I got kicked out of Weight Watchers for getting pregnant. I couldn’t believe it. I was a good customer. I was a faithful meeting attendee and had lost about 31 pounds with about 50 more to go. When I told my leader I was pregnant, she said, “Come back after the baby is born.”
Julie couldn’t believe what she heard. Surely her Weight Watchers leader wasn’t saying she should stop coming to meetings and working towards her weight loss goals during her pregnancy. That’s exactly what her leader was saying. Pregnancy is no time to focus on weight loss, even if the pregnant woman is obese.
Julie tried to continue as an active Weight Watchers member. “I told my leader I really needed the program to eat healthy. Isn’t this program called Beyond the Scale? Why would Weight Watchers kick me out now?”
Julie seemed to have a legitimate point. Weight Watchers does call their current plan Beyond the Scale and the company does promote the way the program nudges members towards eating more healthfully. Pregnancy is one time in a woman’s life when healthier eating is paramount, right? That makes no sense that Weight Watchers prohibits pregnant woman from actively participating in the program.
It makes perfect sense and the policy is a good one. Weight Watchers is a commercial weight loss program. It helps people lose weight by following a scientifically sound food plan that is based on making healthier food choices. The main focus, however, is to help people lose weight. Pregnancy is not the time to lose weight. This applies to all women, even those who have a Body Mass Index (BMI) of 30 or higher which is considered obese.
The program name, Beyond the Scale, refers to weight loss beyond the scale. In other words, there’s more to successful weight loss than standing on a scale. There is a food plan that promotes healthful eating, is versatile enough to satisfy all different people, and flexible enough for members to be able to fit in their personal favorite treats. There is also a fitness plan and a behavioral/cognitive plan and it’s all reinforced in weekly meetings. It’s not to say that Weight Watchers is more than a commercial weight loss service.
Weight Watchers leaders are not health care professionals. They are weight loss experts. Their expertise comes from their personal experience losing weight with Weight Watchers and the training they receive to become effective in delivering meetings to help Weight Watchers members lose weight with the program. They have no training or qualifications to allow them to guide a woman through her pregnancy.
Julie begged to continue attending Weight Watchers meetings. “I won’t get weighed in,” she pleaded, “I just want to keep coming to my meeting.”
Julie was offered a refund on her prepayment, or to freeze her prepayment so that should could pick up where she left off after the baby was born. Continuing to attend meetings – with or without a weigh in – wasn’t an option.
“I didn’t understand why they wouldn’t agree to my continuing to attend meetings without getting weighed. After all, I wasn’t asking to go for free. I was going to keep paying.”
The reason is simple and it’s a right and honorable policy. Weight Watchers is a commercial weight loss service. Members pay a fair price to lose weight with the program and their efforts are reinforced in the meetings which are an environment of group support. Pregnant woman shouldn’t lose weight, therefore Weight Watchers won’t accept money from somebody who should not be losing weight. It’s no different than enforcing their eligibility policies that establish a minimum age and weight.
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists supports the Institute of Medicine’s guidelines on weight gain during pregnancy. The committee opinion appears in Obstetrics & Gynecology.
Those with a pre-pregnancy BMI under 18.5 should gain 28–40 pounds.
Normal-weight women (BMI, 18.5–24.9) should aim for 25–35.
Overweight women (BMI, 25–29.9) should aim for 15–25.
Obese women (BMI, 30 or more) should gain only 11–20.
ACOG has also issued a separate committee opinion on obesity in pregnancy. That document, noting that more than half of pregnant women in the U.S. are overweight or obese, offers recommendations including anesthesiology consultation early in labor and possible thromboprophylaxis for those undergoing cesarean section.
There are risks to obese mothers and their babies. Pregnant women, regardless of their weight should always follow their obstetrician’s advice and work with the registered dietitians or nutritionists familiar with their specific medical needs.
Weight Watchers is an excellent program and the women and men who deliver the program each week are trained and qualified to help people lose weight following the Beyond the Scale program, but they’re not qualified to help members who require specialized medical care such as in the case of pregnancy,
Julie may have felt deserted when she thought she most needed Weight Watchers That’s not so, the reality is the company did her a favor by kicking her out and referring her to obstetrician to guide her with her nutritional requirements while pregnant.
Julie can start back at Weight Watchers as soon as she’s ready even if she chooses to breastfeed. Weight Watchers has a program for lactating women, but there is no pregnancy food plan because pregnant women shouldn’t lose weight. Weight Watchers shouldn’t take money or have people in meetings who shouldn’t be losing weight.