Focus On: Weight Watchers

I’m heading back to work this morning, so in the meantime, I wanted to bring you a Focus On post that I didn’t feel quite qualified to write. When I first tried to lose weight, my stint with Weight Watchers was very short-lived, since I really didn’t know how to choose healthy foods at the time. I would blow my points on a few Krispy Kreme donuts ;) It didn’t work for me, but I know that it’s a sensible plan that has been successful for many people.

Here’s Racheal with the deets and I’ll be back later today! Here’s hoping I remember my Zumba dances :)

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Hi Fitnessista Readers!

I’m Racheal from Running with Racheal and I am super pumped / honored / excited to be writing a Fitnessista guest post.

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Just like you, I am inspired daily by Gina’s food and fitness ideas and always look forward to trying one of her new recipes or workouts. In addition to reading healthy living blogs and running, I also follow the Weight Watchers program in an effort to lead a healthier lifestyle.

I have enjoyed reading the recent discussions surrounding other ways of eating and thought it would be interesting to throw Weight Watchers in the mix.

I know, I know – an image of Jennifer Hudson singing her heart out while calculating how many points are in a sandwich just popped into your head. But, before you write Weight Watchers off as a scheme built for a company to make money, hear me out.

(I should say that I am not in any way affiliated with Weight Watchers. What is written below is a direct result of my personal impression of and experiences with the program.)

The Plan

The current Weight Watchers program is based on three basic principals – staying within your points target, following the good health guidelines, and attending weekly meetings.

1. Points

Simply put every food item is assigned a points value based on its amount of fat, carbohydrate, fiber, and protein, with the exception of fruits and most vegetables, which are 0 points. (You better believe I load up on these – at least 8 servings a day.) (Note from Gina: you can figure out how to calculate the point value of a food by using this formula)

Every day I eat my target points amount, which is calculated based on my height, sex, and weight.

I can earn extra points by physical activity – which is calculated by my body weight, duration of activity, and level of exertion. You are also allowed extra weekly points to use or not use throughout the week, as necessary.

The end of the day should look something like this:

Daily Points + Activity Points – Eating Points = 0

All the calculations may seem a little complicated, but Weight Watchers provides you with multiple resources to make tracking a breeze.

2. Good Health Guidelines – in addition to tracking your points, Weight Watchers encourages a balanced diet by following the following guidelines (source)

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3. I attend weekly meetings to discuss challenges and successes and to encourage others on their weight loss journey. Each meeting also has a focus topic – like staying active, eating out, portion control, etc. This part of the plan is completely optional – Weight Watchers can be followed completely online and there is an enormous virtual support group through their message boards and other websites.

The Good

Weight Watchers is an extremely balanced and flexible plan that allows me to eat whatever I want – just not however much I want. It has taught me portion control and to eat more of the good-for-me things and less of the not-so-good-for-me things.

I realize that their plan isn’t rocket science and that to some, eating less and exercising more is the obvious way to stay healthy. In a perfect world I would just know what I should eat and what I shouldn’t eat, but the world isn’t perfect. I have tried multiple diets on my own only to fail days later. This is simply an area of my life where I need help and this combination of fellowship, accountability, and tracking really works for me. I rarely feel hungry and instead feel completely in control of my health and happiness.

I have also trained for and ran my first half marathon at the Disney Princess Half Marathon while following the Weight Watchers program which allowed me to safely fuel my body during the entire process.

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The Bad

A few complaints I have heard about the program:

· “Calculating the points is always such a hassle.” I agree that punching numbers into the computer can get a bit old, but after a while it is just another part of everyday life. I started to learn how many points values my normal foods were and looked up anything new I thought about buying. Taking the time to meal plan once a week also keeps this stress down to a minimum. If this still isn’t your thing, Weight Watchers also has a plan called Simply Filling which does not require much tracking / calculating and instead focuses on what they call power foods, but that is for another day.

· “I hate paying money to lose weight.” Agreed. Parting with that $40 a month is painful. I hate paying taxes too, but some things must be done. The good news is that once I reach my goal weight I get LifeTime member status and don’t have to give them another cent as long as I stay at goal. I also think of it has spending money now to save money on the high cost of poor health later. Or a bigger jeans size.

· “Talking about my weight loss problems in front of other people is weird.” Although I can’t personally relate to this (for some reason I can’t stop talking about it), I understand how others could be a little shy about the whole meeting process. I think that online is the way to go in that situation

· “This isn’t something I plan on doing for the rest of my life.” This is completely false in my case. I fully intend to follow this plan for the rest of my life – and l look forward to every single flavorful, fun filled day of it.

