I’ve struggled with my weight most of my life. I’ve been fat and I’ve been thin. In my 30s, I got the yo-yo-ing under control and stabilized in the 130s. But then, in the wake of injuries and work stress, the weight crept on.
Hovering between 155 and 160, I was not obese but officially overweight, according to the Body Mass Index (BMI), and shedding pounds wasn’t as simple as it once had been. There I was, “overweight,” the owner of an achy joint, and inching ever closer to the hormonal changes that every woman must eventually face — and that are said to make weight loss even harder. Dropping weight had become a must. It would make me more agile, nimbler, lighter on my feet, so to speak. It would relieve pressure on my joints. Clothes would fit better. I’d look better. Plus, with the prospect of menopause on the not-to-distant horizon, it was the time to shed 15 pounds — once and for all.
So I turned to Weight Watchers, and here’s what happened.
First, a primer: Weight Watchers works by assessing each member by age, weight, height, and gender, then determining how much food he or she needs to eat to lose weight at what the company calls a safe rate — 1 to 2 pounds per week. The member is assigned a daily point target and spends those points on food. Some foods — fruit and vegetables especially — have zero points. Foods full of simple sugar and fat tend to have high points value. Where an apple is zero points, a slice of apple pie is 12 points. Members are encouraged to track everything they eat, which can be done offline, online, or via an app.
In addition to a daily point target, every person also gets a weekly allocation of extra points for the time that member exceeds their target. That could be a point or two daily, or all at once.
In addition to that weekly buffer, members can earn extra fit points for exercise. Members can weigh in at meetings or in the privacy of their own home. Significant weight losses (or gains) can also result in an increase or decrease in points.
I step on the scale at nearly 155 pounds. Heavier than I’d like; lighter than I had feared. Based on this and my other data, I’m assigned a daily target of 30 points and an additional 35 weekly points.
I spend the week faithfully counting points — if not adhering to the strictest of limits. The first day I use 33 of my 30 points, digging into that weekly stash right off the bat. The second, I oversleep, so I miss a trip to the gym. Things go downhill at night when I meet a friend at a bar and make the mistake of ordering a Manhattan (10 points) followed by two beers (five points each), and no dinner. When I get home, I’m hungry, but it’s after midnight. I walk into the kitchen, contemplate the fridge, then spin on my heel and march myself out of the kitchen.
Now, when I fall face first into a piece of cake, I simply get up and brush off the crumbs.
Wins: I didn’t late-night eat and I went over by just one point.
Losses: I’m pretty sure Weight Watchers would not approve of my drinking my dinner.
The rest of the week progresses with wins and losses, and culminates with a huge feeding-frenzy party. But, in preparation, I had hoarded my extra weekly points. I eat egg whites for breakfast, work out for an hour, eat fruit for lunch, and indulge in a gluttony of wings and cake pops and guacamole and beer — 49 points for the day.
My second week begins with a whimper. I’ll admit, I’d hoped to see bigger — or smaller — but in the end, the results aren’t all bad. I’m down a solid 1.4 pounds which is a definite win. The weight loss also changes my weekly points. I still get 30 a day, but now I have 23 weekly points instead of 30.
On Monday, I see editor-at-large of O, The Oprah Magazine Gayle King in the cafeteria at work. I’m standing there desperately trying to look up the points that might be associated with lentil masala when she walks up and pulls out her phone. At this point, I pretty much throw myself at King. I’m sure she’s counting points and I’m thrilled to find someone else who can relate. She gives me some advice: “Yes, but lentils … those are good points!” which I shoot down by mentioning that said lentils also say “masala” which is loaded in points. I scare King away and opt instead for a salad.
My birthday falls in the middle of the week and I celebrate by far exceeding my daily allotment. I go into the weekend — and a date — with just three of my weekly point allotment remaining. In hopes of staving off failure, I make sure to bump up the exercise quotient over the weekend too.
Things are getting more normalized. I’ve figured out how to use my points to my advantage and most days manage to stay within my target range. One of the things I love about Weight Watchers is that there are healthy, filling foods you can eat that you can’t on other diets. Take, for example, the zero-point banana, which is not allowed in the initial stages of South Beach. Filling and sweet, the banana becomes my friend this week, and I eat one most days. I also continue finding ways to fill up on vegetables, most of which are zero points, and on clean protein.
It’s the smallest loss to date, but it’s still a loss, which I count among the victories. Also a victory is the fact that the late-night binges that were plaguing me have ceased. I credit this to the tracking. By noting what I eat, I’m more conscious of what’s going into my body. This seems to prevent the overeating, late-night binging, and mindless consumption that helped get me here in the first place.
I spend the week exercising, keeping diligent notes of what I eat, and trying to stay within my daily allocation. It seems to work.
Final Weight: 150.2 lbs.
Total weight lost: 4.6 pounds
I can’t say I have the body of a model or the energy of my teenage self, but I do seem to have control. Plus, I can feel my hipbones again, my stomach is shrinking, and I’m all of three-tenths of a pound from “average” weight. The goal now is to continue on. Another six to eight weeks should have me at my goal.
With nearly 5 pounds of weight lost over the course of a month on Weight Watchers, here’s what I learned:
1. It’s easy.
The lack of restrictions makes the plan easy to work. You can literally eat anything you want on Weight Watchers, so long as you account for it — and structure the rest of your intake around it accordingly.
2. There’s a built-in support network, if you want it.
Weight Watchers offers a lot of options. You can go to a weekly meeting, weigh in, and talk with others on the same path. You can do everything from the comfort of your own home (or phone) instead. You can even IM with a diet coach if you want, share pictures from your journey with others online, and more.
3. There’s no hunger or deprivation.
If I was ever hungry on Weight Watchers, it was my own fault. If, for example, I chose to drink a 12-ounce Coke, that would take up nine of my daily points, without slaying hunger. For the same nine points I could have had two chicken fajitas, or 3-ounce steak and a small baked potato. And, for those of us with portion control issues, there’s always the opportunity to gorge on “free” vegetables.
4. Cheaters win.
You know those diets where you’re not allowed to eat anything with, say, sugar? Or carbs? This isn’t one of them. When you want potato chips, you eat potato chips. You just build them into your diet plan, account for them in your point spending, and compensate for them with other healthy eating choices the rest of the day and week
5. One bad day didn’t destroy me.
That day that I had a Manhattan and beers? It didn’t set me back mentally, emotionally, or physically. Instead, I just accounted for it and moved on. No guilt, none of that “since I already failed I might as well keep on eating.” Now, when I fall face first into a piece of cake, I simply get up, brush off the crumbs, track what I ate, and compensate for it for the rest of the day or week.
6. It’s the end of binge eating.
By tracking everything I eat over the course of a day and a week, I learned to just just say no. It’s like there’s an invisible boundary there. Sure, I can fit tortilla chips (12 chips, four points) and salsa into my diet, but not the entire basket. Now, I know what that basket will cost me — not just on the scale but in my food plan for the day or the week. Subconsciously, I can decide that I’d rather stop at a handful of chips than sacrifice say, dinner.
7. If you work the plan, the plan will work.
See the scale: Nearly 5 pounds in four weeks? That’s not so bad.