To Any Parent That Thinks It's A Good Idea To Let Their Kids Use Kurbo, the New App By Weight Watchers
2019 is the year we let a giant company formally introduce dieting to children. Up until this point, kids were off limits. Now, that doesn’t mean that kids weren’t aware of diet culture and weight stigmas. Being shamed and guilted for your weight and size has been plaguing us for decades. From magazines (which introduced the 1000 calorie diet to my generation) to the media and entertainment industry, to our own parents, dieting and weight loss is practically a cornerstone of American life.
Despite the fact that diets don’t work, in 2018, the weight loss products and services industry hit an all time high of $72 billion.
TAKE THAT IN.
$72 billion dollars.
With that many people spending that kind of money, you’d think the United States of America would be the healthiest nation in the world.
According to the CDC, between 2015-2016, an estimated 39.8% (about 93.3 million people) were obese and, “the estimated annual medical cost of obesity in the United States was $147 billion in 2008 US dollars.” And in children, about 18.5% or 13.7 million children and adolescents are obese.
This month, WW (the freshly rebranded Weight Watchers), released Kurbo. An app targeting kids as young as 8 that, according to their FAQ, is about teaching kids how to manage and controll their weight.
WW has been vocal that Kurbo isn’t a weight loss app.
But it is. It says it right there. And to package it as anything other than a dieting app is just a boldfaced lie.
But what does WW care? Weight loss is one of the most profitable industries on the planet and getting kids invested early? What could go wrong?
Look, I do believe that something needs to be done to help Americans make healthier lifestyle changes. I’ve had a traumatic history with weight loss, dieting, and my body image and if there’s anything I’ve learned over the years and a 75+ pound weight loss, it’s that the most dangerous thing you can do is give kids an app aimed at helping them “control their weight” by telling them which foods are good and which foods are bad.
WW says that’s not what Kurbo’s red, yellow, and green stop light system isn’t meant to tell kids which foods are good or bad but it’s intuitive. Green is good and red is bad. I’m almost 30 years old and that’s what I immediately thought when I saw it. Now imagine seeing that message as a kid.
I spent a few days tracking my diet on the app to get an idea of how it works before beginning this series. Right after registering, I was led to a page that asked me why I was signing up. There were options like get stronger and fitter and get active but the one’s that made my stomach turn were, “feel better in my clothes” and “make my parents happy”.
MAKE MY PARENTS HAPPY. What does it mean if a kid selects that option? That their parents are unhappy with them because of their weight? Imagine that guilt!? (But I don’t have to imagine it. That’s one of the narratives I wrote for myself growing up. That my parents were ashamed of me because of my weight. It wasn’t true, but I was a kid! I wasn’t capable of working through that without a professional’s help.)
The informative videos in the app meant to teach kids about nutrition and portion sizes are hard to follow. There’s very little information about why food fuels us and the science behind it. After spending some time on it, I realized it’s just another calorie counting app without the calorie counting.
Even worse, as I was tracking, the app told me that flax seeds, chia seeds, and walnuts were all identified as red foods. Why? I put all three seeds into my morning smoothie because all three contribute to my balanced diet. And the fats in the seeds, among many other purposes, help me stay satiated. And yet, despite the fact that they’re dense with healthy fats, they’re red? Explain to me how walnuts and cake get lumped into the same category.
But before I get ahead of myself, I want to explain something. I believe that our stories have power and every single parent out there just wants to do what’s best for their kids. Obesity is a very real, very scary problem. I’m not here to say that it’s not. I was obese. My journey to where I am today was anything but calories in, calories out, get active. I’ve since learned that health isn’t a look and BMI is a ludicrous way to measure health.
Putting Kurbo in your kids’ hands is like giving them a Fastpass to body image issues, disordered eating, anxiety, depression, or an eating disorder.
It’s reckless. And it’s really dangerous.
I asked the women in our Badass Lady Gang community who started Weight Watchers as teenagers or young adults to share their stories and experiences because I truly believe that if you take the time reading through them, you’ll understand the dangers that come with introducing an app like Kurbo to your kids.
