Recently I watched youtube videos by the lovely Jonesee90 and Trulyjess in which they discussed their approach to weight loss. Both of these ladies were previously followers of (and employees of ) Weight Watchers, and both have stopped following the program over the recent past. I stopped following Weight Watchers two years ago but was nervous to discuss this as so many people swore by the program. Inspired by Jenn and Jess, I decided to finally write this blog post about why I gave up Weight Watchers. But first, a little disclaimer:
The Weight Watchers program has changed a lot since I started following it in 2008. My opinions are based only on my experiences with the program as it existed between 2008 and late 2009; I can’t speak at all about how it is currently formulated. For all I know they’ve changed the program entirely and the issues that I had have been completely addressed by these changes.
When I lost weight during my first year of university, I didn’t calorie count; I just worked out every day and ate very little. It might sound like I’m oversimplifying, but I’m not – I basically holed myself up in my dorm room and didn’t participate in any floor pizza parties, group dinners, or ice cream sundae bars. And you know what? It worked; I lost 40lbs in 4 months. The problem was that I couldn’t stay quarantined in my dorm room forever, and when I started hanging out with ‘real’ people and eating ‘real’ food again, I gained back all of the weight I lost – and an extra 50lbs.
Over the course of my university years, my long-time university friend and I found lots of time to organize double dates with our boyfriends at local restaurants where we would eat unlimited salad and garlic bread until we were stuffed, and then move on to our pasta entrées. Fast forward 3 years: I finished my undergraduate degree and started my Master’s program, weighing in at 245lbs.Semi-inspired to lose weight, I started going to the gym at my local community centre and watching my portions, and lost about 30lbs between September and April. Somewhere in there, my best friend/eating buddy decided to join Weight Watchers. Seeing her succeed with the program made me decide that WW was a bandwagon that needed jumping, so in April 2008, I signed up.
In the beginning, I loved Weight Watchers. I loved the ritual of calculating my points. I loved meeting my friend every Saturday morning for weigh-in and the meeting. I loved knowing that I was a part of some organized weight loss community that worked. I managed to lose 50lbs quite easily on the program; as long as I counted my points, the weight fell off – and I was even able to indulge on the weekend. As I got smaller, I started to exercise more vigorously, picking up running, spinning, and weight-lifting. It didn’t take long for me to realize that losing the remainder of the weight while exercising regularly wouldn’t be a linear process. On WW you earn points for exercising, which you can either eat or save (thereby increasing your weight loss). Every week it seemed that I was working out more and more and yet was struggling more than ever to lose even a pound a week, despite not eating my exercise points (and maybe that’s where I went wrong).
Once I made it down to around 150lbs, I was only “allowed” 18 Weight Watchers points per day (which works out to somewhere between 900 and 1200 calories, typically), plus some bonus points that I could use at my leisure, and my activity points. At the time, it seemed as though the only solution to my stalling weight loss was to stick strictly to my 18 point allowance and to try my darndest not to touch my ‘bonus’ and activity points. In order to survive on so little food without going zombie and eating someone’s face (too soon?) I cut out all of the high-point food in favour of more voluminous low-point foods (fruits, vegetables, lean proteins).To put this in perspective, at the time that I was following WW, most fruits were 0 or 1 point per serving, veggies were 0, and an egg was 2 points. A tablespoon of oil, however, was 4 points.
This is where the math screwed me over. Actually, let me rephrase that: this is where I manipulated the math to screw myself over. If I consume 1200 calories/day, 1 tbsp of olive oil (at 120 calories) is 10% of my daily intake. Totally reasonable. But if I consume a tablespoon of oil on the old WW program, that’s 22% of my daily intake of food – almost 1/4!! For a tablespoon of oil! Naturally, instead of substituting a heaping tbsp of oil for my regular breakfast, I just cut out oil and other high fat (and therefore high point) foods (adieu, nut butters).
I only managed to sustain this ‘lifestyle’ for a few months before I’d had enough. I eventually saw 148 on the WW scale (for a total of 68 lbs lost on the program) and declared that I was at my goal. I knew that 148 wasn’t my end-point, but I couldn’t see myself living a life full of 100 calorie snack packs, fat free yogurt and bran flakes for the rest of my life (ok, I still eat fat free yogurt and bran flakes). I started counting calories to get a better understanding of my macro-nutrient levels (fat, protein, carbohydrate) – at first, in tandem with counting points. Eventually, I got tired of seeing myself over my daily points every day while my calorie counting program would tell me I was still well below my required level of some macro-nutrient, so I stopped counting points altogether and focused on keeping my calories at a reasonable level and making sure I was getting enough energy to fuel my workouts. I lost 8 lbs in 6 months of calorie counting, and got to my lowest weight on record (140) – clearly not a terribly impressive number for weight loss, but considering that I was able to enjoy avocados and olive oil, peanut butter, candy, and chocolate on a regular basis without my guilty conscience tearing me up inside, I was very pleased with my progress. I haven’t looked back since.
I’m sometimes asked if I would recommend Weight Watchers for those trying to lose weight. The answer: it depends. I recommend the WW program (as I know it) for those who:
- Can’t seem to stick with weight loss when not on a structured program (or ‘diet’ ). Call it what you may. The structured nature of the program can make all the difference.
- Are mainly sedentary
- Have little to no knowledge of nutrition basics (macro-nutrients and calories, for starters)
- Don’t have a strong support system (the meetings are your friend. Go to them!)
I wouldn’t necessarily recommend the program (as I know it) for those who:
- Have a high level of knowledge about nutrition (duh)
- Are very active (marathon runners, beware)
- Cut corners. If you try and eat 100 calorie Oreo, chips ahoy and sun chip packs for breakfast lunch and dinner, you’ll lose weight on this program but you will also get scurvy. Take heed!
- Feel no shame. Part of the program’s allure is that you weigh in for someone else. Outside of your bathroom. If you don’t care about whether or not you show up every week and weigh the same or more than you did the week before, the program may be lost on you. I’m not saying it’s right or wrong to use shame as a weight loss tool – I’m just sayin’. From experience.
So there you have it. The nitty gritty on why I quit following the Weight Watchers program. Like I said, please don’t consider this post as me advocating against the program; it’s worked for MANY people. Sometimes I think we just need a change, regardless of how effective and amazing a diet, fitness regime, or program is; after more than a year of following Weight Watchers, I needed to try something different.