Weight Watchers: Is Newer Better?

Featured Article, Weight Loss
on June 27, 2012

DEAR FORMER FAT GIRL: I know you used Weight Watchers to help you lose weight years ago. What do you think of the points system? Or do you still follow the old principles?—Sally

DEAR SALLY: Yes, I’m a proud Weight Watchers Lifetime Member, thank you very much! I earned my skinny stripes back in, oh, say 1989. Back then, the program was based on exchanges—each day, you were allotted a certain number of servings per food group (breads/starchy veggies, protein, milk/dairy, fat, fruit and non-starchy veggies, of which you were encouraged to eat as much as you’d like). You also were given a certain number of “optional” servings each day. Being a woman who ate everything she wanted any time she wanted it, I had a hard time with the idea of a food “budget” at the beginning, but after a while I really got into it. I learned, for one thing, that a proper serving of pasta is ½ cup—not the Frisbee-sized plateful I’d been used to eating—and to plan my day, foodwise, so I didn’t blow through my day’s worth of food before noon. I also learned, rather by accident, how to satisfy my need for quantity without costing me on the calorie side—that certain foods (like leafy greens) are less calorie-dense than other foods, so you CAN eat a Frisbee-sized plateful of them without affecting the scales. AND—very important!—I learned to record every BLT (bite, lick and taste—not the sandwich by another name) in my trusty little Weight Watchers book. And the plan forced me to eat from all food groups, especially fruits and vegetables, where I needed, ahem, LOTS of encouragement. Non-starchy veggies were considered “free” foods—you could eat as much as you liked (unadorned, of course).

RELATED: Lisa’s Favorite Weight Watcher’s Recipes

Looking back, I appreciate how valuable those lessons were for me. And while I don’t follow any diet really strictly any more, those principles really do still guide the way I eat. The newer Points Plus system promotes all of those lessons as well. One thing I like is that it “values” foods based on nutrition as well as calories, so it’s a good way of making sure you’re not just eating a bunch of empty calories day in, day out. And it is flexible enough to fit your lifestyle, so if you eat out a lot, you can do that—it just might cost you more points. I think I might have had trouble with the system’s flexibility, actually, because I could see myself “spending” my points on all the wrong things—whereas on the old system, if all I had left at the end of the day was 1 serving in the fruit group, that’s what I was going to eat—not the equivalent number of points in half a Snickers or five M&Ms (which would inevitably turn into a WHOLE Snickers or a PACK of M&Ms).

But the other thing I did when I went on Weight Watchers was that I modified it slightly based on my experience. For instance, at the end of the first two (or three—hard to remember that long ago!) weeks, you were allowed to bump up your number of servings from the bread/pasta/starchy veg category. But because those were my trigger foods—I was a HUGE carb hound—I stayed at the lower amount. I felt like it was important for me to be super-strict about the servings of those foods. I also quit drinking altogether for about six months, as I knew that drinking and overeating, for me, went hand-in-hand. I think it’s wise, whether you go with Weight Watchers or another diet program, to write down lessons YOU’VE learned during your previous attempts at losing weight. What are your trigger foods, or trigger situations? So even though the points program allows you to eat fast food, maybe you need to make your own rules about how often, if at all, you indulge. You, no doubt, have a lot of good wisdom coming out of your experiences—use it to, this time, be successful. Feel free to trust yourself to make modifications that will work for you, in the long run.

Lisa Delaney is editor of Spry magazine and author of Secrets of a Former Fat Girl. To submit a question, visit spryliving.com/experts.