The Sunday Times: Can Weight Watchers ever be cool again?

weight watchers

In the basement of a church in Islington, seated in a circle on plastic chairs, a group of middle-aged mothers and housewives are confessing. Julie (whose name I have changed to protect her identity) fell off the wagon this week. She doesn’t want to admit to her husband what she did. By contrast, Amy is feeling so confident she doesn’t even stay for the meeting, so she doesn’t get to hear Tanya fretting about quiche. If you haven’t guessed yet, this is no AA meeting. I am at Weight Watchers.

It may still feel like the 1980s in the basement of the church, but above ground, Weight Watchers is — whisper it — in the midst of a reinvention. In the second quarter of 2018, it reported 4.5m members worldwide, an increase of 2.1m from the end of 2015. Now WW — or dub-dub as millennials are calling it — has signed up some trendy celebrity ambassadors including DJ Khaled and the director of Clerks, Kevin Smith, who had a heart attack earlier this year and is now a committed vegan posting Facebook videos of himself trying quinoa. (“My favourite new dish is vegan nachos, at eight SmartPoints per serving,” he chirps via WW’s PR.) These are savvy signings: Khaled has a huge social following — 11.5m on Instagram, as well as being known as the “King of Snapchat”. Meanwhile Smith, a cult figure, brings the street cred lacking in LighterLife’s Denise Welch campaign (sorry D) or Subway’s diet plan featuring a nerdy-looking bloke standing next to his old jeans.

DJ Khaled

Weight Watchers is not a name you expect to hear in fashion circles. As a brand, it feels about as on trend as the Rosemary Conley Flat Stomach Plan, which is the other diet my mum was doing in the 1990s. Throughout that decade Weight Watchers was phenomenally successful.

But it’s not an easy time to be in the business of weight loss. We live in an era when it’s deeply uncool to talk about dieting. No one diets any more — they eat clean, they cleanse, they go vegan or gluten-free, they do a juice fast, a HIIT class, a 12-week fat-blasting programme or start following an Instagram pin-up such as Joe Wicks. It’s no longer politically correct to aspire to thinness; you’re supposed to want to be strong.

Armed with this insight, Weight Watchers has ditched the diet label and is shifting to a more holistic approach to wellness, says Mindy Grossman, who took over as CEO in July 2017. “Healthy is the new skinny,” says Grossman, 60, who first used Weight Watchers as a teenager.



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