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Is Weight Watchers the Answer to Financial Health?

By Steve Wanta, Guest Contributor on 02/16/2017 @ 10:00 AM

Tags: Financial Capability

Change is hard. Whether trying to lose a few pounds or overcoming an addiction, people have been seeking solutions that can make change easier. The struggle to tackle physical and emotional obstacles is part of the human condition. How can these lessons from the world of self-help apply to our financial health?

When starting JUST, we asked ourselves if we could reimagine an organization that was truly based on a community of peers supporting one another to achieve financial freedom. The question led us to explore other, non-financial organizations like Weight Watchers, AA, CrossFit and Entrepreneurs Organization.

From the former CEO of Weight Watchers, David Kirchhoff, “The good thing about peer support is that it works. The bad thing is that no one wants to do it.”

At the beginning of 2016, I joined Weight Watchers to see how this long-standing organization used peer support to help people change and create new habits to reach their weight loss goals. For a month, I would attend weekly meetings, weigh-in and observe how people supported one another in their commitment to change. It was beautiful. It was very different from the thousands of microfinance group meetings around the world I had attended during the course of my career with Whole Planet Foundation.

The top five lessons I took away from my experience with Weight Watchers were:

  1. Start with a new vision of yourself: As Carol Dweck’s research on mindsets has shown, believing you are capable of change is an important first step.
  2. Goals are critical: The framework of goal setting helps create focus and a road map for the hard work of changing habits.
  3. Celebrate the little wins: The journey can be long and hard. Along the way, we need to pause, reflect and acknowledge the progress we have made.
  4. Develop role models: To know someone that has “been there before” is a reassuring example that it is possible. Weight Watchers’ operations depends on these role models.
  5. Everyone is not the same: Some people hate setting goals. Some people care less about the outcome and more about the support. Some are completely uninterested in the meetings and peer support.

JUST has tested many of these lessons around building better money management habits and business critical skills. Most recently, we tapped into the power of peer support for our first savings challenge. Small groups of our clients competed to see who could save the most in one month. The winners saved an average of $268 per person in November.

Ida Rademacher, the Executive Director of the Financial Security Program at the Aspen Institute has framed the idea simply as the ‘couch to 5k’ approach. When we are woefully out of shape, starting is the hardest part. At those moments, an encouraging word or a simple plan can make a big difference. JUST believes a nudge from a person is a powerful tool for changing behaviors.

Although our early results have been positive, we know that we need to design a solution that can have a profound impact at the individual level while serving as many people as possible. The financial health epidemic facing our country is too important to create something that only serves a few. We believe 21st century solutions attempting to reach the hardest to serve must take a human-centered approach that is enabled by technology.

And the answer is yes. I lost five pounds in my month at Weight Watchers. The accountability and sense of togetherness created by the group experience were important elements in sticking with the program. Yet, meetings alone were not enough. The Weight Watchers app gave me the information to make better food decisions. Today there are plenty of apps to help us with our financial lives. Can we build a financial weigh-in, too?

About JUST

JUST is a social enterprise that unites entrepreneurs to create a financial revolution from the inside out. We invest in hard-working, low-income entrepreneurs to realize a more resilient America. We provide capital and coaching through a community of supportive peers. JUST believes lasting solutions to poverty must address both sides of the economic equation, income and savings. To learn more about our work, visit or follow us on Twitter @NewAndJUST.


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