Weight Watchers' new Kurbo app gamifies diet culture—and it’s dangerous

When I was a kid, I dreamt of being a musical theatre star. Once (I was so young I can’t remember this in detail) my mom calmed me down before a surgery by playing “Think of Me” from Phantom of the Opera on our Playschool tape player while we waited for the nurses.

I vividly remember sitting in my aunt’s kitchen while she cooked with my mom, reading the lyrics of Les Miserables in the cd booklet and singing along before I understood what the words meant.

Then one day, my tiny heart set aside its ache for Broadway and set its sights on a newer, better dream: losing weight. I didn’t want to be famous or great, to make art or follow my passion. I wanted, more than anything, just to look like everyone else.

I didn’t want to be famous or great, to make art or follow my passion. I wanted, more than anything, just to look like everyone else.

All my other career ambitions starved to death too. My wishes to a marine biologist, horticulturalist, archaeologist, horseback-riding champion, figure skater, private detective, writer—couldn’t survive against the dazzling glare of thinness.

I was a fat kid. I wasn’t constantly picked on, but I had endured enough scattershot cruelty from children at school, read enough books, and had seen enough Disney movies to know that people who had their dreams come true didn’t look like me. So I traded my big dreams for shrinking ones. Straight up, diet culture taught me that the greatest thing I could hope to achieve was the physical status quo—and only then would I matter.

• Imagine an eight-year-old girl swapping out Harry Potter to vigorously study low fat cookbooks.

• Imagine an eight-year-old girl sneaking bites of the Atkins bars in the cupboard because they were coded as diet food and held the answer.

• Imagine an eight-year-old girl asking their older sister to help build an exercise routine and doing bicep curls with Pringles cans full of pennies because there were no dumbells in the house. 

• Imagine an eight-year-old girl fantasizing about fat camp instead of summer camp. Opening her mind up, not to the possibilities of the future and all she could be, but to dreams of a flat stomach. Now picture her wishing for it on her birthday candles.

I’m almost 30, and I feel like I’m only just beginning to understand just how deep these issues run in me, and how much of who I am was shaped by the weight loss industrial complex. That’s about two full decades of trying to be bulimic, a binge eating disorder, and multiple fad diets (including Weight Watchers) in the name of “health and wellness.”

The kicker is that, when I was a child, my parents never tried to put me on diets or tried to make me lose weight. I learned all of these desires from what I observed out in the world.

I also didn’t need an app to get all of my issues started—but I’m deeply furious when I think about how quickly and efficiently Kurbo will do the job.

I also didn’t need an app to get all of my issues started—but I’m deeply furious when I think about how quickly and efficiently Kurbo will do the job.

Children don’t understand that 95% of diets fail, or that BMI is garbage, or that thinness is not an indicator of health. They don’t know that dieting is a leading prerequisite for eating disorders. They don’t know that you can be happy, be loved, or be successful at any size and shape. They don’t know that they are enough from the time they are born.

But they will come to understand whatever this app tells them, reinforced by the “concerns” of the adults around them and the world we live in. They will be taught not that they are special, but that they could be something if they just shaved a few digits off their body fat percentage.

The app is targeting ages 8-17. Are you fucking kidding me WW?

You’re locking on to our most innocent and vulnerable and having the audacity to call it building healthy habits instead of what it is: a way to create a new generation of dieters with eating disorders.

That’s what this app is. It’s the insidious primary-coloured packaging and gamification of body shaming practices, moralizing food, and a fixation and obsession with size and shape. They’re selling a solution to a problem they’re creating.

It’s the insidious primary-coloured packaging and gamification of body shaming practices, moralizing food, and a fixation and obsession with size and shape.

Little minds should be dreaming about living on Mars and new ice cream flavours, not pounds or inches. They should be thinking of play, not workouts.

I can tell you from my own first-hand experience that children on diets (whether THEY choose them or they’re coaxed into it by grown ups) don’t become healthy, well-adjusted adults.

