Health at YOUR size

RIP Jean Nidetch, 1923-2015

jean nidetch ww merch

Jean Nidetch in a 1974 Weight Watchers promotional photo

This week, Weight Watchers founder and millionaire weight-cycling entrepreneur Jean Nidetch died at the age of 91. She made her millions promoting diet culture and getting Americans (mostly women) to pay money to lose the same 20 or 30 pounds again and again. She did this by convincing her customers that any weight regain was their fault — a failure of willpower, not biology, ignoring the 90+ percent failure rate of weight-loss dieting (except for the “results not typical” which was eventually required on Weight Watchers advertising).

As the face of diet culture, Ms. Nidetch held herself up as a shining example, setting an impossible standard of “achievement” in weight loss and thereby contributing to a lifetime of disordered eating patterns in countless people in the United States and abroad.

But this post is not about Jean’s most famous achievements. It is about a lesser known personal achievement of hers: the realization that Ms. Nidetch had (however late) about life being too short to torture your body.

Matt Sendensky of the Associated Press filed a story yesterday about Ms. Nidetch’s death, in which he reported the following:

She took pride in never wavering far from her goal weight, saying she never again topped 150 pounds.

She became more lenient with age, though, her fridge filled with Coca-Cola and Klondike bars in the freezer. She allowed herself the occasional potato or extra piece of bread, and no longer followed her own advice to eat breakfast daily, instead sleeping in and waiting for lunch.

At her age, she said, she had earned the right.

jean nidetch ap photo 2011

Jean Nidetch in 2011, age 88

Ms. Nidetch, I’m happy that you were finally able to say no to the diet culture monster that you helped create. I’m sad for you because it took so long. I’m also angry that you waited until you were retired and out of the public eye before you found self-acceptance, because you better than anyone could have inspired millions of people to dedicate their lives to living their lives in the bodies they have, rather than engaging in obsessive dietary restriction and pursuit of a fantasy of what life could be at some point in a far-off, more-svelte future.

But you can rest easy, Ms. Nidetch. I will take it from here. The wisdom you shared in your golden years will be spread far and wide, to people of all ages:

I have the right to feed my body with whatever foods I deem appropriate to meet my nutritional needs, including foods that are eaten strictly for pleasure. There is more to life than conforming to a thin beauty ideal.

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