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Why I Don’t Recommend Weight Watchers

This article has been transcribed from Episode 56 of The Fitness Simplified Podcast
Kim: Welcome back to the Fitness Simplified podcast. I’m your host, Kim Schlag. On today’s episode, I explained why I don’t recommend Weight Watchers. I talked you through my experience with Weight Watchers as well as some other diets I’d tried in the past and explained why I don’t currently recommend them.
[00:00:22] Let’s go
[00:00:29] I was asked in the comment section of an Instagram post not too long ago what I thought about Weight Watchers. I told the person that I would actually answer in Instagram Live because I started trying to type in my comment and it was way too long. I couldn’t express everything I had to say, and so I said, Hey, you know what? I will do an Instagram Live. I will answer your question.
[00:00:48] Had a lot of people attend that Live, and ever since I’ve had so many follow up questions and I want to get my thoughts down somewhere permanent that I can direct people to instead of constantly repeating myself one by one, explaining my experience with Weight Watchers.
[00:01:02] So let me start here — in the history of all of the diets I have dried in my diet, heyday Weight Watchers isn’t even close to the dumbest. Not even close. Now I know you’re probably going to ask me now what was the dumbest? So, let me tell you about that first. We’ll go down a little side tangent first before I talk Weight Watchers.
[00:01:24] I did a lot of things for a day or two here and there. Meal plans from magazines that were just super limited in both calories and food varieties, diet books from the library, all kinds of things. You know, a day here or two days there, things that just didn’t last. But as far as things I did on a longer-term basis, like weeks, not days, Medifast was hands down the dumbest diet I ever did.
[00:01:50] So here’s how Medifast worked: you drop a ton of cash, TON of cash. –It was pricey — on a box full of food that would come once per month. You would use the food in that box for two of your meals per day. Then once a day, you would have what they call a “lean and green” meal that you provide the fresh ingredients for. And when I went back and figured out years later, the calories turned out to be less than 900 calories per day.
[00:02:21] 900.
[00:02:23] Less than that. It was not 900, it was a little less than 900 and let me tell you, it felt exactly like you imagine what it would feel like to eat less than 900 calories a day. The portions were so tiny, like just enough food to really piss me off.
[00:02:38] So let me give you some examples. Breakfast for me was either a pancake — a pancake — the size of my palm. I want to say they were chocolate chip pancakes too. I think I have a memory that it was a chocolate chip pancake. It was about the size of my palm. It was a really tiny pancake. Or a bar that wasn’t quite as big as a granola bar. So, it was a little bit fatter than a granola bar but quite a bit shorter than a granola bar.
[00:02:59] That was it. That’s what I picked for breakfast.
[00:03:02] Lunch was either a cup of soup-size of cream of chicken soup or this cup of soup-size of macaroni and cheese. That was my lunch.
[00:03:13] Now the “lean and green” meals were a small portion of protein, about the size of my palm, and then a pile of vegetables, like a big pile of vegetables.
[00:03:20] Now this was back in the time when I ate no vegetables. I didn’t like vegetables. I didn’t Like any vegetables. So, my dinner was literally just the protein.
[00:03:28] In addition to those three meals, we could eat as much celery as we wanted. So, for me that would be none. And I believe it was one sugar-free Jell-O a day.
[00:03:38] I think it was one a day. It might’ve been two a day or one every other day. There was a lot of sugar free Jell-O in my life at that time period. I can remember that. And it was a certain limited quantity.
[00:03:47] And that’s all I eat in a day. That’s it. And I can’t imagine in this moment eating that little food for weeks on end.
[00:03:55] I can’t remember how many weeks I lasted. I lasted enough weeks to lose 10 pounds. Okay? So, I lost 10 pounds on Medifast, which on those calories couldn’t have taken that long. Maybe a month, maybe five weeks, maybe six weeks, somewhere between three and six weeks is how long I did Medifast.
[00:04:10] I was so hungry and low on energy. In fact, I remember the direction stated not to exercise, and I didn’t understand why at the time. Uh, you literally don’t have enough fuel for that. I exercised anyway. Oy vey.
[00:04:29] Guess what happened when I stopped?
[00:04:33] I gained back every last pound. And more. And more.
[00:04:40] I had a bunch of friends and acquaintances who also did it. Some did it at the same time as me, some had done it previous, some did it after. They all lost weight. Every single one of them.
[00:04:49] Some lost a lot of weight, like a lot, a lot, a lot of weight. Some lost a little bit of weight. Every single one of them gained back every last pound they had lost on Medifast and then some, just like me.
[00:05:04] And at the time I felt that I had zero to show for it. Like, this did nothing for me. In hindsight, it taught me a lot about what not to do. It informed my decision years later to finally find a non-sucky way to lose weight. It was a big part of it in my mind. It was just really bad. That diet for sure wins the prize of dumb stuff I’ve done to lose weight.
