I’ll start by saying that I had expected some catch some flack for being an RD and “supporting” Weight Watchers by learning about the new PointsPlus program and attending meetings myself. But I’ve thought long and hard about 1) learning about the new PointsPlus program at all, 2) attending, and 3) blogging about it for the world to judge. My recent weight struggles are related to a fairly recent diagnosis of PCOS and insulin resistance. But below you’ll find my thoughts on this all — good, bad, and ugly. Grab some popcorn and a beverage…this could be a long one, folks.
Firstly, I lost 75+ pounds on Weight Watchers. After Atkins and South Beach and several others had failed, Weight Watchers helped me at 190lbs and 14 years old when I was unhappy and leading a very unhealthy life. Weight Watchers is what lead me to wanting to become a dietitian and help others attain a healthier and happier them. In college, at 19, I lead Weight Watchers meetings. Helping inspire others to lose weight helped me keep my weight off and gave me the skills I needed in speaking with individuals both one-on-one and as a group. I truly feel that facilitating Weight Watchers meetings is what has me teaching college and loving it. So it’s no wonder as to why I will always be grateful to a program that lead me to where I am and who I am today.
It would be vain and insensitive for me to say that anyone wanting to lose weight should see a dietitian, and only a dietitian. While RD’s are the nutrition expert, seeing a dietitian is not realistic for most people, especially on a regular or semi-regular basis. While there are certainly weight loss programs lead by RD’s out there, they are far and few between, especially when comparing them to the accessibility and feasibility of Weight Watchers meetings across the US. As a professional in PREVENTION, I would never discredit a company such as Weight Watchers, who employs MANY Registered Dietitians and who has the common goal of helping overweight and obese individuals meet their weight loss and health goals. With epidemic proportions of overweight and obesity, how could I not support such efforts?
I would argue that Weight Watchers works for 3 very simple reasons:
1. Accountability. You go weekly, weigh-in, and learn tools necessary for calorie restriction, balanced dieting, exercise, and so on. And more than all of that, is seeing others on a regular basis who have the same goal as you.
2. Journaling. Weight Watchers has always emphasized food journaling. I blogged about food journaling on Friday and several of you commented that food journaling made you obsessive or fed (no pun intended) your ED behaviors. While I am not discrediting those points (they are very valid), I believe food journaling to be a reliable tool for self-assessment and accountability. Diet records are kept for a plethora of reasons and as a practicing dietitian, I heavily rely on patient’s food journals to help tailor nutrition education and stimulate behavior change.
3. Calorie restriction and healthy eating. If followed as designed, Weight Watchers provides a diet that is varied, flexible, balanced, and adequate. For those that don’t believe Weight Watchers gives you parameters with which to work, while providing the framework for a healthy diet, you are wrong. Weight Watchers builds their healthy eating guidelines off well-researched and well-published information regarding macro and micronutrient balance found in a healthy, balanced diet.
In reference to the new PointsPlus program, I believe there are positives and negatives. The major change from the Points to the PointsPlus programs is macronutrient composition. The new program is designed to be low-fat, high fiber, lower carb, and high protein. Generally speaking, if a food has more protein and/or fiber, the food will be lower in PointsPlus. Similarily, if a food is high in fat and/or carbohydrate, it will be higher in PointsPlus.
While I believe a higher protein diet to be helpful with satiety, most Americans consume plenty of protein each day. And while higher fiber foods are lower in PointsPlus, carbohydrates overall cause a major jump up. Fat also causes PointsPlus values to be high. Just when we were starting to get the jest of “good” and “bad” fats, Weight Watchers is sort of going back in time to say that all fats should be strictly limited. With my 29 daily PointsPlus, for instance, 1/2 avocado would run 6 PointsPlus, 1 oz. almonds would run 4 PointsPlus, 1 Tbsp peanut butter would run 3 PointsPlus, and 2 tsp olive oil would run me 2 PointsPlus. I could and would eat all of those foods throughout the day, however, they would account for nearly 52% of my allotted PointsPlus for the day, without providing much volume of food.
