Wednesday, August 20, 2008

The Proverbial Thin Line

[Forgive me if this entry is a bit disorganized, I started writing it last week and then saved it as a draft when I went to do something else and completely forgot it was here.]

Have I ever mentioned that I'm a genius?

(Don't feel intimidated by this; there are less practical applications to intelligence than you might imagine. The brain is a muscle that can move the world, but like any other muscle, it atrophies with lack of use. For instance, I cannot produce a theoretical calculus equation without googling it. For that matter, I never could. Or, at least, I always hated math enough that I wouldn't, and wouldn't is almost the same as couldn't. Same end results, at least. Unless you're highly creative and manage to luck out in getting a job that can challenge your brain power, most geniuses I know - why yes, I do know several - live the same basic life as anyone else. Except, for perhaps, a greater awareness of how much basic life kinda sucks.)

Most of the highly intelligent people I know (and I am no exception) are thoroughly neurotic, have lousy self-esteem, are constantly over-thinking or over-analyzing things, and have pet peeves that include lists of common grammatical errors.

All this really boils down to my constant obsession these days: My complete and total awareness that Weight Watchers is a company out to make money.

That makes me somewhat suspicious and cynical. Really, my losing weight and getting to goal is not in Weight Watchers' best interests. A good company model means they want me to lose some weight, and get close - but not all the way to - to goal. They want me to feel that goal is in reach, so I don't get too discouraged and quit, since quitting means I'm not paying them anymore. At the same time, if I reach my goal weight, I also stop paying them.

However, they have a very thin line to walk down (pardon the pun.) If no one gets to goal, people will stop paying them, as well. They won't have great inspirational stories, and eventually people will stop believing that Weight Watchers can actually help them to lose weight.

Since Weight Watchers is based on a subscription service (much like World of Warcraft, without the pvp agenda!) the ideal company model is to make it take as long as possible to get from level 1 to level 70. (Sorry, mixing my metaphors here.) And then we have end game content... lots of endgame content! In the form of maintenance.

[Now, I know that I shouldn't be looking that far ahead. I've still got another 50 pounds or so to lose, so end game content really doesn't concern me yet. Except that I'm overly intelligent and I don't do much in a given day that challenges me, so my brain goes off on its own to find things for me to think/worry/obsess over.]

Now, the racket that Weight Watchers has is that - if you want to continue to take up space in a meeting as a lifetime (and hence, free) member - you have to stay no more than 2 pounds over your goal weight, and you have to weigh in once a month. If you're over your goal by more than 2 pounds, you don't lose your "lifetime" status, but you do have to pay for the meetings again until you're back under your goal weight.

2 pounds is NOT a lot of wiggle room. I cannot, however, discover if there's more wiggle room under your goal. Can you still have a free meeting if you end up 5 pounds under your goal weight? I mentioned that to Beth the other day, that Weight Watchers had a good money making racket going on, if you had only a 4 pound window to maintain. (As I've said before, my winter boots weigh at least 2 pounds.) She rather dodged the question by saying that she didn't think setting a goal weight higher than what you wanted to lose was a good idea. She says she's seen it happen too many times that people leave themselves some "extra" weight room and then because they have 10 pounds before they lose their free meetings, they become a little more careless with it, since they have those 10 pounds, and then suddenly they're on a gaining trend and it becomes hard to reverse it. (I think, based on what she said, that there is more wiggle room under your goal weight, but since she didn't specifically spell it out for me, that still leaves the question open for debate. Does anyone actually know for sure?)

The whole tug-of-war between profitability and delivering on their product probably consumes a lot of the executives at Weight Watcher Headquarters' time.

The Diet industry is Huge. I mean, like space is huge.

Space is big. You just won't believe how vastly, hugely, mind- bogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it's a long way down the road to the chemist's, but that's just peanuts to space. - Douglas Adams.

Space is peanuts, compared to the Diet Industry.

This concerns me, because honestly, what incentive does Weight Watchers have to actually help me lose weight? Yes, I'm a cynic. No, I don't think that anyone beyond my leader, actually cares if I lose weight or not. (And sometimes I wonder about her. She seems like a nice person, and I do like her, but this is her job. She makes jokes about it sometimes... "What happens if you gain this week?" People in the back row; "Beth gets to keep her job!")

This is further complicated by the structure of the meetings themselves.

At our meeting, we have several lifetime members. Many of them have only lost between 20 and 30 pounds. (It's decidedly unfair of me to feel snarky about these people, since at least they were smart, and got into the program before they ended up in a size 26, but honestly, I don't always feel I can relate to someone who's cheering and happy about fitting back into a size 4. I've never been a size 4. Not even when I was four.) We have one guy, Danny, who's lost 85 pounds.

And then we have Marsha. Marsha means well, I'm sure, but I honestly wish she wouldn't come to the meetings. Or wouldn't talk as much. Or something. She's been an on and off member of Weight Watchers since 1972.

I was born in 1972.

She's been an on and off again member of Weight Watchers for thirty-six years. And she's still at least 100 pounds overweight. And she's always cheerful and encouraging and hopeful... and for god's sake woman, at what point do you stop being Pollyanna and just give it up as not working?? She attends meetings with her daughter, who's about twenty-three or so. And who is just as round as her mother. Which makes me think that either they both have a really bad genetic/medical condition or - and I consider this more likely - she's just not learning anything.

This is exceptionally discouraging. And I know I should be a better person about it, but I'm just not. I'm selfish and shallow and cynical and honest to god, listening to this woman is emotionally painful. She tries and she fails and she tries and she fails, and I can't decide if she's lying about what she eats or what. She celebrates her little successes and ignores the fact that she's spent an entire lifetime on a lifestyle change that isn't changing her lifestyle.