It leads to deep trauma that carves you up repeatedly and affects your mental health and all your relationships. It leads to furiously writing opinion pieces at 1:24 a.m. while you marvel at how many pages of a novel or screenplay you could have written by now if you hadn’t been so busy filling notebooks with detailed notes counting and re-counting every calorie every day, several times a day for months.

It leads to wasted time, energy, and life.

I’ll never know the suffering I could have been spared if I hadn’t been taught for years and years that I deserved nothing more than to hate myself unless I changed. It seemed so innocent and shining at the time. It seemed harmless. It all seems harmless if it’s painted with the wash of concern for health.

This is app is going to poison thousands of children the same way I was. The same way so many of us are.

And now it’s our job to keep this from happening again. We are supposed to protect them. We are supposed to keep things that will hurt them away from their little hands. That includes preventing them from running with scissors, touching the stove or using mobile phones pre-loaded with a lifetime’s worth of ambition-crushing, body-shaming applications designed to hook ‘em young.

It breaks my heart and infuriates me to think of children who are about have their wildest dreams traded for yesterday’s trauma just because diet culture has gone mobile.  

Not a week goes by where I don't meet a child believing wt loss is good and doesn't see their eating disorder as a problem 💔 #Repost @mysignaturenutrition with @get_repost ・・・ Repeat after me. Children should not diet. An app created to help kids diet is exploitation. It's harmful and outright DANGEROUS. . @ww does not care about kids. they don't care about health. they care about their bottom line. That's it. They say that innovation (aka changes) bring customers back to weight watchers. and they rely on repeat customers. Hence Kurbo. Their "free" dieting app for kids. . The average weight watchers member has signed up five times. Their model relies on repeat customers and even boasts that they are aware of this pattern of repeat enrollment. . Offering "free" services to kids isn't out of generosity, care, or concern of teens health or wellness. It's about creating a repeat customer for life. . Not the kind of repeat customer that goes back because they feel good, satisfied and love the product. The kind of customer that goes back because they feel ashamed, like a failure and don't know what to do. . Weight watchers is aware of this and the statistics on dieting. They are intentionally exploiting the diet failure rate to further their bottom line and masking it as "care." . They are aware that the truth is: -95-98% of all diets fail. -60% of people will gain back more weight -35% of people will progress to pathological dieting of those 20-25% progress to an eating disorder -dieting predicts weight gain in adolescents. -dieting is correlated with increased guilt, shame, anxiety, depression, low self esteem and eating disorders. All of which are correlated with worse health outcomes. -adolescents (and really anyone) who diets are more likely to binge eat. . This ploy by weight watchers isn't about health or wellness at all. It's not about healthy living or anything else. . It's all about increasing their bottom line by preying on innocent youth and manipulating them to believe that health, happiness and self worth come from changing your body at all costs. This is Diet Culture. . #wakeupweightwatchers #dietculture #dietculturedropout #dietculturedefense

Mad as hell 🔥 . . @ww back at it again predating on children via @kurbohealth. . . Things we know about intentional weight loss programs below 👇 (and dont give me the "this isnt about weight loss BS Weight Watchers.... your website is littered with weight loss "success" stories... from children as young as eight!) . . Programs like this create opportunity for intense preoccupation with food, body size and weight. . . 50% of folks using nutrition and fitness apps report feelings of guilt/shame, obsession and social isolation. We don't know what this might look like in a paediatric population.... WW KURBO is going to be unprecidented. . . Programs like KURBO designed to target childhood ob*sity through the promotion of energy expenditure or intake further reinforce the harmful and incorrect narrative that the size, shape and weigh of our body is a good and accurate representation of health status and wellbeing - and that deliberate effort and control of intake and expenditure will attain a body symbolic of health. . . This program is fat phobic AF. . . This style of "behaviour change" program HAS NOT been shown to change health behaviours (NOR WEIGHT) in the long term. . . Bottom line? Parents put your credit cards away and as @tastingabundance so eloquently put today "give a child space for them to be who they are." . . #haes #healthateverysize #sizediversity #healthcare #healthnotdiets #riotsnotdiets #antidiet #weightneutral #weightinclusive #fatpositive #nondietapproaches #bodyrespect #bodykindess #bodyposi #medicine #medical #weightstigma #mindful #intuitiveeating #nondiet #nutrition #nutritionist #dietitian #rd2b #haes_studentdoctor #medstudent #medschool #edrecovery