However, the new PointsPlus program continues to issue Activity PointsPlus which are earned for performing physical activity, as well as a Weekly PointsPlus Allowance of 49 PointsPlus. While I would argue that many people use both sets of additional PointsPlus for “discretionary” calorie foods (alcohol, sweets, etc.), they should, for the most part, be used on wholesome, nutritious foods such as avocados, peanut butter, nuts, and heart-healthy oils, for example.
This would be a good time to mention that MOST fruits and vegetables are “free” foods on the new program, meaning they have a 0 PointsPlus value. On the old Points program, a banana had a Points value of 2 and most fruits had a Points value of 1. While these Points numbers are low, many people received only 18 Points per day and felt they were “wasting” Points spent on fruits. In an effort to increase fruit and vegetable consumption, most fruits and vegetables no longer “cost” any PointsPlus. I believe this to be a very positive change, so long Weight Watchers continues to educate on hunger and satiety signaling and portion control. Just because fruits are a “free” and wholesome food, doesn’t mean we need 22 cups of watermelon in a day! At the end of the day, calories are calories regardless of their source and in order to produce weight loss, a calorie deficit must be made.
The higher protein, lower-carb change has its pros and cons. What I would encourage Weight Watchers members to take into consideration is the quality of carbohydrate they are consuming. Low-carb tortillas, for example, are often packed with preservatives and unnecessary ingredients. I would urge people to not always go for the lowest PointsPlus item, and to consider the wholesomeness of the food (check out ingredient lists!). Just like with healthy fats, consumers are beginning to find value in whole foods that have not been overly processed. Consumers and Weight Watchers members alike should continue selecting foods that are closest to their natural state without a laundry list of 9-syllable ingredients.
As for exercise, don’t do what I did years ago: exercise to eat more. As tempting as that is, food should not reward workout efforts. While properly fueling and replenishing is important, Weight Watchers members should avoid exercising in order to over-eat, or to compensate for over-eating. Activity PointsPlus should, for the most part, be used appropriately for wholesome, nutritious foods. And please don’t get me wrong, if you exercise, you do require more calories, even for weight loss. However, when you rationalize that exercise = splurge, it’s not reinforcing healthy changes for a lifetime.
Similarly, Weekly PointsPlus Allowances are meant to be used. It has been a long-standing belief that if you don’t eat your Weekly PointsPlus Allowance, you will lose weight more quickly…but that is not always the case. The body can be finicky when it comes to weight loss and under-fueling the body can lead to plateaus and under-nutrition. Listen to your body, eat mindfully, and consume a healthy, balanced diet — the numbers work themselves out.
And when you meet your goal, stay there. That’s the hard part…the part I find most difficult. For those like myself who have been overweight since childhood, we are designed at the molecular level to re-gain weight. As humans, we stop making fat cells by early adulthood but we never lose these fat cells throughout life. The more fat cells the body contains, the easier weight gain will be. The cells are always there, waiting to store any access calories as adipose (fat). This is why childhood obesity provides such a scary glimpse into the future.
I hope this has been helpful and enlightening for many of you. If you’ve made it this far, thank you. While my blog is a recording of my life and my thoughts, I would appreciate any negative comments be left unsaid. It is no secret that I have in the past, and will probably always struggle with my weight. Thankfully I now know why, in part, I struggle more than others. But as a 25-year-old woman, I see a family in my future. Not tomorrow, and probably not next year, but sometime…and I want to be as healthy as I can be when bringing a baby into this world — a baby that will hopefully not have to fight obesity from such a young age as I did.
Some of you may find the above makes me more “real”…others may fault me for being dietitian who struggles to maintain a healthy body weight. But this is me, and I am proud of every bit of me — chubby, fluffy, or perfectly lean 😉 It’s taken me years to get here, and I plan to continue loving and appreciating myself just as I am.
Lots of love,