Pros: Easy, non-restrictive, effective, fun (the points system is one big toy!)
Cons: Well, duh, it’s a diet!
Rating: 5 out of 5
First posted 8/24/2000
I’m not one of those people who has to always be on a diet, or who has to say “oh my god I’m fat” just to feel okay about herself. I’m overweight but not terribly so, and I’m fine with that. Unfortunately, genetics is not always so kind; a family member developed Type II diabetes recently. My doctor and I talked, and we agreed that I’d be better off losing the weight now, rather than waiting till I’m older and the weight could push me into developing diabetes myself.
It all started because my doctor told me that some of her other patients have had good luck with the Weight Watchers program. I was dubious. All I knew about Weight Watchers was that there were meetings to go to, and wasn’t there something about buying their proprietary food or something? I checked it out anyway, on epinions and on Weight Watchers’ own web site. And I discovered a couple of things.
One, Weight Watchers now offers an At Home program, so you don’t have to go to the meetings. I’m kind of anti-social, so this made me happy. The only thing that’s kind of weird is that supposedly it’s only available in limited areas, so you have to enter your zip code into the web form and find out if you can get it.
Two, they have this spiffy points-based system. The number of points you get is based on your current weight. You’re allowed that many points’ worth of food each day, and all food is worth points. So you can eat anything you want, as long as you stay within your points range. As we do a lot of our own cooking, that was very important to me.
So, I decided to try it and ordered the program. I found out the very next day that my mother was also a member, and had joined when she found out she had diabetes. She had only good things to say about it.
The program is pretty slick, I must say. First of all, the points-value of a food depends on its calorie, fat, and fiber content. Most vegetables are worth 0 points, so you can eat as much of them as you want. Exercising gets you extra points to add to your range (so, for example, my daily points range right now is 20-27 points. If I take a 20-minute walk in the morning, that goes up to 20-28 points). I find that the point range is just at a level where if I don’t eat at least something healthy and/or exercise, I have trouble feeling satisfied. I think this is great – it forces me to behave and reinforces good lifestyle habits.
Counting points is pretty easy. The program comes with a booklet that covers most foods. The ones it doesn’t cover, you can usually figure out. My only problem with it is that it concentrates on pre-prepared brand foods, and we don’t eat much of those. So sometimes we have to extrapolate a bit. It isn’t that hard, though.
The program comes with lots of other booklets, all of which give useful hints and tips. If you get the “deluxe” version you get the electronic points-minder, which is mostly useful for running the points-calculations when you know calories, fat, and fiber. You also get a year’s subscription to the Weight Watchers magazine, which I must admit does have some very nice recipes in it. You’ll get little sliders for figuring out how many activity points various things are worth, too.
Some Quick Hints
Make sure you get some exercise every day, even if it’s just one activity point’s worth of walking.
Find a zero or one-point food that fills you up that you don’t mind having lots; soups are good for this. One of the booklets has a zero-point soup in it, for example. We created our own tomato-veggie soup and put the recipe up on our web site. There’s also a curried carrot soup in the Rancho la Puerta cookbook that’s only one point per serving. Not only will you want a bowl of soup for lunch on days when you know you’ll be having a big dinner, but you may also want to start off meals with a small bowl of soup to keep yourself from gorging on more pointful items.
Try to stay toward the lower end of your point range, unless you find you’re losing weight too fast. I have trouble losing the pounds when I stay up near the high end. (If you lose weight at a rate of more than about 2 pounds per week, of course, stay toward the higher end!)
According to their system, you can “bank,” or save, points from one day to the next in order to deal with large/special meals. I try to only carry points over when I have something specific to save them for.
If you find you tend to have high-point dinners, like we do, you may want to find something particularly low-point for breakfast, which can be tough. We like to make low-fat muffins once a week or so and have one for breakfast.
Pay attention to what you eat; this is why you have to write it all down. You’ll be amazed to find out what’s costing you the most points. For me, it was beverages. I’d always assumed there was nothing wrong with the things I drank, because they were mostly juices. But those juices add up fast. I’ve had to learn to like ice water.
Results? I’ve lost one pound a week since I started. My fiancee, who decided he should join me, has lost weight even faster than that. We eat better, we have more energy, and I find myself wondering why I didn’t do this earlier.
Yes, we have to be a little more careful with what we cook. But we still made chicken satay yesterday, and chocolate chip cookies. This diet won’t require you to deprive yourself, and that’s what makes it comparatively easy to follow. As long as you’re within your points, you don’t even have to feel guilty when you have that small slice of cake.
Added Several Months Later…
As my doctor predicted might happen, sometimes you just need a break from your diet. This is the state we’ve been in for the past few weeks. This is okay, however, for the following reasons:
We actually lost about 25 pounds each before we felt we needed a break. I’m still amazed by that. It came off at one to two pounds a week, which is a nice, safe rate.
While on the system, we really did learn much better habits for exercise, cooking, and eating. Even though we haven’t been keeping track of points for the last few weeks, we haven’t gained any weight back. Not a single pound. In fact, I’ve lost two pounds. I’m absolutely amazed by that too!
I suspect that in a few weeks we’ll go back on the points and get back to losing weight. I have less than 20 pounds to go now. I’m just so stunned that the “lifestyle changes” promoted by this program really have kept us from regaining weight even when we aren’t actively dieting that I had to update this review.
By the way, the materials do provide help for maintaining your weight, including ways to calculate point ranges that should enable you to maintain your weight without gaining or losing.
Added in 2006
I do still believe that there’s value in the Weight Watchers system, but I have to admit that due to my blood sugar issues and current research regarding processed carbohydrates I’ve switched to something closer to the South Beach Diet.