Spare us your angst about Weight Watchers and Oprah

Okay, I’ll admit I was one of those who cringed just a little at Oprah’s Weight Watchers ad this week, where she bared her soul.

“Inside every overweight woman is a woman she knows she can be.”

Yeesh. Painting weight loss as a panacea for self image issues rubs me the wrong way. I’ve been a member of Weight Watchers for a while. I’ve gone to the weekly meetings. I know both weight loss and self-esteem are more complex issues than a one minute spot can capture.

But it’s not Oprah’s vulnerability that is getting some people getting riled up.

Why do I care? I’m kind of a Weight Watcher’s groupie. Over the course of my first year with the program, I lost seventeen pounds, reached my goal weight, and became a devotee.

I know. Seventeen pounds. Woof. That’s chump change. There are plenty at those meetings who’ve lost 75, 80, even 100 pounds or more. Sometimes multiple times.

For some, that kind of accomplishment is lifesaving. My own weight loss took me down a dress size, reduced the wear on my knees when I run, and eliminated the muffin-top that had lately been oozing over my favorite pair of low riders. It wasn’t enough of a change for most people to even notice, but I felt accomplished.

And, okay, it was a boost to my self-image.

In the meantime, I’ve loved going to meetings and hearing others talk about their journeys. I find discussions about research into fitness and nutrition, about how the human body works and how the brain reacts to stimuli intrinsically fascinating. I love the access to great recipes on the website, the tracking app on my phone.

Granted, I’ve never tried other formal weight loss programs. In fact, I’ve rarely been on an actual diet (it’s okay if you hate me for not struggling). But I’ve seen a good number of the people I love fight with their weight. I joined Weight Watchers mostly to be supportive of some of these people who are Weight Watchers members (losing the muffin top was a plus). It doesn’t work to have members of my family dreading Saturday morning weigh-ins every week after I’ve bullied them into pizza the night before.

On a regular basis, Weight Watchers changes things up, incorporating new research, developing new tools, keeping things fresh. Now we have Oprah as a spokesperson, and, as it happens, part owner in the company. She bought a 10 percent stake last fall. This week, after her emotional appeal, the company’s stock soared, and she realized a tidy $70 million gain on that investment.

That announcement started people freaking way out. They’re criticizing Weight Watchers as a program, whether they know anything about it or not. They’re criticizing Oprah for investing in the company, joining up, becoming its spokesperson, and encouraging members of her substantial fan base to join her, and then ‘gasp’ making money off the whole thing.

Let’s start there. The woman has made billions as a media mogul. She’s got no small amount of business savvy. I’m sure she didn’t drop $45 million on Weight Watchers like the rest of us might pick up a pack of gum at the check out stand. She’s invested in a company with a mission that aligns fairly well with her own journey, is on solid footing financially, is based on a strong model, and for which there is a fair amount of market demand. It wasn’t a stupid thing to do.

And, as far as being a spokesperson for the company? Well, duh. I’m no expert, but if Oprah and I were business partners, I’m pretty sure it’d just be thick headed to keep her out of the limelight. Oprah knows her brand is good for business. Everybody knows her brand is good for business. If that woman sneezed in my direction, I’d find some way to frame it as an endorsement. Are you kidding?

Then there’s the criticism of Weight Watchers. In a post this week Maria Guido, senior news editor for Scary Mommy, lambasts the program as well as Oprah, saying the model is based on the supposition that people will return to the program, again and again, as they gain back the weight back that they’ve lost. She sites sources that point to Weight Watchers execs touting this potential for repeat business to shareholders.

With studies showing the vast majority of those who lose weight will put it back on, wouldn’t any weight loss program be rather silly to build a business model that was just a one-off? In fact, Weight Watchers has developed some incentives to keep members from regaining the weight they lose. After reaching my goal weight and maintaining it for a number of weeks, I became a lifetime member. As such, if I can continue to keep the weight off, I can come into meetings and continue to use the online app and the website resources as much as I want.

For free.

