10 Reasons Why Oprah's Weight Watchers Commercials Are The Worst

First of all, I think Oprah is great. She's inspired women for decades, raised millions for charities, and even made book clubs cool. But her recent business is deeply disappointing to me. After buying 10% of Weight Watchers and becoming their de facto spokesperson, I've been inundated with ads for the diet company, with Oprah gleefully interviewing her newly thin followers. As they brag about their weight loss and let us all know they can finally eat chips AND be thin, it makes me think only one thing. This commercial is the worst!

Oprah has so much power, and she's using it to send a sad message

One ad says, "inside every overweight woman is the woman she knows she can be." As if the overweight person you are is just a shell for the actual good person inside of you. When the message is always that you are bad and wrong for being heavy, it makes weight loss even more difficult. And it reduces every woman down to her size. I'm sure Oprah would rail against any man that ever told her she couldn't be successful because of her weight. Yet she's telling her fans that they're not as good as they can be, strictly because of body size.

There are a lot of women out there that will do anything Oprah tells them to. An insurance company reported a 40% increase in monthly enrollment to Weight Watchers after Oprah's first "I love bread" commercial. It wasn't because other women also love bread. They love Oprah. And wouldn't it be amazing if we heard Oprah say that she's focusing on making herself the best person she can be rather than the best looking person? Instead, we get to hear that our sad, fat selves are hiding the happy person inside us and we must set that happy, thin girl free! And that message is just sad.

The ad is misleading about the effectiveness of dieting

Obviously a commercial for a diet program isn't going to tell you the harsh reality of dieting. That doesn't make a good sales pitch. But Oprah's ad is particularly misleading. Since Oprah has publicly struggled with weight since she rose to fame, hearing that she finally found the answer really means something. I feel for Oprah! It's so exciting to learn that she finally found the answer after already finding the answer so many times before. Sure, those other weight loss solutions never worked out, but this time she says it's for good! That's a much more powerful message than a stranger standing in the big pants she used to wear.

But diets rarely work. Studies have found that only about 5% of people keep weight off for good... 5%! That's nothing! But you never hear about the people that gain the weight back... because they're too ashamed. I'm one of those people. I lost about 50 pounds (not on Weight Watchers, but through mostly calorie counting) and kept it off for three years or so. But even at my thinnest, I was a size 12 (plus sized in a lot of stores) and fatter than all of my other friends. And after a while, it all came back and then some. I was so ashamed. I thought people would be disgusted to look at me, and that I didn't deserve to do fun things because I'd gotten so fat. Does that make sense? No. But I never felt like I was one of 95% of people who have trouble. I was just a failure. And that Oprah commercial does not help.

The ad makes you feel like everyone's a success except you

Look at all those women in the ad! They're so happy, they've lost weight and they're talking to Oprah! It feels like a party you can't be invited to until you get that thin person out of your fat body. The feeling that everyone's losing weight except you isn't just perpetuated by the Oprah ad. It's everywhere. We've seen a million stories of people successfully losing weight and realizing their dreams of being thin. The Biggest Loser is a whole show full of former fatties! But we never see the full story. When people put weight back on, there's no commercial for that. Your friends that post about the 10 pounds they lost don't post on Facebook about how they stopped their diet three months later because it was too annoying.

How many times have you heard a friend brag about how good they feel after a cleanse or doing the Whole 30? I've heard it a lot. But despite the fact that they apparently felt "so great," they never stay on the plan and go right back to eating how they did before. Why? Because it's not so great to be on a diet plan. It's hard. You have to think about what you eat all the time and that's draining. When you add seeing all these wonderfully successful weight loss stories, while your loss progresses at a snails pace or not at all, it gets even harder.

So, I'm here to let everyone out there dieting know that not everybody's having a wonderful time eating well. I lost 50 pounds, and gained back 60. I worked hard to lose weight, and I let it slip away. That's really hard to admit without feeling like a total failure. But it's the truth. So now you all know that at least one person is having a hard time, and not everyone is happily dancing around in their skinny jeans.

The ad proves how strong the lure is to be thin

Oprah is amazing. She's one of the most successful women in all of history and created a brand for herself that rakes in millions every year. For a woman of color who came from nothing, and was heavier than the average person you see on screen, it makes her accomplishments even more incredible.

