The “eat all the healthy food and a little of the unhealthy food” plan

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I’ve received a couple requests to post more often, but it’s probably not going to happen. My dissertation is due very soon (in like a week), and then I’ve got that whole dissertation defense thing to do, all of which takes precedent over 2013, With a Grain of Salt (sorry).  However, I have been following the Weight Watchers Points Plus diet plan for the last twelve days, and in general, I feel like this baby elephant:

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The Premise Behind Weight Watchers

Weight Watchers (WW) is a commercial weight loss/maintenance plan, in which foods are assigned a point value, and you keep track of your points everyday (or almost everyday…more on that in a minute).

When you sign up for WW, you input some data about yourself (sex, age, height, weight, physical activity level), and it calculates the number of points you are allotted/day.

No one gets less than 26 or more than 71 points per day.  If you’re like me and don’t want to pay for WW, you can figure out your point allowance via many blogs and tutorials.  I would put a link to the one I used, but WordPress temporarily disabled my blog when I did that, so you’re just going to have to do the really hard work of Googling it yourself, much like I did.

No matter what your daily point allowance, you also get 49 extra points per week.  You can spread these throughout the week, or if you know that you have some event coming up (like a big dinner or party in which alcoholic beverage consumption may also take place), you can save them and use them all at once.  I really like this feature because it puts the emphasis on looking at your diet over a longer period of time (week vs. day), and it flexibility is intrinsically built into the plan.

In 2010, WW moved to WW PointsPlus, and some really important changes came with that.  On the old program, the focus was solely on calorie intake, so you could technically eat Twinkies and ramen noodles all day, as long as you didn’t eat a lot of them and remained within your point goal.  In 2010, the program changed to focus on the quality of those calories, and I can’t emphasize enough how important that is.  The new algorithm to determine the points of a food is as follows:

[(Fat(g)/3.9)+(Carb(g)/9.2)+(Protein(g)/10.9)-Fiber(g)/12.5)]=points

As you can see, foods that are high in protein and/or fiber will cost you fewer points than foods high in fat and carbohydrates, thus shifting your focus overall to healthier foods.

Most fruits and vegetables are 0 points, so you can eat lots of those (as you should).  Potatoes, avocadoes, fruit juices, and dried fruit aren’t 0 points, which means that you can still eat them, but assigning a point value forces you to not overeat them.

Activity also factors into the equation, and the more you exercise, the more points you can add back into your day/week. In general, burning 80 kcals translates to 1 point.  So, for a woman of my weight, 15 minutes of medium intensity work = 1 point, whereas 15 minutes of high intensity work (i.e. running)= 2 points.

There is also the Power Foods List, which is handy for days that you don’t want to track your points, for whatever reason.  The recommendation on those days is to eat from the Power Foods list to the point of feeling satisfied (not full), and you’ll be able to stay on track with your weight loss/maintenance goal.

Why Weight Watchers Works
WW was named one of the best diets of 2012 by U.S. News and World Report.  It was #1 for the best weight loss diet as well as easiest diet to follow.

Ease of Use
When you sign up for WW, you get access to all their online tools and a phone app that calculates all your points for you (I calculate them myself, which is a pain in the ass).  You’re also given an accelerometer which measures your activity throughout the day, and these are actually pretty expensive to come by.  Also, the Power Foods list (see above) makes life a lot easier.

Weight Loss Effectiveness
There is a huge support system of other people who are following the diet plan, and you can go to in-person meetings or use online forums that allow you to hash out your struggles and share ideas with other people.  Having a support system is one of the main predictors of successful weight loss, in part because you can get ideas from others.  It also makes you accountable to something other than yourself, and most of us know that, if left to our own devices, we typically aren’t always motivated to do what’s best for ourselves.  (My accountability throughout this whole process is to my blog.  Even if no one reads it, I like to pretend there are a lot of you who will ridicule me and hold me in contempt if I don’t follow through with this. It keeps me motivated.)

Weight loss studies have evaluated characteristics of people who are most likely to lose weight and keep it off compared to those who are not successful, and the number one behavior is self-monitoring.  It requires a lot of work to track your diet, but it is extremely effective because knowledge is power and it forces you to be honest with yourself.  It may be a lot of work, but consider any change you’ve ever made, and I can guarantee that the changes that were the most fruitful were also the ones that required the most will power and dedication.