If you are interested to see how I make the plan work on a day to day basis, check it out over at Running with Racheal.

What do you think?

Have you ever tried Weight Watchers? If so, what did you think?

If you haven’t tried Weight Watchers, do you know someone who has? What did you think about the program before reading this post? After reading this post?

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Thank you for the informative post, Racheal!

For more info on popular eating styles:

-Paleo

-South Beach

-Dukan Diet

-Meal plans I like

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Comments

  1. I might not with the majority here but I don’t like Weight Watchers (and I’m a dietitain!!)

    I do think the general guidelines can be healthy- be careful about portion control, exercise, meal plan, etc. And I love the group support aspect- that’s key in overcoming weight issues.

    However, I think it sets people up to “use their brain” way too much with dieting and not listening to their hunger/satiety cues. Basically you have something other than your own body (your “points”) telling you what and how much to eat. When you have something else telling you what to do (which is any diet) it takes away the entire thought process. In order to make lifelong LASTING changes, someone needs to be in tune with their hunger/satiety cues, heal their relationship with food, and make behavior changes- not just food changes. This is intuitive eating at it’s best. Also did you know WW is one of the biggest companies to get “repeat costumers”. Yo-yo dieting just screws up your relationship wih food even more.

    • Those are good points Jennifer. Weight Watchers does actually encourage you to track your hunger before and after meals- I didn’t mention that :) . Many days I calculate my points for breakfast and lunch and then for dinner I cook / eat what I want and listen to my hunger fullness ques and calculate how many points I ate the next day. If I went over I use my weekly points. I think by doing that I am making behavior changes which will slowly translate into a normal daily routine.

      The reason why I like the points system is because it has helped structure my hunger cues and intuition – which honestly were way off. But I can see why that would not work for everyone and some would eat not out of hunger but because there are points leftover. I also agree that WW has a lot of repeat customers – but it also has a lot of lifetime members. I think that once people learn to use the plan in a way that works for them they can stick around.

      • I agree–my leader has talked several times about eating slowly and how we as Americans no longer understand when we are full any more.

        She regularly tells new members to feel comfortable in how much they are eating and if not, to talk with her one on one to figure out a solution if they are worried.

        The thing with repeat customers is don’t leave! If you are lifetime you are free and pay for nothing and that is me! :) It’s the people that leave the program and have no accountability that come back. 2 of my good friends at WW have been there 3 times and have vowed to stay so the weight stays off.

        • i fully agree. i am a lifetime member also, having lost 55 lbs and kept it off for 3 years, and i make an effort to weigh in regularly and try to stay up-to-date on the ww materials. i won’t lie, the fact that you don’t have to pay as a lifetime member was a big motivator for me, haha. i didn’t know how to follow a balanced diet (or what that even entailed) before i started ww, i realize as the other commenters have said that it’s not for everyone, but it worked for me.

    • I could not have said it better myself Jennifer!

      While I do think that there are people who benefit from WW and have had success on the program, I still have a problem with some of the things mentioned above, plus all the WW crap that they have at the grocery store (just look at the nutrition facts for their yogurt, ice cream bars, “Smart Ones” frozen dinners…yuck!). As an RD, when people ask me my opinion about WW, I always tell them my opinion and try really hard not to be too biased or negative. I also would like to say that I would never tell an existing WW member that that their program sucks or list all the things wrong with it…I like to keep it positive and I do think that WW has some great ideas behind it. For those who are happy and healthy on WW, I am truly happy for you. I just don’t think the program is for me :)

  2. I’m using WW online right now and I love it! I’ve been on it before, got to goal, and then stopped and gained most of the weight right back! I know tracking and “thinking” about my food is something I’ll always have to do. I can eat like a horse! LOL! Portion control is something I’ll always have to watch and this helps so much! Sure I’m eating “low fat” brownies instead of almond butter, but I’ve tried paleo and all the “clean” eating and I just can’t do it! Believe me-I’ve tried! WW has helped me put eating into perspective and it really fits into ANY lifestyle, which is important to me!

  3. I was dying for WW to work but it didnt! I actually ended up GAINING weight even though I measured everything and stay at or below my daily points and exercised too. I only had about 8 pounds to lose and I ended up gaining two. Was too bad because WW has great recipes and resources, not to mention the online support forums. For me, low carb dieting is the way to go.

