Because I’ve lived it. I was a child at my first weight watcher’s meeting.

All the press and pushback against ww is good. They need to end this program immediately. It is poorly considered, dangerous, and profit driven.

I am also aware of how incredibly triggered I have been this week.

Trauma remains in my system from what weight watchers did to me as a child in the 70’s

Dieting remains one of our society’s biggest failures. It simply doesn’t work, in fact, it has the opposite effect of causing weight gain in the vast majority of people who diet. Our bodies still respond to restriction by slowing our metabolism and guarding against weight loss, and once the restriction ends, the weight is regained, often bringing along a few more pounds.

I was a very good girl, who deeply internalized all that society, my family, and weight watchers taught me about my body. It was wrong. It was too fat. It was not acceptable or lovable. I needed to change it, and I was to do that by restricting intake to low calorie good foods, and by exercising. If I was unable to change it, if the weight came back, that was my failing, my laziness, my non-compliance. The doctors, weight watchers, nutri-system optifast, my family, and all the rest made that abundantly clear. Success was due to them, failure was all mine.

Failure was my common experience.

Content warning photos of a beautiful child whose body was judged, scorned, and criticized.

white girl about 11 sitting on rock by the water
Family trip to Alaska, 1972, I was 11 and went to weight watchers about a year later.

Over 40 years later, I am still filled with a visceral sense of the trauma I suffered during those years as a child in a fat body.

With ww’s announcement earlier this week, I have been overexposed to their plans. No matter what they call it, ww is actively seeking to put children on diets, teach them that some foods are good, and others are bad, encourage children as young as 8 to seek weight loss, and provide “make my parents happy” as one of a few motivations. I am sickened.

Let me tell you, diets suck and diets fail. Putting children on diets is one of the most horrible things ever. Because when they fail the children will both gain the weight back, internalize their failure and the judgment around their body, and they will suffer, more than you may know.

Everyone wants to protect kids, everyone wants to save them from the horrors of childhood “obesity” and the shaming, bullying, and poor treatment that comes along with a body that doesn’t fit society’s standards. I understand that, however the cure makes the “problem” worse, 95% of the time.

Would you take a drug that had a 95% likelihood of making the problem you were treating worse? No, because it would never even make it to trials.

Dieting is about how we judge bodies that are different, dieting is about fat-bias and our society’s obsession with a thin ideal. Dieting creates fat bodies. A diversity of body shapes and sizes is normal, just like people come in a variety of heights – we would never tell people they have to get taller or shorter.

If only I could put the two of you in a milk homogenizer then B would get a little weight on her bones and Amy would be thin.

My grandmother as I was getting in the car with a friend, I was about 7 years old.
Homogenization breaks down the large fat globules in milk into tiny ones.

Dieting also creates eating disorders. Children who have dieted are vastly more likely to develop an eating disorder. I sure did. I was bulimic through college and early adulthood. I have had periods of high-weight anorexia which nobody thought was possibly a thing until recently, and I spent much of my adult life with Binge Eating Disorder. Not that long ago, a practitioner encouraged me to explain BED as “emotional eating” no, actually I was binging in response to all of the restriction and diets. She was also clear that if I did intuitive eating right I would naturally lose weight. UGH.

I was sent to weight watchers at about 12. There, I received a master course from the leaders and other adult women in binging, disordered eating, ridiculous food combinations, and drinking coffee all day as a way to avoid eating. I WAS IN MIDDLE SCHOOL.

At weight watchers I learned that my body had to change to be acceptable. I learned that as a fat person I had to submit to public weighing and humiliation to shame myself into compliance and better behavior. I learned that one could sneak jars of apricot baby food or canned green beans and they wouldn’t make me gain weight. I drank a whole lot of tab. I hated tab.

This program followed other doctor prescribed diets, my first at 7 years old, and it certainly was not to blame for all of my experience, however the public nature, the irrational focus on good and bad foods, and the culture of women hating on their bodies really stuck with me.

I know now, that my body was always ok. I have worked so hard to learn that and unlearn my experience. I grew up back in the Twiggy era, being chubby, fat, and overweight was seen to be about the worst thing ever. I know my parents who were never skinny, and my grandmother really suffered about my body. They made the best choices they could make given the information available.

What is different in 2019 is that we have more information. Science that directly challenges ww’s story about this being a health based program. That isn’t the case. The science is very clear. I was never bad, lazy, or non-compliant. I was simply human. A small human who needed love, support, and nutrition. Not diets.

A final note about the reality of this all. After almost a lifetime of dieting, I am fat, superfat by most definitions. Easily 150 pounds over what I might weigh if I never restricted, weight cycled, binged, purged, and suffered to have an acceptable body. That is simply the truth, one cannot diet to become smaller, one can shift their point of view and learn to accept, love, and care for the body they have. That is where I am, in acceptance. That does not however completely insulate me from being triggered by all this talk of putting children on diets.

Some photos from my childhood. I was nicknamed Amy, and yes I was teased and harassed at school. I was a gentle and loving kid, pretty smart and I oh so desperately wanted to fit in and feel like I was ok.

I will close with a wonderful quote from a fierce advocate for bodies of all size, Hilary Kinavey. Below are links to other articles that have more detailed information and links to many of the subjects I discuss above.

You can not protect your children from weight stigma by introducing them to dieting. You can not invite them into “health” via weight management techniques (ie dieting).

Apps that teach “healthy lifestyles” to kids and families are still reinforcing a culturally sanctioned dieting mind that can lead to a lifetime of body hatred and disordered eating.

Your kids came into the world with expressive appetites and bodies destined to feel, dine, experience pleasure, and experiment with food.
Some of our kids will be thin and some of our kids will be fat. They all came here whole and their bodies deserve our respect and trust.

Protect them from the dieting industry. WW wants to capitalize on your fears and sense of responsibility to introduce your children to “responsible” weight control. Don’t do it.”

Hillary Kinavey, Co-founder of Be Nourished and Body Trust. Radical Therapist

More articles and commentary:

Excellent New York Times article from Christy Harrison, she is an anti-diet dietitian & Food Psych Podcast host. article quoting a good friend and major policy advocate Chevese Turner:

Blog from Dances with Fat:

All the experts are quoted in this NY Times article:

Parents Magazine:

Also – for the best feeding information for kids – Ellyn Satter, MS, RD, LCSW, BCD has written a number of books that are highly respected in the field and are about supporting health and a good relationship to food.

For adults – Intuitive Eating from Evelyn Tribole, MS, RD is the foundation of compassionate care around food. Her books here

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