But here's Oprah, still worrying about her weight. Why would she care? Somehow, with everything she's achieved, and everything she has, she still just wants to be thin. Oprah admitted in her magazine that her weight fluctuations have always embarrassed her. Once, at an event with Tina Turner and Cher, they asked her to come on stage. Oprah's first thought was that she didn't want to be seen looking so huge next to the thin singers. She thought, "How can I put myself between them? Can I put half of my body behind Cher's? Well, Cher's body is half of my body, so that's hard. How can I hide myself here on this stage and not have to be up here?" This is Oprah talking! Everyone in the audience was probably thrilled to see Oprah in the flesh, no matter her weight, yet all she wanted to do was hide.

But Oprah's not crazy or ungrateful for all she has. It's just that the lure of being thin is irresistible. Paul Campos, author of The Obesity Myth, spent his life debunking claims that being thin was the answer to health and that dieting can actually be harmful. But even with all that work and research, he still obsesses about his weight. That the admiration he gets when he's thin is hard to avoid, even though he's just as good a person and perfectly healthy even when he weighs a little more. You get a lot of positive attention when you lose weight and it's hard to give up all that approval.

Everybody wants to be thin, but not everyone is going to be — and that's a problem.

The ad makes beauty the focus of women's worth

Even if a woman doesn't worry about looking good, she's still judged by her looks. Every female politician will have her hair, clothes and body remarked upon. Not always negatively, but even when it's positive, beauty is always in the conversation. This reduces women to their beauty. Male politicians' looks are also sometimes mentioned (Chris Christie has dealt with his share of fat jokes, and everybody thinks Justin Trudeau is pretty hot), but doesn't dominate the conversation above the politics in the same way it does for women.

And it's not just politicians who deal with this, but women in every field. Melissa McCarthy's weight is, at the very least, mentioned in any article about her (at the other extreme, it's the focal point of the piece). And it's often not even negative coverage. Sometimes the reporter describes how she's a great role model, which is awesome. But the topic of her weight seems to always be looming, in some form or another. Are Seth Rogen's looks commented on every single time he's mentioned in the news? What about any other shlubby actor? No. Because they're measured by their worth as comedians, or actor,s or politicians. We're told their looks don't matter (at least not as much as their female counterparts).

Now, the issue with Oprah's ad is that she's making it sound like she's only found true happiness now that her weight is under control. Even though she's had amazing success and done all kinds of good for the world, who cares? She's thin now, so she can finally be happy. She's perpetuating harmful rhetorics about women's value — yes, I know it's a rhetoric that's already prevalent, but she should be using her power to fix the problem, not exacerbate it.

The ad downplays how much of your life gets consumed with weight loss

Every person I know who lost weight and kept it off became obsessed with it. It became such a focal point in their lives that a few have become trainers or dietitians, and gave up their former careers. While a career change isn't a negative thing, I've witnessed how an obsession with weight loss can take over someone's life in unhealthy ways. I've seen some people who freaked out because they didn't get a run in, or the Chipotle burrito they ate had more calories than they realized. There's nothing wrong with discovering a love of fitness and making it your life's work, but when the obsession consumes your life to the point that you lose sight of everything else, that's another story. One study found that the only people who kept weight off consistently were the ones who made it the focus of their life.

As I was losing weight, the more I lost, the more obsessed I became. You'd think I'd be happy, but it was never enough. I still looked fat. I still wasn't at my goal weight. So, I'd exercise more or try more extreme diets. All I was doing was thinking about my food and worrying that anything I did would result in weight gain. I can't even count the numerous times I cried because of the number on the scale. And it wasn't from gaining — it was from thinking about losing weight every waking moment, giving everything I had to that goal, and then seeing the number on the scale stay the same. It was such a waste of my energy. By the time I was my smallest, I was more obsessed with food than ever, and the least happy with myself.

Your body actually fights to gain weight back

When you've struggled with weight your whole life, your body isn't biologically the same as a person who's naturally thin. Because of this, when you lose weight, your body actually fights to get the weight back. After studying contestants from a season of The Biggest Loser, doctors found it was incredibly hard for them to maintain their new, thin weight. Their bodies started at a normal metabolic rate, but through the dieting and weight loss, their metabolism greatly slowed. One contestant gained more than a 100 pounds back after the show and now to maintain his 295 weight, he has to eat 800 fewer calories than an average person of his size. That's just to maintain!

So dieting isn't always as easy as "mind over matter" — your body may be biologically working directly against your goal.

Weight Watchers doesn't do anything to fix the real problem

Sometimes, people just gain a little weight due to age or having a baby or a real good vacation. But people with a life long struggle usually have underlying issues that contribute to problems with food. Depression and anxiety are common problems that lead to weight gain.

