Oprah and Weight Watchers, a Match Made In…

facepalmIn 1988 Oprah Winfrey pulled a red wagon full of 67 pounds of fat – the amount of weight she had recently lost – onto the stage in what would become the highest rated episode in the history of her talk show.

In addition to being a powerful woman and a role model and hero to millions, this would be the beginning of Oprah’s journey as what appeared to be one of the vast majority of people who simply cannot achieve long term weight loss, no matter their money, resources, access, or will-power.

From 1988 until 201,1 Oprah would have the experience of almost everyone who seeks long-term weight loss.  She would lose weight, then gain it back in attempt after attempt, diet after diet. But because of who she was, she would have that experience publicly with all the stigma, shame, and mistreatment that comes with it. On the way she “introduced” us to all kinds of so-called health gurus (most unforgivably Drs. Oz and Phil,) making them millionaires while she lost weight, and letting each of them off the hook when she gained the weight back.

I can understand how this might happen.  Oprah was facing tremendous pressure to fit the mold of how someone of her celebrity should look, and she was no doubt dealing with racism and sexism in addition to sizeism. And, like all of us, she was being misinformed about the relationship of weight and health. And, most importantly,it’s her body and her choice.

Oprah is allowed to believe whatever she wants about weight and health and to do whatever she chooses with her body.  Now she’s putting her money where her yo-yo dieting is, choosing to be not just a Weight Watchers member, but also a spokesperson and 10% owner, investing $43.2 million for a 10 percent stake in the company, and Tweeting “I believe in the @weightwatchers program so much I decided to invest, join the Board, and partner in evolution.”

It’s a match made in heaven, if your concept of heaven is a place where people lose weight in the first year and then gain it all back.  Remember that WW’s own numbers show that the average person loses 10 pounds, and has gained back half of that at year two when they stop studying them so that they don’t have to record the rest of the weight gain, having once told the FTC that they wouldn’t do longer term studies because it would be “too depressing for our clients.”

Remember that Weight Watchers is required to have a disclaimer that says their product doesn’t work, every time they advertise it, because the Federal Trade Commission successfully sued them for deceptive trade practices. Remember that Weight Watchers used body shaming to try to sell us a product that they know doesn’t work.

As usual, due to the genius of their scam, Weight Watchers has nothing to lose in this deal. They’ve managed to take a near biological certainty – that people will lose weight short term and then gain it back, often more than they lost, long term – and turn it into a incredibly profitable business model that relies on repeat customers.  WW brazenly takes credit for the first part of the biological process (the weight loss) and blames their clients, and their failed spokespeople, for the second part (the almost inevitable weight regain) finally getting people to buy their product again and defend it, even thought it has failed them, often repeatedly.

So I say let’s celebrate the amazing person Oprah is, and the incredible things that she has done.  And let’s condemn the part of our culture that suggests that she would be somehow “better” at a different size, and that twenty seven years after she hauled that wagon full of fat on stage, she should still be riding the diet roller coaster.

And let’s be honest that, while Oprah has every right to join Weight Watchers, be a spokesperson for Weight Watchers, buy stock in Weight Watchers, get “I Love Weight Watchers” tattooed on her ass or whatever, that doesn’t make long term weight loss any more likely, and it doesn’t make Weight Watchers any less of a scam.

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Published in: on October 21, 2015 at 7:32 am  Comments (30)  

30 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. I’m a WW veteran too, and it didn’t work any of the times I tried it. And each time, I bought the story of how they did their part to help me lose weight, but I was responsible for the return of my weight. Nope, nope, nope. Just no. Period.

    I dream of a world where body shaming and fat stigma are things of the past. Where children do not feel like there is something wrong with them because a doctor wants to put them on a diet at age 6. Where parents tell those doctors to f@ck off if they try do damage children in that way. Where children and teens do not see fat as the enemy and a state of being to be avoided at all costs, even if it means death. Where people do not think it acceptable to food or weight police. Where concern trolls are non-existent. A world where people of all shapes, sizes, ages, abilities, races, ethnicities, etc., are free to be exactly who they want to be without anyone judging them based solely on their physical appearance.

  2. When I went to Weight Watchers as a teen I got told how to lose weight by the exceptionally thin leader.

    I later found out that she lost her weight by essentially starving herself after her teen/adult children died in two different incidents.

    It never sat well with me that a woman who couldn’t eat out of grief was meant to a healthy role model for me.

    There is no real training or oversight of those who become leaders, the only qualification is that you reach and maintain within 10lb of your target weight, which means that there is no guarantee that the person telling you what to do has a clue about basic nutrition, let alone how to work with someone who has a medical condition that means they can’t use the standard guidelines, such as Celiac disease etc. There is also no way of knowing if these women are actually following the program or if they are using unhealthy practices to maintain their weight. Which is pretty scary when you think about it.

  3. I wish Oprah would just embrace herself as she is and forget all this dieting.
    She spends so much time and energy searching for happiness and spiritual peace. She speaks with amazing writers and gets the best out of them.

