Me, with a healthy meal

What if WeightWatchers goes away?

I’ve been on WeightWatchers (formerly WW and Weight Watchers) this go around for four years. Since then, I’ve dropped 82 pounds (37.2 kilograms) and kept it off. This isn’t the first time I’ve been on this program, and it isn’t my first attempt at getting to a healthy weight. I’ve been on Jenny Craig, the LoseIt app, and the most ineffective method, “trying to do it on my own.” This is the first time I’ve been successful in dropping this much weight and keeping it off. My success in keeping it off comes from sticking with the program after I’ve reached my goal. And I’m sticking with it because the consequences for my health are too serious not to.

So I was deeply concerned when I read the CNN article about the direction WeightWatchers is going. As members, we’ve felt the upheavals. Our meeting moved from a nearby storefront to a hotel a few minutes further away. (Some members have to drive an additional 10–20 minutes to get to a meeting.) Snacks and accessories (such as an excellent microwave popcorn air popper) that help us with the program are being discontinued. And what if WeightWatchers turns into something I can no longer use or closes up entirely? (Jenny Craig filed for bankruptcy early this year.)

I have a few thoughts about the direction of WeightWatchers and the weight loss industry in general.

When people talk about medication like Ozempic and Wegovy, another one comes to mind—fen-phen. It was hailed as the dietary breakthrough in the 1990s. I knew people who took it and lost a lot of weight. A doctor I was going to insisted I go on a regime like that and wouldn’t treat me for my high cholesterol and triglycerides if I didn’t. (I soon found another doctor.) But concern about the side effects and withdrawal symptoms came out, and it faded in popularity.

Medical means of suppressing appetite might work for some people, but not for everyone. TLC runs multiple series about extremely obese people and the extremes they go to so they can get healthy. Very low calorie diets. Bariatric surgery. Some make it last. Others go back to their unhealthy habits and undo the medical procedures that were supposed to prevent them from overeating. Fifteen patients who appeared on My 600-lb Life have died so far.

But why even do anything about obesity at all? Who needs diet culture? It’s all about body positivity, right?

Thinness does not equal health. You can be thin and unhealthy, such as people who have eating disorders or a metabolism that lets them get away with eating lots of fatty and processed foods. You can be large and healthy. Look at NFL players who weigh 300 pounds and have low body fat. But with a body like mine that quickly accumulates cholesterol and triglycerides and a family history of heart attacks, strokes, and diabetes, I can’t play around with my diet. If I want to watch my granddaughter graduate high school, grow old with my wife, and write a book that actually becomes a New York Times bestseller, cheeseburgers and pepperoni pizza have to go.

WeightWatchers in its present form works for me. But if I didn’t have it, I’d have to figure out something else. Part of being successful at anything is learning to adapt when circumstances change. I followed the program during the pandemic when we had virtual meetings. If WeightWatchers completely went away, I’d have to find another way to stay on track. Perhaps a similar program will emerge. Or I’d connect with fellow members in our community, and we’d organize our own meetings.

But I know there isn’t a magical shot, surgery, or quick-fix fad diet that can keep me healthy for life. It has taken me a long time to undo years of poor eating habits. It’s also hard to resist a culture that prods us to eat massive quantities of processed high-fat food and then shames us when we get heavy. The community and guidance I’ve gotten from WeightWatchers works for me. It would be a shame—and a mistake—if it went away.