Weight Watchers and the Myth of the "Lifestyle Change"

You may have seen the news a few weeks ago that Weight Watchers is now targeting teenagers by offering them free 6-week memberships during the summer break.

Naturally there’s been a HUGE backlash by experts in disordered eating (including me and many, many of my colleagues), who are livid that this company is exposing kids at an incredibly vulnerable age to dieting and weight stigma—major risk factors for the development of lifelong struggles with food and their bodies.

Dieting has these risks for people of every age, and nobody deserves to have diets pushed on them, but peddling them to minors is beyond the pale.

In response to the backlash, Weight Watchers and their fans doubled down on claims that WW “isn’t really a diet,” and that their new program aimed at teens is just a “lifestyle change” designed to help them “get healthy.”

Sorry, but no.

“It’s not a diet, it’s a lifestyle!” is the rallying cry of every diet in the 2010s, including Weight Watchers.

That’s because people have gotten increasingly fed up with diets in the past several decades. The idea that diets don’t work started to take hold in the 1980s and gained momentum into the 2000s, when more and more people began looking for practices that *actually* work and lead to lasting well-being.

So the diet industry has rebranded itself in order to stay relevant.

It started denying that its products and programs are diets, because gross! No one diets anymore!

Instead, it markets itself as being about “wellness,” “healthy lifestyles,” and “flexible programs” that you can “stick to for life.”

These days, the diet industry even sometimes talks about healing your relationship with food.

But don’t be fooled by the shiny new packaging. If it’s applauding weight loss or telling you to count points/calories/macros, it’s a diet.

The same is true if it’s labeling certain foods and food groups as “bad,” “fake,” “damaging,” or “off-limits,” and other foods and food groups as “good,” “real,” “healing,” or “on-plan.”

No matter what this new breed of diets call themselves, they’re all part of diet CULTURE—a system of beliefs that:

  • Equates thinness to health & moral virtue
  • Promotes weight loss as a means of attaining higher status
  • Demonizes certain ways of eating while elevating others

Diet culture isn’t The Truth—it’s just what we’ve been taught and raised in our whole lives. Even the researchers doing the “obesity” research and the doctors doing the doctoring.

Diet culture is pervasive and hard to see—it’s the water we’re all swimming in.

And yet in the grand scheme of history, diet culture is relatively new: It didn’t even come into being until the mid-1800s, for a whole bunch of interesting reasons that cultural historian Emily Contois explained in her episode of Food Psych last summer.

Over the past several decades, a lot of good research has shown that diet culture is NOT the path to health (not even A path to health) because it doesn’t lead to sustainable health-promoting behaviors. 

Instead, diet culture leads to disconnection from the body’s internal cues and instincts about food, disordered eating, and a yo-yo cycle that some people spend their *entire lives* in—robbing them of their time, money, mental energy, health, & happiness. That’s why I call it The Life Thief.

But there IS another way.

You don’t have to have your life stolen anymore, by Weight Watchers or “cleanses” or “resets” or any other form of diet culture.

You CAN break free and get back to the intuitive, easy relationship with food that we were all born with, and that we all deserve.

Granted, the process of extricating yourself from diet culture is no easy task.

It means doing a lot of unlearning of all the societal messages you’ve been taught.

It means taking that extra step in your day-to-day interactions and examining why eating a certain way seems necessary.

Or why you have a hard time letting go of the scale.

Or why your supposedly "woke” friend just made a fat joke, and how you’re going to respond.

As my guests in this week’s episode of Food Psych put it, “we have to actively question the things that our culture circulates every single day.” Ultimately, that’s our path to liberation.

Lindsay & Lexie Kite are researchers, speakers, and activists who promote “body image resilience”—a set of skills for making peace with your body while living in diet culture, with all the challenges it throws at you.

In the episode, they share how learning to question and reject the self-objectification that our society imposes on women/femmes helped them to heal their own relationships with food and their bodies—and to start helping others heal, too.

We also discuss the shape-shifting nature of diet culture, why weight loss doesn’t improve body image, how focusing on beauty ideals steals our power, and lots more.

Tune in right here to listen online, or subscribe to Food Psych on your favorite podcast platform (now including Spotify!).

Here’s to breaking free from diet culture in ALL its forms, 

PS: If you're ready to give up diets—including the ones masquerading as "lifestyles"—and you want some amazing support for doing it, come join my online course, Intuitive Eating Fundamentals. You'll get dozens of hours of guidance from me, PLUS access to an incredible community of people who are on the journey alongside you, so that you can ditch diet culture and get back to the stuff that really matters.

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How to Navigate the Ups and Downs of the Anti-Diet Journey

Imagine if you’d never been told that there was anything wrong with your body’s size, shape, or appearance.