Weight Loss Maintenance
Before I even looked into WW in any real depth, I always recommended it to people who ask me for weight loss advice.  The reasons for this are two-fold:
1) People typically don’t listen to me (or any nutrition professional) when they are given advice because making changes are hard and it’s human nature to follow the path of least resistance.  It turns out that this is the same path that makes you fat and unhealthy. Thus, it’s easier for me to recommend a program that will teach someone everything they need to know. It saves me time, and if people are paying for something, they’re probably more likely to put in the effort to reap the benefits of that service.
2) (This is the less selfish and more important aspect) WW teaches you how to eat healthy, long term.  Studies indicate that weight loss itself isn’t the most challenging aspect of weight control, but maintaining that weight loss is where you have to dig in deep and force those changes to become a way of life.  WW allows you to eat normal food and even unhealthy food, though portion control and moderation are built into the point system.  It also emphasizes healthy foods like fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean meats, and low-fat or nonfat dairy.  It’s really built for real people who aren’t health freaks. So, if you pay attention to the tools at your disposal while following WW, the transition off of WW will likely be much smoother and you’ll be more likely to maintain the weight loss for which you worked so hard.  Other diet plans like NutriSystem provide all the food for you, so you never really learn how to cook healthy foods; thus, weight regain (also termed “recidivism” in the scientific community) is a huge issue with these diets.

My Life as a Weight Watcher
I’m not paying for WW because a) it’s sort of expensive ; b) I’m not trying to lose weight; and 3) this is an experiment to test how realistic dietary plans are, and I’m getting that information by paying no dollars/month. However, for someone who does want to lose weight, I do not recommend going about it the way I am because it’s way more work, and there are so many tools that support you in your health and weight loss goals that you’ll be missing out on by being a cheap ass.

  • I get 26 points/day, which is the lowest allowance possible.  Makes sense since a person with a BMI of 20 shouldn’t really be trying to lose weight.
  • I track my points in my journal, which really makes me wish that I had the online tools.  I feel like an analog girl living in a digital world.  This is also what we could call a Generation Y problem.
  • I started by just tracking my normal diet to see how many points I typically eat, which came out to 26-30. Again, no surprise there, as I’m a weight stable individual and not prone to binging.
  • I kind of got really into tracking my points though, and I had it in my head that I was only allowed 26 points/day.  I forgot about those extra 49 points/week, so, if I wasn’t planning on using a bunch at once, I could/should go up to 33 points/day.  I also forgot about adding my activity points into my daily allotment.  And because of that, I lost 2 pounds in the first 10 days.  Oops.  BUT, it does show you how easy it can be to lose weight on this plan!
  • I find that I am gravitating towards eating fruits and vegetables more than I maybe normally would because they are zero points, so I don’t have to track them. Almost every snack I eat is a fruit or a vegetable.  Well played, WW.
  • I’ve also started eating from the Power Foods list as many days as I can because that also reduces the amount of writing/point calculating I have to do.
  • Mixed meals are the hardest points to calculate and the most work, but for most things, I can just Google whatever food it is, and someone has probably already calculated it.  Thanks, internet.
  • Another goal of WW is the whole 8×8 trick (drink 8 8-oz glasses of water/day).  This is good for me because I definitely don’t drink enough water, and I do track this everyday because I know it’s the hardest thing for me to do. And seriously. It’s so hard.  I haven’t had a day yet where I met this goal. I’m working on it!

Overall, I am elated to be a Weight Watcher after my month on Paleo.  I get to eat things like black beans, and hummus, and cous cous, and oatmeal, and whole grain pasta, and feta, and I’m just so happy. I was also yogurt sober for TWO WHOLE MONTHS. I’m pretty sure I haven’t done that since I started eating that delicious bacteria enriched dairy treat as a young tyke, and I plan on never doing it ever again. You can’t tame this wild beast.

**If anyone from Weight Watchers International, Inc. happened to stumble upon this blog post and wanted to give me access to some online tools for all the great advertising I’m doing, free of charge, I wouldn’t fight it.  Also, if some of the information I’ve said here is wrong, though I’m pretty sure it’s not, you should definitely give me access to all your information, so I can stop misinforming the masses (i.e. all 10 of my followers).

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