Weight Watchers’ name change is a perfect metaphor for the hypocrisy of “wellness”

You can’t have your cake and eat it too.
You can’t have your cake and eat it too.
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If the wellness industry were a pyramid, clean eating would be at its foundation. Stacked on top of that would be activities like yoga and meditation, and on top of that nutritional accouterments like fish oil supplements, adaptogens, and a whole bunch of collagen. Skin potions that promise to fight aging would come next, and at the very top of the pyramid would be the truly weird stuff like hydration drips and yoni eggs.

At no point in the pyramid would an overweight person be made to feel welcome—the wellness industry at its base is obsessed with weight loss. The lifestyle simply isn’t compatible with fat, unless you’re using wellness to lose it, which is indeed a rather big business for wellness. Which is why Weight Watchers, which is refashioning itself as a wellness brand, had to drop the “weight” from its name.

Weight Watchers announced today (Sept. 24) that it will henceforth be known as “WW,” alongside the new tagline “Wellness That Works.™”

The move is the logical next step in a full rebranding by one of the world’s leading weight-loss companies, which now identifies itself as both “a global wellness company and the world’s leading commercial weight-management program.”

CEO Mindy Grossman reaffirmed this mission statement, telling Quartz At Work that while the company “will never abdicate our leadership in healthy, nutritious weight loss,” its move towards wellness is an effort to help customers build “healthy habits to make the right choices to lead to whatever healthier life you want.”

Alongside the name change, WW is rolling out other wellness-related features, including some that are not directly related to weight loss, like a partnership with meditation app Headspace, and a “healthy habit” program for users who don’t want to focus on weight loss.

A piece of the wellness pie

WW’s wellness makeover comes at a time when the company’s stock (which spiked this morning) had become unpredictable as consumers continued to move in droves toward the estimated $3.7 trillion wellness industry.

But before we celebrate the end of diet culture, note that at its core WW remains a weight-loss program—no matter that it has blacklisted the word “weight” and its shame-y connotations. Its program still relies on a point system to create a caloric deficit that leads to fat loss, same as it has for decades. And, like old-school Weight Watchers, the WW of today will still base those points on calories (although it has ditched the intense language of earlier iterations that categorized foods as “legal” and “illegal” based on calorie count).

Indeed, Weight Watchers is a study in rebranding: the company has managed to respond to society’s changing norms around dieting while preserving its best-selling product (weight loss) since its inception in 1963. A wholehearted embrace of wellness—our latest version of the weight loss industrial complex—is only natural for WW, which has successfully sold weight loss with a side of shame for decades.

And most likely it will continue doing so with success, largely because a lot of what passes for “wellness” is actually just dieting. The wellness mainstay of “clean eating” and its fixation on healthy foods are just euphemisms for dieting; while you would never see a wellness company use diet as a verb, wellness culture continues to be preoccupied with health while pretending size has nothing to do with that obsession (paywall).

Weight Watchers’ seamless transition into the industry as WW only serves to underline that fact, and its future success as a wellness company will depend on the wellness complex keeping up the charade. At the end of the day, Weight Watchers is losing “Weight” but it’s still selling weight-loss.