Natalie Cazeau

May 2000

Professor Keefer



Weight issues affect many women in our society today and women share the heaviest burden of being overweight. Society depends on the false illustrations on the cover of magazines to provide an ideal body type for women. The image of the ideal body type is often portrayed as being extremely tall and thin and many are forced not only by the media, but also by diet and the clothing industry to strive for that ideal image. Pregnancy and the demands of a new baby can often be blamed for weight gain among women. This is seen as one of the biggest problems many women face when trying to lose weight.


In our quest to be at the ideal weight, we commit ourselves to the various diets with the hope of shedding the unwanted pounds. The belief in attaining the ideal size often leads to great social reward, and on the other hand, the problems of eating disorders may arise. The stigmatization that comes with being overweight forces many to become extremists in their desire to be thin. This obsession may even lead to death as we do a lot of harm to our bodies. If society will only accept people for who they are, then losing weight could be done much easier. Even though society forces many women to be thin, maintaining an appropriate body weight is beneficial to us all. There are many benefits to be gained by losing weight. These are: it reduces cholesterol, blood pressure, hypertension, blood glucose levels and stress. On the other hand, it increases self-esteem, and improves physical strength. For these reasons it is very important for not only overweight women but also for everyone to lose weight.


At present there are many weight loss programs available for women who are trying to lose weight. The effectiveness of these programs will determine the amount of weight they will lose. My main focus is on the effectiveness and comparison of weight loss communities both online and off-line for the overweight woman. In this paper I will be focusing on women who weigh at least 20% more than what doctors recommend as being their ideal weight. My concentration off-line is on weight loss group meetings and daily workout programs at the gym. At present, I’m a member of Weight Watchers and an online group called The former offers weight loss through point system and group therapy and the latter guarantees weight loss of 10lbs within a month by using diet and exercise with all information given online. The importance of online weight loss communities could be rated by the following major factors discussed below.

    1. An individual’s identity remains anonymous.
    2. Convenience plays a major role.
    3. Personalized attention is a key to using online programs.
    4. An individual can maintain his/her privacy.
    5. It is a resource for obtaining up-to-date information.

Cyberspace could be used for those women who prefer an anonymous approach. According to an online company called, "The public image and view of oneself affects the social network of the person concerned. Social networks of obese people are small in comparison to those of people of normal weight." Therefore, it is hard for an overweight person to join a gym and not feel a sense of belonging to the group. This could also be depressing and even cause a person to stay away. However, the great advantage of being online is the ability to remain anonymous. Questionnaires can be completed with a higher degree of privacy and honesty. The fear of being laughed at or ridiculed is not an issue. An online approach could be looked at as the first step for weight loss.

The convenience of these online programs helps many women. For those housewives taking care of the home and having no time to attend weight loss programs this can be very beneficial to them. Information can be retrieved and processed in a split second and covered within a short space of time and there is no time limits or traveling to a location to be considered. As more and more women make up the nations work force, and live busy lives, using their personal computer could save them the time they so dearly need. There is less need for referrals as all the information could be examined at their own pace. At their convenience for example, to become a member of an online group called an individual must first fill out a questionnaire. This questionnaire is then assessed and a personal diet profile is made up for the individual. It tells the individual exactly, based on his answers, the best program suited for his needs.


The online user also gets personalized attention. For example, if one is not a meat eater his diet plan will exclude this food group. Life becomes much easier and there is no need to worry about what can be eaten as a substitute because alternative methods can be given. A personalized workout plan is based on one’s activity level. This ultimately will assist in behavioral modification as women learn new ways of dieting without starving themselves. Many women are often responsible for the day-to-day activities of the home, one that includes food shopping. It is very hard for a working mother to go to the grocery and buy everything strictly based on a diet. The good thing about these personalized plans is that it can be used to include the whole family but also concentrate on the individual who is on the diet plan. For example, if one decides not to have a low sugar diet one will be provided with other foods, which can be consumed, but at moderate amounts. The dieting individual can eat the food and so can other members of her family. All the information is given and one does not readily have to use other reference material.


A fourth benefit of online communities is the privacy afforded to the individual. This is very important when it comes to dealing with issues that we feel uncomfortable talking about in public. Earlier on I mentioned the fact that responses done online are anonymous. This means that we can discuss the issue of weight loss behind closed doors and there is no fear for women to expose their bodies or become embarrassed. It is not an easy task opening up to people. Overeating is a self-destructing behavior that many women do at home because they fell comfortable in their own environment. Many women can feel free to discuss these issues without fears of being rejected in cyberspace. The responses can be much more honest which is needed to effectively implement a program based on individual needs.


These online communities provide the most up-to-date information about specific food groups and exercise routines. When an individual goes online and logs on to a site called he can get information on "Eight Ways to Make Weight Lifting Fun". This program is designed for those who prefer to workout at home. It is a very easy program to follow and a workout partner is available when needed. One way to stay motivated and focused is to have someone challenge our progress. At this site each member is provided with the opportunity of having a workout partner, a privilege not afforded off-line. Many overweight women lack the confidence to socialize and because of their body size may find it hard to get someone to workout with at the gym. "Obese women claim to have significantly less social contacts with men than with women" (Sommerhuber, 1994). Many women feel intimidated when they have to come in contact with members of the opposite sex. This happens at my local gym late at night and I have noticed that’s when most of the obese women attend the gym in a hope of avoiding being seen by the many members who usually come in early during the day. Going online solves the problem as each member has the opportunity to get a gym buddy without having to encounter the many fears they face at local gyms.


