Feedback on January 28th Ch4 Dispatches – How Weight Watchers Make Their Millions. V.Unhappy WW member!

As I have mentioned numerous times on this blog, I am a member of Weight Watchers.

First I was an online only member, which had varied success (I lost nearly 2st)- there was no real life support and I am no good at self moderating!  When Mum got ill, I realised that I needed the support so I went to my first meeting.  I wish I could remember more details about the leader – but I do remember that she’d lost a lot of weight and she was extremely supportive.  I lost just under two stone (28lbs) in her meetings.   After we lost Mum, we moved and I started at a new meeting with my current leader, Gill.  She again, has been a fantastic support to me, has shown real interest, even going as far as finding articles relating to PCOS.  With Weight Watchers I’ve now lost almost 7st (98lbs) of my overall weight loss.

This does not mean that I would stand by Weight Watchers (WW) in all eventualities. If it was proven that there was some scam going on then I’d certainly be thinking twice about carrying on with my membership.  On Monday night, a friend of my posted on his Facebook that there had been a damning documentary about WW on Channel4 that evening. I hadn’t watched it, I was watching a damning documentary about the Work Programme on BBC1- but that’s another blog post altogether!  I cringed – oh dear, what’s been said? What has WW done? What scandal is about to be unleashed?

Well, I finally got around to watching the programme last night (Dispatches – How Weight Watchers Makes Its Millions) and this is my feedback as a paying member of WW.

What I was hoping for was a good hour-long documentary that would be fair and just in its description and investigation into the “World’s biggest diet corporation”.  What I actually saw was 30 minutes of poor, biased, inaccurate tabloid journalism.  It portrayed Weight Watchers as global moneymaking scam, leaders as nothing more than uncaring sales people and members as lazy, gullible sheep.  In my opinion, it was a complete hatchet job!

I’m going to pick out a few of my favourite points to challenge.

1. “I am going to follow the ProPoints plan for ONE WEEK, to see how easy it is to follow.  I don’t actually want to lose weight…” sneers ‘journalist’ Jane Moore.

…as she came out with this statement, my jaw dropped!  Herein lies a major inaccuracy, Ms Moore; you’re approaching the WW plan like a crash, quick fix diet!  It isn’t and nowhere in the literature given to members or on the website does WW ever claim to be a quick and easy way to lose weight.  Quite the opposite in fact, WW is based on changing lifetime habits, changing the way you think, prepare and eat your food. It also promotes moving more as being an absolute essential element to weight loss – and before you say it, no, WW does not dictate that you should be squeezing into the Lycra and joining the gym – moving more could just mean getting your backside off of the sofa a bit more.  The onus is on losing weight steadily and keeping it off.

I also resent that she doesn’t need to lose weight.  So what exactly are you trying to prove with this exercise?!  As someone who started going to meetings at nearly 23st, to be in a room with people who know what you’re going through and know what a struggle losing weight can be, I relished the supportive element.

Another issue that was made at this point was that the ProPoints (PPs) system is so complicated that you simply had to buy WW products. Really?  Hmm.  Ms Moore claimed that she had to buy the marginally more expensive Weight Watchers Bread over a comparable Hovis loaf because there was no PPs information for the Hovis bread.  Wrong! Clearly she had signed up to WW online which meant she had a whole catalogue of foods, including the bread, at her fingertips. This did not show how we are FORCED into buying WW products because PPs are SO complicated, but it did show, yet again, a complete lack of understanding about how one goes about losing weight.  If you’re serious about losing weight and being healthy for the rest of the life,  you MUST put in effort – planning, researching, trying and testing things out til you find what suits you, be that a make of bread, a type of exercise or which diet!  I will come back to this issue!

2. WW products are unhealthy and members must eat them.

So the first issue is a no brainer really.  The majority of WW branded food products are convenience foods and should be used as such.  And yes there are lots of ingredients in there to make up for the lack of sugar and fat.  At the end of the day, these are processed foods and we all (should) know that processed foods are not ideal.  And yes, WW products may be slightly more pricy, but you’re paying for the name.  How is this different to paying double the price of supermarket’s own brands for Heinz Beans or Kellogg’s Cornflakes?  It’s a non-issue.

The issue here is that the programme seemed to assume that WW members are told they must eat WW branded foods.  This is simply not the truth.  No leader has ever said that I must eat WW food.

