The Business of Thin

About Lisa Schmidt

Lisa Schmidt is an expert in the sciences of nutrition and behavioral health change. As a nutritional therapist, she specializes in weight loss, healthy weight promotion, and disordered eating. Other therapeutic specializations include grief, loss, anxiety, depression and couples counseling. She is on the faculty of Arizona State University's School of Social Work, teaching courses on Mindful Eating, Sustainability, and Stress Management.

The Business of Thin is everywhere.  Its strategy is to keep us fearful and confused.   The “Queen” of commercialized thin is Weight Watchers, the “mother” of all weight loss services.  If we succumb to her siren call, we will buy and eat highly processed food that makes us fat, and scramble for weight loss services to make us –only temporarily- thin.  Processed foods, limited exercise, and mindless eating keeps us enslaved.

Is there something better in life than losing and gaining the same forty pounds twenty times?  There is!  Lifelong weight maintenance is possible through adopting a personal practice of weekly weighing, gentle calorie counting, and a whole foods based diet with self-monitoring guided by mindfulness.

Locations moving to supermarkets

Weight Watchers – Now OPRAH owns 10% of the company, so you can lighten your wallet and make her richer!!

The “collateral damage” related to the business of thin has resulted in food and body preoccupation, self-hatred, eating disorders, discrimination and poor health.  Few of us are at peace with our bodies.  We’re no closer to solving the obesity crisis in this country since it has multi-factorial causes and conditions.  If we focus on “going on a diet”, we shortcut the dialog needed to permanently change our disordered eating culture.

Learning the truth about food marketing helps us understand that Weight Watchers – formerly a food company subsidiary of HJ Heinz – is only interested in our money, not our well-being.  Weight Watchers knows that few Americans can resist the seduction of fat, salt, and sugar –the key ingredients in their food products.  Food marketers can only survive by getting us to eat more food; how can a commercial weight loss organization that acts like a food company help us?  Here’s the truth about the business of thin:

Diets don’t work Research has consistently shown that “dieting” simply does not work.  97% of ALL dieters regain most, if not more, weight following a diet, only to get onto the roller coaster again.  Even a recent study commissioned by Weight Watchers and delivered in the UK showed only modest short term results.  You have to pay a lot to get this modest result.  Is it worth it?

Weight Watchers acts like a food company. Weight Watchers is at its heart and soul a food company.  Using marketing techniques developed by food marketing insiders, Weight Watchers meeting rooms are filled with branded junk food products:  snack bars, chips, and candy.  As members develop a dependence on expensive, highly processed, and unhealthy food products, meeting room conversation encourages members to eat their favorite junk foods.  Limited are discussions about healthful eating. The proprietary “points system” claims that calories don’t matter-you can eat whatever you want.  Dependence and fear is good for business!

In 2010, consumers spent over $4 billion on Weight Watchers branded products and services: meetings, products, Internet subscriptions, licensed products sold in retail channels and magazines.  While meeting fees have been flat over the past five years, big gains came as revenues from  internet sales, and licensing fees from big food manufacturers selling Weight Watchers products (Smart Ones, HJ Heinz) and products under agreement to include Points values (Boca BurgersGreen GiantJolly Time, andProgresso) increased.  According to Weight Watchers, licensing revenues grew at a compound annual growth rate of 5.3% from fiscal 2006 through fiscal 2010.   From a food company perspective, 5.3% growth is huge; its generation includes no overhead, staff costs, or other fixed expenses.

The question remains:  Do buying food products lead to weight loss success?

The Weight Watchers meeting sells fear. The focus is on processed and packaged foods as “healthy” alternatives.   The meeting leader, a former overweight member, communicates the way to permanent weight control is through weekly paid meeting attendance, adopting the complex strategy of counting “points”, and buying Weight Watchers packaged products.

The tradition of Weight Watchers lies in the meeting experience. Then why is Weight Watchers moving away from the group support system?  Company insiders disclose that meeting locations are being closed as Weight Watchers crafts agreements to open mini retail stores within supermarkets.  I’m pretty sure they won’t be located next to the produce department!

Freedom comes from finding the way to lifelong weight loss/maintenance.  How do I know?  I myself am a former Weight Watchers corporate insider, meeting leader, and a lifetime member who lost 40 pounds in 1987.  How have I kept if off?  Through daily exercise, a whole foods, mostly plant based diet, and weekly self-monitoring of my weight.  And the best part – no fees paid to anyone for my successful maintenance!

This approach pairing kindness and mindfulness at its core develops lifelong success patterns towards food and eating.  Embracing acceptance based psychological models works, too.  Research shows this reduces stigma, weight bias, and helps maintenance over time.

Interested in a new approach?  Try Mindful Eating:  groups forming now.  Contact me for more information.

6 thoughts on “The Business of Thin

  1. Jeanne Maher

    What a wonderful breath of fresh air! Thank you for coming clean, changing your way of life, and now working to help save the world from dangerous marketing strategies!

  2. Finally, someone else speaking the unspoken truth about this. I wrote about this in my masters work over 6 years ago and tell clients about it all the time. Glad I’m in good company. Thanks Lisa

  3. Moyra

    You are right on. Thank you for sharing.

  4. Alison Pelz, RD, CDE, LCSW

    Great article!

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