Diet and Exercise

Weight Watchers Adapts to Aspirations Beyond Dieting

Weight Watchers seems to be finding life for its brand despite the demise of dieting in popular culture. Business results for the company, released yesterday, show remarkable new vitality. Profits for the company are up by 48% for the second quarter of this year. Memberships are up by 20%, now totaling 3.5 million. CEO Mindy Grossman says Oprah Winfrey is helping Weight Watchers become a global healthy lifestyle brand, instead of a dated dieting brand:

There’s no doubt that Weight Watchers’ longtime collaboration with Oprah has certainly accelerated the company’s progress. We are shifting consumers’ perception of what it means to join Weight Watchers.

Fundamental Changes That Run Deep

Oprah is a powerful, visible symbol of fundamental changes in Weight Watchers. As a dieting and weight loss brand, its future looked pretty dim a few years ago. Popular culture had become dismissive of dieting. Healthy eating and active living became the better pursuit. In a lengthy new report for the New York Times, Taffy Brodesser-Akner explains:

‘‘Dieting’’ was now considered tacky. It was anti-feminist. It was arcane. In
the new millennium, all bodies should be accepted, and any inclination to change a
body was proof of a lack of acceptance of it. ‘‘Weight loss’’ was a pursuit that had,
somehow, landed on the wrong side of political correctness.

But at the same time, people still want to look healthy. That means that they would like to find that healthy place in life where they feel good and weight a bit less.

Without a doubt, Oprah has become a perfect messenger for this new strategy. Her lifelong struggles with weight are legend. Nonetheless, she is a successful achiever with a strong image for self-affirmation. People can see a healthy model for themselves in her.

However, deeper changes at Weight Watchers set the table for Oprah to carry a powerful message. Chief Science Officer Gary Foster brought his expertise in behavioral science to shape a new approach for Weight Watchers that went “Beyond the Scale.” Support and affirmation helps. Shame gets in the way. Foster explained to the Times:

This tough love – I’m going to be hard on myself – you know, in some perverse way, if it were true, we might try to leverage it, but it’s not. The harder you are on yourself, the worse you do.

A Work in Progress

This work is not done. People continue to struggle with weight and health and body image. As Weight Watchers continues to evolve, perhaps it will help more people. Many other options can help.

But a complete understanding of weight, health, and obesity remains elusive. Only with that understanding will more satisfying solutions come.

Click here to read more from the Times and here to read more about Weight Watchers turnaround.

Diet and Exercise, photograph © Tyler Hewitt / flickr

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August 4, 2017