Getting healthy isn’t about weight loss. If we were serious about getting healthy, we’d start to tackle sugar and processed foods the way we did cigarettes. We’d get them both out of our school lunches and actually make fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean meats accessible to everyone in our country. Not just those that can afford to buy them and prepare them. We’d talk about the fact that over 12 million kids in the United States go to school hungry and don’t have access to a healthy and balanced diet. They’re lucky if they get more than one meal a day.
It’s criminal. It’s inhumane. And I wish I knew what to do to actually impact systematic change. Starting the conversation helps but it’s not enough. We need to hold companies, organizations and our government accountable for what we do and how we treat the obesity epidemic.
This series of stories focus on diet culture and weight loss products and before I start sharing the brave and vulnerable stories from within within our community, I wanted to start with mine.
Growing up, I was acutely aware of my size. All kids are. If you have a kid and they’re anything other than skinny, they know it. Larger kids are more at risk to experience anxiety and depression than smaller kids. (And hell, even if your kid is skinny, they’re probably suffering too because we’re all obsessed with weight and size. TALK TO YOUR KIDS. Show them what strength looks like. Get them talking about their worth, beauty, and strength. Don’t let them suffer in silence.)
From the first time I was called fat in fourth grade until my late twenties, I was consumed with my body image and dieting. I tried everything from dieting, weight loss pills, supplements, starving myself, making myself sick, to obsessively working out to try to lose weight.
But as a kid, I wasn’t fat. I was just average. I wasn’t skinny like my sister or the girls I hung out with and they let me know whenever we got into tiffs and fights. “Fat” and “Hippo” were the names they called me and I hurled mean names and insults right back.
As a teen, I fluctuated between 10-20 pounds depending on what was going on at home. Some weeks, my anxiety manifested itself in me trying to control everything I did or didn’t eat and how much time I spent on an elliptical. Sometimes 1-2 hours at a time, twice a day. Other weeks, I binged on anything I could get my hands on to try to numb myself from what I was going through. I obsessed over anything I did or didn’t put in my mouth (or craved) and subsequently developed a dangerous relationship with food and my body image.
But despite my never ending quest to lose weight, my sister, brother and I were fortunate enough to have access to healthy and balanced diets. My Mom rarely bought sweets or junk food and we grew up on fruit, whole wheat bread and pasta, skim milk, and ground turkey instead of ground beef. We, like so many kids, weren’t huge on vegetables other than carrots, celery, or simple salads with ranch and Cesare dressing but looking back, we were lucky enough to have access to healthy and balanced diets.
I ate what my sister ate. I didn’t understand why my body didn’t look like her body. Why was I bigger? My sophomore year of high school, I begged my Mom to let me join Jenny Craig to get control over my weight. (Sound familiar? Shoutout to Kurbo for looking to help kids control their weight. I didn’t need to control my weight. I needed therapy.) But the answer was always no. We couldn’t afford it. Money was always tight and an elective program like Jenny Craig wasn’t in the cards.
But my junior year my Dad, desperate to help me take control of my weight, caved. Instead of enrolling me in Jenny Craig like I’d asked, he took me to an actual physical named Dr. Barnet Melzter. A great doctor but one who wasn’t equipped to help a teenage girl with the trauma, control, and body image issues I was suffering from.
I don’t remember much from my time with Dr. Meltzer other than a fear of letting my Mom and Dad down because I was spending money I knew we didn’t have on my treatment. But Dr. Meltzer prescribed me a diet of grapefruit juice with a spirulina supplement for breakfast, to be taken after I worked out and only if I worked out. I remember being told that food was fuel to be put into a revved engine. If I didn’t go to the gym, my engine wasn’t on. So as a 16 year old, I interpreted that as, ‘If you don’t get to the gym before school, don’t eat’. So many days, I didn’t eat. For lunch, I had a salad. For dinner, broccoli and chicken breast. I ate that everyday for about two months (when I ate) and dropped weight. Everyone from my classmates to my teachers commented on my weight loss and told me how great I looked, confirming the horrible narrative I told myself: That being heavier made me ugly and people were judging me because of my weight.
Despite the fact I was given the tools to create a healthier lifestyle, I wasn’t capable of even seeing it as such. To 16 year old “I just want to be skinny” Kelly Roberts, my new healthy diet was still dieting. Not a healthy lifestyle change. Just dieting.
