Monday, December 6, 2010

Watching Weight Watchers

I don’t belong to a gym anymore. As much as I like to run outside, I despise what one of my fellow bloggers refers to as the “dreadmill.” When I had a gym membership I saw too many people simply going through the exercise motions. Perhaps they were on the elliptical but concurrently reading or chatting; needless to say I can’t imagine they were getting much out of these “workouts.” We all know there’s a difference between a good sweat and gym activity where you barely need a deodorant  re-apply. There is a difference between quantity and quality. Weight Watchers, the  well-known weight loss program, is attempting to show their members that this difference applies to food.

The original Weight Watchers Points system pretty much allowed people to fit any food into their repertoire provided they did so in the right quantity. I have had clients, Weight Watcher alums, who joked that they could eat pizza every day using the points. Of course this would mean eating little else to allot for the pizza. Though I’m a nutritionist, I can see the appeal of the pizza diet.  However, you don’t need a degree in dietetics to know this isn’t the best way to eat for health, for energy…even for weight loss.

Kudos to Weight Watchers, with 750,000 members enjoying the points system, for overhauling a successful system.  The day the new PointsPlus system was revealed, I was interviewed for a yahoo story on the changes.  I likened the change to going from PC to Mac, a recent transition I had made. Change, especially when it comes to something you use daily or multiple times a day, isn’t easy. We take the leap hoping that in the long run the change will be worthwhile. One has to think that Weight Watchers wouldn’t have risked all of this if the results will not be the same or better. A side note, never in the 9 years of Foodtrainers, have I received more new client inquires as the day the Weight Watchers story ran. Also interesting is the fact that many of the people curious about our services were surprised they had to pay (at all!).

One of the main changes in PointsPlus is that fruit and vegetables are “free” meaning you can technically eat as many as you want to. When I first heard this I was encouraged as this would nudge people to eat  fruits and vegetables they may have previously passed on as a “waste of points".  For weight loss though,  I’m curious to see how people fare with unlimited fruits. I’ve always held that it’s possible to “over fruit” or eat a fair amount of calories from fruit and slow weight loss. We’ll have to see if people end up eating a bunch of bananas a day and how this works out.

Another feature of this new system is that a food hierarchy is presented. Foods with the same calories may have different amounts of points based on their ingredients, fiber and how long they will keep you satiated. Again, this is logical and Weight Watchers is moving away from "a calorie is a calorie" fallacy. While it may sound cynical, I am not sure Weight Watchers members will embrace this concept. In a recent New York Times story on the changes, one woman expressed that she was used to eating anything she wanted and now would feel as though she was on a diet. To that I say, Weight Watchers is a diet and as adults we should realize some foods are superior to others.

I tip my invisible hat to Weight Watchers; to me the PointsPlus plan is sound and has the ability to move hundreds of thousands of people in a better food direction. We’ll have to wait and see if people want to stop reading their magazines while working out and really start eating better.
Have you ever done Weight Watchers? What do you think of the new plan? Do you read while working out?


  1. Lauren, great post!

    I am a "lifetime" WW member, and am loving the new changes! That being said I have yet to weigh in on the new plan, but I feel great, and knowing that the plan is more holistic and focused on a balanced diet encourages me to eat the right thing.

    I too tip my invisible hat to WW and don't think they would've made the change unless they knew it was going to be effective and that it would allow people to have the success they desire.

  2. I used to be a WW member. Lost weight, made lifetime, and was so good that they asked me to be a leader. Once I became a leader, I lost focused and dropped out all together, gaining back all the weight. The new changes seem smart and realistic -- I'm one of those idiots who figured out how to have only pizza and gin while staying within points. The changes to the points system make returning to WW interesting....

  3. I like WW a lot and have had success with it as well. Luckily I've had Lauren to weigh in with too (pun intended) and have learned things like; too much fruit isn't the best weight loss strategy for me but I think the new pts system is great. I'm always surprise at how little adult people know about nutrition and maybe this new focus will continue to shed light on food quality.

    My initial new point system question was how WW can still justify and rate decent pts on all the processed packed food they offer? I haven't read the ingredience on most of their food but have had a look on some of the snacks and they don't seem very nutritious....Still look at all the press and chat about nutrition....

  4. I read the NYT story and was amazed and heartened too to see that they were overhauling a system that has proven so successful and popular. I think it will be interesting to see how people react to the system shift. I know so many people who have been indoctrinated with the original point system and I wonder how they will adjust. As for personal experience with WW, I joined for a few minutes in law school. I drank copious amounts of V8 because it was a "free" item and promptly gained 3 pounds. Awesome!

  5. I have to defend the gym...I work really odd hours and can not always go for a run outside..and when I go to the gym believe me I sweat! I take spin classes, yoga, boxing classes and unfortunately will be on the dreadmill tonight at 8pm for lack of another place to exercise.

    I applaud WW though. Went on WW in highschool lost 15 lbs eating their frozen meals 3 times a time...not healthy!

  6. Melanie, I understand the gym as a last resort. My anti-gym argument had to do with blah workouts not that it wasn't outside. Aidan, sometimes weight watchers doesn't work as well for people who don't have a lot of weight to lose. Marie- pizza and gin, even better than my pizza diet example. Margery your point about the WW foods is an interesting one, let me know if you get the answer to that one. Rob- welcome, interesting to hear the "insider" opinion.

  7. Hi Lauren,

    Great Post! I have been getting many clients lately coming to me and complaining about the new points system. I loved the point you made about unlimited fruits and vegetables! You are right; I do think people will "over fruit.” Unlimited vegatables makes sense, but if fruits are involved most people would choose fruits over vegetables anyday!

  8. i over fruit on bananas for sure. weight watchers helped me with portion control. though i still lapse in that department.

  9. Love what WW did (tho the fruit thing immediately popped into my head - I suspect the assumption is that you will feel more satisfied). What surprised me in the NYT story was this quote:
    “I don’t want to be forced to choose veggies. I do NOT like veggies or fruit,” one member wrote in an online discussion on the Weight Watchers Web site. “I feel like I am being forced to ‘diet,’ and that is what I DO NOT WANT.”

    It's confusing and concerning to me that this member equates "fruits and vegetables" with deprivation and diet without any thought to basic nutrition. (and I have to wonder, what exactly does this member EAT?).

    The new WW program will go a long way in teaching people the value of nutrition, which is a huge battle on it's own. Great job!

  10. Absolutely right: Your new plan is very interesting. I knew advanced idea about weight loss. Bookmarked it.