Weekly Roundup: Exercise Versus Alzheimer’s, a Transgender Athlete Study, and Run for the Toad Training Begins!

Working out can protect you from Alzheimer’s

 
 

I’m all about finding reasons to get moving that don’t have the underpinnings of diet culture attached—and research may have given us another one! Runner’s World and NewsMedical.net have both reported on a new study showing that getting your body moving even a little more each day can help prevent the buildup of plaque in the brain previously connected to Alzheimer’s disease.

Researchers are looking into movement as a preventative treatment as well.
Check out the Runner’s World Article here.
Read about the research findings here.

Study launches to SEPARATE fact and fiction about transgender athletes

There’s a lot of bluster and misinformation being spread in the media about the so-called edge that transgender athletes (particularly female ones) have over their cisgender counterparts. The catch is just this: there haven’t been any large-scale definitive studies to prove the existence or nonexistence of such advantages.

Now, Canadian-born researcher Joanna Harper is set to lead a large study on transgender athletes, hopefully bringing today’s most heated debate in athletics truth over opinion. Read about the study on the Huffington Post.

“Until we have several of these larger-scale studies done worldwide, it’s hard to be truly definitive on anything.” - Joanna Harper, in interview with the CBC

Run for the Toad training begins!

Shameless self promotion: I’ve officially started training for my upcoming Run for the Toad 25K race coming up in October—and I’m writing some training blogs to keep track of the progress.

Read the first one here—where I’m a scarecrow made of sandbags, a mosquito pin cushion, and a true crime fan running alone in the woods.

Run for the Toad Training Log #1: A Sandbag Scarecrow & Mosquito Bites

Run #1: Run For The Toad, Hitting The Road

• First official day of Run for the Toad training: the road to my first major trail race starts here.

• I'm always looking for omens, and can foolishly get into the mindset that the first run will set the tone for the rest of training. The tone of this run was "sweat and suffering".

• Coming off a run break in Italy, I was hoping for fresh legs but they ended up feeling like lead. Thankfully training schedule called for a slow fiver—”slow” was the only speed I had in the tank.

• What is it about running in the heat that makes you feel like a scarecrow made of sandbags?

• By the time I completed my usual 5k work loop, I noticed what looked like tiny beads of sweat on my arms. Turns out it was hot enough to experience milaria crystallina—a mild heat rash. I think I’m off to a great start.

Run #2: Hill Repeats, A Horror Story

• I headed into a nearby trail to take on some hill repeats, bug spray from my apartment and thank goodness I did. Closer to dusk, the woods were buzzing. Every two seconds there was a mosquito whining in my ear.

• I trotted a little over a kilometre into the woods and came to three forks in the road (a trident)? There was a longer less steep hill, a steeper hill. I chose the steeper hill and got to hustling.

• …Hustling is code for having my butt kicked by a hill. Note to self: research proper technique for running up and down hills. I could feel my body hunching and my form and posture slipping.

• Everything felt… not great. I got a stitch in my side a few times from the humidity. My knees didn't feel quite easy on the path. My calves needed stretching. I barfed in my mouth at least once (at LEAST).

• I accidentally had the GPS on my Fitbit (I’m not a tracking junkie) but may have come up with a rough average of my speed per kilometre out on the trails… Which is only important because I've been toying with the idea of training for time-on-feet instead of distance. I know some people do it for ultras, but I'm wondering if it might help me as I sharpen for the 25k.

