Things teens need to watch: their grades in school, their friends being silly, and Gilmore Girls in its entirety (it’s a classic, after all!). Things teens don’t need to watch: their f*cking weight.
Tell that to Weight Watchers — the company announced last week that it will offer free memberships to teens who want to lose weight. Because, you know, what better time to make kids self-conscious about their bodies than during PUBERTY.
Remember puberty? We do. Sure, we can laugh at the awkward puberty pics of our favorite celebs now, but puberty takes a real toll not just on our physical bodies, but on our brains as well. A recent study showed we should pay more attention to teens’ mental health (and teen girls, in particular) during this time, too. Which makes Weight Watchers’ teen-targeted campaign more perplexing.
According to a Weight Watchers press release circulated February 7th, the weight loss giant will offer free memberships to teenagers aged 13 to 17 to partner with families in establishing healthy habits “at a critical life stage.” We can get behind eating more fresh fruits and veggies, drinking more water, moving your body, and adopting a healthier lifestyle overall.
But teen diets? You lost us, Weight Watchers.
Weight Watchers’ weight loss plan amounts to calorie-counting. By limiting the number of calories you consume, you lose weight. In theory, anyway. But this approach can lead to inadequate nutrition, a grossly distorted body image, and even eating disorders. Especially for teenagers.
What’s more, weight gain during puberty is 100% normal. Meaning disrupting the body’s natural development processes by dieting at this time might do more harm than good. It could even confuse communication between teens and their bodies’ internal hunger, fullness, and satiety cue, growing their risk of disordered eating.
Weight-loss programs like Weight Watchers promote the idea that an ideal body type exists. It doesn’t. But when you’re a teenager, that truth can be difficult to see.
Once more for the people in the back: One size does not fit all.
Over the weekend, dietician Melainie Rogers took to Twitter with the hashtag #WakeUpWeightWatchers, pointing out the dangers of dieting when you’re young. The popularity of the hashtag (even the National Eating Disorders Association weighed in) prompted Weight Watchers to release this sorry-so-not-sorry response:
For Rogers, Weight Watchers’ response was just not enough. “Teens should be thinking about getting a balanced diet — lots of fruits, vegetables, proteins, healthy fats, and especially carbohydrates for energy,” Rogers told Teen Vogue. “A growing body and mind needs all the nutrition it can get — so let’s make sure that is what we are providing.”