I Am That Girl Now

Monday, February 12, 2007

The Stacked Deck Strikes Again, or, another WW rant

I am good at many things, but shutting up is not one of them. I'm trying. I'm aware that there's a real danger of coming off as a smug know-it-all, and/or like I think I'm a superior life-form and everybody else is weak or stupid or ignorant or whatever. I know this. So I'm trying to shut up where I can.

In some cases, I bite my tongue bloody and then come online to post anonymously about it. Not a great thing, but an improvement over my usual.

The thing about dieting and the whole healthy lifestyle phenonemon is that it's intensely personal. There's a huge amount of faith involved, and any time you've got something that is more faith than science, it comes packaged with a lot of insecurities. For many people-- myself definitely included-- getting started on a program like this is a desperation move, and it's not cool to suggest to someone that the lifeline they're clinging to-- the one bit of hope that they can dig themselves out of this hole-- may be flawed and could break at any time. It's a tricky subject, to say the least.

I've got a friend on Weight Watchers who has just dropped her Points level, is hungry all the time, and has hit a plateau. I'm not going to say anything along these lines to her, not yet, because-- as my Hub puts it-- you've gotta let someone spin their wheels for a while before saying, "Here is a shovel, here is a bucket of gravel; these things might help." In the meantime, I'm posting here.

For the record, Weight Watchers is not bad. As far as diets go, it's the best of its kind, a species with a more evolved brain and opposable thumbs that is much smarter and more supportive than the pea-brained dinosaurs lumbering around in the same vicinity. Weight Watchers makes an effort to get you used to sensible portion sizes, they've got a lot of great tools for tracking your intake, you get a ton of support, you're kept accountable; all of these are good things. They keep making evolutionary gains, too, with their Core program stressing good foods for the main stuff you eat, and apparently a new effort to customize the FlexPoints system to take into account age and activity levels instead of only height and weight. They do try to talk a lot about activity and exercise. Again, all good things.

The point at which Weight Watchers falls short (and to my eyes starts looking like the orangatan dancing around in The Jungle Book, singing "I Wanna Be Like You" with a background mantra of "this is a lifestyle, this is a lifestyle") is the thing that limits its evolution: it is centered around eating less and registering less mass on the scale. No matter what else they change, these two things remain key, and that's where the deck is stacked against us. What we want, what we envision when we think of ourselves as thin, is a healthy, sleek body that doesn't jiggle, and a metabolism that can handle more than 1200-1500 calories a day of healthy food. What we get out of a diet-and-scale program is a smaller body, but a high body-fat percentage for the size, a tendency to be cold all the time, and a metabolism that will toss us back into gaining mode if we dare eat more than 1000 calories a day. It's frustrating, to say the least.

This is the thing that infuriates me, every time, about Weight Watchers. It's so earnest, and so sensible compared to other diet-and-scale programs, and it's such a supportive baby-step program, and dammit, I want so much for it to work. If you could take all the sensible, supportive, easy-to-digest parts of Weight Watchers and center it around exercise (muscle-building exercise in particular, not just cardio) supplemented by a sensible diet (with more stress on lean protein and good carbs and good fat, not just low-fat/high-fiber), in order to lower body-fat percentage, that would be so, so much better.

I realize that people don't want to exercise. I know. I do. And I know that Weight Watchers does try to encourage people to exercise. I also know that Weight Watchers is brilliant at getting people to incorporate new things into their lives, and that people will work the hardest on the things that Weight Watchers stresses the most. Currently, this means that people work the hardest on tracking their food and praying to the great god Weigh-In that they'll show a loss for the week-- two things that, while useful, can't give you long-term success alone. All I'm saying is to make it a tripod approach: build muscle, eat a sensible diet (like their Core system), and concentrate on body-fat-percentage as a measure of success, rather than pounds lost-- a weekly weigh-in would, of course, still be a nice way to keep accountability, but celebrate and give awards for BF% lowered, not pounds lost.