• Need to build in some cross-training and lots of stretching to make this work. I have no doubt I can finish this race… But I’d like to finish it in one piece, strong.

• Made it back to the car. Still somehow got some mosquito bites. … Bastards. Running is going to literally eat me alive.

Run #3: Slow And Steady

• Headed out for my first long run with a double espresso from Tim Hortons and a blueberry muffin. It was early, sunny, not too hot—great running conditions.

• Lots of other cars parked at the trailhead (runners & or cyclists also up and about early).

• Ended up walking up a lot of hills and jogging down them. First off, to conserve energy. Also noticing my body hasn’t 100% adapted to tackling hills yet so trying to focus on building the muscles before trying to barrel anywhere.

• Running further and further out into the woods all I can think about is true crime and how hard it would be to find a body out in the forest.

• Which is right around when a cyclist lets out a loud whoop from behind me as he blazes by (thanks buddy) and I nearly pee myself.

• Round out the 14km with a decent amount of energy left in the tank, even if my legs are tired. Only a little bit of aches and pains the next day, which I’m hoping will ease up with training and muscle development.

• At least 14km is over half the distance I’ll be doing in Run For The Toad. Makes the whole thing seem less scary… a little.

Weekly Roundup: Running a Marathon at 100 (Or Older), Queer AF Crossfit & How to Workout in the Heat

What’s My Age Again? Running Marathons At 100+

A marathon is just 26.2 miles. Age is just a number. Dharam Pal Singh of India is just (he claims) 121 years old. Although his age can’t be verified, he’s still an elderly gent grinding out those miles—something younger runners can only be capable of as they age. Check out the short documentary about this remarkable guy below!

Turns Out CrossFit Is Queer AF

The Advocate’s David Dodge has published a great article about CrossFit’s shifting culture entitled: “How the World’s Most ‘Bro’ Sport Is Making Space For LGBTQ+ People.” It takes a look inside CrossFit’s change of gears towards more inclusive policies, the homophobic tendencies of the wider culture, and explores how that all seems to be shifting.

”…for many of us, CrossFit is the first opportunity we’ve had to discover our inner Sporty Spice free from the unspeakable horrors of a high school gym class.” Sounds good. Where do we sign?

Cool Tips For Working Out In Hot Weather

Summer is here and that means heading indoors to workout, or safely finding ways to deal with the heat. Staying hydrated and moving your workouts to times of day when the temperatures are lower are just a few of tips that can help you get your sweat on safely in the heat. Click here to read more tips over at Global News.

Mambo Italiano: Lessons From My First Body Positive Vacation

I had the incredible privilege of spending the past two weeks on vacation in stunning Italy. My family and I went to Mondello and Palermo in Sicily for a family wedding the first week, spent the second week in sunny Sorrento, and rounded out the trip with a couple days in Naples.

I was nervous about lots of things about this trip—about only speaking un pochinno italiano and having to get everything at work organized before I left. But, on top of that, I had a lot of body and food related anxiousness.

Cue: diet culture-based nerves about visiting a country famed for its love of carbs (bread, pasta, pizza), having an uncertain schedule, and heck—even wearing a bathing suit had me sweating (not only because Canada and Europe were in the middle of a massive heatwave).

We got home last night. I’m battling jetlag as I type this, but I wanted to distill what I learned about fitness, food, and self love from the entire experience before I plunge into training for Run for the Toad, job hunting, and general life in Canada.

1. The world didn’t end when my running routine did

I’m the first person to admit that my relationship with running is a little co-dependent—like many runners, I have a hard time skipping runs without feeling antsy or, worse, guilty. I packed my gear and my Sauconys with the intention of getting up early to get in at least three runs each week.

I ran twice—once in Modello and once in our hotel in Naples when it was too hot to go outside. The rest of the time I was running to the local cafe for a espresso or a gelato (or both).

Instead of running, I navigated the sun-baked labyrinth of Palermo by map, explored the ruins of Pompeii, climbed Vesuvio and swam in the Mediterranean Sea. BUT even if I had spent the entire time lounging beachside with an Aperol Spritz for company, it would have been fine.