(I know, quite a stretch in this culture, right? But go with me here.)

Imagine that you’d been raised with the message that you deserve love and acceptance in the exact body you have right now, without needing to change a thing.

And that your peers, teachers, doctors, and society at large all reinforced that message.

Imagine if our healthcare community knew that weight itself doesn’t cause health problems, but weight stigma does—and that part of the duty to “do no harm” means never telling anyone to shrink themselves.

Imagine if you’d grown up seeing bodies of all sizes and shapes—including very large bodies, round bodies, bodies with stretch marks and cellulite, bodies of every skin color and gender and age and ability—held up as beautiful and worthy.

How would your life be different?

How would living with a foundation of body acceptance change how you spend your time and energy?

How different would it feel to navigate the world? To go about your day, making any adjustments and allowances that your body needs, without judgment or shame?

To deeply trust in your body’s wisdom, and in your worth and value as a human being?

I’m tearing up a little just thinking about it. THIS is the world I want to live in. THIS is the world we all deserve.

But it’s not the world we got, and that’s painful.

Instead, we were born into a world where diet culture reigns supreme, and where we’re all told pretty much from day one that we have to monitor our size, our shape, our appearance, our food intake, our movement—because, the rhetoric goes, we’re not good enough the way we are. Not until we take up less space. Not until we disappear.

(Here, buy this product! Do this “lifestyle change!” Eat this “superfood”—then you’ll be deserving of love!)

It’s all complete BS, because you ARE deserving of love already, exactly as you are, even if you never let a single chia seed pass your lips. But diet culture’s messages are strong, and they’re pervasive.

They make it really hard to live the life you just imagined for yourself, which is why I’m always saying that diet culture is a life thief.

So when you struggle in your efforts to break free from The Life Thief and make peace with food, know that you’re not alone.

These struggles are inevitable in the world we live in, and recovery is not a linear process.

Your journey will zig-zag and go backwards and jump forwards and just chill in one spot for a while. It might take you in directions you didn't know existed.

Recovery is individual, and it’s inevitably going to be influenced by how our bodies change over time and how the world around us changes (like all the new ways that diet culture keeps morphing and disguising itself).

It’s also going to be influenced by life circumstances and the different types of oppression or privilege you experience in the world.

That’s what my guest on this week’s episode of Food Psych, Maria Paredes, wants to convey about recovery.

She’s a Health at Every Size psychotherapist who’s fighting for a world where body acceptance is the norm, AND she knows that in the one we live in now, recovery is often an ongoing process.

We talked about how to navigate the gray areas and the hard parts in recovery, the “recovered” vs “recovering” debate, and remembering that there’s no way to do intuitive eating perfectly.

We also got into how diet culture and the diet industry target the most marginalized folks, why activism is an important part of helping people heal from food issues, raising daughters to be resilient to diet culture, and lots more.

Check it out here for some support in your journey toward the life you truly want to lead.

Here's to creating a better world for all of us, 

P.S. If you're ready to learn some new skills for accepting your body and reconnecting with its wisdom about food and movement, come join my Intuitive Eating Fundamentals course. You'll become part of a beautiful community that's supporting each other in navigating the ups and downs of recovering from diet culture.

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Why a Peaceful Relationship with Food Is Your Birthright

Intuitive eating is the default mode. 

It’s the way we were all born knowing how to eat.

When we were babies, we made NOISE when we were hungry to let people know we needed food, and we didn’t feel the tiniest bit of shame about it.

We demanded to get our needs met. We saw those needs as valid and didn’t second-guess them.

We OWNED our hunger.

No one had to teach us how to do that. It was programmed into our DNA—like how baby sea turtles are programmed to run into the ocean right after they hatch on the beach.

Like all animals, humans just instinctually know how to honor our hunger.

As babies we also took pleasure in food, seeking out flavors and textures that we found satisfying.

We relished the foods we liked and asked for more—again without feeling any self-judgment about it.

We didn’t have much use for foods we didn’t like.

And when we were full, we started losing interest in food, turning our attention to other things—until we started to feel hungry again (or until there was birthday cake!).

We were all, at this early stage in life, intuitive eaters.

And we all can be again.

We all have the capacity to get back to a place where our relationships with food are as simple as they were when we were babies.

Where hunger and pleasure are nothing to be ashamed of, and where fullness is a signal that we can take our minds off food for a while, safe in the knowledge that it'll be available again when we want it.

Of course, there are a lot of things that can get in the way of that safety, that simplicity.

There are a lot of things that mess with our default mode.

Things like poverty and food insecurity, as well as things like dieting and body shame.

