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Weight Watchers not a diet? WHAT???

By Michelle May, M.D.

Author’s Note: By request, in response to my post “Weight Watchers sues Jenny Craig – but who really loses?“, I am posting an article I wrote on 01/03/08. Not much has changed:

I knew the New Year’s weight loss ads were coming…but I never saw this coming!

changed priorities signWeight Watchers claiming they are not a diet? WHAT??? The same DIET I restarted 17 times? (I don’t give up easily, especially when everyone said it was the best diet out there – so obviously that meant there was something wrong with me!)

If I had had to go to medical school 17 times, I would have finally decided that wasn’t working either.

But I was smart and determined enough to get through medical school so maybe the problem wasn’t me. When I saw one patient after another fail Weight Watchers too (please forgive me if I was the one who sent you there; I didn’t know better yet), I finally realized that diets don’t work (unless of course you are only interested in short term results).

So when I saw Weight Watchers using that very phrase, “diets don’t work,” I was astounded and offended. What were they charging me for all those years? And to add insult to injury, they are using my (now retired*) tag line, Stop Dieting, Start Living (I am not kidding; I had to take it off my home page www.AmIHungry.com but it had been printed on a bunch of my products since 2006!).

Maybe I should have changed mine to: Stop Dieting Weight Watchers, Start Living.* But then maybe they’d revoke my lifetime membership and I wouldn’t be able to rejoin for “free” for the 18th time. They even had the nerve to say, “If diets worked, why are they changing every five minutes?” Good point! Why does Weight Watchers change every year? (Oh yeah, I have a similar line on my website, “If diets were the solution, there wouldn’t be a problem.” Maybe I should change that one too: “If Weight Watchers was the solution, there wouldn’t be a problem.”)

Really, if Weight Watchers worked, how come so many people have tried it more than once? Before any of you Weight Watchers fans write back telling me what a great diet, ooops, I mean lifestyle change, it is, just ask yourself a few questions:

1. If it’s not a diet, then why do they tell you how many points you can eat each day?
2. If it’s not a diet, then why do you have to earn the right to eat more by exercising?
3. If it’s not a diet, then why do you have to be weighed in?
4. If it’s not a diet, then how come vegetables are “free” instead of just good for you?
5. If it’s not a diet, then why is everybody on it talking about food ALL the time?
6. If it’s not a diet, then why do you have to weigh, measure and write down your food? (unless of course you choose their “Core” plan – then you can eat as much as you want of the foods they say are allowed).

I’m not saying Weight Watchers isn’t a “lifestyle change.” I’m just saying, who wants that kind of lifestyle?

* We’ve since changed our tag line to Eat Mindfully, Live Vibrantly. Weight Watchers can have Stop Dieting, Start Living – we’d rather talk about what we do!


About the author

Michelle May, M.D. is a recovered yo-yo dieter and the founder of the Am I Hungry?® Mindful Eating Programs and Training. She is the award-winning author of Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat: A Mindful Eating Program to Break Your Eat-Repent-Repeat Cycle , winner of seven publishing awards. She is also the author of Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat with Diabetes, Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat for Binge Eating, and Am I Hungry? Mindful Eating for Bariatric Surgery. Michelle shares her compelling message and constructive keynotes with audiences around the country, offers workplace wellness programs, and has trained and licensed hundreds of health professionals to facilitate Am I Hungry?® Mindful Eating Programs worldwide. She has been featured on Dr. Oz, the Discovery Health Channel, and Oprah Radio, and quoted in Diabetic Living, Fitness, Health, Huffington Post, Parents, Self, USA Weekend, US News & World Report, WebMD and many others. Her personal success story was published in Chicken Soup for the Dieter's Soul. Michelle cherishes her relationships with her husband, Owen and grown children, Tyler and Elyse. She regularly enjoys practicing yoga and hiking near her home in Phoenix, Arizona. She and Owen, a professional chef, share a passion for gourmet and healthful cooking, wine tasting, photography, and traveling.


  1. Kate says:

    Wow. I wish I found this post two year ago when I still was trying to make WW work for me. (Yep, I totally felt the program was awesome and it was my own fault for failing to follow the rules.)
    Thanks for reposting this.

  2. Pat Barone says:

    I’ve said these things myself, many times. Some of my clients have “done weight watchers” 10-12-17 times with no result.
    I would add “if it’s not a diet, then why do you have to humiliate yourself by having a stranger weigh you AND measure your success?”
    I’m a weight loss coach who lost over 70 lbs and I’ve maintained that weight loss for 10 years now – I got a laugh from my Catalyst Community callers on a recent teleseminar when one of the participants heard my story and asked if I counted calories. I said no. She said “what do you count?”
    “I don’t count. I’m not an accountant,” I answered. “And I’m too busy living to count.”
    Good article! I cringed at those commercials too, just like I cringe at the big slim-fast displays that come out December 30, just like clockwork.
    Pat Barone, CPCC, PCC
    “America’s Weight Loss Catalyst”