Even if I gain weight, I can continue to come to meetings at a reduced rate.

Others have criticized the Weight Watchers program as a diet. It isn’t a diet, and it doesn’t espouse counting calories or sticking to a draconian regimen. Yes, there are tracking mechanisms and a points system designed to help with accountability and benchmarking. Those elements are intrinsic to reaching any kind of goal.

The Weight Watchers program is continually evolving, based on research and science – not only in terms of nutrition, but also in terms of how the human brain works. Why we feel hungry when we see food, and keep eating when we’re full.

Some people lose weight on the program, others struggle. Many leave and return, having gained back the weight that they’ve lost. We live in a world where it’s really hard to stay fit. That’s not news to anyone.

If you’re upset because Oprah’s making millions, I’d like to point out there are others making millions doing far more nefarious things than putting their struggles with weight loss on display. Maybe your indignation could be put to better use.

If you’re upset because Weight Watchers gets repeat business from overweight people, they don’t necessarily care about your righteous indignation, and nobody’s twisting your arm to join. Go find your own thing, if you need to. People lose weight every day without joining a program. People run marathons without ever getting any formal coaching on how to get into that kind of shape. People stop drinking, improve their grades, organize their closets, get rid of acne, build their own businesses, learn to swim, build a website, or get out of debt every day without extra help.

Many do get extra help when they need it, and there are copious resources to chose from. It’s crazy how this free market system works. People make money off of providing services or goods others need or want.

I’m not a resolution-making person, normally, but I firmly believe I won’t get anywhere without visualizing a goal and outlining the specific steps it will take to get there. So, while resolutions, per se, aren’t my thing, goals are.

One of my goals is to keep the muffin top off and keep from pounding the crap out of my knees when I run for as many years as possible. A bonus is being able to support the people I love as they work toward their own fitness goals.

So I’ll be one of those elbowing my way into a seat in a crowded Weight Watchers meeting Saturday morning. Facing the music after an indulgent holiday season. Feel free to join my buddy Oprah and me.

Or don’t. It’s okay.


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  1. Guess what I\’m also doing tomorrow morning? Going to my regular Weight Watcher\’s meeting. I\’ve found the perfect leader and I\’d follow her anywhere. I\’m a lifer and like you have recently reached my goal weight. Again. I\’m thrilled. Being short, 10 pounds on me is a lot. I love the new program and look forward to maintaining. Oprah or not, WW works for me. Happy maintenance, Beth!

  2. I have seen weight watchers work for a great number of people. I think if you can find something that works for you that helps you to keep accountable then good on ya! Weight watchers stock shot straight up after Oprah bought stock. Why not?

  3. I hadn\’t seen that little Oprah Weight Watchers blurb, but now that I\’ve seen it, I must say I kind of liked it. I know that Weight Watchers has helped a lot of people, but I also know it all comes down to permanent changes and lifestyle. I think as long as we keep plugging along, learn from our successes and failures and never give up….that\’s what it\’s all about! Happy 2016!

    1. Agreed on the lifestyle changes front. When I was in my 20s I made some broad changes to my eating and exercise habits on my own, lost about 15 pounds and mostly kept it off. It felt great. Since the, having the kids and not taking off quite all the baby weight, working long hours, and edging up toward 50 (gasp!) have all taken their toll. I was eating the same, or even less, and exercising way more (started running half marathons in my 40s and now have more than 30 under my belt), and still gaining. The WW thing is less of a diet than a personal trainer. And I definitely appreciate the help.

      Happy New Year to you, too! You\’re always an inspiration, Mel.

  4. Beth, You\’ve got me thinking. I don\’t have tons to lose, but about 5-10 would be nice. Oprah or no Oprah, maybe I\’ll look into Weight Watchers. I also agree. Who else would you put as your cover girl for Weight Watchers other than the Queen herself? It\’ll be interesting to watch her progress.

    1. Laurie, you\’ve got ME thinking they should consider sponsoring my blog because of all the massive business I bring \’em!

      Haha. Good luck. Let me know how it goes.