Last week Weight Watchers unveiled their most recent update of their weight-loss system. Weight Watchers makes changes to their program every few years, but this was the biggest change since the switch from dietary exchanges to the points program over a decade ago.
When I first started Weight Watchers, I was on the Momentum program. This plan was based on a daily and weekly allowance of “points,” and these points were calculated based on total calories, fat, and fiber content of whatever food I decided to eat. There was also a nudge toward healthier food choices with the “healthy checks” or “good health guidelines” we tried to meet every day. I started out at 24 daily points, with 35 weekly “flex” points to use as I need them. According to the plan, as I lost weight, my daily points allowance lowered to accommodate the decreasing calorie needs of my shrinking body.
I successfully lost weight on this program—up to a point. I began WW in October, but by February I was noticing flaws in the system. My weight loss was slowing, and I realized it was in part to how the points were calculated (also in part to the fact that my body was entering a healthy range, but that’s beside the point). Without adjusting for fat and fiber, the points calculation was 50 calories per point. The way that fiber made points magically “disappear” was causing me, and others, to spend single points at 100 calories a pop, multiple times a day. And what’s worse is that this was largely artificial fiber! People were choosing 90 calorie Fiber One bars over 100 calorie bananas because the granola bar was 1 point (due to all the inulin in it), while the banana was 2 points. That paired with the fact that I was tired of being so harshly penalized for any amount of fat I ate, I decided to watch my calorie count, and calculate my points without adjusting for fat and fiber.
I lost weight this way for a few more months before my calorie allotment got so low that I could not reasonably have any sort of social life and still maintain such a low point value. This happened to also fall around the time my body found its happy, healthy weight of 140 lbs. After months of maintaining my weight, I canceled my WW subscription in August, resolved to maintain my 40 pound loss.
But here’s where I have a confession. With the changing seasons came a changing lifestyle. During most my weight loss, I didn’t have much of a social life. Most evenings were quietly spent at home with Edgar, and weekends were usually just days available to sleep in and clean house. Since May, circumstances have changed. We now host informal dinner parties every weekend, and occasionally we have a late night get-together with friends on a weekday. This wasn’t something I was forced to deal with during my weight loss, so I easily got swept up in it. So after too many cupcakes, homemade rolls, and late night trips to IHOP and Sonic, I very slowly gained 8 pounds over a 4 month period.
I didn’t gain it blindly. In September I noticed that my weight was around 144. This didn’t bother me. A month later, I stepped on the scale again, and it was still around 144. No big deal. In November I stepped on the scale again. 148. Big deal. A little shift in my weight doesn’t bother me, but the slow increase had to stop, especially since it was caused by poor eating habits. That and my pants were snug and I was not about to go buy bigger pants. I’m way too cheap for that.
Sure, I knew that I could count calories and/or points and lose the excess I’d gained, but something had to change in my mindset. I had been indulging my sweet tooth more than I knew I should, and I wasn’t accounting for the changes in my lifestyle. Whatever I did had to teach me to make better choices than I had been making, because I don’t need to be spending the rest of my life gaining and losing the same 10 pounds*.
Then here comes Weight Watchers new PointsPlus plan. According to this new plan, points are calculated COMPLETELY differently, with fat, fiber, total carbohydrates, and protein taken into account. It is largely based on the idea of the thermogenic effect of food, where the body burns a certain percentage of calories just in the process of digesting certain types of calorie sources (ie. Only about 73% of protein calories end up being available to the body after digestion, 93% of carbs, etc.). Also, the points calculation is MUCH closer to the total pre-digested calorie count of food than it was before, making it far more realistic and applicable to me. Fiber doesn’t artificially reduce points values like it did before (I say artificially because insoluble fiber, in fact, doesn’t have any calories, but soluble fiber does. Since most nutrition information doesn’t specify one type of fiber over the other, they are usually lumped in together, and all considered a carbohydrate at 4-calories-per-gram. PointsPlus does reduce points values for fiber in a very small amount, accounting for this fact, but not in excess like they were before). Another big plus for me is that fat isn’t penalized NEARLY as much as it was before. In fact, many cheeses and nuts went DOWN in points values with this new program. Also, since points values went up for many things (in correction to the fiber issue, plus now accounting for non-fiber carbs), daily points allowances increased, as did the weekly allowances. On the old plan, I would be eating 21 points per day with 35 weeklies. With the current plan, it’s 29 dailies, and 49 weeklies. And that is the lowest ANYONE can go (18 was the lowest on Momentum). And this biggest kicker for the plan… all fruit (with the exception of avocadoes), and most vegetables (exceptions being potatoes, peas, and corn) are FREE. Basically, we eat them to satisfaction and not count points for them.
In essence, WW seems to have ironed out all the issues I had with their program with PointsPlus. The new program has a more honest push toward whole foods, and the free fruit thing in combination with the fact that starch-heavy/sugar-laden foods largely had a significant INCREASE in points values, this is going to really help me change my habits. Now that 90 calorie Fiber One bar, with its 2-3 points, doesn’t look as appetizing as a 0-point banana.
Since I’m cheap and don’t consider 8 pounds worth $40 in registration and a month’s membership, I found a week’s free trial offer for Weight Watchers Online and have utilized that for the past week, trying to absorb as much information as I can.
In the past week, I’ve noticed a BIG difference in my habits. When I get hungry, I’m more apt to eat a piece of fruit than something grain-based (my trigger). I’m less hungry, and the scale is nodding in approval with a 3 pound loss in one week**. Plus, my pants are already fitting better.
*In reference to my About Me section, where I said that I stopped counting calories and was eating intuitively. Well, yes. I was. And eating intuitively kept me from gaining more than I did, but there came a point were I was blatantly not listening to my intuition. I’m still human and have got a lot to learn, so for the time being, I’m going back to something that works. I’m putting the training wheels back on, if you will, and plan to come back more mature than I was before. I’ve accepted that my life, circumstances and choices, will always be in a state of flux, and it’s better to embrace it than resist it.
** I am aware that water weight is at play.