[00:05:28] So let’s move on to Weight Watchers. Weight Watchers with different, and by different, I mean better. Like way, way better.
[00:05:36] I’ll tell you what I liked about it first.
[00:05:38] Number one — it wasn’t starving me. I was for sure eating more calories, which they call points, but whatever, whatever the name, the deficit was for sure more sustainable than Medifast.
[00:05:50] Number two — it didn’t involve prepackaged foods. So, I didn’t have to bring along my cup of soup to parties or out to lunch. I could eat regular people food, and that’s good.
[00:06:01] Number three — third thing I liked about Weight Watchers, there were technically no banned foods. I could eat whatever I wanted. Also, good.
[00:06:12] And then the fourth reason that I like Weight Watchers — I like the idea of the community aspect. They do that really well with their meetings. It wasn’t a good fit for me personally, but it’s a real positive for a lot of people and I got to give them kudos for that.
[00:06:26] That all sounds good, right? So why don’t I recommend Weight Watchers?
[00:06:31] Two reasons.
[00:06:33] Let me tell you a story.
[00:06:35] When I was in my early forties and had started calorie counting, this is post-Weight Watchers days, I just wanted a donut. I wanted a doughnut. Not one of the new, fancy, designer doughnuts, those did not exist to my knowledge back at that time. These really pretty doughnuts that are kind of big with all the cool stuff on them. Those didn’t exist back then. I just wanted a regular old chocolate frosted Dunkin’ Donut.
[00:06:56] I was having so much mental anguish about whether to go to the doughnut shop or not. Like, willing and gnashing of teeth, trying to decide. At some point I must’ve decided yes, because I typed, “chocolate frosted Dunkin’ donut” into Lose It. I decided I was going to have it.
[00:07:13] And I looked at it and I was like, “wait, what? Hold up there, Mama. This can’t be right. Let’s try another entry.”
[00:07:18] And so I kept retrying and retrying it because I was sure I was not getting the right number to come up because it kept telling me it was 280 calories.
[00:07:25] That’s the number that kept appearing. And when it became clear to me that that was the calorie content of a doughnut, I was stunned. How could this be? How is this donut only 280 calories?
[00:07:38] Okay. Rewind back to my Weight Watchers days. My points or something like 23 or 24 points daily. I can’t remember exactly, but it was low
twenties. A donut was 12 points.
[00:07:52] Now, math isn’t my strong suit, but that works out to be about half my points. Half of my points for the day for the doughnut. How was I going to eat a 12-point doughnut?
[00:08:04] So though, technically it wasn’t banned — because there are no banned food on Weight Watchers, remember — in practice I learned that doughnuts aren’t “diet food.”
[00:08:15] Okay? You can’t see my air quotes. “Diet food.” Doughnuts are not part of that. “You can’t eat donuts and lose weight.” That’s what I learned on Weight Watchers.
[00:08:23] Now, 280 calories wasn’t anywhere near half of my calories for the day. It was half of my points, but it’s nowhere near half my calories for the day. And that was such a light bulb moment for me.
[00:08:36] I’d been afraid of doughnuts for years. I had misunderstood the impact a doughnut would have or not have on my results. And the reason for that misunderstanding was the convoluted Weight Watchers point system. And Weight Watchers has only gotten worse throughout the years, in my opinion, as it has added so many zero-point foods.
[00:08:58] So zero-point foods are foods that a Weight Watcher’s member can eat while tracking zero points for them. And we’re not talking, just lettuce, cucumber, and celery-type foods here, things that are very low in calorie anyway, we’re talking chicken breast. Four ounces of chicken breast has 180 calories. That’s not zero.
[00:09:20] Eggs. Eggs are a zero-point food. There’s 70 calories in an egg. How often do you just eat one egg, right? So, you’re talking 140 calories for two eggs. That’s not zero.
[00:09:30] Greek yogurt. 170 calories in a cup of plain, 2% Greek yogurt. Lentils, a cup of cooked lentils is 230 calories.
[00:09:39] These are all zero-point foods in this iteration of Weight Watchers, which I believe has now been replaced–not been replaced, there are multiple versions of Weight Watchers you can choose between now and in one of the very popular ones, all of these foods are just listed and a ton more, like so many more, are all zero points. And this list is everything I eat in a day, but on Weight Watchers what you learn is these are zero points.
[00:10:03] And I get where they’re coming from. They want to encourage a diet full of minimally-processed, nutrient-dense food. Me too. Me too. I want to encourage that, but I also want people to understand the energy value of the food they’re eating. I want them to be able to make those connections fully. That is necessary for long term weight maintenance.
[00:10:26] I think Weight Watchers does not prepare its members for that, and in fact, it hinders them with their skewed point system.