I fully understand that I didn't gain my weight back through some magical curse. But I wasn't just a weak fool who turned to eating whole cakes every night. The regain started when I'd just lost 10 extra pounds through one of those "drinking smoothies for almost every meal" diets. One, I knew that wasn't sustainable, but just had to try it. Anyway, I lost some weight for the first time in a while and I was so excited! But no one noticed and when I looked at pictures of myself, I couldn't even tell I'd lost weight! To me, I was still fat. All these extremes and I still just look fat, I thought. So, that started my "who cares anymore" phase. I didn't gain right away, but any good eating habits slowly slipped away. Then, I moved across country, didn't have a lot of money and fell into a clinical depression. Then, the only thing that could make me happy was food. That's how the rest of the weight came on.

My problem wasn't just my weight. It was my anxiety and depression that manifested themselves through food. Weight Watchers doesn't do anything to address those underlying issues, which most people with weight problems face. The focus is just on diet and exercise, even though mental health is the most important component.

Weight loss doesn't make you happy

From her ads, Oprah implies that she's the happiest she's ever been, all because of her weight. But often, that's not how it goes. I've known people who've lost a hundred pounds and still feel fat. When you've looked at yourself in the mirror for so many years and seen a body that you hate, you'll still find ways to hate that body, even when it's smaller.

The Swan was a reality show that gave "ugly ducklings" a chance to have plastic surgery to become "beautiful swans." Lorrie Arias was one of the contestants. Though she lost a lot of weight and got aggressive plastic surgeries, the feeling of beauty didn't last. Even though she found she was getting more positive attention than she did before, all her old insecurities came back. Her body dysmorphic disorder went untreated, so she felt perpetually ugly, went into a depression and has since regained all her weight.

Oprah makes you feel like once that thin person inside you is free, you'll finally be happy. But that's not necessarily the case. You'll be the same person you always were, just smaller. That's not a bad thing, but if you think weight loss will solve all your problems, you're sure to be disappointed.

You can't have it all

Oprah sing yells "We're having it all!" as she talks to women who are thrilled they can eat chips and be thin. But that's not true. If you have a weight problem, you don't get to eat like normal people. You always have to think about it. You always have to count points. You'll never get to be the girl that just eats whatever she wants. That's not to say you have to become obsessed with your diet, but the carefree "I'm so happy I can have up to 10 chips today" life is an illusion. Again, you can still be happy and watching your food, but this "we solved it, this diet is so easy now" attitude is misleading and false.

Imagine writing down everything you eat and counting up the points every day for the rest of your life. Does that sound like you're having it all? Probably not. But that's the only way that Weight Watchers can really work, and it gets tedious.

On a side note, in the ad, Oprah sounds shocked that one of the girls loves chips. "I love chips!" she exclaims. Come on, Oprah. Everybody loves chips. That's not a revelation.

Women need to be more than their weight

Of course, I think we should all strive to be healthy, eat well and exercise. But being healthy and being thin don't necessarily always come hand-in-hand. I also don't want people think I'm saying, it's utterly impossible to lose weight, so I might as well eat a whole pizza. Don't give up! I've known people who have been successful — it's hard, but possible.

But the obsession to be thin plagues so many of us, and it has to stop. It's become more about reaching a beauty ideal to being truly healthy and happy. Not everybody can be thin. But you can be smart, capable, loving, a good worker, and a million other great things. And those things should matter so much more than how you look. I don't get mad at myself that I need glasses, so why should I be so mad for having a body that's bigger than average?

Imagine how much we could achieve if we took all the energy we've put into looking perfect, and transferred it into our careers, or into learning a new skill? I know I'd have a much cleaner house and probably speak a few extra languages by now.

Oprah: you are good enough

Giving up an obsession with weight is hard. Oprah is living proof. I'm not over it, either. Though I'm treating my depression, developing a truly healthy relationship with food is slow-going and I'm certainly not there yet. Even though I know weight loss shouldn't be my top priority, I still think about it way too much. But there are a few little things that we can all to do to make things easier:

  • Every time you call yourself fat (presumably in your own head), say or think about something you're great at, or something that makes you proud of yourself that has nothing to do with your looks.
  • Whenever you think, "yuck that girl gained weight," try to think about what life issues may have happened to lead her there. Have empathy, because that girl might be you one day.
  • If you have a daughter, don't talk about her weight. At all. Obviously, don't let her eat ice cream for breakfast, lunch and dinner, but also don't make it a big deal about food — make sure there's healthy food readily available at home, and don't worry about the rest. Compliment her accomplishments as much as her looks.

And Oprah, you are already more than good enough. You've accomplished more than almost anyone in history — men included. So, yea, you might be a little heavy. That hasn't stopped a nation from loving you and hanging onto your every word. Now, isn't that more impressive than losing a few pounds?