High Priest of a False Religion
As an indication of the nutritional awareness of Weight Watchers CEO David Kirchhoff, one might simply look at his AM beverage of choice – sugar-free Red Bull (as he casually reveals in this recent WSJ blog interview). Okay, so he starts his day with something sickeningly sweet that happens to contain poisonous artificial sweeteners. Maybe he’d get a pass on this personal lapse in judgment if he was at least against these substances professionally. But he is not.
Most of us were taught Aesop’s fables as children. And when someone today asks about the proper pace for “healthy” weight loss, they’ll inevitably hear a response that echoes the famous line from Aesop’s The Hare and the Tortoise – “Slow and steady wins the race.” Everyone then nods their head in agreement, of course, as who would argue with that old chestnut.
I’m guessing that there was not much obesity in the period from 620 to 560 B.C. when Aesop lived, at least not among the Greek slaves of that time (of which Aesop was one). I’m also willing to bet that Aesop was not medically trained even by the standards of his time, nor did he intend his fables to apply to medical or nutritional issues. Perhaps most importantly, earliest interpretations of Aesop’s fable indicate that the story was meant to be a commentary on qualities such as arrogance and overconfidence (the hare gets out ahead and takes a nap), the use of brain over brawn, and persistence – but not on the virtue of one’s relative pace in anything, which was purely a storytelling device.
So 2,572 years after Aesop’s death, why does his adage persist as conventional wisdom when it comes to weight loss?
When it comes to providing a positive service experience, the dictum “the customer is always right” usually makes sense. But especially for expertise-driven service businesses, it is critical to differentiate between managing the service experience (e.g., responsiveness, fixing problems, staff friendliness) and the content of the service itself. For example, a physician shouldn’t agree to an unnecessary operation simply because their patient desires it — though the physician and their staff should always be pleasant and efficient. A driving instructor shouldn’t allow their student to drive recklessly simply because the student wants to — though the instructor should always be supportive and give instructions politely. A good service experience and saying “NO” are not incompatible. Indeed, you need and fully expect experts that you hire to tell you “NO” when required in their judgment, whether or not you want to hear it.
So why is the word “NO” so completely absent in commercial weight loss programs?
Guess who just won her Weight Watchers workplace contest?
Answer: A WeightNot member.
She called us to get on the WeightNot program because she had entered a weight loss contest at her office, for which she and her colleagues were all doing Weight Watchers – apparently a group activity sponsored by her employer. She was incredibly frustrated by her slow rate of weight loss, and being both competitive and actually interested in losing weight, she found her barely half pound a week pace to be ridiculous. That is where WeightNot came in.