On the other hand, I expect the bigwigs at Weight Watchers think she is the ideal client. One who keeps paying and paying and paying...


Anonymous said...

OR, on the other hand, (although the parallel of endgame content, which has no built-in rewards except for *being* there, seems apt) WW could be a lot more like the Roman Empire.

The Roman Empire flourished mightily for many centuries by continuing to conquer and absorb new, outlying territories, adding more citizens (and their resources) to the Empire, until they essentially overbalanced themselves and became too large to maintain. (You in the back row, stop making fat jokes about the Roman Empire. Seriously, before a centurion comes along to kick your a$$ or make you conjugate the verb "to go" in Latin.)

Anyway, I think WW is in a similar position... it *is* in their best interest to do good by you, because you will become a happy little Roman and tell everyone else how good it is to be a Roman, and lo, they will add many more citizens to their Empire from those who have become discontented with their lot and believe the Romans have a good thing going.

And hon, trust me, there are a *lot* of obese people out there. (The Chinese, along with their trend towards industrialization, have started on a strong trend towards-- you guessed it-- obesity!) Besides, when in Rome, you will buy many Roman diet products, thus further increasing their wealth even *after* you gain citizenship and stop having to pay taxes. (Darn, I'm liking this analogy more and more!)

So. My two denarii, anyway. (See? The genius stuff comes in handy sometimes. ;) )

Anonymous said...

Your first two paragraphs describe Dietbook and I to a "T"! I guess "great" minds really do think alike.

ptg said...

I don't have much to say but wanted to tell you that your first paragraph - about your geniusness - made me laugh out loud. :o)

Anonymous said...

This post really IS food (pardon the pun) for thought!!

Anonymous said...

I love this post! You are right. Where would some of these companies be if people actually got healthy?! Weight-loss companies and even parts of our government don't really want society to become healthier. They can't make money off of healthy people. That to me is really sad.
Good observation!

Anonymous said...

Actually, the whole freakin' post describes WVSooner and me (not I, Chris, you wouldn't say "describes I", would you?) to a "T". :-) Except obviously, in his case, the grammatical thing. [snark!]

I have to agree with the whole WW theory. They need you to succeed, but not, you know, completely. Enough to keep you coming back. I think this is true of 99.9% of the Diet Industry, which I agree is essentially infinite. The bottom line is everyone, EVERYONE, needs to make a profit. They may be really nice people with good hearts - but the profit margin is what drives decision-making. I think that's important for us to remember. Doesn't mean they aren't selling useful stuff - just means it's ultimately up to us (as always!) to be the motivating force and to make intelligent, sensible decisions without buying into the hype.

Cynical as it sounds, the truth is that no one will ever take care of us, except for us. Which is one reason I love the blogosphere - we're all out here supporting each other, and we're not making a dime from it. I think that's pretty cool. Granted, we're not offering meal plans and meal preparation for free, but it's nice to know someone's out there suffering - um, I mean learning and changing - with you.

Have you read "Such a Pretty Fat" by Jen Lancaster? There are some interesting observations in the second half about WW and Jenny Craig, some along the same lines as what you're discussing. Plus, one or two massive belly laughs, and those never hurt. :-)

Have a great day!


Zeolite said...

You just cracked me up! You and I have a lot in common besides trying to lose weight! (cynical, geniuscism, who knows what else! LOL)

Thanks for a wonderful end to a perfect day!

I hope you have enough time to visit our forums and add your wonderful wit!

(there is a health directory over there where you can add your blog too!)

SeaShore said...

I think that for a lot of the Marsha's out there, WW has become their social club.

I couldn't find anything in my WW literature about being under goal weight. The leader I like did say (at the induction of a lifetime member who lost 103 lbs) that you need to stay within 2 lbs above or below your goal. Shockingly little wiggle room. You'd think you could have +/- 5 lbs, but they make the rules.

I haven't chosen an official goal at WW yet. The same leader said a lot of people don't choose a goal until they reach that goal. A weight that feels right. She said once you choose and sign for that goal, you can't change it, so don't be premature about it.

Good luck with whatever route you choose. They all work and they all don't, you know?

Chanda (aka Bea) said...

You have just described the exact arguments I have with myself as I go on and off WW. I am currently off, but still doing okay.

Not only do I have a hard time with their corporate agenda, I also feel like the lean a bit too heavily on processed foods to take the place of healthy ones.

Ultimately though, you have to do what you have to do for you. If it's working for you, run with it. If it stops working for you, re-evaluate and make changes accordingly.

I think being aware of their corporate duplicity is a good thing. A little bit of questioning of motive is wise, it keeps you from drinking the kool aid.

Excellent Post!

Donnalouise said...

Hummm...let me just say that a colleague is doing WW with me. She reached her goal weight and then lost another ~7 lbs. She set her goal weight but knew she was going to lose more. She did and they didn't say anything about it. She now has about 9-10 lbs of wiggle room. Goes almost every week to the meetings. Doesn't pay and they never asked her to reset her goal weight. I'm thinking of setting mine at 160lbs but losing down to 150lbs...don't think they will pester me either to lower my goal. I feel nothing but encouragement from my leader and when it comes down to it, it's up to me whether I stay or leave.

Pubsgal said...

I was reading on another blog ("Diet Coke and Zingers," post titled "Strange things have been happening lately..."
that WW doesn't let you stay if you go below your healthy weight range. So that's probably why DC's colleague isn't being pressured to reset her goal weight.