    But she is still not happy herself.

    It must be very hard to forever be scrutinized and criticized. I wish her well.

    • That was a lovely thing to say – kudos!

  4. I’m especially saddened that Oprah jumped onto the Weight Watchers band of deception since recent research is showing that dieting doesn’t work and is beginning to support the health at every size approach. Just when the pendulum seems to be swinging the other way she steps in to save Weight Watchers. Maybe that was the plan.

    I’ve always wished like ainsobriety that Oprah would just accept herself. Imagine the powerful message she would send girls and women the world over. She could change so many lives for the better. Yet she keeps trying to keep up the beauty myths.

    Oh well, her underpants, her life.

    • Let me add that I am not an Oprah fan. People follow her like lemmings, not always for the better (Drs. Oz and Phil). I find her interview technique grating. Yet others find her a modern day Pied Piper.

    • Yes, the message that women are not objects for men to oogle over.

  5. It’s a fantastic business decision if you look past the fact that you’d be making money off of an industry that thrives on making people feel miserable for looking different. heck, towards that end, it’s the same as buying stock in Photoshop or an advertising company!
    Let’s face it, celebrities will always let us down. Yet another reason why we should focus on the real heroes, the firefights and the police officers and the soldiers and the emts…

    • Even ‘real heroes’ are humans who can screw up and let us down.

      • All humans screw up and let people down, it’s so important to remember this and not idolise people. They can’t be perfect, and if you have exalted them to great heights when they screw up it leads to victim blaming, hate mail and people justifying bad things that ‘good’ people do. Forgive them, approciate the good, see the bad and remember they are just human too…

  6. Oprah has always been Exhibit A to me of how extensive permanent weight loss is not possible for most: here is a highly disciplined, smart person with unlimited resources who cannot do it.

    I was unpleasantly surprised when I saw that she had invested so heavily (ha) in this scammy business, for all the reasons Ragen outlines here, plus this one: that this suggests her financial advisors did the research and found this to be a solid business move, which indicates we are probably far from the day when weight loss schemes are outed for the useless and dangerous things they are.

  7. My first thought was: “Same old bullshit, now with more woo and Photoshop!”

  8. Owning part of Weight Watchers is probably the only way to get anything useful from the whole idea. LIke selling shovels in a gold rush.

  9. I have long yearned for Oprah to lead the way to fat acceptance and body love, instead of torturing herself and promoting dieting. The fact that she has not arrived at the place of self-acceptance, despite all her advantages and obvious intelligence, tells me just how deeply brainwashed most American women are. I gave up watching her show and now won’t watch her network, my quiet little protest. As someone said above, just think of the good she could do if she WOULD embrace health at any size! So painful that she won’t. Such missed opportunity.

  10. The only time I lost vast amounts of weight was when I did Jenny Craig and Weight Watchers hard core. And you probably will lose something because a restricted diet can do that. Not always, but can.

    But the result for me was that I became so utterly obsessed with food (or the lack of) that all I did was wait until I could eat my next tiny meal. And try to ignore my stomach chewing itself up in the meantime. I hated that we’d go out to eat, and I had to say no to 90% of the stuff there unless I’d starved myself earlier so I had enough points to eat an effing dinner roll. I hated how JC made me buy these pre-packaged meals that didn’t even taste like real food and charged me a fortune for them. I’m still not convinced their “tuna salad in a can” wasn’t catfood.

    Mostly I hated food ruling my life so much feeling so, so hungry all the time. I always had a headache, so I took a lot of Ibuprofin. And drank coffee non-stop because I had no energy. I wasn’t a good mom, I wasn’t a good wife, and I wasn’t a good teacher. Losing weight was supposed to make me feel freer and lighter. Maybe it did, but the exchange was the constant burden of hunger.

    • The Minnesota Semi-Starvation Experiment: Put a bunch of adults on slightly less than 1,600 calories per day and watch them all obsess about food, lose interest in fun activities, experience brain fog, and turn grumpy and morose. The point of the study was to model how people in occupied Europe went from ordinary eating, or increasing or reducing diets,* to semi-starvation and back and from there figure out the best food packages to send over right after the end of World War II. They also, incidentally, found out that voluntarily undereating SUCKS.

      But that makes no money so let’s ignore the clear parallels to life on WW…

      *Participants above the ideal weight as of 1944 got less food; participants below it got more. Note that the average diet during the “pre-famine” phase provided 3,200 calories.

    • Wow. This comment needs to be posted more, so poignant and eye- opening. Thank you. Hits home for akk of us i think.

      • There is a full, and fascinating, article about the Minnesota Starvation experiment here:

        http://jn.nutrition.org/content/135/6/1347.full.pdf+html

        The subjects were conscientious objectors who volunteered to take part in the study. What fascinates me is that they were allowed 1600-1800 calories a day–thus much MORE than many modern “diets” allow their participants — and yet suffered horrendous effects, including self-harm, depression, obsession with food, lethargy, loss of sexual drive, intolerance of cold, weakness, etc. etc. But many people will tell us, with straight faces, that we should just reconcile ourselves to eating no more than 1500 or even 1300 calories a day if that’s what it takes to be thin.

