Thursday, August 3, 2017

"The agonies of . . . running a diet company — in a culture that likes to pretend it only cares about health, not size"

NYT:

James Chambers was watching membership sign-ups on Jan. 4, 2015, like a stock ticker — it was that first Sunday of the year, the day we all decide that this is it, we’re not going to stay fat for one more day. At the time, he was Weight Watchers’ chief executive, and he sat watching, waiting for the line on the graph to begin its skyward trajectory. Chambers knew consumer sentiment had been changing — the company was in its fourth year of member-recruitment decline. But they also had a new marketing campaign to help reverse the generally dismal trend. But the weekend came and went, and the people never showed up. More than two-thirds of Americans were what public-health officials called overweight or obese, and this was the oldest and most trusted diet company in the world. Where were the people? Weight Watchers was at a loss.

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Women’s magazines started shifting the verbal displays on their covers, from the aggressive hard-body stance of old to one with gentler language, acknowledging that perhaps a women’s magazine doesn’t know for sure what size your body should be, or what size it can be: Get fit! Be your healthiest! GET STRONG! replaced diet language like Get lean! Control your eating! Lose 10 pounds this month! In late 2015, Women’s Health, a holdout, announced in its own pages that it was doing away with the cover phrases ‘‘drop two sizes’’ and ‘‘bikini body.’’ The word ‘‘wellness’’ came to prominence.

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Weight Watchers’ chief science officer is Gary Foster, a psychologist — the first in that position, which previously had been held by dietitians.

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But Weight Watchers was still a company called Weight Watchers, and it had to figure out a way to communicate all of this change to the public.