Thanksgiving that year, I had a special plate without stuffing, mashed potatoes and gravy. At Christmas, I had tea instead of hot coco like my sister, brother and cousins as my Grandfather read us The Night Before Christmas and I made myself sick if I had a cookie or slice of pie. It was bad food that I wasn’t supposed to be eating and the guilt would eat me alive.
After a few weeks, I gave up because we couldn’t afford the treatment anymore. Once I stopped seeing Dr. Meltzer, I gave in to the pressure to eat like a normal American teenager and returned to my normal size.
We surround ourselves and our kids with sugar and processed foods. Just go to the grocery store and try to checkout. It doesn’t matter how you eat, the candy is right there in your face. How are we confused about why we all struggle to adopt healthy lifestyles? Sugar is everywhere.
So we diet, shame ourselves, and ultimately give up because the cycle is too fucking painful.
Looking back, what I was doing wasn’t healthy. It was just disordered eating. The fact that Dr. Meltzer didn’t recommend my parents put me in therapy after he heard how I talked to myself is criminal. The fact that therapy or registered dietitians aren’t readily available for anyone and everyone is criminal. THE FACT THAT MOST OF US HAVE SHITTY HEALTHCARE OR NO HEALTHCARE AT ALL IS CRIMINAL.
The weight loss industry is about weight loss.
They may share success stories, but they don’t want you to adopt a healthy lifestyle change.
Honestly, if we all learned to look in the mirror and actually love what we saw, the economy would collapse.
They don’t want you eating real food.
Or getting help from a therapist.
Or actually getting healthy.
Or learning about how our diets and the food we put into our bodies work. The weight loss industry doesn’t want you to know how carbs, fat, vitamins, minerals, proteins and amino acids all work together to regulate hormones and all the different reactions and parts of our bodies that keep us alive.
The weight loss industry is about restriction and limiting because if we were to actually learn how to successfully adopt a healthier lifestyle, you’d stop spending money on diets and weight loss products.
And the weight loss industry is a $72 BILLION industry banking on our shared beauty ideals and mutual self loathing.
(And ok, the sugar, dairy, and bread industries lobbying to fuck everything up too. Let’s not forget to shoutout our government for failing to protect us from corporate greed that ultimately gave birth to one of the most serious health crises of our generation.)
Look, I know how hard it is to want to change more than anything in the world but feel like a failure every single time you try and fail.
It’s supposed to be simple right? Eat proper portion sizes of healthy foods— fruits, veggies, lean meats, whole grains. Enjoy treats, sweets, and processed foods in moderation from time to time and not feel guilty about it. Get active regularly in ways that you don’t make you hate yourself and actually empower you.
Do that and you’ll lead a healthy lifestyle.
Note that I didn’t say ‘lose weight’. I said a healthy lifestyle.
There’s a difference.
Weight loss has an end date. A day you say woo-hoo, I did or did not hit my goal weight and now I can go back what I always did.
But a healthy lifestyle? That focuses on diet and all the foods you get to put into your body, not what you have to restrict. It gives you time to try new foods and patiently give your palate a chance to adjust and love them. It has room for growth, expansion, and new experiences. It’s not limiting and rigid. It’s about living the healthiest, happiest, and most fulfilled life you can.
Physically. Mentally. Spiritually. All the above. It’s all related.
Diets don’t work. Shaming or making fun of people for their weight or size doesn’t motivate them to adopt a healthier or more active lifestyle. It just makes them anxious, depressed, and hopeless.
All my life, I thought health had one look. Skinny. And because I wasn’t capable of being skinny, I spent most of my life drowning in anxiety and a sense of failure.
I wish more people would join us and say f*ck dieting.
If you’re a parent looking to make a change or help your kids make a change, don’t let them use Kurbo. Talk about body image and what a balanced lifestyle looks like. Their diet is just a piece of it. But it shouldn’t be any more important than moving in ways they actually enjoy and really celebrating their bodies for what they can do.
Health isn’t a look. It’s a lifestyle.
I hope you’ll take the time to read through these stories because as important as it is to help the next generation, we need to help ourselves. Put your mask on before your kid’s mask, right? Model the behavior.
Thank you for reading. Thank you for being here.