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Weight Watchers’ new focus on wellness met with skepticism

Weight Watchers (WW) has undergone many changes in recent weeks to rebrand themselves and shift their focus away from weight loss and towards “wellness,” but many people who have known the diet-based company their whole lives are skeptical, and are beginning to see larger problems in American society than calorie counting.

The company is now called “WW”—an acronym for the company’s new motto “wellness that works.” Their updated program says “smart decisions are made simpler so you can live your healthiest, happiest life.” The program will keep its well-known point system based on the nutritional value of foods instead of mainly focusing on calories. The points will now reflect other contents.

According to their website, the point system “encourages you to eat more fruits, veggies, lean protein and less sugar and unhealthy fats.” The program also includes hundreds of foods that users are not required to count, such as eggs, chicken and corn.

Besides changes to the point system, WW has taken other steps to focus on wellness over weight. They have partnered with Headspace, a meditation app, as they are now including emotional wellness in their plan. They have also stopped using before and after photos of those who have lost weight, as their focus has moved beyond numbers.

The company—founded in the 1960s—was built around the idea of weight loss, so the shift away from weight and towards wellness and health may be a difficult one. For many, this rebrand has highlighted the presence of diet culture and its problems in American society.

Alana Halstead, a sophomore and athlete at Mills, said that dieting is definitely a problem in society. “Dieting isn’t always bad,” Halstead said, but noted that companies like WW that have historically emphasized weight loss can impact young girls in an unhealthy way. Halstead gave the example of her uncle, who successfully lost a lot of weight through Weight Watchers after dealing with health issues.

“But he was an middle aged man, not a young girl,” she said, saying also that many girls are motivated to lose weight for reasons other than health. Halstead said there is pressure for women to be skinny and attractive, and noted that the rebranding will not fix this problem.

“What we need to do is teach nutrition and health earlier,” she said, explaining that she comes from a family of doctors who strongly believe that health lies beyond weight. Halstead believes that different diets work for different people, and that unfortunately anyone who diets today—especially women—may end up with an unhealthy relationship with food due to diet culture and societal pressure.

Sophomore Harper Bolz-Weber said that when it comes to wellness, weight is not as important as energy, physical health and emotional wellness.

“Health at its core involves listening to your body and what it is telling you,” she said.

Also an athlete, Bolz-Weber spends time working out and eating foods that give her energy to maintain her idea of health and wellness. She noted that when thinking about a number—calories or weight—it is easy to lose focus on health and revert to desires to lose weight.

“That is not listening to your body,” she said.

Both Halstead and Bolz-Weber expressed concern over the minimum age to join WW, which is 13 years old.

WW’s terms and conditions state that those between the ages of 13 and 17 must provide a doctor’s permission that indicates a BMI level in the 95th percentile or higher, and gives a three month weight goal. According to the National Heart, Blood, and Lung Institute, body mass index (BMI) “is a measure of body fat based on height and weight that applies to adult men and women.” This number, which has been discredited by numerous health experts, does not apply to those 18 and under according to this source.

Overall, this rebranding has not been well-received by the public. Some have said that it is “diet culture in disguise.” The CEO and president of WW, Mindy Grossman, told Forbes magazine that the wellness industry  “is a $3.7 trillion economy,” noting that “‘wellness’ is still not democratized or accessible to all.” The lowest costing plan of WW, which is an app, costs $3.07 per week with the purchase of a subscription plan.

Bolz-Weber expressed that this new focus of WW on wellness is merely more acceptable, and that the primary focus of those who participate will likely still be weight loss. For example, at the end of WW’s explanation of their program, it is written in fine print that “people on the Weight Watchers plan can expect to lose 1‑2 pounds per week.” The problem lies with diet culture and beauty standards, which are much larger than a name change.