        • Don’t forget the follow up experiment where it was found the children of women who had been pregnant then were more likely to be overweight because the experience had caused epigenetic changes, so why are women told not to gain weight when pregnant…

        • Here is some more info about the science discovered through this study: http://junkfoodscience.blogspot.ca/2008/02/how-weve-came-to-believe-that.html

          “Conventional wisdom on obesity’s cause hasn’t changed appreciably from the time of Galen, who held obese individuals responsible for their size” (c. 130 AD).

    • This happened to me when I did Weight Watchers. And Atkins. And something called the T-Fal (or something like that) diet which the pharmacist recommended, which was an Atkins clone that included these herbal supplements. And Herba Life. And Nutri System. Never did Jenny Craig, though.
      Some of Weight Watchers frozen meals actually taste okay, but you’re hungry again an hour later.

      • OMG, Herbalife! That one takes the prize for the most disgusting food substitute I ever consumed in futile pursuit of weight loss. As a broke new mom desperate to get my “body back,” I actually spent 50 bucks on a can of puke colored powder that tasted like sawdust mixed with grass clippings. WW “cuisine” is a gourmet delight compared to that shite.

  11. The sad thing is, you really are a first class citizen when you are thin. Two years ago at the height of my illness when I nearly passed away I got very thin. Actually it was technically a “normal” weight for my height, but at 30 years old and having given birth to 6 kids it was just too thin for me. But I loved it. People were fawning over me, no joke. Every outfit looked amazing. People revered me. Isn’t that sick?? I was nearly dead and living off of a measly 300 calories a day which was all that I could stomach. Then I decided to do everything on my end to be healthy…I ate good food regardless of if I vomitted it up. I very quickly gained 30 pounds. My body WANTS to be this weight. But at my last doctor appt she warned me not to gain any more!! I was LIVID!! In already struggling with my medical condition, and the fact that I am now heavier and no longer get to be a first class citizen…and she just added to it. Every time I read one of Regan’s posts I get stronger- like my inner awesome girl gets unleashed. But then a few days in the real world beats me down. I want to be freakin happy!!! I am ten times healthier now than when I was starving and malnourished, yet because I am chubby my doctor warns be not gain more.

    Oprah, for goodness sake, PLEASE take all your years if advice and find contentment and joy and happiness with who you are and stop torturing yourself! You are a powerful woman who CAN change the tide. Make yourself a first class citizen right as you are NOW.

    • You are so right about how you are a first class citizen when you are thin. The thinner the better. But don’t get all anorexic on us now, amirite? I am very small, height and weight. Smallest I’ve been weight wise since I was about 15. I was 15 in 1982 and 1983.The amount of Thin Privilege I get for being as tiny as I am is really quite disturbing and disgusting. And wrong.

    • The whole medical basis is “recover, but not too much”.

  12. Can’t stand WW. Actively discourage people from having anything to do with them. DO.NOT.RECOMMEND. And I could be one of their long term “success stories”. They are just awful.

    • me too. Several times over.

    • I totally agree. I went on it, and was already eating less than their points allowed.

  13. Oprah has a right to do as she please with her body, but I’m so disappointed about this. I thought she was one of the only few who opposed body image and weight relation to health and image. I thought she never gave into what people assumed how she should look and be as a established woman. However it seems like she’s just like everyone else, becoming one of the many brainwashed individuals Westernized society has continued to manipulate.

    I struggled with my image and weight so much until now, and Oprah was one of the many famous faces I could relate to and help me through it.

    It’s really tough considering the disappearance of size positive black women or women of color in the media.

    A lot of these diet and weight loss programs are making a mockery of everyone, raking in billions off of false propaganda and people are just eating it up because of saturation of anti-fatness in our culture.

    You all should see the shoving down our throats of these waist training products and substances like flat belly tea they lend to reality stars on social media to promote and sell. I’m so disgusted with our current culture and it’s anti-fat bias I’m becoming so annoyed.

  14. Diets don’t work. The fact that diets don’t work is what keeps the diet industry afloat, ironically. Of course you and pretty much everybody here knows this.
    I’ve “successfully” dieted multiple times. Each time I gained the weight back and then some. I had to quit dieting so I wouldn’t get bigger. Which is what happens to all yo-yo dieters.
    When only about five percent of all people keep the weight off, it’s madness to assume that the problem is the dieter and not the diet itself.
    Thank all that’s holy that I found out about Health at Every Size, or I’d still be in the yo-yo dieting cycle and saying cruel, ugly things to myself every day because I failed to achieve some arbitrary number on the scale which is supposed to define me as beautiful and even worthy of basic common decency.


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