Weight Watchers, Tell Better Stories


Weight Watchers helps a lot of people. We have lots of friends and family who have found their tools to be helpful as they work to become more healthy and active. And oh yeah, weight.

They do some things right: providing community for people to share their health journeys, basic nutrition information, and evolving with the times (the Daily podcast did a good podcast in August of 2017.) Of course there's also another side, and WW has been criticized for practices including their new program for teens

We are here because of this post from their IG. Saving points for wine? 

Some thoughts:

  • This messages alcohol as a reward. It implies that you deny yourself of something else to be able to "indulge." Why do we message alcohol as a reward, as a treat for women to enjoy if they've "been good." (Then again, all of WW seems to operate around this system: eat these foods, save points for those. The difference in this case is that it's alcohol, which can have significant health implications, e.g., even one drink a day raises your risk for breast cancer,  and studies that tout the benefits of moderate drinking are problematic.)
  • Weight Watchers shares messages about how to drink. Like this story: Boozing and Losing (thumbs down to that headline alone), in which a writer says she knows alcohol keeps her from meeting her health goals (weight) but she doesn't want to stop and here are all sorts of tips to keep drinking and lose weight. "I don't want to say no to happy hours, marathon Saturday-night birthday parties in New York or playing drinking games with my big Irish family." Girl, you can still go to those things and not drink. Well, maybe not the drinking games with your big Irish family. 

  • On weight & alcohol: "Excess alcohol can also turn to fat in your liver and can raise the amount of fat in your blood, says Sonya Angelone, R.D., a spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. It’s also more likely to be stored in your body as fat, she says Add all of this together and it’s easy to see how drinking heavily can cause you to gain weight over time. (source: Women's Health)."

  • Finally, there's this idea in women's lifestyle media that you can trade x for y, which really simplifies the truth. I will admit that when I was an editor at a women's lifestyle magazine, editing a health section, I wrote stories like this. "Walk for this many miles in New Orleans and then you can eat a beignet." It's a simple, time tested device. But the math isn't always simple. My friend Holly (Hip Sobriety) puts it beautifully in her piece "Yes, Alcohol Is Making Your Look Like Shit" :

"When I wanted to believe it, it made sense that workouts negated alcohol's effect, which was only caloric on some level. On this side of things I know there are no amount of yoga classes that will ever undo what drinking does to us because what drinking does to us is akin to what taking any drug regularly (and moderately) does to us: it alters our entire ecosystem. 

The short list of what it does goes something like this: Alcohol causes inflammation (which leads to myriad other health issues), dehydrates, disrupts our blood sugar balance (which makes us mood swing, binge eat, get the shakes, disrupts sleep), gunks up our liver (which means our body can't detox and also means we have trouble losing weight - toxins live in fat cells), interferes with the metabolism of nutrients (absorption), replaces healthy calories (malnutrition), changes our pH balance (causing body odor), leads to loss of sleep (which leads to a host of other things that make us look like shit), disrupts the endocrine/glandular system (as in, adrenals/energy, sex hormones/periods/sex drive, sleep cycle), accelerates the aging process, worsens skin issues (like acne), causes bloating, brittles hair, causes memory loss, shrinks gray matter, induces or worsens depressive states, causes broken capillaries/rosacea, leads to other unhealthy and/or risky behavior (like poor food choices, unprotected sex, smoking), is directly linked to certain cancers (like breast cancer). There's also that whole other part about how it addicts us, kills 1 in 10 of us, robs us of years of our lives, our dignity, our freedom, and on and on. But that's not what this piece is about." 

How can Weight Watchers tell better stories? This is a tough one. Because there are people who want to hear that they have permission to drink. And, as the reminder we need to say every time we write anything, we aren't prohibitionists, and of course women have agency to drink or not.

But these images that we see everywhere -- the reward, the celebration, the "go ahead, you deserve it," and you've been pounding it out on your SoulCycle bike so you "can" -- they're problematic. They add up. 

One suggestion we'd have for Weight Watchers: show women who don't drink. Who choose not to drink, for whatever the reason. Say, health?

We want to see more of that, fewer glasses of wine lauded and celebrated. 

"I have the freedom to treat myself & enjoy my favorite things."

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