3. Group leaders are highly paid, salespeople and nothing more.

At this point I could hear Gill’s laughter in my head!  I’ve been going to Gill for 4 years and now she is more than just a leader to me.  Leaders may be in some part salespeople – they work for WW and have products in their meetings for sale.  But, in my experience, that is a tiny part of their jobs.  Support is key, leaders are advisors and counsellors.  I know that I need Gill’s advice, I can text her or message her on Facebook.  I’ve even just sent messages telling her how I’m feeling.  Believe it or not, her reply was NOT “tell it to someone else, love, I’m only here to take your money!”  She’s not a salesperson, but she gets results – I’ve seen in firsthand.  I see members who have been with her for years who she has gotten to goal and have become Gold Members (Members who get to goal and maintain healthy weight and DON’T pay)

4. Members lose weight but most put it back on and ex-members can vouch for it.

Oh no, the damning results!  But hang on, where is the evidence?!  And where are the comparisons to other diet programs?! Without more research – and believe me, I WILL be researching this – I can’t say how much truth there is to this. I do think this is an unfair statement to make without comparisons.  I want to see the studies, the research,the evidence!  They had two ex members on to prove how ineffective WW is… how I typed this without laughing, I’ll never know.

Ex-member example – she joined up and lost a stone! Hurrah! But then, she stopped going and put it back on.  Oh dear.  But she must have been enthusiastic about WW right?!  No, she admitted she got ‘bored’ with it easily.  But she must have learned important things from WW about changing habits, eating fresh, moving more, etc?  Erm, no.  She didn’t stay to meetings because there was “nothing that woman [leader] could teach her that she didn’t already know”!  Hmm.  According to documentary this is a perfect example of how inept and money grabbing WW is.  Really?!  ‘Cause it seems to me that the ex-member wasted her opportunity to learn about how she could lose weight effectively. She paid her subs but then didn’t actually go to meetings and she put weight back on. Well, that’s really only her stupid fault really!  You know you’re paying in part for the support, so why pay it if you know it all!?  And by the way dear, you clearly needed to learn some things from “that woman”otherwise you’d be a size 8. Muppet.

The other one, lost 7lbs but spent loads of money on WW products then left! This led high-flying journo to come up with genius equation as to how much on average this member had lost to lose those 7lbs – unfathomably, the result was that this woman (and therefore all us WW members) spend £100 for every pound lost.  I have no words for this really.  To prove that this is nonsense, I’m conducting my own Dispatches/tabloid style experiment over the year to see how much I spend per pound I lose.  Obviously, I’ll get back to you in a year about that – I highly doubt that it’s going to be £100 per 1lb!  I’m 99.9% sure. The other 0.01% is a monkey repeatedly banging a symbol in my head.

In summary, watching this documentary was a complete waste of half an hour of my life.  But it disturbs me that people who don’t have experience of WW, like my friend who posted about it, believe this rubbish!  And at a time when the obesity rates in the UK and other countries are soaring to epidemic levels, what is the point in trying to harm the industry that is there to (hopefully) help people struggling with their weight.  I’m extremely disappointed by Channel4 for putting such an inaccurate load of rubbish on.

At the end of the day losing weight is not easy. It requires hard work, planning, researching and support.  You get out what you put in.  In no way am saying that WW is the best way to lose weight, what works for one won’t necessarily work for another.  But WW does work for me and I think if you’ve watched that programme and believed what you’ve seen, you need to think again.  Don’t believe everything you see on the TV.  There are more expensive, more harmful diets out there and they are the ones that need to be under scrutiny.

I would LOVE to see a thorough, comparative investigation into the diet industry and all the big players, showing the positives and negatives, and less of things like this which do more harm than good and do nothing but breed ignorance and encourage poor “investigative journalism”.

Edited to add:  What I should have said, but hope I got across – Weight loss is your own responsibilty.  If you follow something then drop out and go back to old habits, then that is your responsibility and your problem.  You can’t seriously say that it’s Weight Watchers/Slimming World/Any big brand’s fault.  The Dispatches documentary just showed that people who don’t, can’t or won’t stick to a plan are very quick to pass the blame and make the big corporation the scapegoats.  There comes a time where you have to realise that the responsibilty lies within yourself.

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