers available to her as a teen because she says maybe it could’ve helped her learn healthy habits at a much younger age.
“It doesn’t hurt to teach kids how to eat healthy at any age, and I believe Weight Watchers does this,” she says. “I don’t think it’s a bad thing if a parent approves it. They know their child best, and it can work really well in collaboration with a parent.”
Tracey also points out that what works for one person might not work for another. So instead of people getting upset at the Weight Watchers offering to teens, they should take a step back and let others decide for themselves.
Where’s the Balance?
The balance question is challenging, and it’s one I’ve struggled with as a mom. To be honest, I’ve used the Weight Watchers system, and I don’t have a problem with it. I’ve even talked to my kids about it, and it’s been quite educational.
The first time we talked about Weight Watchers and this concept of points, they were completely fascinated. The whole "points" thing really breaks down in a way that kids can understand. They wanted to calculate their daily points, which I said no to because they’re both active, healthy kids, but it was a good conversation for me to have with them. It even led us to reading more food labels together, which was an eye opening experience for me and them. (Seriously, there’s so much high-fructose corn syrup in stuff!)
As a mom of a daughter, I’m ultra sensitive about self-esteem and body image. I want to raise a strong, confident girl, and I don’t want her to have any reason to doubt or question herself. Yet we’re facing a very real and serious time where kids are dealing with obesity at a very young age. It’s scary! So what how do you tackle such a sensitive topic without causing body images?
People might hate on Weight Watchers for adding to a teen’s angst and worry, but I appreciate the effort. At least they’re talking about it. And while there are a lot more conversations to be had about what works for one person compared to another or what we should or shouldn’t be doing, I think it’s a step in the right direction.
This article was written by Stacy Tornio, a big fan of nature, books, and the Oxford comma. She lives in Milwaukee, Wisconsin with her two kids and runs the website DestinationNature.com to encourage families to get outside.