Weight Watchers (WW) was born from an unmet personal need, as is true with many businesses. Founder Jean Nidetch had struggled with her weight all her life. In her late 30s, she went to a city-run obesity clinic in New York and finally lost the weight she wanted.
Then, when her resolve to maintain a healthy weight wavered, Nidetch recognized that losing weight is easier if she weren’t doing it by herself. Dieting is more than “calories in, calories out.” Eating the right number of calories and exercising doesn’t always work. It isn’t the occasional overindulgence that creates obesity; it’s the steady over-eating—often in surprisingly small amounts.
Helping People Change Their Behavior through Support and Motivation
According to Memoir of a Successful Loser: The Story of Weight Watchers (1970,) Nidetch realized that what people struggling to keep a diet program needed was one another. Dieters needed a space to talk openly about their diet struggles and became answerable to one another.
Determined to stay on track, Nidetch started with the diet that the obesity clinic had given her. She mimeographed it and handed it out to a group of six overweight but determined friends that she invited to her apartment in the Queens. At the first meeting, Nidetch confessed to an addiction to cookies. Her friends sympathized and shared their own calorific woes. Everyone had a good time, and the group agreed to meet the following week again.
Nidetch’s pattern of programming and social support spread quickly. Meetings grew in size. When Nidetch ran out of chairs, she shifted the sessions to a formal assembly room. Weight Watchers was thus born.
Group Cheerleaders Can Go a Long Way toward Keeping Motivation Alive
Weight Watchers has outlasted many fad diets, and it continues to be a popular program. People go to Weight Watchers because it works. The program makes its members think of the regimen not as a diet but as a different way of living.
Collectively, members feel positively about their desire to lose weight. They offer support and grant forgiveness for failures to lose weight. Members aren’t thinking of restrictions; they’re thinking of flexibility and abundance. If they tend to be foodies, they don’t need to stop enjoying food.
Weight Watchers groups meet weekly. (7,000 coaches run the meetings.) Each member contributes. Everyone feels invested in accomplishments. The group celebrates as one.
The robust process of celebrating and retelling success stories reinforces the shared goal of pushing limits. In addition, the interaction helps with accountability and encourages participants to stick with their goals.
Idea for Impact: Purpose is good. Shared purpose is better.
Shared interests get us, humans, to show up and be present. We need structure, tools, and support to be successful. We need a community because the fellowship of others with a shared empowering purpose gives us the accountability and inspiration that motivates us to lose weight—or bring about any lasting change.