Wake up Weight Watchers - slimming clubs versus counselling

As a counsellor who helps those with eating disorders and weight management, and as Eating Disorders Awareness Week commences on 26 February, I felt compelled to write this article as I was both horrified and saddened to hear and read recently in the media, and highlighted in The Daily Telegraph on the 15th February 2018, that Weight Watchers are starting to offer free dieting/slimming sessions to teenagers as young as 13, up to age 17. This is particularly disappointing to hear and read as a lot of people who counsellors encounter in their general day to day lives who experience or have experienced eating or food related issues commonly say that they blame at least one of the UK’s major slimming/dieting clubs for either all or part of their disordered eating habits and their unhealthy relationship with food.

They report some of the following behaviours during and after their experience with a slimming club:

  • Becoming obsessed with dieting.
  • Embarking on yo-yo dieting.
  • Obsessive calorie counting.
  • Obsessive weighing.
  • Overthinking food.
  • Obsessing about what goes into their mouths.
  • Viewing foods as ‘good’ or ‘bad’.
  • Overeating or under eating.
  • Going into a negative emotional state and having a poor body image with low self-esteem.

These clubs appear to promote the majority of this mentality through the pressure they put on participants to constantly lose more and more weight, point score every piece of food they eat and undertaking weekly weigh-ins in front of others which becomes akin to naming and shaming.

All of the above in the long term most probably will have a negative impact on the person’s eating habits and overall mental wellbeing, so why, when it is widely reported that teenagers are one of the most vulnerable age groups to potentially develop disordered eating habits, are Weight Watchers encouraging this group of people to embark on dieting behaviours for free? It would be refreshing to see counselling for teenagers being offered and promoted more too, so that their mental wellbeing is being addressed alongside the eating behaviours, as, in my experience, an unhealthy relationship with food is often not about the food, but about the underlying psychological issues which are driving the disordered eating behaviours.

Therefore, I am appalled that this susceptible, vulnerable teenage age group are being targeted with the invite of ‘free slimming sessions’ which could potentially start them on the slippery slope of becoming ‘dieting fixated’, possibly for life, when they are at that impressionable age where they are developing both physically and mentally into young adults. Weight Watchers are not promoting a healthy balanced lifestyle or a healthy attitude towards food, weight and body shape and they are not promoting other healthier options for weight management, i.e. counselling.

In addition, it has also been widely documented that ‘diets don’t work’ in the long term and are not sustainable, with 90-95% of dieters gaining the weight they started out at and possibly more within one to five years of returning to ‘normalised’ eating, largely due to their metabolic rate lowering whilst dieting. Any form of dieting puts pressure on the person to constantly achieve weight loss and begin to rely on praise that this brings in order to feel good and raise their self-esteem; and this mindset, alongside restricting food, is potentially set for failure as this can be virtually impossible to carry out indefinitely, with huge emotional turmoil being encountered when weight plateaus or rises.

Through working as a counsellor, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) has shown time and time again that it is an effective counselling method to help a person to reach a healthy weight and develop a healthy attitude towards food, as it addresses the person’s underlying negative thought patterns, addresses any false beliefs and perceptions that the person may be holding, and also works on their negative feelings around food and their body shape and helps them to develop a more realistic and positive perception of themselves in general.

Once these psychological issues have been addressed during therapy and the person feels safe and supported by their therapist, the person is more often than not able to become open to learning new strategies to modify their behaviour around food and, in turn, find that their bodies naturally gravitate to their ‘set point’ weight which is largely governed by the body’s self-regulation system and genetics. In my opinion, counselling is a far healthier option as the person reaches a healthy weight that’s right for them in terms of their height and bone structure without restricting food, without dieting and without feeling like they are missing out on any foods.

In addition, teenagers, particularly those who are overweight with a high Body Mass Index (BMI), should be being offered free counselling for disordered eating habits and educated on healthy eating, a balanced diet, eating everything in moderation, the dangers of restricting food and allowing all foods including treats, rather than being offered free dieting sessions which could potentially look like a ‘miracle cure’ for all of their body and weight concerns and anxieties.

It is very sad and worrying that as the numbers of those suffering eating disorders continues to rise in the UK, a large organisation like Weight Watchers has to target these impressionable young people with free sessions and unrealistic outcomes. In my opinion, society needs to be supporting and helping teenagers with weight and body issues via counselling, mental health teams, GPs and nutritionists, rather than by luring them into the destructive dieting culture.

What are your thoughts on this? What are your thoughts on counselling for weight management versus slimming clubs? I would love to hear your views, opinions and experiences.



The Telegraph (online), http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2018/02/15/weight-watchers-free-offer-teenagers-could-lead-becoming-fixated/ (accessed 17 February 2018)

B-EAT, https://www.beateatingdisorders.org.uk/ (accessed 18 February 2018)

The Priory Group, http://www.priorygroup.com/eating-disorders/statistics (accessed 18 February 2018)

Fitness and Weight Loss (online), http://www.fitnessforweightloss.com/diet-and-weight-loss-statistics/ (accessed 18 February 2018)

Counselling Directory is not responsible for the articles published by members. The views expressed are those of the member who wrote the article.

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