Whatever the circumstances, though, they all shake our sense of safety and reprogram our default mode through one common mechanism: deprivation.

Deprivation is the very real sense that food won’t actually be available again when we want it.

Deprivation is what makes hunger and pleasure and fullness stop feeling so safe and easy.

Deprivation is what makes our relationships with food get so complicated.

Diet culture—aka The Life Thief—creates a sense of deprivation in so many ways, both subtle and not-so-subtle.

It tells us that our hunger is “wrong,” that we shouldn’t own it or (God forbid) make noise about it.

It tells us that weight gain and larger bodies are “bad,” and that weight loss and smaller bodies are “good.”

(Never mind that before about 150 years ago, Western culture and other societies around the world were saying the exact opposite.)

Diet culture tells us that satisfaction and pleasure will destroy our health and lead down the road to those “bad” things, too.

It also demonizes fullness, telling us that it’s a sign we’ve eaten “too much.”

Diet culture convinces us that honoring our hunger, seeking satisfaction, and feeling fullness will lead down the road to perdition.

It tells us that our instincts—the innate signals encoded into our DNA—are bad and wrong. 

And so we stop honoring our hunger.

We stop meeting our needs for satisfaction and pleasure.

We stop feeling safe in the knowledge that we’ll be able to eat enough, and eat things we enjoy, the next time we’re hungry.

And so fullness stops feeling safe, too.

Fullness stops being a signal that we can take our minds off of food and turn our attention to other things.

It starts being something that we fear, something that we question and condemn.

And that’s how The Life Thief makes us feel completely out of control and lost around food. Like we don’t know which way is up.

It's not our fault we feel that way. It's only natural, given everything diet culture has told us. 

The good news is, now that we know how diet culture led us astray, we don't have to buy into it anymore.

You CAN return to the peaceful, easy relationship with food that is your birthright. 

Of course, it'll take some work to unlearn all of diet culture’s harmful rules, but with practice and support you have the capacity and the right to break free from The Life Thief and reclaim your life.

That’s what happened for Megan Crabbe, the Instagram celebrity behind the account @bodyposipanda and a recent guest on Food Psych.

She shares how she internalized the message that she needed to start dieting to change her body size when she was just 5 years old, and how that mindset led her down the path to disordered eating and eventually a full-blown eating disorder.

Fortunately she was able to recover and become the body-acceptance activist she is today, and she shares what that winding journey looked like for her, and how she’s come to advocate for a brand of body positivity that embraces ALL bodies—especially the ones most marginalized by society and diet culture.

Tune in to the episode to hear her amazing story, and be sure to subscribe on iTunes/Apple Podcasts (or your favorite podcast player) so you never miss an episode!

Here’s to getting back in touch with your instincts, 

P.S. If you're ready to break free from diet culture and learn to trust your body (like you were BORN knowing how to do), join my Intuitive Eating Fundamentals online course so that you can make peace with food and make space in your life for bigger and better things.

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How to Say "Enough is Enough" to Diet Culture

Ah, the New Year. 

In some ways, it can be a beautiful time. 

A time to reflect on the highlights and challenges of the year before. 

To process what you’re grateful for…and what you’re glad to be leaving behind. 

A time to set intentions for the year ahead—in a way that honors and celebrates who you already are, not in a way that negates it. 

(None of that “new year, new you” nonsense.)

A time to reconnect with your values and recommit yourself to the things you really want in life—like fulfilling relationships, a sense of purpose, laughter, joy…you know, the big stuff. 

(More like “new year, renewed focus on what matters.”)

That’s how things could be at this time of year—if it weren’t for a major obstacle that gets thrown in our path every January. 

And it’s how things can be once you figure out how to navigate that obstacle. 

The obstacle, of course, is diet culture. 

Specifically, diet culture’s insistence that every New Year should be devoted to new (or not-so-new) efforts at shrinking our bodies.  

Diet culture keeps us from setting intentions that honor who we already are, because it tells us we have to change in order to be worthy.

It keeps us from reconnecting with our true values—or from even figuring out what those are—because it tells us the only things that matter are our size and our appearance.

(Sometimes it pretends to focus on our “health,” while really just equating that to our size and our appearance.) 

Diet culture keeps us stuck spinning our wheels on surface-level BS instead of going after the deeper, more meaningful stuff.

Diet culture steals the time we could be spending on pursuing our dreams. 

It steals our energy away from hobbies and passions (other than the food- and body-related ones that it pushes us into). 

It steals our joy, our ability to be present with the people we love—because everywhere we go, diet culture keeps droning on in the background about what we “should” eat and how we “should” look. 