To lose weight means to be motivated to accomplish a goal. If one lacks the drive to continue losing weight then he would not be able to fulfil his desires. As humans, we always need that assurance that there is always someone to catch us as we fall. Behavioral modification in itself could be very hard to achieve if we do not have the support. This means adapting to new things after so many years of doing the same thing. For example, it was very hard at the beginning to change the way I ate, but with the help of my mother and her reassurance I was able to make that change. She always looked on the positive side of things and when I stopped doing so, she told me it was ok and tomorrow I’ll do better. My mother understood what I was going through and we all need someone that is compassionate and understands our needs. As I surfed the Internet looking at the various weight loss programs, I realized they all provided support for the overweight individual. Counseling is done via a qualified staff of psychologists and dietitians. Peer counseling is also available and messages are posted and the response is almost immediate. This could be very useful for the on-the-go women who resort to late night eating. If the urge is there this can be quenched by easily going online and finding the support needed. Thus online interaction can be looked at as positive reinforcement a form of distraction away from negative behaviors which may include overeating and late night eating. Once motivated we need to incorporate diet and exercise in our daily routine.


As a member of Weight Watchers and after attending several meetings, I have realized that many of these women find it motivating to come in each week and talk about what they have accomplished to lose weight. They feel happy when they lose just half of a pound. This motivational factor encourages members to try their best and follow the designated program. As one attends these meetings one’s weight is recorded so one can see the weekly progress made. Each member is given a meal journal so he/she can, on a daily basis, keep track of the foods eaten. In cyberspace the entire interaction is done and stored online. At Weight Watchers members are also provided with a points counter so they can know exactly what foods to eat and the portion sizes to take. All the information is concise and easy to carry.


The topics discussed in the many chat rooms are scheduled and information is freely available for everyone. There are sometimes time and day constraints for discussion groups online. The Weight Watchers meetings are usually held Monday through Sunday at convenient times and even if the discussion pertains to one topic there is almost always room to discuss other issues. This group is very supportive and women feel free to have an open discussion among themselves. These women come from all walks of life and ethnic backgrounds all with interesting ideas. In one session one can get so much information without having the tedious task of moving around from page to page on the Internet or searching through all the information. As I attend these group meetings I feel a great sense of belonging to the group. The family type atmosphere helps a great deal. I feel eager to do my best and look forward to seeing them the following week with something positive to say.


Exercise is very important in losing weight and simply following a given workout program is not enough. With many of the exercise routines provided, the individual is only guided by his/her own interpretation of how to do the exercise. The availability of a personal trainer is non-existent in online gyms. This may result in serious injuries and poor performance because an expert does not supervise the individual. On the other hand most, off-line gyms do have personal trainers and are there at every step of the way. Performance and progress is charted and the individual will know when to stop and start a particular workout program. The only gym equipment available online are those we have at our homes. At local gyms there are a wider variety of the most up-to-date equipment to choose from. . Being at an off-line gym is very important for overweight women because they receive the guidance of a personal trainer. If these women are to depend on themselves as personal trainers they may not be motivated to continue because having no knowledge to effectively do a workout program may lead to poor results which can lead to feelings of disappointment. Many overweight women have low self-esteem and disappointment leads to feelings of failure, which must be avoided when trying to lose weight.


If one decides not to follow the online program there are no penalties and this in itself is of no help. Many overweight women are looking for ways to lose weight not on their own but with guided help. To lose weight is not an overnight process but one that is gradual. However, with group meetings such as Weight Watchers, women are often motivated to finish the program. As a Weight Watcher member I am committed to having myself weighed in every week and if I miss the schedule, I will have to pay for the week missed. Each person is required to lose 10% of his weight. The fact that I have to weigh myself every week gives me the drive to want to succeed. Many of the weight loss communities in cyberspace focus on fast results. For example, the online group guarantees to lose 10 pounds within 30 days and if a person starts the program late then he has to work extra hard in order to achieve his goals.


In cyberspace no one knows who we are or our actual weight all that is used is the information given. Another point worth noting is that every person’s needs is different. For some women the use of having a one-stop shop of weight loss information and programs may not be practical. For those with obsessive compulsive behaviors may need clinical therapy. For the seriously depressed just being told what to do will not help. These online programs require the availability of a computer and this is the only method of getting the information.


For many women, an online approach can be very resourceful and can also be regarded as an optional weight loss method. Even though some women use the conventional method of joining a diet club like Weight Watchers and many others, the opportunity and convenience of having a personal computer is becoming increasingly practical. There is a wide variety of information that is easily available and accessible to everyone. Online access will surely be the wave of the future as gradually more and more people buy their own personal computers, the need to go online to accomplish their goals become even greater.












Internet sources


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