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Tuesday, December 7, 2010

The New Weight Watchers

I feel like I should talk some about my thoughts with the new Weight Watchers plan.  If you are not aware, Weight Watchers changed their plan about a week ago.  From what I understand, total allowed daily points have gone up for the majority of members.  Fruits and vegetables -- that is to say all fruits and vegetables -- are now zero points.  However, the points values for many other foods have gone up.  Basically, Weight Watchers changed the previous points calculation, which was based on calories, fat and fiber, and made it based on more things - calories, fat, fiber, protein and carbohydrates.

Before I give my opinion, let me state that while I am a Weight Watchers Lifetime Member, I haven't attended a meeting or counted points since the end of 2004.  Between 1998 and 2000, I lost 50 pounds on the Weight Watchers plan, which was called 1-2-3 Success back then.  I had never dieted before, and the plan worked very well for me.  After I reached my lifetime status, though, it stopped working.  I gained weight.  I would go back to meetings.  I would lose a few pounds.  Quit.  Gain.  Go back.  The cycle was irritating and I started to hate my attitude towards food.  Despite the fact that it was touted as not being a diet, it felt like a diet to me.  After numerous failed attempts, I left Weight Watchers for good in 2004, and haven't looked back.

My biggest single complaint about the program was how points-obsessed it made me.  I had tons of points values for foods memorized, and I felt like this made me a crazy person.  I can't adequately explain what I mean, so if you've been on the program, hopefully you understand.

The other major flaw, at least for me, was how the program pushed its members to eat.  What I mean is that the program never seemed to steer anyone away from processed foods.  In fact, unsatisfying processed food seemed to be almost pushed on members.  Weight Watchers sold breakfast bars, snack bars, Smart Ones Entrees, etc, and they were sold and pushed as an easy way to count points.  The Weight Watchers leaders would spend time during the meetings showing off candy, cookies and snacks that were low in points (even if they weren't Weight Watchers brand).  It seemed that the way everyone (at least that I knew) who was on the program ate was to do as much as possible to save points by eating other crappy foods so that they could have a piece of cake or a bowl of ice cream later.  The foods that I ate were boring, unsatisfying and a far cry from what I would eat if I weren't in Weight Watchers.  One of the reasons why the program stopped working for me was because I was tired of eating the same things all the time.

Then, there were the bananas.  I never ate bananas while I was on Weight Watchers because they were two points.  Apples and oranges were one point.  I know, I know, those of you who haven't been on the program are thinking "but it's only a one point difference!!"  That's just it, though.  You never wasted a point.  Not on a banana, anyway.  No, if you were wasting a point, you were gonna waste it on a handful of M&Ms (you'd need more than one point for that, but you get my drift).

So, what do I think of the new program?

I think it's a step in the right direction.  The banana problem is solved.  It never made sense to me that Weight Watchers constantly penalized its members for eating fruit.  If I'm going to eat five fruits and veggies a day, I generally prefer to do it by eating more fruits than vegetables.  So, that part would be great for me.

I love that the processed foods are getting a bit of a downgrade in the grand scheme of the Weight Watchers world.  I hope that the entire mentality of the meetings becomes more about eating whole foods and good, delicious but healthy foods rather than the crap that being pushed on me when I was a member.  I hope this helps other people reach their goals.  It's going to be a tough sell, though.  Whenever the plan changes, members tend to get a little upset, and these are some pretty big changes.  This happens to be the first time in five years that I've wanted to attend a meeting, but really only to see the reaction of the members, not to actually join.

The part that still bugs me is the part that Weight Watchers can't really ever do anything about, and that is that I feel suspicious of them because they are a corporation.  I can't help but feel as though Weight Watchers profits from yo-yo dieting, and that it is and will always be in their best interest for their members to lose and then gain again so that they will have to pay membership fees to lose a second (or third, or fourth, or fifth...) time.  While the entire program is always touted as a lifestyle and not a diet, the maintenance part of the program was never really pushed on members, and it just isn't practical for most people to count points and attend meetings forever.  You can always attend a meeting only when you have gained, but then you have to pay again.  Lifetime members like me never have to pay a meeting fee again - unless they are above their goal weight or haven't attended a meeting in over four weeks.  Going back after gaining is so humiliating, but like I said, I can't see continuing to attend what is basically an overeating support group forever.

The new, complicated points system also requires a new, complicated points calculator.  Prior to this week, all my old materials - slide rules, points books, etc, would still work.  Now?  I would have to re-purchase everything.  How convenient for Weight Watchers.  I have to wonder how marketing will change for their food and snacks -- will they really be pushing bananas when they're not going to be profiting off of them?  I don't know.

So, I guess I am skeptical, but cautiously optimistic.  I'm at the point where I don't see myself attending Weight Watchers again, but I DO think that it does work as a starting point for those who want to try it. Please, though, eat normal foods and follow Michael Pollan's Food Rules.  And you might be better off saving your money and just buying Michael Pollan's book anyway.

In the end, I just want everyone to know that it just isn't about losing weight.  It's gotta be about getting healthy, so choose your foods (and your weight loss program) with that in mind.  Is Weight Watchers the right choice for you?  Maybe, but also maybe not.


Lacey Nicole said...

Kim i find this post really interesting! my dad did weight watchers in the past and it worked well for him. he was never really overweight, but likes having a "system" (he is very mathmatical, rule-bound, etc.). he is actually a math teacher, lol. anyway, he still follows it loosely, just keeping an eye on points, or really using it if he has gained a few pounds to keep him in check. but what i never thought about until now was that he never did their pre-packaged foods. he just started eating less. and he and my mom eat healthier than ever now- lots of vegetables + whole grains + fruit. i think he is a good example of what it should be.. exactly what you are talking about. that is reallllly intriguing they are changing their system, too!!! although i doubt they will ever stop selling their products...

Kim said...

I always feel a little guilty poo pooing on Weight Watchers. They got me started on a healthy lifestyle and they DID help me lose a lot of weight. If I hadn't joined, I wouldn't be the person I am today, and I doubt I'd be a runner.

But... there are just things that bother me when I see folks joining and quitting and joining and quitting. And it makes me so sad. I feel like the program was, at least, inherently flawed in order to keep people paying money. Maybe it's better now? Time will tell.

onelittletrigirl said...

I really enjoyed reading your perspective Kim, and in many ways agree. I agree that when I was on WW (I lost 28 lbs) I became points obsessed. I would never ever eat a banana- true story, I could eat three servings of skittles for a banana. Which is why I also agree that it is not the most healthy "diet" for people. Of course, what I loved most is that it is not marketed as a "diet" but rather a life change. do they profit off yo-yo's? Of course, all diet products do...but I still think they are better than most.

lindsay said...

i think overall it's a good change. sure, they are profiting off people buying the new brochures/booklets of points, but the meaning has improved. i think its great that fruits/veggies are pushed now, instead of some processed bar or snack. (until WW comes out with their own brand of banana!)

as for yo-yoing, i'm sure that's where most of their profit comes from. there will always be people who do things b/c it's a fad, or half-ass them. there are some larger women where i work who do WW, but i know they do not do the exercise part... personally for real (longterm) success you need to make a full commitment to lifestyle change. maybe WW could bring in (or team up with) some "trainer" type people to get the members working out regularly. i don't fully blame WW for the yo - yo-ers, they're also doing it to themselves by not fully committing to changing...

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