  4. Jennifer says:

    Two of my Aunt’s each lost 100 or so pounds on WW in the 80′s (after they each had their last child) and both
    have kept it off all this time. Both are still lifetime members and still go to meetings together and help the new people.
    They complained a little when WW changed formulas (or whatever they call it) last year but they seem to like it now.

    Then my sister lost a good deal over a 100 pounds a few years ago. She lost it all with WW but then started running and
    switched to ‘Gina’ style eating for maintenance.

    While I’ve seen up close how WW does work, I tend to agree with the person above who said the counting takes you into your head
    too much. Planning for the week is great I do that too but to me there is something odd about scheduling out every bite of food.
    But again that is just my opinion. I know we each have to find our own path.

  5. I think the principle of WW is great. In America, we are not trained to think about what we eat and the majority of times we need a refresher of how this whole process works. Yes, taking calculations of what you eat can be an annoyance, but we have to re-teach ourselves how to eat properly, and what is a proper portion. We live in a country that our portions are out of control and we don’t realize it too late. WW has encouraged us to start thinking about this, also food diaries are shown to significantly cut down on how much we eat… probably because we do a lot of mindless eating in America!

  6. Christa says:

    Im a few days shy of 1 month into WW and I am down 10 lbs!! And the freaky thing is that I am eating more now than I was before. But its the healthy stuff. Before I would eat a couple meals of crap and be full for a while but now I eat every few hours with fruit, veggie and lean protein. I knew this was the magical combination before WW but like some of the other commenters have mentioned its the accountability of the meeting that is the magic tool for me. Just knowing that I am weighing in every week at the same time keeps me on track every single day. I don’t want to let myself down if I hear that I gained that week. Just like any “diet” of course there is negatives to it, but it’s always what you make of it. If you cheat the system and just eat low point processed foods then you are only cheating yourself. It’s not the WW program…it’s you. One of the ladies at my first meeting said she finally lost a few pounds after a couple months of not, and when the leader asked how she said “I quit fooling myself and ate the right stuff. ” lol
    I think WW is a great tool if you are willing to let it be. I hope to keep up my success but I am sure that at one point its going to become a struggle to keep going….just like anything else.
    Thanks for doing this Focus On post, Gina! And Thanks Rachael for writing it…I’m going to go check out your blog right now!

  7. Great post! I’m studying nutrition at school and many of my professors say that Weight Watchers is the ONLY diet program they support. And I think I have to agree with them – it seems like a very reasonable program!

  8. WW worked for me. I started in 09 and lost 60 pounds in about a year. I’m now lifetime, but don’t attend weekly meetings or track points anymore. I think the program is really great for someone who is starting from zero when it comes to losing weight or eating a healthier diet. Not only did I lose weight and keep most of it off (I gained back 5-10 lbs, depends when I way myself), but it also helped me to learn how to cook, enjoy working out and develop a love for running, and feel a lot more confident. I know if I want to get back to goal, I’ll focus on tracking points (still getting used to the points plus plan) and the good health guidelines.

    I’ve never tried another diet, so I can’t compare between WW or others.

  9. Susan Freed says:

    I LOVE Weight Watchers. I have been doing it online since Dec., 2010. I have lost 59 lbs and am at goal although I would still like to lose 5 more lbs. The reason the program works for me is because I am a picky eater. I failed at other diets because invariably I would come across something that I didn’t like or refused to eat (such as fish) and couldn’t sustain it. Weight Watchers encourages people to do any kind of activity. I was 56 years old when I started and had never exercised regularly before. I started walking on the treadmill and did the C25K program that I heard about through the Weight Watchers community boards. Like Racheal, I just ran my first 1/2 marathon on Feb. 5, 2012 much to the amazement of my family. My husband complains that I eat constantly so yes, I am making better choices but I am also eating a lot of food. This truly has become a way of life for me. Congratulations Racheal on your success!

