I Am That Girl Now

Friday, November 10, 2006

And now, a Weight Watchers rant

I have now remembered, via the WW rant on Lose the Buddha (all hail Erin!), that Weight Watchers drove me freakin' INSANE. I know it works, but the thing is that I have a tendency toward obsessive behaviors, and WW triggered all of them and spiraled me into binge eating. I tried to explain this to my therapist once, but I don't think I was really able to get past my anger at the time to actually articulate what happened. I'm going to try again, here.

Keep in mind that this is to be taken with a giant grain of salt, and based upon my experiences. I lost 60 pounds on the WW Flexpoints system, but it also caused me to lose my mind a bit. Your milage, as they say, may vary.

First and foremost, the WW thing with the SCALE UBER ALLES infuriates me. Seriously, this is the thing that mindfucked me the most, and for many reasons. First of all, while there's a lot of "oh, it's okay, you're probably just building muscle/retaining water/growing an extra spleen", the point remains at the end of the day that what you are, essentially, "graded" on every week is your weight. Not your choices, not your lean muscle mass, not your education, not your fitness: YOUR WEIGHT. The one thing that you have zero direct control over. I can't even begin to explain how angry this makes me.

I cannot even begin to count the number of times that I have heard (or seen online) conversations about what people do pre- and/or post-weigh in. The most common tendency is to be very, very, very good before weigh-in, and then splurge all those FlexPoints right after. There are all sorts of things that people talk about for their pre-weigh-in rituals, and all the criteria that must be met for them to dare to weigh themselves. Folks, this is screwed up.

There's a focus on food, and not on a balance of food + fitness. Yes, fitness is part of it, but I gotta tell you that the main reason I ever saw for working out was to "earn" more Points. That takes it out of the "thing that is good to do just in and of itself" and makes it part of the food thing. Yet another thing that fed into my obsessive nature.

Baby steps are talked about, but for the most part, when you start WW, you fuckin' START. There is no way of edging in. There is no baseline established except for the weight (SCALE UBER ALLES), so you are either on-Plan or you are off-Plan. Dudes, switching gears in a big hurry is difficult. It gets you started, yes, but for pity's sake think about it in terms of what you're looking at if you fall off and have to get started again-- it becomes intimidating as hell.

Oh, and I have ranted in the past about the mythical fairyland of MAINTANANCE. I have a bit of a grudge against WW for leading me to believe that I only had to push as hard as I was until I got down to a certain weight, and then I could find a holding pattern. Because it's all about the scale, of course. Without the scale moving, suddenly all motivation has to come from something else, and, really, there's not much to fall back on. I am still so angry about this that I could spit. For all the talk about "it's not a diet, it's a lifestyle!", WW is not a lifestyle. The things I do and the choices I make and the habits I have: those are a lifestyle. Adhering to a system is not.

Here's the main thing: counting and tracking are not the way people actually live their lives. Life is made out of habit and choices, not counting and tracking. Tracking Points is an artificial lifestyle; you aren't making your choices based on a firm knowledge of what will be good for you, but on how many Points you have left in the day. Which is great, if everything is about food intake, but it's not taking into account a lot of other things-- such as what will fill you up in a healthy way. Which means that there's nothing to encourage people to eat two Points worth of bean salad or fruit instead of one of those 100-calorie snack packs, and frankly either the beans or fruit will burn a lot slower and longer than the snack pack.

The Core Plan on WW is a lot better-- a LOT better-- in terms of learning to make choices, but again there aren't baby steps leading you in. You're either on-Plan or off-Plan. It's still all about the scale. Exercise is still a means to an end. Maintenance leaves people without a goal and without their previous form of encouragement. These are all serious flaws, from my point of view, in the Weight Watchers system.

If it was up to me... wow, I would completely re-do this. Whole different story.

For starters, this would be a weekly class that you sign up for and commit to for six months, at least. Baselines would be taken at the beginning for things that can be improved via fitness and good food choices (heart rate when doing something like walking up a flight of stairs, blood pressure, cholesterol), and then not checked again for three months. Everything measured on a daily and weekly basis would be about something controllable, and all of these would focus on choices and habits. Also, they would start based on where you are right now, and improve slowly. (No, this wouldn't make you drop twenty pounds in time for swimsuit season, but FUCK SWIMSUIT SEASON, we are talking about making habits for life, here.)

Baby steps would be instituted one by one. Drinking water; cutting out regular soda; working down to skim milk; adding a serving of vegetables to each meal; eating breakfast every day; cutting out sweets and junk food. Every week people would learn to cook something new that they would be working in for their baby step that week. Beans. Fish. Whole grains. Lots of education would be in this, including how to prep "kit meals" for nights when cooking is so far down the top of your list you could just kill someone.

