Well Being

Weight Watchers 360°: Blaming ‘Emotional Eating’ Out, Blaming Environment In

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In support of Weight Watchers new diet plan, the group is citing research saying consumers make 200 different decisions about food every day. Um, I guess? I mean, if you take into account all the things you decide not to eat, I suppose that's possible. Hyperbolic or not, it is a mad mad mad mad food world out there. The organization's new plan, Weight Watchers 360°, attempts to address this, by focusing on environmental factors that influence diet, instead of just harping on self control.

“Science is taking us away from the idea that the desire to eat for pleasure is simply a psychological phenomenon, what we often tend to dismissively call 'emotional eating'” said Weight Watchers' chief scientific officer Karen Miller Kovach.

The basic premise of the Weight Watchers 360° approach is that “food consumption can be physiologically driven by simply seeing, thinking about or smelling highly palatable foods — that is, foods that are most often high in sugar and/or fat.” To combat this ‘hedonic hunger” — i.e., food consumption that is not driven by physiological needs — Weight Watchers 360° is focusing “less on psychology” and more on giving people tips to make their environment more conducive to healthy eating.

While I applaud Weight Watchers for acknowledging that dieting doesn't happen in a vacuum, I'm not sure what I think of the new plan.  On the one hand … well, it's still Weight Watchers. It still teaches people to lose weight by counting ‘points' and trying to stay within certain point limits, instead of learning more about nutrition and eating intuitively. It still seems rather paternalistic — just arbitrarily follow these rules and point allowances we give you, report back to us and the pounds will drop away! No need to bother your head about the how's and why's … 

But Weight Watchers is better than a lot of the alternatives out there — at least it doesn't try to stir up support by making outlandish half-truth diet claims. The new 360 plan actually aims to give dieters more of a scientific understanding of how our brains play a role in our food choices and, based on this neuroscience, recommend practical “strategies and tactics” for changing your food environment. It recognizes that “mindless eating” isn't always about control or emotional responses and sometimes just a matter of access and habit.

“Traditionally, weight-loss experts have spent a fair amount of time helping people find ways to curb our drive to eat for pleasure through managing our thoughts and feelings,” Kavach said. “Put very simply, the old thinking was almost, ‘If you’re emotionally aligned, you’ll only have one cookie.' But … there are physiologic mechanisms in place in this desire to eat for pleasure that have a strong biologic drive that we’re only just beginning to understand.”

Photo: ABC News