My legs didn’t lose their muscle. My lungs didn’t atrophy. I was so busy having fun I didn’t even miss running. (It pains me to type this.)

2. Eating the pizza and embracing simplicity

Italy was big on simple ingredients, bold flavours (shoutouts to my brand new espresso addiction). I was able to put aside my diet culture fears because I wanted to try it all. There’s no magic trick to make this happen. I have a fairly normal relationship with food (albeit after a history of disordered eating). However, if diet culture started dripping poison in my ear, I just reminded myself that I hadn’t bought a plane ticket to hold back or feel guilty.

You know what? I don’t regret a single bite.

I tasted pizza in Naples with a sauce that thrummed on my palate with so much vibrancy and freshness that it damn near made me burst into tears. I ate mango gelato from a brioche Sicilian style that was the best mango-flavoured anything I’ve ever tasted. I schkoffed mounds of pasta seasoned with nothing but herbs and olive oil, buried under jewels of mussels, clams, and lobster. I didn’t feel guilty about any of it because I wasn’t about to let diet culture ruin my vacation.

In fact, I brought a special souvenir home—a new philosophy: “cook simply and don’t let yourself regret any bite.”

3. All bodies are beach bodies (no, really)

Italians are kinda known worldwide for being conventionally beautiful—perhaps blindingly so. Mondello is known for being a gorgeous beach town—given the recent shakiness of my confidence , this felt like a dangerous combination.

I know all of the adages—one person’s beauty doesn’t diminish your own, all bodies are beach bodies etc. etc. I also know I work at a desk, away from the sun’s tender touch (aka pale af) and spent my early twenties hiding under a t-shirt every time I went to the beach or pool.

I was determined to do what felt impossible and get to the beach in my first ever bikini. When we got down to the sand and surf, there were literally all body types kicking it on the sand—and nobody cared (to which I have to thank the privileges of having an enabled, white, cis-gendered, small-fat body). I wish I could say it felt awesome, but really it felt… like nothing. It felt normal… because even in Italy, it kind of was.

So I sun bathed and went into the ocean for the first time in almost two decades and loved it.

Now that the whole trip is over, I’m hoping to take the revitalized thrill of travel and channel it into cooking some fun new things and adventuring forward into training for Run for the Toad in October! (Stay tuned for training blogs.)

Ciao!

Weekly Roundup: a Transgender Ballerina, the Heaviest Woman to Complete a Marathon Record & Megan Rapinoe's Dance Moves

Great Big Story profiles Jayna Ledford, transgender ballerina

JaynaLedfordGreatBigStory

Great Big Story profiled Jayna Ledford, an aspiring ballerina and transgender woman. Jayna discusses growing up knowing she was trans, her young dance career, losing her scholarship when she decided to come out at 17—and her journey back towards dancing with a new studio.

Check out Great Big Story’s video about Jayna here.

Jennifer Smith becomes heaviest woman to complete a marathon

JenniferSmith_MarathonRecord

Uh, GO JENNIFER. I only have one issue with this and it’s that the article says she covered 26 miles. Hey news people, that .2 is a LOT when it’s right at the finish! Jennifer weighs 346 pounds and completed the distance in 11 hours and 50 minutes. Freakin’ amazing. Read more about this badass record-breaker here.

Megan Rapinoe—that’s it. That’s the headline

Megan Rapinoe, World Cup Champion recently took to the streets in a victory parade through New York City. Then she made a speech about equal pay, doing better as citizens and oh yes, stole the show with her entrance. LEGEND.

How to tell if you’re in a bad group fitness class

Stack has highlighted 7 of the telltale signs you’re in a poorly managed group fitness class—if your local step class is doing any/all of these, it’s time to start shopping around for a new one or advocating for change! Classes could also offer chairs in the back for those who need to workout sitting down, and could even include systems to loop in those with hearing aids. Read the list here.