Weight and fitness are issues which I have struggled with all of my life, and it took until I was 32 years old and joined Weight Watchers for me to finally get them both under my control. Through Weight Watchers’ on-line program, I was able to loose a significant amount of weight – over 70 pounds at my maximum weight loss – and keep the bulk of it off in the seven years that have followed. That said, while Weight Watchers worked very well for me at that time to lose a significant amount of weight, I do not feel that it is necessarily the right program for everyone. I have found it difficult to get back into the program when I’ve had less weight to lose or simply tried to stay on their maintenance plan long-term. I’ve known friends who have succeeded well with Weight Watchers, and others who did not. What follows is my story of success and how Weight Watchers worked for me.
Before I Joined Weight Watchers
Before I joined Weight Watchers, maintaining a healthy weight was always a struggle for me. I was never morbidly obese, but ever since childhood I tended to carry more weight than I should and knew I was, to general medical standards, considered “overweight.” I did like to eat and always enjoyed good food since I was very young, but I wasn’t a particularly active child. I preferred reading, playing music and drawing to running around outside and my own self-consciousness about my weight and occasional teasing about it made me even less likely to participate in sports and physical activities with other kids. From those early days until my mid-twenties, my weight could fluctuate dramatically – dropping down significantly when I started college and developed bad eating habits away from home, then creeping up as I entered graduate school and lived primarily on takeout pizza, chinese food and cheesesteaks for several years.
By the time I was entering my thirties, I was weighing in at nearly 200 pounds and at 5’7″ in height struggling to fit into size 16-18 clothes. It was depressing when I realized that I needed to start shopping in specialized “womens” clothing stores like Lane Bryant instead of finding anything I could wear in regular department stores. I was not happy with how I looked, but more importantly I was not happy with how I was feeling. I was developing lower back pain, suffering regular migraines, and knew that I needed to do something at long last to get in shape. I was just frustrated about knowing exactly how to do that, as I honestly did not see what I was doing that was so “wrong” compared to friends who seemingly could eat what they wanted and never gained weight.
One of my best friends also struggled with his weight, and he had decided to give Weight Watchers on-line program a try. Looking into it as he was talking about it, I decided to try the program as well, as we could offer each other support by doing it together. I liked the way Weight Watchers “Flex Program” appeared to work, as it was not a specific “diet,” which was an idea I’d always rebelled against. I never liked nor could succeed on strict weight loss programs that gave you set menus you had to eat, or disallowed certain foods entirely. I never saw how that could help you keep weight off in the long run once you went back to “normal” eating. On Weight Watchers Flex Program, in contrast, it appeared you could eat whatever you wanted, provided you budgeted your “Points” for it. That flexibility was appealing to me, and it really seemed like a program I could follow without having to completely readjust my lifestyle.
I also liked the idea of doing Weight Watchers on-line, instead of having to attend meetings. I didn’t like the idea of being “weighed in” weekly in front of a crowd, or the seemingly cultish aura that surrounded Weight Watchers meetings from what I’d heard. On-line, I could track my daily points, my weight progress, participate in discussion forums for support if I chose but otherwise it was up to myself to be honest about my progress, or lack thereof. I signed up for a three-month membership to see how it would go.
Getting Started with Weight Watchers
The first few days on the Weight Watchers program proved to be an extremely difficult adjustment for me, and a great shock to my system. On the Flex Program I was given 28 daily “Points” to spend on food (based on my current weight), plus 35 weekly “Flex Points” to use as I wanted or needed. The only suggestions on how those points were to be spent were to try to get in 3 servings of dairy a day, and 5 servings of fruit and vegetables. One Point is approximately equal to 50 calories, although it varies based on a formula that also takes into account fat grams and fiber content. (Weight Watchers regularly shuts down websites that publish the exact Points calculation formula, but it is out there if you look for it.)
I didn’t realize how badly I’d been over-eating or wasting calories on unsatisfying food until I calculated that before joining Weight Watchers, I was eating easily 50-60 Points worth of food a day (around 2500-3000 calories, well over the standard recommendation of 2000.) I had no idea I was overeating that much, as I actually had stopped with much of the pizza and bad fast food at that point that had been my problem before. My mother and I lived nearby at the time so we cooked dinner together almost every evening, and I thought we were eating healthy.