A pedometer would be part of the program from day one. First the baseline, then trying to do better than that on a regular basis, all week. Pedometer numbers and goals would be talked about and praised. Another part of the class would be an introduction to other forms of exercise-- lifting weights, yoga, stretches, aerobics, Pilates, spinning, whatever-- so that you get a low-key introduction to it among a lot of other people who've never tried this before.

Nutrition and the "whys" and "hows" of things would be discussed. Stress-reduction techniques would be learned and practiced. How to listen to your body would be a big one-- finding the point where you're comfortably full without being stuffed, for example.

Okay, so, yeah, pipe dream. On the other hand, these are all things that I've had to learn myself and patch together from various sources, many of which I learned from other places while I was paying WW so that I could track my meals and get weighed and discuss my flabbitude. In the long term, all the things that I learned myself are doing me more good than six months of tracking my food and weighing myself. And really, the long term is the whole point here, isn't it?

So. Anyway. That's my rant. I need to go think about something else now.


  • That is an absolutely fantastic post - I couldn't agree more!

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 5:01 PM  

  • Thi is just about the most sensible thing I have read in a long time.

    You've identified the failings and idetified some genuinely sensible solutionas to the failings in the program.

    I was always more suspcious yet of the weight loss programs where you bought "their" food. At least with WW they make some effort to teach you about nutrition.

    Even under the points system, I alwayss treated it more like the core system. I never could get the hang of counting points - but I couldn't understand the point of loading yourself up with artifical sweetners either.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 4:41 AM  

  • I've always been a bit annoyed by WW too, but having never done it it's nice to see someone who has air some of the same gripes. My biggest issue with WW is that it doesn't seem like something people incorporate into their lives forever. I always see people talking about going back on WW, which means they went off it.

    By Blogger PastaQueen, at 10:24 AM  

  • I agree with many of your criticisms, but I wonder if you've been doing what's good for you for so long that you forget what real, tiny, itsy-bitsy baby steps people have to take sometimes when they first arrive at Weight Watchers. Like, here is a structure to your day to tell you, whoa there ma'am or sir, that's enough food for you today. Yeah that'll be it now. Back away slowly from the pork rinds. Or, perhaps, a structure to tell you, you should be losing this weight slowly. Don't look to be dropping twelve! pounds! a! week! with hydrocoxofarcodocutzone! Or to tell you (if you listen) that you need fruit, and vegetables, and whole grains, and dairy, and healthy oils, every day, and exercise every day too.

    I agree! I agree that people don't do it right, especially when they start out. They go on it and off it (and good for you if you've never made a mistake on your goals for yourself, PastaQueen.) And I agree that WW is far from a perfect program. But over time, many people do learn that a 100-calorie pack won't satisfy, and bean soup will. And that they hate the taste of ICBINB spray but bran muffins with pumpkin butter are pretty good. And that they like the feel of exercise and they like what they can do, more than they like what they can eat when they do it. It takes them time to learn that, though. It's... er... baby steps. If I may coin a phrase.


    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 8:30 PM  

  • JB, believe me when I say that I haven't been doing "what's good for [me]" for quite that long. I have to start over on a regular basis, and I've really come to the conclusion that what structure there is has to be on changing habits, slowly, rather than any kind of emphasis on weight loss.

    People can, and do, get a lot out of WW. It depends on the person. Like I said at the get-go, the main problem for me was that WW hit all my obsessive-compulsive buttons and there was nothing in the program to keep me from going off a cliff. If I'm going to obsess over getting enough vegetables and whatnot, and cutting out sugar, that's okay because it's something that I control for myself-- if I'm obsessing over what the scale says, there's a problem.

    I just feel like there ought to be a sensible, habit-based alternative to WW. I guess it wouldn't be successful, though, because this just isn't a society that is willing to pay money for slow results.

    By Blogger Meg, at 7:49 AM  

  • Yes, actually, that's one of the things I thought when you were describing your utopian program: that most people wouldn't pay if they couldn't drop weight. "Health Watchers" isn't a concept that's made it big here yet. :)


    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 3:37 PM  

  • Ok, I'm a few years late but this was a fantastic post and I had to comment.

    I get what WW are trying to do and they do work for some people. At least at first. Me, no way. I go all obsessive too and I end up binging everytime. There have been lots of times too because I keep wanting to buy into the promise of how easy it's supposed to be. You just follow the total allowed points, right? Ha! I've gained 60 pounds since I first tried it.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 2:47 AM  

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