Diet Culture

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

It's Time To Marie Kondo Our Health And Fitness Routines


Since Around The Bay (final race blog pending) I’ve been doing what I seem to do after every big race—resting, recovering, and digging into my future goals. What do I want to do with my body next?

This is a big question—and one that has been especially top-of-mind after listening to Jillian Murphy’s recent Food Freedom/Body Love podcast episode: “What’s your motivation to move?” (Spotify) (Apple).

In the episode, Murphy asks her listeners to examine their reasons for engaging in exercise and movement. She also brings up one often overlooked aspect of moving your body: joy.

This Is Your Life On Marie Kondo

You can see where I’m going with this, right? It’s not a particularly limber mental somersault. If you’ve been on the internet in 2019, you’ve seen the memes and you’ve heard Marie Kondo’s iconic question: “does this spark joy?

In the same way that you can get rid of those anonymous tangled power cords for long-lost electronics in the Rubbermaid in your basement, so too can you decide that you hate spin class and ditch it to try Zumba, or rock climbing, or aerial yoga. You can stop cutting carbs if it makes you miserable. You can opt out of the things you hate, and try things you love.

In fact, you should—for your health.


Kondo-ing Your Movement Choices

It stands to reason that if you hate doing something… you hate doing it. It also stands to reason that you aren’t going to want to do things you hate, and they won’t make you feel good.

Doesn’t it make sense to give up hot yoga if you hate sweating like a gatorade commercial and you’ve always been curious about pole dancing? Or to join a softball league if you’ve been grinding out runs by yourself and getting furious about it? You might find it easier to move your body if you find the way your body loves to move instead of focusing on suffering to get the most calorie-burn for your buck.

I’d love to think we’re in an age where we’re all choosing exercise that we like, with the motive of keeping us happy and healthy. Then I remember diet culture still exists and that some idiot on the internet tried to fat shame Rihanna once. So, yeah. If you’re out there, scraping through workouts and hating every second, ask yourself why. Does this exercise bring me joy? No?

Time to try kickboxing. Or surfing. Or quidditch.

Kondo-ing Your Food Choices

Have you decided to try going low carb or gluten-free, or raw vegan or Paleo or Primal or pegan or vegan or vegetarian? Are you suffering through South Beach, Atkins, WW, Wheat Belly, Whole30, Keto, the Master Cleanse, the Screaming Apple Diet or any other trendy diet on the market?

Is it bringing you joy? But if you’re suffering trying to eat with self-inflicted restrictions that have you stressing out about the grams of sugar and carbs in carrots… It’s time to toss those restrictions out the window and start consuming joyfully. Life’s too short to skip all of the birthday cake, or avoid bananas for having “too much sugar” or cry over missing out on cheese.

Kondo-ing Your Social Media

I’ve seen a post a few times on Instagram that pretty much hits this sentiment on the head, “you can unfollow anyone who makes you feel bad about your life.”

If the clean-eating influencer crowd makes you get down on yourself, or someone’s weekly weigh-ins make you grumpy, it’s time to Kondo those accounts, baby. Time to hit unfollow. You can control your digital world, why not make a you-topia of people who genuinely inspire you?

The bottom line here is that we often force ourselves to take on “healthy” habits that promise future happiness—and we hate these habits in the meantime. We think when we’ve restricted enough and sweat through enough squats to make it to the land free of cellulite, where celery juice flows like rivers, we will be worthy. We will be happy.

The truth is that the healthiest habits are the ones that bring us joy in the process.

So, what’s sparked you lately? Let me know on Instagram or Facebook!

"Before and After" Photos Need A Serious Culture Makeover

Unless you’ve lived under a rock with no access to internet, television, or print media, you know about before and after photos.

On the left there’s a head-to-toe photo of a person who seems to be frowning with their entire body; on the right there’s a photo the same person, slimmer, beaming and possibly holding up an old pair of blue jeans.

These photos sell exercise equipment, workout dvds, weight loss programs, gym memberships, shakes and supplements. What they don’t do is sell us the truth—there’s no such thing as an “after” photo.

Now I’m not saying we shouldn’t set goals and track them, whether you want to crack that tough yoga headstand, run a marathon, or just feel hot in a pair of jeans. Goals are individual personal decisions for everyone to make for themselves.