  3. Ariana says:

    Pat… my favorite part of your post was, “And I’m too busy living to count”. That’s exactly it… people are giving up on fulfilling their lives with what they truly love and need(ie- pleasurable experiences and the people around them). While food is something that should add to experiences, it shouldn’t come BEFORE the rest of your life and it DEFINITELY should NOT take over your life. If everyone just takes a minute to think back to their childhood… you’ll remember a time when no matter what time of day it was, if your mother/father/grandparent called you in for a meal, you weren’t “hungry” – you were too busy enjoying the little things: time with friends, playing ball, bike riding… your “hunger” was filled with the true nutrients in your life (love, happiness, etc.) …the foods you ate were just a side note. So, its time everyone take a step back and think about what it is they truly love to do…and do it!! Go for a walk, dance around your living room, hang out with your kids/family…whatever it is… you’ll instantly feel better 🙂

  4. Pat Barone says:

    Ariana – you are so right about diets focusing us AWAY from fulFILLment. So naturally, we seek to FILL ourselves with something. I always say food is fuel, nothing more. It took me a long time to learn this. Do we get neurotic, emotional or enter major negotiations when it’s time to hit the gas station and fill the tank of our car? I think not!!
    I give a lot of speeches and talks to companies and I’m just amazed at the amount of food I see if offices today, at desks, in meetings, at the mall, in cars!!! It’s become acceptable to race around town with food dangling from your face. This is another area where we could improve.
    Pat Barone, CPCC, PCC

  5. Lampdevil says:

    Hey, Pat? Ariana? As much as I agree with you guys that it’s important to actually LIVE your life and to embrace things that you enjoy… I enjoy food. No, really, I ENJOY FOOD. I’m a foodie. I love to cook. I muse gleefully about the meals I’ll be making. I think back happily on tasty things I’ve eaten in the past. Food is not “just fuel” for me. Food is one of the many enjoyable aspects of life. Dismissing it, and making remarks about how awful it is that people dare go around their daily lives with food beside them indicates… some sort of lingering discomfort around the stuff.
    Yes, very few people get all twitchy when it comes time to change the batteries in the TV remote or gas up the car. That’s because society hasn’t built up all kinds of shameful things around the concept of refueling machines. Now, if people were really judgey from an early age about your gas mileage and the gas station attendants only tended to give you as much gas as THEY thought you needed, even if it wasn’t enough to run your car, and if you were scolded for daring to take “too much” gas… I could see a lot more upset times at the pump. Food DOES have this crap built up around it, so people do develop maladaptive and unhealthy behaviors around the stuff. Unlearning these isn’t a matter of dismissing food as unimportant, but in reconnecting with one’s appetite and body. And with finding the courage to disregard all those cultural messages that tell us that it’s evil-wicked-bad to actually enjoy eating.

  6. Pat Barone says:

    I completely understand the foodie angle. “Food as fuel” and enjoyment aren’t mutually exclusive. In fact, I eat NOTHING that doesn’t taste wonderful to me and enjoy many amazing and delicious things. (I think that’s why I could never diet and ultimately had to say “no” to that.)
    I let my body determine what it needs and what tastes good is a damn good indicator. But I have separated the monkey mind from food decisions. It’s the mind that has all the “crap built up around” food, eating, right, wrong, etc. It’s the mind that says “It’s 12:00, I should eat lunch.” The mind says “Dang, that hurt me, I’m disappointed, let me have a chicken fried sundae.”
    As I always say, the mind is a terrible thing to the waist!
    I’m happy you are unlearning old unhealthy behaviors AND connecting to your appetite and body. You’re awesome.
    Pat Barone, CPCC, PCC

  7. Great discussion! It underscores why my new book is called “Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat” – true freedom from dieting requires BOTH: eating fearlessly and eating mindfully.

  8. Lampdevil says:

    Ha! I’m not sure what a chicken fried sundae is, but I think I want one. Just for… y’know, scientific foodie purposes. Yes. Pictures would need to be taken. I might need to draw a diagram or two, as well.
    To put my serious face back on, I’m happy for all of us that are learning how to eat again! I’ve had to learn to listen to my appetite, AND I’ve had to take time to learn about portion sizes. I know the foods that satisfy me in body, and I know that sometimes it’s good to have something that satisfies my soul, too. And I know that if I do go and have me some deep-fried cheeseburgers (..or somesuch…) that it’s not the end of the world. I can eat generally healthy, nom something full of fat and sugar and breadcrumb coating on occasion, and the world won’t end. My health is important to me, but my weight and my food choices are only a small part of a bigger whole.

  9. I love that in lieu of yoyo dieting, your pendulum is finding a smaller arc in the middle!

  10. […] Michelle May heeft op haar blog uitgelegd waarom Weight Watchers nog steeds een dieet is, hoe graag ze ook van die stempel af willen komen: […]

  11. […] Michelle May heeft op haar blog uitgelegd waarom Weight Watchers nog steeds een ordinair dieet is, hoe graag ze […]

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