Weight Watchers Confessional

Let’s talk (the cultural politics of) Weight Watchers, shall we?

Chad reviewed Consumer Reports’ study of diets and diet organizations, and found that Weight Watchers (WW) is the only diet/plan that has a proven track record of helping people actually lose weight and keep it off. No other diet or plan has as good a record, and even WW can only boast a 20-lb. loss for the average member.

Now, Chad is in good health and looks great, and I am not obese. Yet, we both felt we wanted to lose some weight (around 20-25 lbs. for me, about 15 for Chad) and have control over it. I have never lost weight…almost literally never. Maybe 5 lbs. then gain it back, that kind of thing. The few times I did shed those 5 lbs., it was due to illness or a miserable attempt to eat no sweets and fiercely fight hunger. Anything called a diet made me miserable just to hear about it. But also, I’d have guilt when I ate a candy bar or 4th slice of pizza, so dieting or not I wasn’t wildly comfy about food issues.

When you couple this with my feminism and a politics of anti-weightism (anti-fatism), frankly, you get a mental mess. We absolutely live in a weight-obsessed culture. We pretend to work against anorexia and bulimia, but we also cultivate a climate that not only encourages but champions these illnesses. The media saturates us with messages that thinness equals beauty equals love and romance and wealth and happiness for a woman. How many big fat female CEOs do you see on prime-time drama? For every (admittedly sexist) brief “Baby’s Got Back” message, there are a dozen competing direct and indirect messages encouraging diets, creams, and surgeries to remove your back, your front, and your sides. Except your breasts, of course, which should be increased and raised to point skyward.

So, I can’t ever be this unqualified champion of WW, even if it has helped me responsibly and relatively painlessly lose more than 10 lbs. to date while feeling healthier (yeay fiber and exercise). It’s a very logical plan, involving reduction of consumption of high-fat, high-calorie foods in favor of low-fat, high-fiber foods. You need to eat 5 fruits and veggies a day, 6 glasses of water, exercise as much as possible, plus keep to a certain number of “points” worth of food (based on combination of calories, fat, and fiber). So far so good. Logical, reasonable, and good for your health. (And you can even eat a donut every day, if you’re willing to “pay” for it out of your points.)

Now, you can follow this plan by reading up on it online and never joining WW, but Chad and I felt we needed motivation and responsibility to make sure we stay on it. Enter WW meetings, where you weigh in and then get a little talk about staying on track over the holidays or how to find exercise in unexpected places or how to cut fat in recipes. From anagrams to carrying around a little bell over the holidays (so when it jingles you remember not to eat), this is really kitschy stuff. Moreover, the talks often smack of something between corporate retreat and cult religion. Go team go! This comes with the price of membership (around $30) plus $11 a week, which must be paid each week (you can't come and go and skip without repaying the initial membership fee). Yet, even as I cringe at the worst of this very very capitalist program, I have lost the weight without anguish and the meetings are part of the success.

I know I’m probably going to find out worse any day, like the WW Founder is a neo-Nazi or donates all his money to the Republican party or has three anorexic, sexually-abused daughters. But right now, I live with a precarious balance of healthy cynicism and sincere pleasure in knowing my pants fit and that I’ll likely get a cleaner bill of health on my cholesterol level from the doctor. I’ll deal further with the politics and repercussions of my deflating belly skin (tummy tuck, anyone?) another day.


Kate said...

I'm so glad you're feeling better and more healthy. Use what works. Nothing worthwhile is easy, and everything has its downside. My body issuses are completely different(as you well know). I think it is kind of sorry and speaks volumes about me(and not in a good way) that I wish there were meetings I could go to where I could correct them. The point being, I guess that the media has far too much influence on me. (not that I want huge breasts, I don't) Keep up the good work. Feel good about yourself. That's the important thing.

Elyce Rae Helford said...

Indeed: feeling good about ourselves is a constant battle in a culture obsessed with youth, thinness, and an otherwise very narrow standard of beauty. Seeing romantic heroines who are fat women (not thin women in fat suits), women with disabilities (beyond supermodel types feigning blindness or deafness, please), well-wrinkled women, butch women, and so many other diverse kinds of women would certainly make our journey to feel beautiful easier.

Here's to us, Kate, in all our glory.

irreme seshat said...

yes, feeling good is vital, and yet, my first and foremost response after seeing this post, was: but you look sooo good already! that is, last time i saw you for a brief evening, i thought: wow, she's beautiful--what a great figure!
I hate the obsession with skinnyness in this culture! Which is not to say I'm unaffected by it, i just don't find skinny people nearly as asthetically attractive. I want to say much more about this, but i must run...hugs