[00:10:34] Think about it — a cup of lentils: eat as much as I want for zero points. But a doughnut? Yikes. That’s 12 points. Can eat that.
[00:10:43] In reality, the doughnut is only 50 more calories than a cup of the lentils. Teach people that.
[00:10:52] Teach them that alongside of teaching them why the lentils are more beneficial from both a nutrition perspective and a fullness perspective.
[00:11:01] Now they’re banking on the fact that people will fill up on the zero-point foods and not eat all of their points in doughnuts, right? So, you eat all the zero-point food, you’re going to be full, you’re not going to then eat doughnuts in excess of the points that you should be eating. And that totally negates the fact that we as humans are terrible at just eating because we’re hungry — unless we practice that skill and are taught how to manage our emotions otherwise.
[00:11:25] This is something I spent a ton of time with my clients undoing. That does not come naturally. We don’t just not eat because we’re not hungry.
[00:11:32] Could you imagine? There would be far fewer people who need to lose weight if we only ate when we’re hungry.
[00:11:39] Okay, so that’s reason number one why I don’t recommend Weight Watchers.
[00:11:44] Reason number two why I don’t recommend Weight Watchers:
[00:11:47] Let me start this one with a story as well. So, when I did Weight Watchers, I signed up with my friend Kelly. Our meeting was every Saturday morning and meeting time meant weigh-in time. Now we could weigh ourselves throughout the week, and I’m pretty sure I did. I don’t actually remember, but I’m pretty sure I did. I don’t know why I wouldn’t. But the one that mattered, the one that was recorded was the one that mattered. The one that counted was the official Weight Watchers weigh-in.
[00:12:16] So every Saturday morning that was the biggie. And let me tell you, I thought about it all week long. Kelly and I would roll into those meetings wearing as little as possible.
[00:12:25] We would talk on the phone to coordinate. We would be scouring our closets, looking for the airiest, lightest, most barely-there fabrics. I was so anxious about those weigh-ins. Sometimes it was the excited butterfly-in-my-stomach kind of anxious — you know, I was looking forward to it, kind of anxious. Other times it was the pit-in-my-stomach, kind of anxiousness.
[00:12:46] This was the most important element of my entire week. For months. I needed that scale to go down every Saturday. I needed that. It had to go down and if it did, hurray! Like, all was well. Well, if it went down enough.
[00:13:04] If it hadn’t budged or, worse yet, it went up. Get out of here. I was gutted.
[00:13:11] And if it hadn’t moved much, I was really disappointed, like, “wow, that’s it? That’s it?”
[00:13:17] Now if you’ve listened to me for any length of time, you know that this that I just described goes against literally everything I teach about how to use the scale and how to have a healthy relationship with the scale. This is total BS.
[00:13:33] At no time did anyone from Weight Watchers educate me on what factors can affect one’s weight on the scale outside of body fat. Never.
[00:13:43] At no time did they talk about how it’s normal for the scale to fluctuate day to day. At no time did they encourage me to moderate my reaction to the scale. Quite the opposite, in fact. We were only lacking party hats and horns when someone’s weight dropped. Celebrate good times, come on! That’s what it was like when we came out of the weigh-in.
[00:14:06] That’s what it was like. It was party time if someone’s weight dropped.
[00:14:11] Now, what did that teach us about the appropriate reaction if the scale fluctuated upwards? Right? What a depressing moment.
[00:14:19] They also didn’t suggest that we use progress pictures, measurements, or the fit of clothes to get a clearer picture of our progress.
[00:14:26] Nope.
[00:14:27] One thing mattered, and it was the number on that scale, on that day, each week.
[00:14:36] It was messed up. It was messed up.
[00:14:38] And I can’t speak to what they’re like today, so maybe they’ve learned some things about how to foster a healthy relationship with a scale. That would be amazing if they have.
[00:14:48] I’m glad I did Weight Watchers. I’m glad I tried all of the diets I tried back in the day., Medifast and Weight Watchers and Nutrisystem and a sugar detox and food combining and random meal plans I found in women’s magazines because it all brought me to the point of, “ENOUGH, this is no way to live.” And it all informs how I coach now.
[00:15:08] But do I recommend any of these diets to others?
[00:15:12] Nope.
[00:15:13] And I hope that this discussion today has given you a clearer understanding of why I don’t recommend them. Thanks so much for being here with me today.
[00:15:29] Thanks so much for being here and listening in to the Fitness Simplified podcast today. I hope you found it educational, motivational, inspirational, all the kinds of -ational.
[00:15:41] If you enjoyed it, if you found value in it, it would mean so much to me if you would go ahead and leave a rating and review on whatever platform you are listening to this on. It really does help to get this podcast to other people.
[00:15:55] Thanks so much.