I thought I’d jump on the whole ‘omg wtf Weight Watchers’ train with the announcement of the launch of their new app for kids, Kurbo.
Now I don’t talk much about my weight or my body because for so many years it was wrapped up in feelings of disappointment and anger. I’ve always been annoyed at my body for it not doing what I wanted it to, for not being skinny when all I ate for an entire day was a small bread roll. Because that was my reality from about the ages of 13 through to 16.
At 14, I was diagnosed with PCOS and was told to embrace the Atkins diet. This is because PCOS puts you at an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Whilst I was chubby (always have been, always will be, whatevs), this was probably my first foray into ‘watching what I ate’. Up until then, I’d never had any massive concerns about my weight. But I started seeing this endocrinologist who truly needed a few lessons in bedside manner, and that was the start of feeling like shit about my body. I was also diagnosed with insulin resistance, despite never being given a fasting glucose test. Go figure.
Over the years, I followed my mom down the path of Weight Watchers, Rosemary Conley and Slimming World. My poor mother was sub-ten stone before she had me, whereupon I ruined her metabolism. I used to go the gym with my dad, and would silently congratulate myself on getting through a tough cardio workout with nothing more than the afore-mentioned bread roll fuelling me.
Then I discovered pro-ana sites. Hoo boy, that was it. I was hooked. They were filled with pictures of girls with jutting ribs and angular jaws, and I would print them out and put them in a little book alongside mantras that included the classic, ‘nothing tastes as good as skinny feels’. (Which is bullshit. Nothing tastes as good as a steak with garlic butter feels. In my mouth.)
The thing was, I wasn’t very good at starving myself. I did drop about two stone, but I enjoy food too much to deny myself all the time.
Over the years, I had a seriously broken relationship with food. I loved and hated it with equal measure. I never binged after starving myself as that’s just not my style, but the weeks of restriction were alternated with weeks of eating normally, and my weight stabilised. I wasted hours calculating my TDEE, my macros, reading up about nutrition and buying into the fucking idiots that promote disordered eating by another name.
In the last few years I’ve come to accept my body. I’ve put on 10kg in the past two years thanks to antidepressants and I’m heavier than I’d like, but I exercise a lot and I know I’m fit and strong. If only I could get rid of the IBS-induced belly bloat!
I’m still wary of certain foods, but I’m learning to listen to my body and give it both what it craves and what will nourish it. I eat barely any processed foods (I have IBS and coeliac disease to thank for that) and I don’t crave sweets. But I’m nearly 32 and it’s taken me over half my life to get back to being relaxed around food.
I recently had all my bloods done, including my a1c (blood sugar). Despite my love affair with potatoes and rice, they were all bang where they should be. I’m perfectly healthy. My Weight might be too high for my height according to an arbitrary measure invented by a mathematician, but I’m unlikely to drop dead of a heart attack anytime soon or develop type 2 diabetes.
I say all this so you can see what being introduced to diets at a young age did to me. I was all-consumed with food, calories, and exercise for too many years, and I wasted so much time trying to force my body to be smaller than it wants to be. I still work out and occasionally track my food in the vain hope of losing those two stones again, but I know it’s unlikely. If I don’t eat enough one day, my appetite ramps up the following, and the calories all even out.
I can see what Weight Watchers are trying to do with their app. They are trying to teach kids healthy habits by colour coding food with a traffic light system. But the end result is so wide-of-the-mark I cannot believe they’ve gone through with publishing it. Here are a few screengrabs from the app I’ve come across, which may help you understand my feelings:
The problems I have with the app are as follows:
1. It’s for children as young as EIGHT. Kids that age haven’t even been through puberty yet. I was terrified when I started gaining weight at that age as I didn’t realise it was COMPLETELY NORMAL.
2. It features before and after pictures of children. What the actual fuck?! This belies any claims to be about healthy living. It’s not. It’s about weight loss at any cost.
3. Focusing on weight loss is stupid. We should be focusing on fat loss.
4. Tracking ‘every bite’ is so very disordered I don’t even know where to begin.
5. Teaching kids to round up 1 or 2 crisps to an entire portion will stop them from listening to their bodies, and instead of having the 1 or 2 crisps they fancied, they’ll have the entire portion as the app counts them the same. This is also known as the ‘fuck it mentality’.
Now I’m not saying that there aren’t some kids out there who are in uncomfortably large bodies, and whose habits may well be setting them up for future problems. But to combat this we should be teaching kids to cook in schools. And not just cooking sweets, but how to make basic things from scratch, so they are less reliant on ready-made foods. We should be focusing on exercise and enjoyable movement, not team sports that penalise kids who aren’t coordinated or fast. I HATED exercise until I discovered running in my mid-twenties, shortly followed by weight lifting. School taught me that exercise meant humiliation. Even swimming, something I’ve always enjoyed, was ruined by the relentless assessments.
Tracking everything and staying inside a set number every day stops you from listening to your body and its cues. Some days you’re naturally more hungry than others (hellooooo time of the month), some days you aren’t. It all evens out. But trying to hit that magic number makes you override those natural cues, and you’ll eventually lose them.
Another problem with calorie counting in general, aside from it being widely inaccurate, is that your body is not a bomb calorimeter. Hormones, body composition, activity levels and a whole host of other things we’ve yet to discover affect how you, personally, absorb and process food. 100 calories of cake is not treated by your body the same as 100 calories of lean protein. And this is why what works for one person doesn’t work for another. I personally feel better when I don’t eat too many carbs. I don’t tend to go over 100g a day, which is a lot lower than the average. My mother can’t stand fatty foods, whereas they are my fave.
There’s a reason 95% of diets fail. Some people do succeed, but it requires a lifetime of constant vigilance, and few people have the extra mental capacity to devote to that.
So, Weight Watchers (I will not call you by your new name because you clearly haven’t changed). Stop trying to lure kids into dieting by another name. If you worked, you wouldn’t exist. The reason your company and others like you still exist is because you rely on repeat custom, and now you’re getting those hooks in early, reeling those kinds in for a lifetime of slavery to the diet conveyor belt.