Jennifer Hudson was on Oprah a few weeks ago and one of the things she and Miss O spoke about was how she lost weight on Weight Watchers. For the most part, it was inspiring to see a woman so alive with passion and a feeling of newfound confidence, freedom, and optimism. Perhaps especially given the fact that she has faced such tragic hardship in the past few years, I felt happy that Jennifer was happy.
The part where she lost me was when Oprah asked her how much weight she had actually lost. Oprah, excited and waiting to hear a big number so that she (and the studio audience) could congratulate and applaud her, saw Jennifer smile and pause. Jennifer looked to a woman seated in the front row of the audience, and sort of silently questioned her with a look of, ‘Can I say?’
Who was this woman she was deferring the question to? Who was refereeing Jennifer’s answers about her personal weight loss? Turns out it was Jennifer’s Weight Watchers group leader, who apparently didn’t think it wise or necessary for her to reveal to the millions watching the number of pounds she shed on the program. It was clear that Weight Watchers, as a company, was trying to take a new approach where the scale doesn’t matter, the numbers aren’t of sincere importance, and it’s how you feel that counts. I completely applaud a sense of satisfaction from feelings, from what’s inside rather than out. Let me make that clear. I also believe that changing your life starts within, and will never last in the inverse.
But this irked me on a number of levels:
- I don’t like that Weight Watchers is pretending like the scale isn’t the mainstay, a centerpiece, of their weekly weigh-ins. When you are trying to lose weight, seeing progress in the form of numbers is motivating. Period. As someone who started out having to lose 135lbs, that number was absolutely overwhelming. That’s how much an average person weighs. Knowing that each week I could break that number down into smaller increments, into 2 pounds, 5 pounds, a goal of 10 pounds a month, was instrumental in feeling like I could actually do it.
It’s also important to remember that the number on the scale is only detrimental to your sense of self, your sense of self-value, if you allow it to be. It’s not the overall number that makes the weekly weigh in work, it’s the fact that the number is going down and therefore moving you toward a goal of wellness. Yes, people can take this too far. Yes, people can get caught up in wanting the number to go lower and lower and lower. But that’s a personal thing, and it somewhat undermines the idea that seeing results and progress breeds motivation and confidence. Numbers are not important, but they help to show that you’re on your way to your goal. Hopefully, a realistic and healthy goal.
- Saying how much weight you lost makes others who have any amount of weight to lose, feel like it’s possible. And it doesn’t even really matter how much weight. If someone reads this blog and realizes that I lost 135 lbs and they have 135lbs to lose, they may feel a sense of hope, a comfort knowing that yes, it’s possible to lose something the size of Justin Bieber. There’s an empathetic comfort there. If someone reading this blog has 20 lbs to lose, and they realize that I’ve lost 135lbs, they may feel like, “Hey, if it’s possible to lose that much weight, then certainly I can do it!”
You get the idea. It’s reassuring, and it helps to make the future seem brighter, more possible. That’s how inspiration works.
Bottom line: I get how diet companies work. I get that it’s a savvy strategy for Weight Watchers to make their program seem more like a lifestyle based upon good self esteem rather than a place you go each week to find out how much you lost down to the decimal of a pound. Because it really is both of those things. And them taking an emphasis off of the numbers and putting it onto the feelings is a step in the right direction. But it muddies our relationship to weight loss and diets and programs.
The fact is, most diet companies are realizing, as are millions of Americans, that diets or trendy plans just aren’t working. Nothing works in the same way that changing your life long term does. In the grand scheme of our lives, there’s no room for too much restriction, for food group exclusion, and for super-precise practice. But in the short term, seeing results makes us feel capable and motivated. So just getting even a fraction of the weight off in a week or two means a lot to us. It makes moving forward doable. So we adopt a diet plan to see quick results now, hoping that the ensuing success and motivation will breed more motivation and more motivation, and finally, we’ll be so darn proud of ourselves that we’ll live life that way.
And though it’s not quite as cut and dry, it makes sense.
Weight Watchers does not need to move their emphasis away from numbers on a scale. People do. Jennifer Hudson, in revealing she lost 80lbs, is not giving other people a complex about how much weight they should lose to look great. She’s simply sharing her story. And that gives us hope.
Weight Watchers is a plan, and though it’s more of a healthy lifestyle than any of the other diet plans I know of today, it’s still meant to help people lose weight. Successful weight loss means that if you are overweight and have to lose 50lbs, 100lbs, any pounds, that you lose a small incremental amount of that gradually until you’ve found yourself in a healthy weight range, with a healthy relationship to food and your body. I realize it doesn’t always work this way. But my point is, the numbers matter. Not in a ‘make or break your sense of self worth’ way, but in a way that means you’re getting there. Wherever that place may be.
What do you think? Did you see the show? If you’ve lost weight or have weight to lose, do numbers matter to you?