It’s the New Year. You’re thinking about it. Should you do it or should you not? You can’t turn on the TV without seeing Jennifer Hudson hawking it. You can’t stop by the break room without overhearing a coworker talking about it. You made your New Year’s resolution to be a healthier you. So, maybe Weight Watchers is the next step?
To help you decide, I’ve compiled a list of the best, worst and oddest things about Weight Watchers. With nearly seven years of experience (on, off, meetings and online), I have a few insights to share.
Best: Remember how in school some teachers checked your homework every morning and others only collected it every now and then? I’m willing to bet I can guess when you actually did your homework. Weigh-ins are sort of like that. If you attend meetings, you have a locked-in accountability system. Someone will actually weigh you, write it down for you and comment on it. If that’s not motivation for doing your homework every night, I don’t know what is.
Worst: The worst is that someone is weighing you, writing it and commenting on your weight. The sweet woman behind the counter will either smile, frown or grimace based on the number on the scale. I used to feel defeated if I gained 0.3 pounds. This is crazy. The number on the scale is not perfect. The number can be thrown off because you exercised too much, drank too much water, ate a pickle or wore a new pair of jeans. The truly detrimental effect is the anxiety that the weekly weigh-in tends to breed. I’ve chilled out about this, but when I first did Weight Watchers I had an extensive ritual around my weigh-in. The night before a weigh-in, I would refuse to go out for drinks, add salt to my food or eat after 7 pm. Hours before my weigh-in, I would refuse to exercise or eat. Oh, and I only wanted to do morning weigh-ins because that’s when I was the “lightest”.
Oddest: For years, I watched the people in line in front of me strip off every extra ounce of clothing before weighing in. This is especially humorous to watch during the winter. I’ve watched women come in during snow storms, strip off their parkas, hats, gloves, boots, socks, jeans and thermals to reveal the running shorts and tank top they wore especially for their weigh-in.
What I’ve Learned: The number on the scale is fickle and can’t be trusted. A higher, or lower, number isn’t always a clear reflection of your health. Becoming obsessed with the number is the wrong approach. Now, I try to focus more on long-term changes. Did I push myself to exercise this morning? Did I choose fruit over cookies? Did I whip up a thoroughly delicious yet nutritious dinner?
Best: The best meetings are like the lyrics of the Cheers theme song- everyone knows your name, they’re always glad you came and your troubles are all the same. You find a leader you like, you get to know the other members, you share your stories with each other, you vent with each other and you celebrate with each other. In the best meetings, you learn something new every week and you walk away with renewed enthusiasm and commitment. You’ll learn about portion sizes and nifty tricks for guesstimating it, you’ll be coached on how to deal with emotional eating and you’ll be pushed to exercise more. Meeting are also accountability- there are systems in place to make sure you don’t skip meetings.
Worst: There’s only so much information to share. After two years of going to meetings regularly, I quit out of boredom. I started seeing too many patterns. The meetings leaders would recycle the same motivational sayings, clichés and jokes. New members would come in and out and ask the same questions. My eyes started to glaze over. Life is too short.
Oddest: A male friend did Weight Watchers but couldn’t stand going to a single meeting. As he put it, it was a bunch of old ladies talking about chocolate. Jen Lancaster called it people sitting around expressing their feelings about birthday cake. The truth is that most members are female, many are mothers and the average age is a little older. As a younger woman without children, I did have a harder time relating to the other members.
What I’ve Learned: I switched to being an online member and it has been a better fit. I don’t have the same weekly weigh-in anxiety (because it’s just me in the bathroom and my toothbrush isn’t overly judgmental). On the online forums, I found a wider range of people I could relate to. I may go back to meetings one day, but for now I found my match.
The Point System
Best: Points are really just a simplified form of calorie counting. Every food has a nice, round point value and you track them as you go along your day. Weight Watchers gives you enough tools to make tracking painless- smartphone apps, calculators, food diaries and online tools. The points are calculated to deter you from eating potato chips all day. Processed foods carry a heftier point value than natural foods. Fruits and vegetables are 0 points. Lean proteins and whole grains carry a cheap price tag. Beer and wine are pricier. Margaritas and mai tais are luxury items. All around, the point system is sane, balanced and logical.
Worst: Some people object to counting at all. There’s a belief that well balanced eating should be enough. If it was, I wouldn’t be writing this blog. In the end, it’s all about calories in and calories out. I track my spending so it makes sense to me to track my eating too. Years ago, I had issues with the minimal number of points. But since Weight Watchers introduced points plus, I have a much more generous point allowance.
Oddest: Obviously, the points are not a perfect system and people do weird things to cheat the system. I’ve known people who add fiber supplements to their foods to lower the point value. I know people who will eat multiple, smaller portions of a food so it won’t add up to a “higher” point value. Take the point system too literally and it can lead to some dysfunctional eating.
What I’ve Learned: This is becoming a theme but… I’ve learned to relax. Going over by a few points is nothing to worry about. I’m not going to feel guilty, I’m not going to try to compensate and I’m not going to dread getting on the scale. I will chose to go on vacations from point tracking and then get right back on plan. It’s okay.
Best: The best news is that there is no prescribed food program. You eat what you like, when you like, how you want. The idea is that it’s a lifetime change for the better. Clearly, the Hollywood Cookie diet is missing this benefit.
Worst: The actual Weight Watchers recipes (found online or in cookbooks) are some of the blandest, dullest, least inspired things I have ever seen. Luckily, there is a world of bloggers who have picked up the slack. Check out Slender Kitchen, Emily Bites, Laloosh and Skinny Tastes.
Oddest: The Weight Watchers-branded food is truly cringe worthy. Yes, Weight Watchers hawks diet food. I’m embarrassed for them. You can buy aspartame gummy candies, nonfat shredded cheese with a delightful rubber texture, low-carb bread with a cardboard consistency and chocolate snack cake featuring a chemically quizzical ingredient list.
What I’ve Learned: Obviously, I learned to cook. No, really. The only way to truly control what you’re eating is to make it yourself from real, natural and wholesome ingredients. I also learned healthy food doesn’t need to be boring, bland or uninspired.
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