  10. My qualm is that this diet needs to include MORE healthy fats! 2 measly teaspoons is kind of ridiculous :(!

  11. Great article! WW has been a good tool for me also – flexible and accountable.

  12. I also started weight watchers recently and have lost 10 pounds in 3 months. That might not seem like a lot but I was already active and ate relatively well. However, I noticed with a lot of stress at work and changes in my daily routines amounted to a 10 lb weight gain. I’m now where I was right after finishing marathon training. I have a goal to lose another 5-10 lbs so that I’m done to a 120 or 115 (I’m currently 5’2″). I’ve found it helpful because it made me realize that although I thought sushi was a good choice, I had a habit of eating 17 points a night with the sushi rolls I chose, 4 nights a week! I only have 26 points a day! Its made me more mindful of when and how and what I eat and I make sure to eat relatively clean or eat whole foods as compared to eating their snacky-cakes and fake weight watchers food just to save points. Its also been nice to see how I’ve been doing with exercise and have recently amped up the amount I have been doing. This time around I did the online program after not loving the meetings-type program that weight watchers also runs. Its fabulous. I don’t need the group component because I didn’t have a ton of weight to lose to begin with. As I continue this program I have discovered much more energy and have been finding myself a lot happier over the last several months as well. It was one of the best decisions I have made!

  13. Hello Gina/Racheal/Readers!
    I have been a longtime reader of this blog and have yet to comment until this topic came up. I was overweight/obese throughout my childhood and tipped the scale at over 200 lbs by my junior year in high school. My mother, who wasn’t really overweight but had some lbs to shed, agreed to join Weight Watchers with me. I won’t lie-stepping on the scale for the first time was quite intimidating, but I found relief that no one else could see and they don’t say your number out loud. It got me finally comfortable with the scale, and actually, I found myself more focused on the plan because I know I had the dreaded meeting with the scale the following Tuesday. Aside of teaching me what to eat, Weight Watchers taught me how to eat-making small substitutions, cutting my portions, etc. I needed structure in my plan and that’s exactly what WW gave me. In the beginning, I wrote every single thing down and after a while I was able to calculate the points in my head. I thought the meetings were kind of weird, but after a while I loved sharing my weight loss with the others. After a while, people were asking ME for tips for success which I loved! I lost about 55-60lbs on the plan during a 2 year span. I did hit my goal weight, but unfortunately I went away to college and never became a lifetime member. Also** one thing I loved about this program, I lost all the weight without exercise ! I wouldn’t recommend it because now I have loose skin to deal with, but at the time my insecurities kept me as far away from the gym as possible.

    Once I hit college I somehow got into exercise and now its a very large part of my daily live (spin is my exercise of choice!). And I am happy to say that seven years later I am 72 lbs lighter and have kept the weight off all that time :D . While I no longer follow the Weight Watchers plan, it certainly taught me a healthy lifestyle which I think is the true goal of the program. All in all, for those of you like me who need some structure and some accountability, I definitely would recommend this program!!

  14. I had tried low carb and even sought professional help with a therapist through my work. She advised me to try some kind of a weight loss plan and she recommended WeightWatchers because it is supported by science and about teachig how to make healthy choices. She also recommended that weight loss and then maintenance is a long term commitment, not loose it and go back to what got me here. I have heard that quite a few times from different leaders at Weightwatchers. She told me and I took it to heart, “Whatever weight loss plan you choose, make a 3 year commitment!” I’m about 10 days away from the end of the 3 years and I’ve lost 87 lbs with weightwatchers. I have lived a full life and gained and lost, gotten engaged and married. My wife and I have been doing weightwatchers together and she has lost over 40 lbs. My eating habits have definitely changed and it is because I think more before I eat now. I anchor by what my meeting leader has said multiple times, “Nothing tastes as good as thin feels”.

  15. Adrianne says:

    I love weight watchers. I never feel bogged down by calculating. Just like Gina blogged about the other day in “What’s in your rotation” Gina said Jilliam Michaels says we typically eat the same 5 things at each meal. That is so true for me. I pretty much know if I am sticking to my “rotation” foods which I do most of the week then I am going to be in points. The beautiful thing is that if I want to venture out of the rotation I can and can figure out the points. Easy peasy! I pretty much eat “Gina style” nut need the reassurance that I am staying in calories. Love your blog Rachael!

  16. I spend a lot of time talking about Weight Watchers on http://www.snack-girl.com/ because so many of my readers use the program. I LOVE the focus on fruits and vegetables – and so many people get healthy and get slimmer AT THE SAME TIME. On the downside, it can be expensive and counting points is a pain.

  17. Great post! I have never learned enough about Weight Watchers to really get into it, but my younger brother and his girlfriend say that they follow Hungry Girl recipes and do a Weight Watchers style diet, based on points and just research they did online. I never could figure out how to do it without paying for the site, and I felt like I ate my points too fast! Lol. I know everyone has to find what works right for them.

