Can We Stop with the Weight-Loss Programs on Real Housewives?

There are few things I live for more than a new Real Housewives season. The season 14 premiere of Real Housewives of Atlanta did not disappoint, but RHOA’s Drew Sidora’s new weight-loss program storyline certainly did.

(Note: To be clear, Drew is not the only housewife to have a weight-loss program. Who can forget Teddi Mellencamp’s “accountability program” on RHOBH which seemingly consisted of progress selfies and soup.)

Drew Sidora. Image Credit: Bravo

Housewives and Side Hustles

Ever since Bethenny Frankel’s Skinny Girl Margarita catapulted her into multimillionaire status (MENTION IT ALL), housewives who’ve followed have been searching for their lightning in a bottle. It’s not uncommon to see a season 2 housewife promoting their wine, hair extensions, clothing lines, perfumes, cookbooks, and of course, who can forget Sonja Morgan’s defunct toaster oven during season 5 of RHONY?! It’s a right of passage along with the season 2 glow-up every wife gets after seeing herself on TV.

While a line of toaster ovens is hilarious and campy, Drew Sidora’s venture on RHOA is more insidious. The first time we see Drew on RHOA this season she is entering the gym to work out with newest housewife, 4x Olympic Gold Medalist Sanya Ross, explicably to introduce her new program: Drop It With Drew, a 21 day weight-loss plan that she was approached to be the face of because, well, now she has a massive platform with RHOA.

“I’m trying to figure out, how we supposed to Drop It With Drew when Drew can’t drop into a squat.”

Sanya: Gold Medalist of Shade.

The rest of the episode – when she’s not dealing with her gaslighting husband trying to talk his way out of inappropriate text messages with assistant #5235635 – reads like an infomercial from Drew for her “national” (re: only available in a handful of cities) weight-loss program replete with an unbearable “taste testing” scene. “This. Is. So. Good,” Kandi robotically declares. Drew tells Sanya that this is a program for people trying to lose hundreds of pounds, but the website is centered on weight-loss of 10, 20, 30 pounds. Not an insignificant amount of weight, but not hundreds. Certainly an amount of weight-loss that should be monitored by a doctor or certified nutritionist.

What is Drop It With Drew?

Drew’s 21 Day Program – as seen on her website – reads like another program with “21 Day” in the title. It has meal plans and workouts designed by Travis Garza Atlanta, Chicagoland and South Florida Fat Loss Camps, Inc. (I shuddered just writing that). But the part that feels REALLY icky is how much of it is tied to cash prizes. At first the website feels like a relic of another time – circa 2014 – but after some thought it’s more like if The Biggest Loser and Beachbody had a baby. A very hungry baby probably doing burpees at the moment.

The Movement Away From Diet Culture

What’s notable about Drew’s website is there is nothing about “health,” which seems like an oversight. Or maybe pure honesty. Because, and say it with me, weight-loss doesn’t equal healthier living for all people. There are way better indicators of health than BMI or lbs on the scale. As society starts to wake up to this reality, companies have started rebranding to stay competitive. There’s been a clear movement away from “diet culture” to “wellness culture” over the past decade or so. Take Weight Watchers for example, who rebranded as WW in 2018. Erika Nicole Kendall, in an opinion piece for NBC News, argued at the time that WW was just disguising its fundamental weight loss ethos with a feel-good, saleable veneer of wellness. The word diet is out, but has anything really changed?

Diet Culture and Me

And before anyone thinks I’m on my high horse about this issue, let me be clear, I can’t ride a horse. But seriously, I was a “coach” in a similar program years ago after I had my second child that walked me right up to the edge of an eating disorder and continued a struggle with body dysmorphia.

The year was 2015 and I was getting ready to have my second child in two and a half years. My body had been through a lot, but instead of focusing on healing postpartum, my focus was on weight-loss. But it was weight-loss that felt good because this particular company said things along the lines of: “The exercise program made me feel strong!” “The shakes fill me with good nutrients #selfcare.” “It’s about wellness!” Sure there were before and after photos, but it wasn’t about weight-loss exactly, it was about how differently the person FELT (Spoiler: it wasn’t). It was a typical diet program dressed up with health & wellness language that was taking over the industry. It gave me permission to work towards my “goal weight” without the complicity of “diet culture.” The language gave me an out.

I am not a Type-A, first born Capricorn for nothing. On the meal side alone I lost all my baby weight in an (unhealthy) 8 weeks. But, that’ll happen when you’re eating out of color-coded containers and starving. I saw my “success” as a surefire sign that I should join the business and become a “coach.” Plus the idea of making money doing a program I was already doing while home with my kids sounded appealing, as it does to a lot of mothers with young children looking for another revenue stream + community.

A snapshot from that time from my IG. The language is so 2015.

I had no business being a “coach” (and I’d reckon most in these schemes do not either). I don’t have a degree in fitness or nutrition. But what did I have? Physical results and an understanding of social media marketing. No idea if my body internally was any healthier (I was actually only a few months away from being diagnosed with an autoimmune disease), but I “looked good” and that’s what other women wanted (it was mostly women who signed up and who were “coaches”). I participated in and perpetuated the cycle of women feeling badly about their body as they age and have kids. But I didn’t see that at the time. I saw myself offering a service women were interested in. Were they really interested in it or was society telling them that they should be interested in it because “health & wellness” was trendy and bouncing back after baby seems like a good goal to have in a country that doesn’t give a shit about postpartum care in particular.

I became disillusioned a few months into my new side hustle as a coach when I realized some of the food choices my farthest up-line coach was pushing were questionable. “She has no idea what she’s talking about,” I thought to myself. But it didn’t matter. Her IG was filled with fabulous vacations, new clothing, makeup, girlfriend brunch hangs, gifts for her top earners, all purchased with her coaching gig. She sold happiness bottled up in packets of protein shakes. We drank it up.

Things went downhill from there. I started to become fearful of food. I was scared to post a picture of my kids and I eating ice cream lest someone think I wasn’t really on the program. I wasn’t selling health & wellness. I was selling how my body looked. If that changed, what did that mean for business? I became increasingly paranoid, turning to binge eating to release the stress. My breaking point came when I attempted my first 3 day “cleanse” and experienced an intense migraine on Day 1. My mom looked at me and said something to the effect of, “This is for health? You don’t have to do this.”

And I didn’t.

I quit soon after. I was embarrassed for a long time about my participation, it’s not unlike many women who have been pulled into pyramid schemes promising “wellness,” community, and an easy way to make money while home with your kids. But when you know better you do better.

Drew should know better. Teddi, if she ever returns, should know better. Bravo should know better.

With a larger platform comes greater responsibility. There is nothing responsible about a program that focuses solely on weight-loss as a moneymaking venture without any focus on health run by someone with no experience, just celebrity. The fact that it’s 2022 and we’re still dealing with this shows just how far we have to go.

Seriously, Just Drop It, Drew.

-M

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