Dieting as a child resulted in my lifelong body image issues, so the Weight Watchers teen program concerns me

As you try to fall asleep, textbooks and binders are sloppily stacked next to your bed — there is a calculus test tomorrow and you had to stay up late to cram for it. Your mind is racing as you try to keep your eyes closed. Who will you sit with at lunch tomorrow? Anxiety about how it would look if you sit alone creeps into your chest. Whatever, okay, just go to sleep; your brain always does this. Breathe. Breathe. Wait. Hold on. You just remembered. Ugh. No. Another anxiety-inducing responsibility for tomorrow pops up in your head.

Your mom made a random appointment for you to go to after school. It’s at a place called Weight Watchers.

For a sustained amount of time you, a 15-year-old, are going to be forced to focus 100% of your thoughts, your nerves, and your self-esteem on one thing and one thing only: Your body.

International weight loss and dieting company, Weight Watchers, recently announced they are launching a “teen” program, free of charge. When I heard the news, my mind immediately envisioned an overbearing mother — a common character I met at friends’ houses growing up — insisting that her teenage daughter go on a diet. I see that mother handing her daughter a pamphlet that says “Weight Watchers” on it, immediately implying that she believes that her daughter needs to “watch” her “weight.”

Then, I imagined something else, something agonizing: An adult woman, successful in many ways, yet saddled with a lifelong eating disorder because of her exposure to our pervasive diet culture at an early age.

I learned that I am certainly not alone with my negative reaction. On Twitter, many people — including people who work for health organizations and eating disorder helplines — reached out to Weight Watchers, asking the diet company to rethink the “teen program.”

Do young people really need more messaging about how their bodies *should* be? Is puberty and our tumultuous adolescence — a period of low self-esteem, imbalanced hormones, and an unwavering belief in our own inadequacy — the time to add a formal dieting program to someone’s life?

My own personal experience answers this for me with a resounding “no.” I was imprisoned by these ideas as a young girl. I literally kept a frantic “diet journal” as early as age 9, obsessively chronicling all of my food intake and workout hours so that I could attempt to feel pretty and good about myself — resulting in a lifelong battle with my weight and self-worth.

But the Renfrew Center in Boston, an eating disorder treatment center, can explain more. They report that one in three people who diet end up with an eating disorder. Diets teach us not to trust our bodies, that we shouldn’t respond to hunger cues, that to listen to said cues is akin to losing control.

Weight Watchers did respond to the criticism with a tweet, and I do appreciate that.

I don’t disagree that Americans’ eating habits need to become more sustainable and healthful — but teenagers should not be told to fret about their size., They should not be the target demographic of a diet program. They should be free to live their lives.

Trust that young people already hear plenty about what they aren’t accomplishing and aren’t living up to. Let’s not add to their workload. Let’s just let them worry about crushes and calculus, please.

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