Cumberland Times-News

Local News

August 17, 2013

West Virginia Weight Watchers founder sells franchise back to parent company

Snyder, 70, owns three Shape Shop eateries in state

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — Millie Snyder has sold her Weight Watchers of West Virginia franchise back to the parent company, Weight Watchers of North America, a subsidiary of Weight Watchers International.

However, she will still be a Weight Watchers group leader and continue to run her three Shape Shop eateries with healthy treats and meals made from scratch.

“After 44 years as a franchise, Weight Watchers International made me such an attractive offer, it was difficult to turn it down,” Snyder said. “This organization is quality whether under my tutelage or theirs. Weight Watchers is here and isn’t going anywhere. They are never leaving West Virginia.”

Snyder, 70, decided to step down from running her franchise so she can devote more time to motivational speaking, working on her new “Lean and Luscious” cookbook, and expanding offerings at Shape Shop locations in Charleston, Huntington, and Morgantown. Plans also call for opening more locations. She also wants more time with her children and grandchildren. Her daughter, Jennifer Mize, has three sons, and her son, Craig Snyder, has two daughters.

She serves as a leader for Weight Watchers classes in Logan and Charleston and loves the way she sees lives changed when people lose weight, gain confidence and enjoy health benefits.

She sticks to the Weight Watchers eating plan and attends a weekly class for herself. She also exercises regularly with a personal trainer, a move that has done wonders for her back pain.

While she will remain busy, selling the franchise was a difficult decision.

“I thought long and hard and talked to my business advisers,” she said. “Still, the decision was not easy. I love Weight Watchers. I love everything it stands for. I will continue as a leader as long as Weight Watchers of North America and my members will have me.”

Sept. 23, 2013, would have marked her 44th year of serving as area director of Weight Watchers of West Virginia, an organization covering 51 counties in the Mountain State, 10 in Tennessee, five in Ohio and two in Kentucky.

Those who serve as Weight Watchers leaders have all had personal battles with their weight.

Snyder is no exception.

As she was growing up in Baltimore, she tried many diets as well as pills and even shots. As the numbers on the scale continued to climb, her self-esteem dwindled. She was taunted about her size. She turned to food for comfort.

She first joined Weight Watchers nearly 47 years ago with a chip on her shoulder. She did not believe it would work.

She joined Sept. 8, 1966, weighing in at 204 1/4 pounds. As she skeptically followed the eating plan, she began to shed pounds and by the following October had reached her goal weight of 148.

She married Harvey Snyder, who also was a Weight Watchers member, on Oct. 31, 1967. Soon both were full-time employees of Weight Watchers. On a trip to Columbus, they happened to pass through West Virginia and fell in love with the magnificent scenery. She made a call to see if there was a Weight Watchers in West Virginia.

Then they set out to start one.

The Snyders took out a newspaper ad announcing the first meeting would be Sept. 23, 1969.

At 8 p.m. that day they welcomed 185 people into a rented area at the Holiday Inn for a “Welcome to Weight Watchers” session.

As various weight loss organizations popped up over the years, Weight Watchers held its own until 1997.

Competition from the pharmaceutical industry contributed to financial problems that led to Weight Watchers of West Virginia’s bankruptcy reorganization, Snyder said. The franchise applied for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in March 1997.

But many of the new drugs that had become so popular were later found to be dangerous. The Federal Food and Drug Administration yanked its approval of Redux, also known as dexfenfluramine, and Pondimin, also known as fenfluramine. Studies also showed that as many as one-third of dieters taking a combination of Pondimin and phentermine — the duo called fen-phen — had damaged heart valves.

Weight Watchers rebounded and has continued through tough economic times.

She points out that proper eating can deter high medical bills as well as the need for some expensive medications.

Aside from business challenges, Snyder has suffered personal losses over the years.

She and Harvey divorced in 1993 but remained friends and continued to run the business. He died in 2000 and she continued on her own with the Weight Watchers franchise.

Selling has been “one of the most heart-wrenching decisions,” she said. “I now understand the definition of bittersweet. I love Weight Watchers. I love everything about it.”

However, stepping away from so many business duties has reduced stress and improved sleep without so many things to think about.

She is currently excited about the upcoming September release of her new “Lean and Luscious” cookbook with publisher Cathy Teets of Headline Books in Terra Alta.

Snyder, who will be 71 on Oct. 19, appears younger than her years in energy and appearance. She credits her eating habits as well as the motivation she derives from other people who reach for their goals.

Her idol is Barbra Streisand, who followed her dream to become an actress even without the encouragement from those close to her.

Snyder made a couple of contributions to the research at the Barbra Streisand Women’s Heart Center and was one of 40 people invited to Streisand’s home on Dec. 3, 2010, in Malibu, Calif.

“I’ve loved Barbra since 1963 and never dreamed I would get to meet her,” she said. “She was so genuine.”

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