I remember being put on my first diet at the age of 8… or maybe I was 9. The doctor told my parents, “Your child’s BMI is too high. She needs to lose some weight.” And thus began my career as a yo-yo-dieter. In other words, someone who seeks to lose weight, accomplishes it, but then gains the weight back, and begins the cycle all over again.
Fast forward 15 years to now, when doctors and parents aren’t the only “manufacturers of weight mythology.” Ads, television, and now apps are too.
Enter Kurbo, the weight loss app launched by WW (formerly known as Weight Watchers) that targets kids between the ages of 8 and 17.
Think about that for a moment.
To me, this app is promoting the mentality that sent me down a dark tunnel of yo-yo diets and disordered eating. Looking back on my extensive history of dieting (and let me emphasize “extensive,” even though I’m still only 23 years old), it almost seems like the development of my eating disorder was inevitable.
Dieting is the biggest predictor of a new eating disorder in teens. 1 in 3 people who diet will continue onto pathological dieting, and of that group, 20-25% will develop an eating disorder.
Now think, again, about how Kurbo targets 8 to 17 year olds.
Growing up and being taught that weight is the sole determinant of health is terribly misleading. Being told that foods fall into one of two categories — “good” or “bad” — is limiting and just plain incorrect. Most importantly, constantly exposing your body to deprivation as it is still developing is dangerous.
Your body is incredibly intelligent. Despite this fact, it cannot tell the difference between your extreme diet and a famine. It will assume that food is scarce and will turn on biological processes that protect your body from starvation. This leads to the never-ending binge/restrict cycle.
Then there is the mental damage that is done when you grow up learning that certain foods are “good” or “bad.” It leads to black and white thinking, which is always dangerous. You consume foods that are “bad” and then internalize that label and believe you, yourself, are bad.
It’s not just that dieting is dangerous. My point is that dieting as a child, while your brain is still developing and you are learning how to make sense of the world, is especially damaging. As a preteen, you start to become aware of yourself and how others perceive you. You make assumptions about what defines you, whether it be the grades you receive or the number of friends you have.
Kurbo teaches you that the number on the scale is what defines you.
That is scary. A child going through puberty will gain weight. Period. They should be assured that this is normal, and is not something to be ashamed of. They should also be taught that weight and body mass index (BMI) — or what I like to call “bullshit mass index” — is not a complete determinant of health.
As someone who was damaged to her core by the countless diets she was put on… by all of the bullshit that was taught by family members and doctors who didn’t have a degree in evidence-based dietetics… I am scared for the kids being targeted by Kurbo.
They deserve so much more than a life of calorie counting. They deserve to feel confident and happy and loved, no matter the number on the scale.
WW has literally said that the reason they are a “successful” company is that so many customers have to come back because they regained the weight they previously lost. They are setting up these children for a life of yo-yo-dieting or worse — an eating disorder.
Come on, WW. Do better.
Photo by Ethan Sexton on Unsplash