Diet culture robs us of so much LIFE, which is why I call it The Life Thief

But this year, instead of having your life stolen all over again, what if you could say no to diet culture?

What if you drew a line in the sand and said enough is enough? 

What if you decided to kick The Life Thief to the curb and reclaim what it stole from you? 

What would it take to make that happen? 

For my guest on this week’s episode of Food Psych, it really was deciding she’d had enough and that she was ready to approach food and her body in a new way. 

Today Sarah Harry is a respected yoga teacher, author, psychotherapist, and fat activist, but up until her 20s she struggled in secret with an eating disorder while working in the fashion industry. 

As she shares in the episode, so much of her journey to recovery was about getting to the place where she was really ready to change. 

Where she was just OVER IT.

And once she did, it allowed her to pursue a more meaningful life than she ever thought possible.

Check out the episode to hear her fascinating story—plus some advice from me about how to overcome the diet-binge cycle and feel more at ease around food.   

You truly do have the power to say no to The Life Thief and reclaim your relationship with food, your body, and your LIFE. 

Here’s to reconnecting with what matters,


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Surviving Diet Culture Over the Holidays

This time of year is meant to be joyful—and when you're not fighting food and your body, it often is. 

When you’re in a peaceful relationship with food, you can enjoy all the great options at holiday parties. 

You can fully appreciate and savor all the special things you get to eat that are only available this time of year. 

Your experience of pleasure isn’t marred by thoughts of how you’ll “make up for” what you ate, because you trust your body to find balance in its own way, in its own time. 

When you feel satisfied and done eating, you can focus on other things. 

The food doesn’t keep calling to you all night, sending you into an inner battle and jolting you out of every conversation. 

You have the mental space to think and talk about a million other, more important issues than food and your body. 

You get to connect with your loved ones over the things that really matter. 

And sure, sometimes you get annoyed by diet talk from friends and family—but you can easily tune it out.

You know that whatever diet or “lifestyle change” they’re talking about, it’s not for you. 

Sometimes you even take the opportunity to plant seeds for them about why diets don’t work, and to share what you’ve learned about how to truly find peace with food and your body. 

Other times, you just change the subject to something that actually interests you—because you’re *beyond* bored with diet culture. 

When the onslaught of “new year, new you” media starts coming at you, you take a deep breath (or 20) and reconnect with the truth that you are enough, exactly as you are. 

This is what the holiday season can be like once you’ve gotten through the hard part of recovery from diet culture. 

This is what it can be like for you, too.

You may not be there yet—you may still be in the hard part of recovery, or even in the part where you’re still actively dieting—but just know that a more relaxed relationship with food is available to you. 

Peace with food is available to you. 

Of course, life can create barriers blocking your access to peace. 

Barriers like difficult circumstances, discrimination, and fatphobia, which can make you feel like you need dieting and disordered eating to help you cope. 

Learning other coping skills is key to shifting out of this pattern, but that can take time—so it’s important to be compassionate with yourself along the way. 

You had every reason to think dieting was going to help you, even though that wasn’t true. 

Diet culture has been lying to you since birth, telling you that the way to get what you want out of life is to shrink your body. 

It’s been telling you these things every day, on billboards and in movies, in school, at the doctor’s office, and at home. 

Diet culture is everywhere, in so many different manifestations.

It’s sneaky like that.

In an environment like this, of course you believed that dieting and disordered eating were the path forward.

But now you know there’s another path you could take, one that honors your true needs and desires. 

Now it’s time to figure out what those are. 

That’s what this week's episode of Food Psych is all about—how we find a new way of relating to food and our bodies that respects and honors us as whole human beings. 

My guest is Lucy Aphramor, a fellow anti-diet dietitian and the co-author (with Linda Bacon) of Body Respect. She has an approach to health and well-being that prioritizes social justice, compassion, and learning to meet your needs and follow your desires without shame or self-judgment.

We talked about her philosophy of body respect, why recovery isn't a linear process, how to keep yourself emotionally safe during the holidays, and lots more. Tune in to hear it right here, and be sure to subscribe on your favorite podcast app so you never miss an episode!

This will be probably my last blog post of 2017, so I wanted to take a moment to wish you joy and peace this holiday season. 

I'm so grateful that you're a part of my community—your support is a huge part of what keeps me inspired to create new content and keep fighting the good fight against diet culture, so thank you for reading, listening, and engaging with me this past year, and I can't wait to connect more in 2018 <3 

Here's to surviving diet culture, over the holidays and every day, 

If you're ready to start 2018 off on a diet-free note, come join my Intuitive Eating Fundamentals online course so that you can give up dieting for good—and free your mind to focus on the things that really matter. You can also give it as a gift to someone you love, now through January 1!

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