We’ve been through some ups and downs over the years. We laughed, we cried, we purchased overpriced cashmere sweaters for Christmastime that made me feel like I was luxuriating by the fire in a Swiss ski chateaux. Along with the rest of America, I watched you lose weight and gain it back and then lose and gain again. In 2010, you vowed to stop dieting and sang the praises of self-acceptance and non-restrictive mindful eating. Yet here you are, seven years later, with a 10 percent shareholder stake in Weight Watchers hawking yet another diet plan. I’ve read your quotes in The New York Times Magazine “Losing it in the Anti-Diet Age” and in the spirit of your “What I Know for Sure” column in O Magazine, I want to share with you Oprah, three things that I know for sure.
1.Weight Watchers is NOT mindful eating.
‘It’s a mechanism to keep myself on track that brings a level of consciousness and awareness to my eating. It actually is, for me, mindful eating, because the points are so ingrained now.' —Oprah, "Losing It In the Anti-Diet Age," The New York Times Magazine, August 6, 2017
Internalizing a point system does not mean that you are eating mindfully. What is does mean is that diet culture has embedded itself so deeply in your brain that you now process food by an arbitrary point value. Mindful eating is about bringing your full awareness to your eating experiences and your body. It is about learning to trust the internal guidance that your body provides about what, when, and how much to eat. Weight Watchers is a diet plan. I don’t care if they hire a shaman to cleanse their dieting energy, preach self-acceptance, offer meditation classes, or implant a chip with point calculations directly into the frontal cortex of your brain; Weight Watchers is not mindful eating. It encourages us to eat according to points, not what our body wants; this to me is the very antithesis of mindful eating. Insinuating that a diet plan can be mindful eating is more than just wrong; it derails people who are searching for a lifeline out of diet-culture.
2.Health is NOT based on your weight
‘For your heart to pump, pump, pump, pump, it needs the least amount of weight possible to do that,’’ she said. “So all of the people who are saying, ‘Oh, I need to accept myself as I am’ — I can’t accept myself if I’m over 200 pounds, because it’s too much work on my heart. It causes high blood pressure for me. It puts me at risk for diabetes, because I have diabetes in my family.’ —Oprah, "Losing It In the Anti-Diet Age," The New York Times Magazine, August 6, 2017
If this statement were true, people struggling with anorexia nervosa would be the paradigm of heart health. Instead, starving your body leads to cardiac arrhythmia and sudden heart failure. Yes, this is an extreme example. But research shows that outside of the extreme ends of the weight spectrum BMI doesn’t tell us an awful lot about health. A large 2013 study by the CDC actually showed that people who were classified as “overweight” had lower mortality rates than people in the “average weight” category and people who were “underweight” had some of the worst outcomes. But overall, most of the research just shows that BMI is a pretty lousy predictor of health.
So what are good predictors of health? Nutrition, physical fitness, and stress play key roles in our health completely independent of our weight. Weight cycling—the process of losing and gaining weight over and over again, as we commonly see in dieting—has been linked with cardiac issues. Lack of acceptance of our body is a huge source of stress that can impact our health. So perhaps O, the best thing that you could do for your health is to actually stop dieting and practice self-acceptance along with true mindful or intuitive eating. But of course, that may put your wallet on a diet.
3.You are not alone
Over 91 percent of women report feeling dissatisfied with their body and see weight loss as the solution to their problems. We have tried diet plan after diet plan, lost weight and gained weight, cycled through low self-esteem and shame; we know with every rational bone in our bodies that diets don’t work. Yet, we clamor at each new incarnation of a diet promising to provide respite from our self-hatred. We so desperately want to believe that this version of Weight Watchers—reformulated to appeal to today’s consumer, sprinkled with words like “acceptance” and “mindfulness,” and sealed with your endorsement, O—we yearn for this to be the plan that will save us from ourselves. No one, not even you Oprah, one of the most successful and powerful women on the planet, is immune to diet-culture.
The irony is that much of what you seek through dieting and weight loss can be gained through self-acceptance and true mindful or intuitive eating. You can work towards being your best self NOW without waiting for your thinner self to emerge. You can eat in ways that are nourishing to your body, be active in ways that are joyful, and discover a sense of peace that will make your heart pump pump pump whatever your weight may be.
Alexis Conason, PsyD
Dr. Alexis Conason is a clinical psychologist specializing in the treatment of overeating disorders, body image dissatisfaction, and sexual issues. She is the founder of The Anti-Diet Plan, a mindfulness based program to help you stop dieting and start eating in attunement with your body. Sign up for her free The Anti-Diet Plan 30-day starter course today. Follow her on Twitter and like her on Facebook.