Still, I could begin to see where my weaknesses were: too much bread, too much cheese, too much snacking mindlessly on high-calorie and high-fat foods. I struggled that first week on Weight Watchers very badly with getting my hunger under control while sticking to my Point limits. I struggled, too, that first week with my mother over my sudden changes in diet. While she was not happy with my weight either, she seemed to resent me wanting to change our evening meal patterns and how much I would eat. If we made rice, I only wanted to eat one cup’s worth instead of a large bowl or second helping. I told her I didn’t want to eat pasta more than once a week and I would turn down dessert if she’d brought home a pie or ice cream from the supermarket. It was difficult, but I was determined to prove I could do this even when facing temptations and challenges instead of support from my family.
At the end of the first week, I got onto the scale and was shocked by the results: I had dropped 7 pounds in one week, going from 202 to 195. My success after so many years of failure was enough to dedicate me to the Weight Watchers program fully, and also to convince my mother that we had to both change our eating styles if I was going to succeed at reaching my goal weight (which I’d set cautiously at 153, the upper limit on what was supposedly “healthy” for my height and age according to Weight Watchers’ charts.) My friend was also doing very well after his first week, so we had each other to support and keep encouraging as we began on the long, slow journey to reaching our goals.
Continuing Success with Weight Watchers
As I continued on the Weight Watchers program, my weight continued to steadily drop, although never quite so much in one week again. Weight Watchers tells members that healthy weight loss should be at a rate of no more than 2 pounds a week, and that was close to what I consistently averaged – sometimes more, rarely a little less. I began adding regular exercise to my schedule as it had the extra incentive of earning me “Activity Points” – more food that I could eat! I joined a gym and started doing cardio workouts 3-4 times a week, plus added in some weight training. With regular walking around the city where I lived, I was earning on average 15-25 Activity Points a week, which gave me a lot more flexibility with my diet.
While some Weight Watchers users would struggle with and pride themselves on not using any of their Flex or Activity Points, thinking they would lose weight faster that way, I found the opposite was the case for me. The only time I “plateaued” and did not lose any weight or even gained some for a week or two was when I did not use all of my available Points. My metabolism was improving with all of the exercise, and indeed making my body need more food, not less. But I was satisfying my body with more healthy food, based on the decisions Weight Watchers was helping me make.
Learning to Eat Better with Weight Watchers
The Points system truly helped me make better decisions about what to eat, without dictating that I had to follow any specific diet. This system helped me find foods I liked that were better choices compared to what I’d eaten before. Whereas my old breakfast had typically been a muffin or bagel loaded with cream cheese (easily 10 points wasted right there and I’d be hungry again in a couple hours), now I was eating oatmeal with skim milk, a banana or other fruit, and perhaps a small amount of peanut butter mixed in the oatmeal for protein. This 6-7 point breakfast was much more satisfying, and healthier as well. Instead of snacking on cheese and crackers during the day (another easy 10 point waste), I would eat a cup of homemade fruit salad, a low-fat yogurt, or light popcorn (all around 2 points each). I was watching my portion sizes of meat, rice, pasta and bread, and making better choices when I ate out even if I had to guess what the Points value would be if not making the food myself. I actually lost much of my craving for overly sweet desserts, and would generally only indulge in one once a week. I stopped drinking colas entirely (I’d avoided diet soda since graduate school when I discovered aspartame was a migraine trigger for me) and switched to seltzer and plain water instead. All of these small changes helped reshape the way I thought about food and eating. Wine was one indulgence I did not give up, but I did make sure to monitor my intake so that I could enjoy a glass or two at dinnertime without throwing off my Points for the week.
In a little over six months, I had dropped over 50 pounds and actually reached my goal weight of 153. I’d gone from a size 16-18 to a size 8-10, and it was going so well I stayed with the program, although even as I dropped below 150 pounds I did not decrease my daily Points as the plan suggested I should. I decided to just keep at my current level of 22 Points + Flex + AP, and continued steadily still losing a pound or two a week. When I got down to 132 Pounds, I started to even add back points, realizing it was time to go on “weight maintenance” and some people were starting to say I was getting too thin and not looking my best, either. I had lost 70 pounds and was now wearing size 4-6 clothing, which I had never done before in my life.
