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Weight Watchers sues Jenny Craig – but who really loses?

By Michelle May, M.D.

judges benchWeight Watchers is suing Jenny Craig over ads they say are misleading. A Jenny Craig commercial features Valerie Bertinelli in a white coat (really?) claiming that its weight loss program is more than twice as effective. Weight Watchers says the studies took place ten years apart and did not compare the programs head to head.

So let me see if I’ve got this right. These two “weight loss giants” (as the media keeps calling them) are arguing about which program is better even though you can walk into any Walmart, any ballpark, or any waiting room in America and see that neither of them work long term.

In my ten years of helping people break free of yo-yo dieting, the vast majority have tried either or both of these programs and countless others multiple times. They’ve made their hopeful financial contributions to this 40 billion dollar industry and what do they have to show for it? Frustration, weight cycling, and a love-hate relationship with food.

There will be no winners here

As long as people continue to accept the false premise that temporary weight loss equals success and that weight regain is their own fault rather than a natural result of a restrictive process, they will continue to blame themselves and try (or retry) diet after diet. The flawed “weight management” paradigm perpetuates the eat-repent-repeat cycle and will keep these giants (and thousands of others) in business forever. (Read more about the critical paradigm shift in weight management.)

Research has already shown that diets are not the answer.1 Ultimately, you are the loser – just not in the way they promised.

But you already know that. This lawsuit and your own experience should not cause you to ask, “What do I do now?” but “What do I do from now on?”

My recommendation? REALLY stop dieting and learn to eat mindfully and live vibrantly.2 (Read Weight Watchers not a diet? What???)

1 Mann, T. et al, (2007). Medicare’s Search for Effective Obesity Treatments: Diets are not the answer. American Psychologist, 62(3): 220-233.

2 May, Michelle (2010). Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat: A Mindful Eating Program to Break Your Eat-Repent-Repeat Cycle. Austin, TX: Greenleaf Book Group. Available here.

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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.

7 Comments

  1. Sheilagh Robinson says:

    Although I agree whole heartedly that diets which restrict what you can eat, and particularly those that require pills be taken, are never going to work long term, I would like to say a word in defense of Weight Watchers.
    Almost eight years ago I join their program as it was conveniently organized where I worked. My diet before then was reasonably healthy, not enough fresh produce but I was concious of the fat content in food and using whole grains over processed food. My big failing was portion control. Through the Weight Watchers program I managed to get a handle on making better choices and controlling portion sizes. I did use their pre-packaged meals while getting to my target weight to help with portion sizes and supplemented them with extra vegetables. Since reaching my target weight (over seven years ago) I have not used any packaged processed foods.
    Weight Watchers gave me the framework with which to maintain a healthy diet while eating anything I want in moderation. I will always enjoy red wine and chocolate. From my heaviest weight I lost 40 lbs and went from a size 12 to size 2, which I continue to wear.
    I did increase my exercise regimen to help move the last ten pounds and continue to be active.

  2. Thanks Sheilagh. Your point is excellent; we can learn something useful from every experience.
    I also find your comments interesting because they are compatible with my experiences working with thousands of people over the last ten years. Statistically, most people don’t experience the long term results that you have (congratulations by the way!) but those who do, somehow figure out how to “eat anything I want in moderation” and enjoy their favorites like red wine and chocolate.
    I teach yo-yo dieters how to do that right from the beginning. They don’t do that by “controlling portion sizes” but by learning to use hunger and fullness to to guide their eating while also learning to recognize when and why they eat when they aren’t hungry.

  3. Ryan Andrews says:

    Love it. Great blog.

  4. Pat Barone says:

    Having tried every diet and commercial program out there, I will agree with Sheilagh that they all contain some good points. BUT… and this is so important… eventually, the only people who are successful are the ones that use the program simply as a jumping off place and move on to take ultimate responsibility for their choices and leave the “plan” or “diet” behind. Info at the University of Colorado’s Weight Loss Registry taught me this when I decided to lose weight permanently in 1996 and began to investigate this idea of permanent change. All the programs they investigated had a 1% success rate, when weight loss was measured 5 years later (the marker for permanent weight loss).
    I credit ww with good portion education; Overeaters Anonymous with teaching their famous HALT method (never get to Hungry, Angry, Lonely, or Tired); Jenny Craig with… well who likes to eat cardboard? We can learn from every experience, for sure.
    But I’m more interested in this idea of stopping the vicious cycle of dieting/regaining that the diet industry feeds on. Once you’re in their revolving door, you’re stuck and your metabolism plummets with every effort.
    I really wish we could get to high school girls and FREEZE them where they are. Every single client I’ve ever had agrees that, if they had simply accepted their weight in HS, and appreciated their unique body size and shape, AND NEVER DIETED, they would have saved themselves hundreds of pounds and thousands of dollars. It’s so destructive.
    I was so touched at a holiday party at my house when a friend’s high school daughter would only eat the asparagus at a carefully prepared and balanced (fairly low-fat too) seafood meal! When I let her know I had organic fat free milk, she begged for some, then binge-gulped 3 big glasses, unable to stop herself. It just broke my heart.
    Another destructive aspect of a diet is that it teaches us to eat the same amount every day. Whoa! Where did that come from? As I watched my son grow up, I noticed he ate differently every day, sometimes eating more protein suddenly for no apparent reason. As a mother, I learned to respect his hunger and stopping points, then I managed to transfer that to myself.
    In my experience, diets just cause the body to shut down and hold on to fat, fearful the body is literally starving. And it fights you. When the body fights you, you never win.
    I feel calm around food and appreciative of my body today. I lost over 70 pounds and I’m looking forward to March 13, 2010, when I’ll celebrate 10 years at this weight.
    I’ve learned to ignore the media weight loss stories, with huge losses that last 5 minutes… and I only focus on permanent change.
    I hope this helps anyone looking for a better relationship with their body.
    Pat Barone, CPCC, PCC
    “America’s Weight Loss Catalyst”
    http://www.stoprentingweightloss.com
    http://www.patbarone.com

  5. Jill Carlson says:

    I would love for you to repost your “Weight Watchers is not a Diet?” article. I go back and read that after I see those ridiculous WW ads.

  6. Thanks Pat; I agree with you wholeheartedly!
    Excellent suggestion Jill! I will repost “Weight Watchers is not a diet?” – see http://www.eatwhatyoulovelovewhatyoueat.com/2010/01/weight-watchers-not-a-diet-what-.html

  7. Tessa says:

    I bow down hmubly in the presence of such greatness.

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