I know. Pipe dream. They're not going to change, and all I can really hope for is that people use WW as an introductory class and move on to more advanced stuff. Lots of people do that. It's the people that don't that I'm frustrated for, the ones who get stuck as a result of this stacked deck and think that it's all their fault and that they're just going to be fat forever. ARGH.


  • I'm new to WW and to your blog. I've been following WW for about 6 weeks and so far I like the program. It has helped me with portion size and I haven't been feeling hungry. The thing I don't like about WW are the meetings. They are far to general in the info the provide and a recent meeting about exercise was center around jut "get moving" tips about parking farther away from a store.

    Like you said, losing weight is deeply personal, so what is working for me is to watch what I eat, continue/increas my exercise, and ignore what everyone else is doing.

    By Anonymous Olivia, at 12:04 PM  

  • i completely agree!! i do applaud their core program, tis a step in the right direction. one thing i take heart in is that there's a lot of successful WW "grads" out there who have moved on and discovered for themselves that there's more to it than diet-and-scale (great phrase btw :)

    i wish there was a way WW could truly move beyond D&S, but the only way they can herd a whole lotta people through their doors and keep them coming back, week after week, is to make em jump on the scale every week and charge em £5 for the privilege.

    fab entry meg! once again i bow to your superb WW rants! :)

    By Blogger Shauna, at 12:15 PM  

  • I think I have about the same criticisms of WW that you do, and the same kudos. They're probably so scale-based because a lot of people who join up really really really need to see that number on the scale - if they don't get it, or get it quickly enough, they very likely will give up. So... I think it's a good start for a lot of people, but definitely not the ultimate solution.

    By Blogger M@rla, at 5:29 PM  

  • Hi Meg ...

    Found you via Diet Girl ... I'm going the WW Core and I'll take on board your comments. I've done WW and allsorts before, but this time I just woke up one January morning and decided to make sensible food choices. Now I just have to tackle alcohol!! oh, and the exercise too.

    By Blogger Donna, at 6:37 AM  

  • You're more generous in your criticism of WW than I am! I think WW suffers from the same thing that makes it popular--the idea that you can have it all as long as you're "good" enough counting points. And they've got something very good with Core, but there's not really a lot of incentive for people to do it as long as the Points system is around to to tell you which frozen entrees or bags of chips have the lowest points. And I can't help but wonder about the relationships WW has with food companies who are willing to tout the Points values in exchange for brand name placement in the guides and on weightwatchers.com. (Though they're far from being the only diet company who does this, and they're certainly not deceptive about it or anything.) The scale at WW doesn't care whether you've bought all your produce fresh and cooked all week, or whether you've had nothing but Smart Ones and carrot sticks. I'm so much happier just practicing better habits without measuring every single thing.

    By Blogger Wendy, at 11:21 AM  

  • OK, I know I'm getting in on this way late but I still had to say my bit.

    I have lost 50 pounds so far following the guidelines of WW. I think it can be a really effective tool when learning new habits. I currently use the points and have no desire to do core.

    While I believe that it is an excellent tool (and seeing the number on the scale be lower every week is good incentive), I think that people abuse the tool in so many ways. Your body needs clean, whole foods to convert to fuel. 12 almonds has the same points value as a bag of rice crackers and yet the almonds do something good for your body and the rice crackers do absolutely nothing.

    In the meetings, which I now stay for to amuse myself, I listen to these women going on and on about how much of a particular snack food they get for the points value all the while they are gasping that I choose to use 4 points in a day for an ounce of almonds (23 of them that is).

    WW is an excellent guideline for learning portion control and for teaching you to make better choices, if you use it properly. There is NO REASON that you should be hungry on WW. The points they give you are enough to eat the lean protein, good carbs and healthy fats and feel satisfied all day long. It's getting past the idea that anything with a high points value is the spawn of satan.

    I know I rambled...it's late and I'm tired. I just wanted to get my two cents in.

    Thank you and good night.

    By OpenID ladyshanny, at 1:40 AM  

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