Background: Weight Watchers just announced a rebranding plan to target $2 billion in sales by the year 2020. As part of this campaign, Weight Watchers will offer teens ages 13 to 17 free memberships this summer as part of its plan reach the company’s fiscal goals. Let’s look at 3 reasons this campaign is potentially harmful to clients with eating disorders.


Clients with anorexia and bulimia who have pervasive psychological undercurrents motivating their behavior with food are negatively impacted by the billion dollar marketingefforts of the weight loss industry.  When weight, body size and shape are seen as synonymous with love, acceptance, and self-worth, young people are vulnerable to the efforts of the weight loss industry. The same advertisements that target “healthy” behaviors can trigger life threatening “unhealthy” behaviors in others, especially in the teenagers who struggle to fit in with their peers.

Bariatric surgery and eating disorders
The weight loss industry does not take into account individuals who may be struggling with a diagnosable underlying binge eating disorder and for whom weight loss is an endless cycle of yo-yo dieting that deteriorates the individual’s self-esteem over time. There were 216,000 bariatric surgeries in 2016 alone and an estimated 16% of those individuals were struggling with an underlying binge eating disorder.  These individuals will often have detrimental effects from bariatric surgery because the underlying psychological disorder was not dealt with prior and therefore the weight loss after the surgery masks the underlying issue.

Eliminates hope for body positivity campaigns
The fact that Weight Watchers is targeting teens ages 13 to 17 with revenue goals in mind ignores the opportunity for philosophies such as Health At Every Size, HAES, Intuitive Eating, and Body Trust to be introduced as a self-affirming and recovery oriented perspectives. Weight loss sends the message “there is something wrong with me” and promotes a shame based lens for these impressionable teens.

With National Eating Disorder Awareness week just around the corner and our eating disorder treatment centers currently full across the nation, one important word has been on our minds… PREVENTION.  As an eating disorder advocate and treatment provider, this Weight Watchers announcement is harmful to our mission of promoting body acceptance, reducing weight stigma in our society, and promoting lifelong recovery from eating disorders.

If you agree, feel free to join the “Twitter Takeover” campaign in which we will flood @WeightWatchers with our thoughts on this dangerous plan.

Contributed by Dawn Delgado, LMFT, CEDS-S
Certified Eating Disorder Specialist – Supervisor
EMDR Trained Trauma Clinician
National Director of Operations for Center For Discovery

When to Refer Your Eating Disorder Client to a Treatment Program – Psychology Today article

4 ways to tell it is time to refer your eating disorder client to a treatment program.

  • He or she has hit a plateau in therapy

Often eating disorder and disordered eating clients plateau in outpatient therapy alone because there is not a direct food and meal supervision component. The individuals often devote a large amount of energy to convince their therapist that he or she is doing well and progressing. Eating disorder clients are often people pleasers and seek validation for achievement. Without direct meal supervision, support with meal preparation, and working closely with a dietitian to identify consistent food recalls, it is often an insurmountable challenge for clients with eating disorders to make consistent gains in outpatient therapy alone.

  • The client pulls back at mention of a treatment center or

It is not common for the intervention of a higher level of care for eating disorder clients to be a tricky one, demanding both grace and firmness to support the scared client with making an accountable choice. I have supervised therapists who become entangled in countertransference with eating disorder clients. When we hear things like, “He/She trusts me a lot and trust would be broken if I referred to a treatment center” then we know the client is crafti
g a case to avoid the treatment setting. Removing obstacle to treatment is an important part of the therapist-client relationship.

  • The client is terrified to integrate a registered dietitian into

When clients are in the midst of disordered eating or eating disorder struggles, they often avoid dietitians and eating disorder specialists like the plague. My clients in recovery tell me that at the times when they were the most compromised, they sought out non-specialists and avoided dietitians. Therapy is only a piece of the treatment team and collaboration with a multidisciplinary team including medical doctor and registered dietitian are key components for recovery. Avoidance of talking about the food component is avoidance of what is needed to fully recover.

  • If you do not have current lbs or a weight on the client

One of the benefits of working with a multidisciplinary team is the ability to collaborate weekly and receive updates on the client’s weight and labs. Even the most adept clinician cannot tell visually if a client is doing damage to their body with purging, bingeing, or restricting behaviors. Potassium and other electrolyte imbalances are one of the most dangerous health consequences of an eating disorder, which are not visible upon physical assessment. Weekly, biweekly, or monthly “blind” weights are a good way to monitor behavioral trends that may be reflected in weight trends.

As a Certified Eating Disorder Specialist and designated CEDS -Supervisor through the International Association of Eating Disorder Specialists, I have worked with hundreds of outpatient therapists to understand the importance of understanding how to establish a multidisciplinary team in the outpatient setting, as well as how to initiate and hold a firm boundary with referring clients to an outpatient treatment program. Most treatment centers will offer a free phone or face to face eating disorder assessment and some organizations have online assessments available as well. Benefits of day treatment include, meal supervision, inclusive weekly counseling with a registered dietitian, support in monitoring labwork and collaborating with medical doctors, group therapy, support from peer community, family therapy and family support, and weekly collaboration with eating disorder specialists.

Dawn Delgado, LMFT, CEDS-S

Certified Eating Disorder Specialist – Supervisor

EMDR Trained Trauma Clinician

National Director of Operations for Center For Discovery

Marriage and Family Therapist, Dawn Delgado, Founder of Inspire Evolve Counseling
Marriage and Family Therapist, Dawn Delgado, Founder of Inspire Evolve Counseling