Every time Mindy Grossman looks in the mirror, she is reminded that “you are skinny, you are fabulous, you are clever”. It is not some magic talking looking glass, but an engraved compact-sized mirror designed by a friend and stuck to the back of her smartphone. Two of the three mantras are wearing away, leaving only “you are clever”.
“It’s the most important one, anyway,” says the businesswoman tasked with reinventing Weight Watchers for the digital age, where weight loss apps and Insta-fuelled phenomenons like clean eating are in the ascendancy.
“My first Weight Watchers meeting was when I was 14 years old on Long Island, and I went there with my mother,” says Grossman, who has returned 46 years later to run the company. “I’d gained that adolescent weight and wanted to try out for cheerleading … I lost the weight, tried out and made the cheerleading team.”
“The term ‘dieting’ has some negative associations with consumers, because for some people it reminds them of unsuccessful attempts to lose weight,” says Emma Gubisch, an analyst at Leatherhead Food Research. “It also has the connotation that it is something you do for a short time until you’ve achieved your aim, and then you stop or go back to your old lifestyle.”
“[Weight Watchers] have been in people’s lives for a long time, so you are not the new shiny penny out there, but you really are the one that works,” says Grossman of the notoriously faddy diet industry. “When people want to lose weight, they get to a point where they are desperate and looking for the new thing that is going to work miracles. But at the end of the day, there is no such thing.”
With health and wellness now firmly in vogue, Weight Watchers does not want to be seen as a short-term fix – rather, it is positioning itself as a credo to live by, with its app something users check as frequently as Facebook or Twitter. “We’re looking at the future of experiences and how you personalise it,” says Grossman. “We can inspire people to have healthy habits … that’s not just about losing 10lbs, but creating a structure you can live within.”
The first Weight Watchers cruise, which sailed in May, offers a taste of where the company is headed. The Caribbean trip was a bootcamp designed to shift the pounds, but it took a “wellness” theme, with holidaymakers offered tailored fitness workouts, cooking demonstrations and seminars from experts.
“I’ve been 35lbs heavier than I am now and 25lbs thinner than I am now, and both of those times were probably the most miserable times of my life,” says Grossman. “I’m happier now, because it is about being healthy, not weighing yourself.” But the big question is: how is Oprah doing? “She looks great,” reports Grossman. “She was at the Emmys wearing a white jumpsuit – and you have to be confident to do that.”