In the Wake of the Weight Watchers Teen “Freebie”

I’m sure many of you have already seen last week’s headline that Weight Watchers will offer free memberships to teenagers aged 13-17 this summer  to “help 10 million people adopt healthy habits.”   

I feel like I need to address this head on, because anything that promotes “healthy habits” sounds great, doesn’t it?  I’m certainly all for healthy habits!  But, the thing is: dieting is not a healthy habit!

Weight Watchers has the same research as I do:

  • that the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) counsels against dieting and focusing on weight with adolescents because of the potential for harm;
  • that no diet plan has demonstrated sustained weight loss in more than 5% of its study cohort longer than 2 years;
  • that dieting often raises the ‘set point’ or weight which one’s body is genetically programmed to maintain;
  • that dieting can trigger eating disorders in those who are genetically predisposed (and we can’t screen for that!)
  • that dieting, even just “healthy eating” with rules and restriction like clean eating, is a predictor of future weight gain;
  • that the deprivation-binge-shame cycle pretty much ensures that their clients WILL be back when that lost weight is regained.


Getting these teenagers hooked on Weight Watchers, and dieting in general, sets them up for a lifetime of likely weight cycling, disordered eating habits, and body dissatisfaction, all while filling the pockets of the Weight Watchers shareholders.  It’s unethical and just plain wrong!

Despite much pressure from those of us who work with people every day whose lives have been negatively impacted by diets, it appears that this program will still run.

So, what’s a parent to do when their teen asks them if they can join Weight Watchers?

  1. Check in with your own values.  Are your thoughts and beliefs steeped in diet culture? If yes, please don’t beat yourself up! We all grew up in this world surrounded by a culture that uses flawed logic to promote a thin=healthy message.
  2. Get Educated.  Time to hit the books and (accurate) websites!  I know we all want what’s best for our kids.  It’s just so confusing because we get conflicting messages about nutrition and health every day. Sometimes, even our doctors have outdated information about health and weight.  I highly recommend:
    1. Health at Every Size by Linda Bacon, PhD.
    2. The Association for Size Diversity and Health (ASDAH) website Resources page
    3. Here’s a fun video that explores our society’s views on weight and health: Poodle Science
  3. Ask your child, “Why do you want to lose weight?”  It’s a hard topic but we really need to dig in and engage with our kids around this.  And if, after your conversation, you feel like you’re in over your head, seek out the help of a professional (psychotherapist or registered dietitian) who promotes health-at-every-size and body positivity.
  4. Model body acceptance.  I know, if you’ve been trashing your own body for years, how hard it can be to do a 180.  But, your kids are listening!   But, what if I’ve been chronically dieting and body-bashing for years! Where do I even begin?
  • Start small.  Stop using negative self talk in front of your kids. When your kids hear you bashing your body, you are teaching them how to hate their bodies too.
  • Show that you care about your body by taking the time to sit down and eat meals with your kids.
  • Familiarize yourself with Dr. Kristin Neff’s research on self compassion, at her website.  You might be surprised to find out that self-compassion actually helps you take better care of yourself!

     5.  Resist and advocate.  It’s time to channel your inner mama bear!  Diets do real harm to real people. Every day. And the vast majority of dieters continue to diet and weight cycle after that initial diet. Don’t let your son or daughter be another statistic!

  • If you are so inspired, please sign this petition at to ask Weight Watchers and Oprah Winfrey to change this policy. 
  • Spread the word to friends, family and colleagues!
  • Need help talking to coaches and schools? Here’s a resource for teachers and administrators from Health at Every Size. 


Remember, quitting dieting doesn’t mean quitting health.  

But true health isn’t about making yourself smaller, having your life dictated by a number on the scale, avoiding eating when you are hungry, or continually counting your body’s flaws.  

True health is about finding nourishment from ALL foods, movement and exercise that makes you feel good, hobbies and friendships that fill up your cup, and learning to love the only body you have.