Weight Watchers Core vs. Flex Programs
Just as I was getting close to going on maintenance, Weight Watchers introduced a different plan called “Core.” Core differed significantly from Flex in that you did not track daily Points and you could eat almost whatever you wanted off of their strict “Core Foods” list. The only food you had to count was anything that wasn’t Core, and you still received 35 Flex Points a week for that, plus any Activity Points earned. For months after the introduction of Core, there were continual debates on the Weight Watchers forums as to which plan was better. Core enthusiasts said it was the best because it forced one to eat healthier foods such as whole grains, only lean meat, vegetables and healthy oils. To them, it was much more satisfying than being restricted by the Flex Program. I gave Core a try for several weeks but found it did not work well at all for me, as someone who traveled a lot and could not always rely only on the food I cooked myself. I also found Core left me more vulnerable to cravings for “bad foods” as I was trying so hard to avoid them entirely. With Flex, I found it much easier to balance and control cravings as nothing was ever on a “forbidden” or “restricted” list. I quickly switched back to Flex, although trying Core did help me develop more of a taste for foods such as brown rice and whole wheat pasta.
Adjusting Once I’d Lost the Weight, and Long-Term Maintenance
Around the time I entered maintenance, I also happened to meet the man who would become my fiance. I had not been dating much for years, so this was a big lifestyle change for me, and another adjustment to my diet and daily schedule. He, too, enjoyed food tremendously and we were eating out on dates several times a week. On one hand this was good for getting back on some of the weight I’d loss in excess, but then it also made it more difficult to find a way to maintain. Over the next 2-3 years, my weight stabilized at around 145, which I was happy with even if those super skinny jeans I wore at my lowest weight, I’d probably never fit into again. I gradually faded away from continuing to record my daily points level, even as I had been doing 40 Points a day plus Flex and AP. It was just becoming too obsessive for me to always be counting points after all that time, and in fact I felt it was becoming an unhealthy habit to be that focused every day on planning how much I could eat, what I would eat, how I would balance out an upcoming large family meal with my plans for the rest of the week. I honestly could begin to understand how some people could develop an eating disorder from Weight Watchers counting, from being too fixated on every detail of their food intake.
Going off the plan, I still continued to exercise regularly which had never been a habit before, and I continued to try to keep the dietary lessons I’d learned from Weight Watchers in mind. However, seven years down the line, I have put a little more of that weight back on, these days averaging around 153-155 and finding it extremely difficult when I’ve tried to go back on the plan for a second time around. For me, Weight Watchers was a lot easier to commit to when I had a lot of weight to lose versus just 5-10 pounds. The effort of tracking every mouthful of food I eat, of committing to a stricter plan when I’m now living with my fiance and coordinating around both of our schedules, makes the plan seem much more daunting. I’ve been able to get back on it for a week or two at a time, lose a few pounds, but then found my commitment waning quickly. Others I know who have tried to start the program for the first time with only a small amount of weight to lose, or starting at a low initial Daily Points such as 18-20 due to their height and weight, have found it much too difficult to do successfully.
My Experience with Weight Watchers: In Conclusion
Overall, my experience with Weight Watchers has been an extremely positive – and indeed life-changing – one. I developed the tools I’d been lacking all of my life to learn to balance my eating habits and keep up physical activity so that I could continue to enjoy good food while being healthier. I cannot say Weight Watchers solved all of my weight problems, as I still have the tendency to put on weight, even if slowly, if I do not keep at least some control over what I eat. Weight Watchers has not worked as well for me when I’ve tried to return to the program to shed a few pounds here and there versus trying to lose significantly. Weight Watchers does not directly address the mental issues which may cause people to fall victim to emotional eating or seeking comfort in food in times of stress. For those who know they have those issues, cognitive therapy may be a better option, or at least a necessary supplement to the Weight Watchers plan.
That said, I would still recommend Weight Watchers to nearly anyone looking to lose weight not as a quick-fix diet but as a way to make changes in their eating and fitness habits for life. It might not work for everyone, but it is worth giving it a try for a month’s membership to see if it might work for you. It is the only “diet plan” which has ever been successful for me, because it is not so much a diet as a challenge to change one’s lifestyle. There are no gimmicks or fads involved, just a simple method for learning to be responsible and accountable.
* Personal experience
* Weight Watchers On-Line