If you find posting the photos empowering, good. If you find them inspiring, good! If you want to scrub them all off your timeline—that’s great too. You’re in charge and you know what’s best for you.

I’m saying we need to take a closer look at before and after photos and give them a makeover built on a foundation of realism. We should call them “accomplishment” photos instead.

Change the name, change the culture

Maybe you’re rolling your eyes at this tiny suggested edit. Who cares what they’re called? What’s in a name?

To that I say: naw.

Words still matter. Words affect mindset. Mindset is everything.

“After” is to “before” what “finished” is to “started,” and anyone who has achieved a weight loss or fitness goal will tell you there’s no “finished.” The work of maintenance and healthy is never over. Take it from someone who lost 80 lbs, regained 50, and then dropped 30 again—change is constant.

Calling them “accomplishment photos” instead of “after photos” raises a couple of key points. The photo is a celebration of something you’ve achieved. It also emphasizes the fact that this photo is a moment in time, and after that moment is over, you’re going to go back to doing what you do best—kicking ass, putting in the work, taking care of yourself.

If we tailor the language and the way we think about comparison photos, we can build a more transparent health and fitness culture. We need this now more than ever, when resolution season is peaking and “bathing suit season” hysteria is just around the corner.

Setting Realistic Health and Fitness Goals

I’ll say it again: accomplishment photos. This word change transmits the idea that this is not a 30-day-diet change or a cleanse or a quick-fix. It embraces the idea of long-term commitment to yourself, your craft, and your journey. It encourages the idea of sustainable goals.

This time of year can be particularly tempting for those prone to the “all-or-nothing” mindset. They might be overpromising to workout 2 hours for 6 days a week and eat no carbs—they saw someone do this and get great results on Instagram. Fake news. Maybe if people saw less “after photos” and more "achievement photos” they wouldn’t be in such a rush to the next fad workout or diet. They would take time to find the exercise they actually enjoy.

Finding a sport or a workout routine you love and can maintain is more important than desperately chasing an “after” which doesn’t exist. The “achievement photo” swap opens up the dialogue about making a routine that lasts, instead of one where you burn out.

There’s no such thing as an after photo. There are moments when we have achieved, and moments we have yet to achieve.

Imagine an inclusive fitness culture, getting real about the sustained effort it takes to really look after yourself—I can just picture it now.

Weekly Roundup: Mirna Valerio is Adventurer of the Year, Self Care Isn't Pretty, and More

Happy Sunday, EBCers! (EBCees?) ...You know what, this is a work in progress. 

Welcome to the first-ever weekly roundup, which collects interesting articles and happenings in the sports, health, and wellness world right here for your perusing pleasure. I hope you're hungry for a little food for thought, because this week gave us a lot to chew on. 

Mirna Valerio Named One of National Geographic's Adventurers of 2018

Photo by Jenny Nichols

Photo by Jenny Nichols

If you haven't heard of Mirna Valerio, who's been shattering stereotypes and kicks all kinds of behind—get ready to meet your new favourite runner. Her cover story on Runner's World a few years ago empowered me and I know she's done the same for SO many people in the running community. Next stop, opening up the minds of the rest of the world. File this under "things that make me want to punch the air with joy and also sit in a corner and weep with happiness."

Unraveling Our Wings: Self-Care Isn't Pretty

There's nothing wrong with the occasional bath bomb, but this compelling piece from Black Girl in Om makes the argument that self-care has become a trend, or a hashtag. To heal deep, you have dig deep—places that clay face mask just won't reach. 

The Paralympics Begin Friday!


The Olympics may be over, but that just means it's time to send all our energy and support to our Paralympians over in PyeongChang! What sport are you most looking forward to?

The Cost of Weight Watchers' "Free" Teen Program

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Recently, Weight Watchers announced they would be offering free memberships to teens, and the internet (rightfully) freaked out. This piece offers some hard facts about the brand's move, why it's destructive to today's teenagers, and actual wellness tips that don't involve inducting your kids into the diet industry, while letting them sprout and grow!

Four Ways to Stop the Dreaded Side Stitch

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I ran the Montreal Hypothermic Half Marathon (10km distance) this morning. Right in between kilometre seven and eight, I got a huge side stitch the likes of which made me curse, slow down, and prepare to meet my maker. I remembered this article sitting unread in my inbox and shook my fist at the running gods. Don't let it happen to you!