When I heard that Weight Watchers — excuse me, WW — has a new kid’s app, Kurbo, before I even began researching it, I had some. . . strong. . . feelings. And I was not alone. There was definitely an outcry, particularly in the wellness and body positivity communities, about a weight loss company — their rebrand not withstanding — marketing to children and the harm this could cause.
As I’ve learned more about what this app is and what it contains, I’ve only become more concerned.
And, after giving it some thought, I’ve decided, we first need to have story-time to better explain why I feel so strongly that dieting is harmful to children.
dieting: my history
As my precious Grandmother was a brittle Type 1 diabetic, she HAD to be hyper-focused on food and diet; her life depended on it. When I was young, this was before the days of diabetics being taught to count carbs and eat a regular diet — this was back when they strictly avoided sugar and that sort of thing. Very different times.
So, by extension, I was always very aware of food and diet as well. I was also always very body conscious.
- I can recall being at my daycare, Tot-Stop, outside in “upstairs,” so I would have been about five years old, and being immensely bothered by the “baby fat” under my arms that showed in my sunsuit — because the small, small girls did not have it. I was in no way overweight and I have no idea where this came from.
- Ironically, for this piece, my first memory of learning about a diet is my Aunt Barbie standing the kitchen of her adorable home when I was about seven and watching her measure her allotted 1/2 cup of ice cream into a Tupperware measuring cup, whilst explaining to me that, per Weight Watchers, ice cream was a yellow light food for her. We then discussed the Weight Watchers traffic light system — that I remember to this day. That will be oh-so-relevant later in this post.
- When I was nine or so, my dad was on a quest to lose the weight he had gained when he quit smoking. He began running and eating salads — which consisted of iceberg lettuce, big chunks of tomato, and canned tuna fish — every night for dinner. At some point, he decided I also needed to participate and banned the sodas and warm-up pizzas that my Grandmother kept next door for me. I don’t recall how long this lasted — but I don’t like seafood, never have, and, to this day, I make my salads with a cucumber base because I particularly dislike iceberg lettuce. (I will eat tomatoes — because they have so many health benefits — but I really don’t care for them either.) He would often say that any fat cells I acquired as I was growing would always have to be “fed.” Therefore, we ate nothing with fat for quite sometime and I gagged down tuna fish salads.
- When I was twelve, the adults at my small church started a “Free To Be Thin” group on Sunday nights. It was based on a book that is still floating around Southern Baptist churches now.
As I was a particularly mature child, I was allowed to join this group. As I recall, we discussed a chapter per week and I know we weighed in at each gathering on a small bathroom scale. The concept was based on different scripture verses as well as a 1200 calorie or so diet plan at the time. As a 12 year old, though, I quickly resorted to skipping school lunches and eating only a can of Vegall or green beans for dinner. I lost 20 pounds from my starting weight of 130 lbs and was complimented by church members and my peers alike. I believe I gained about ten of it back over the next year.
- The following year, my eighth grade year, my favorite school teacher was doing the T-Factor Fat Gram Counting diet with great success — so, of course, I joined her. I remember that the book had a little fat gram recording journal fold out in the front and the most bizarre chemical smell. Again, I barely ate and lost plenty of weight. Again, the complements rolled in.
- Throughout high school, I frequently did Lean Cuisine and Slim Fast — but, thankfully, I was an athlete, participating in cross country and soccer and those activities kept me from going too far off the dieting deep end. I stayed a pretty thin and healthy weight, around a size 6.
- From 18–20, I was in a constant state of “diet.” I counted every calorie religiously. During that time, I stayed quite thin — and it was a crazy maker if there ever was one.
- After my children were born, in my mid-twenties, I felt terribly fat and I LOST IT. I was a nurse, working in a very body conscious setting for quite some time. One of the physicians I worked for actually prescribed us all the “lypo-B12” shots weekly that were supposed to aid in weight loss as well as prescription diet pills. Where the smallest I had ever been in my adult life up to that point had been a size 6, I lost down to a girls size 14 and wore my seven year old daughter’s t-shirt as part of my Halloween costume one year. This was not helped by the fact that I was under tremendous stress in my home life at the time. I was not well and easily met the clinical criteria for anorexia at that point. I mention this only to say that these diet mentalities have serious consequences.
Somehow, slowly, not wanting to infect my children, particularly my beautiful daughters, with this dieting mentality or to destroy my health with it, I did begin to get better — but I continued to struggle with body image issues throughout my twenties and early thirties.
And honestly I think most of those issues finally resolved for me after the body changes and weight gain that came with my autoimmune disease and prednisone therapy.
Though I certainly don’t care for the added weight — and I am grateful that it is slowly coming down for my health — fighting so hard for mobility and wellness has granted me a new perspective entirely.
I wouldn’t dream of putting my body through such harsh treatment now for the sake of weight loss — or for any other reason for that matter.
I want to LIVE — and experience this world and be with my people for a long time and do what I’m here for far too much to ever damage my body in those ways. I just can’t conceive of it.
These days, I crave sparking water and veggies and fruits and real foods that God made. I also adore all of the goodies and meals out with friends and loved ones. In fact, I actually went to integrative nutrition school after I had to stop working as a nurse. Integrative health and seeing people restored to wholeness is something I am passionate about as a result of my own journey.
BUT — it took me until I was 40 years old to undo the years and years of a dieting mentality.
weight watchers be damned
All that said, PLEASE do NOT download this new weight watchers app for your children.
They can rebrand themselves and their app all day long but it is the same garbage on a different day.
First, it contains that same “traffic light” system that I remember so well from my childhood — with the red light “unhealthy” foods and the green light “healthy” foods.
It also contains before and after pictures weight loss pictures of children as young as eight years old.
So it IS the same-old, same-old weight loss app crap we adults know so well — FOR CHILDREN.
This content is just unnecessary and inappropriate and can easily be triggering for eating disordered behavior.
Also, if you would like to pay $69 per month, you can even subscribe to one on one in app coaching for your child’s weight loss goals — without medical supervision I might add. How is this acceptable?
Fill your home with whole foods. Teach your children to enjoy real food that God made. Allow them to have treats without guilt, assigning it no moral value — because it has none. It’s just food. Stay active as a family. Keep the scale out of your home. Hike. Go for walks. Go to the park. Encourage them to participate in the activities they love. Teach them to prepare healthy snacks. Teach them to make cupcakes and family recipes. Foster a sense of wellness and body confidence in them. And protect that fiercely.
And they will be just fine.
They will be more than fine.
They will be well.
They will be whole.
They will be healthy.
They will be strong.