    I am currently personally using an app on my iPhone called My Fitness Tracker – you can scan barcodes, and enter in your food and exercise, and it tracks your calories for you. I have lost a couple of pounds so far – it really helps keep me accountable.

    But, especially applicable to this post, I wanted to share with everyone my Mom’s success with Jenny Craig! She lost 55 lbs in 8 months on Jenny Craig! She is such an inspiration to me, and I am just oh so proud of her. Like me, she battles hypothyroidism, among lots of other fun ailments that get in the away of meeting her goals. She saw a photo of herself one day that she wasn’t happy with and she decided she was going to change her life for the better. She signed up at a local franchise, and started using their food and snack system, and she just started walking! She wears a pedometer every day, all day long. I have even gotten her to track her steps – write them down. She walked 200+ miles in March. She started out not being able to walk around the block without her knees hurting her, her asthma bothering her, and being out of breath. Now, she walks pretty much every day – with or without my Dad (mostly alone!), and walks anywhere from 3-6 miles at a time! She checks in weekly at the franchise, where they weigh her and she buys a lot of the food she likes.

    When she joined, they had an incentive that you would get half of your sign up fee back if you kept your weight off for 1 year. Well – she did it! She is still waiting for her money, and she doesn’t think she is going to sign up again after the 2 years is over this month. I think its $400 for 2 years just to get weighed and go in and buy your food. I know she can do it! I am going to send this blog comment to you mom, and MOM- I want you to know that I know you can do it! She knows how to portion her food, snack smartly, and order out now. In the past, I have run a half marathon, done 2 figure competitions, and I swear to you – this lady has more will power than I do. She can say NO to the chips and salsa when they are calling our names! I tell her about a snack I tried, and she immediately wants to know how many calories it has in it! J She has maintained her goal weight for 16 months now, which I think is incredible!!! Its so hard once you get to a goal weight to think that you can binge and celebrate – then you end up where you started, and sometimes worse off. She has not wavered!!!

    Anyways, my mom is 59, 60 this summer. She is the fittest lady I know and the happiest too. This program saved her life, filled her with energy and made her so much younger! I love spending time with my happy healthy mom, and I am just so so proud of her (if you couldn’t tell yet). She even wears out her walking shoes now – all the time! How cool is that?

    Congrats on your success with Weight Watchers – I know you can keep it up too! You are all inspiring me to keep changing my life, fighting my battles, and to be happy and healthy and fit !!!

  18. I know that Weight Watchers works well for some people, but to me it seems like it would be SO much easier just to track calories and macronutrients yourself rather than having to learn a whole new points system–especially because websites and phone apps like LoseIt, MyFitnessPal, etc make tracking these super-easy.

    The unlimited fruits and veggies thing also seems like an unhealthy practice to me. Fruits and vegetables are great, but that doesn’t mean they’re all-you-can-eat foods, especially high starch/high sugar ones like bananas, pineapple, potatoes, corn, etc. It seems to me like you could easily add 500+ calories a day in fruit alone, especially if that’s the ONLY thing you’re allowed to eat, and then you end up with a diet that’s totally imbalanced and won’t necessarily even result in weight loss. Maybe that’s just me because I LOVE fruit, and could happily eat a half a watermelon or a pound of blueberries in one sitting, but when I’m trying to lose weight I consciously limit it to 2-3 servings per day.

  19. I’m commenting a bit late to this, but I started Weight Watchers a year ago and am already quitting because the plan makes little nutritional sense, especially for someone who strives to each food that is not processed. A lot of the foods they push are fat-free items, fat-free yogurt, fat-free cheese, low carb bread…and the worst–fat free cool whip–as if the real thing isn’t processed enough.

    I am all about eating clean as much as possible, but eating 2% Greek yogurt, and full fat cheese leaves you very little room on Weight Watchers.

    But most surprising to me is how many points proteins are. The program discourages eating proteins and pushes eating fruits and vegetables– which makes no sense if you want to feel full in the long run. Proteins are good for you and are needed for muscle and brain health–but when 3 oz of plain, grilled chicken amounts to 4 points–why should I opt for that? It leaves very little to eat later on in the day.

    In the end, my pants are looser at the end of this week but at the expense of my being crabby, light headed, and unbelievably low energy. The website pushes eating more fruits and veggies to feel full–but that does not feel you up for long. You need protein.

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