Man Vs Belly – My first month with WeightWatchers

I don’t want to shock you gentle reader, but I’m overweight. Not as overweight as I was in the past but nowhere near my “proper” weight either. Over the years I’ve tried various diets and eating plans, with the results ranging from excellent to disastrous. So about five weeks ago, after my most recent home-brewed healthy eating plan failed to get off the ground, I decided to try a more structured commercial plan. A few years ago I’d enjoyed some amount of success with WeightWatchers ZeroCount plan. Which they dont do any more it transpires. But after investigating a little further they now have a very similar option in their “Filling & Healthy” plan. As there is a less than zero chance of me ever going to a “live” meeting, and as it was on special offer, I signed up for three months of WeightWatchers Online.

I suppose to get the most pressing question out of the way, in terms of weight loss it’s worked really well. Even though you usually lose a lot at the beginning of a diet I lost six pounds the first week, six pounds the third week and five pounds the fourth week. But wait what about week 2? Well week two I fell entirely off the wagon with three birthdays and a wedding in the space of five days and put on the six pounds I lost in week one. Still I’m very happy with my progress, while you always want to lose more I think its important to be realistic, so my goal is to lose two pounds a week for the three months I’m on it. So twenty four pounds or one stone ten pounds in total is my goal (for my initial subscription period).

As I mentioned above I had success in the past with the Zero Count option, this consisted of a list of foods you could eat freely and an allocation of “points” you could use for anything not on that list. The new Filling & Healthy option works more or less identically, you can eat any food on the Filling & Healthy food list and in addition you have 49 ProPoints for anything not on the list. You can actually switch back and forth each day between the normal full count plan and the Filling & Healthy plan but so far I’ve stuck entirely to filling and healthy plan. I find having a set list of foods and a minimal amount of points to keep track off suits what I want out of a diet plan – largely that its easy to follow and tracking the actual plan itself takes as little time as possible. Having a list of “allowable” food makes coming up with recipes and planning out meals and shopping for the week nice and quick. Though sometimes trying to replicate a known recipe so that its “free” can take some serious googling. But I enjoy that so I shouldnt really complain.

I havent had too many problems following the plan so far. To be honest I’ve got no real problems with eating healthily, I like the food and there aren’t a lot of “bad” foods that I crave or can’t easily substitute something else for (the only one that’s been a particular pain the arse is something like crisps/pringles when watching a movie or marathoning some tv). The main impediment to healthy eating is generally that unhealthy stuff is so much quicker and easier to prepare. But once you get over that I find that, apart from the occasional slip-up, its largely plain sailing. Though one stumbling block (as I mention further down) is my sleep pattern. Getting up in the afternoon or the evening throws things out of whack, its much easier to stick to an eating plan when you get up at even a semi-reasonable time.

I think that the points system works well for me, well at least the Filling & Healthy implementation of it. Calculating the points for every meal is too fiddly for my liking but having a pool to draw from works well. It helps as both a support mechanism and as a way to push you to eat healthier. When I was using my own healthy eating plan if I slipped up then a lot of the times I’d just say “Fuck it, its done now!” and pig out – a pretty transparent self deception but one that occurred more than once. With the points system if you do slip up, for example in my first week on the plan I’d a packet of minstrels, you just mark down the points cost for it and you move on. You’re still on the plan so you’ve no “excuse” to slide further off it. In terms of the points system pushing you to eat healthier, as it went on I found that I basically turned the points into a game where I felt a real sense of achievement for using as few as possible. Basically every meal and recipe choice became an opportunity to “win” by using only free options.

Actually I think in Week 4 I took this a little far, I think you want to maintain a balance so you don’t make things a hassle by trying to be too frugal with your points. Though as I draw closer to the end of week 5 I fear I may have gone too far in the opposite direction. But the great thing is that I’m still losing weight and still on the plan as a whole. One last thing, and while I havent really taken advantage of it I think its important psychologically, is that the points system means that within reason nothing is off limits. If I really need to have a packet of crisps or a slice of pizza or a can of beer then I can have them, I just wont have as many points for other things. This adds a sense of freedom which is important because when you’re told that you simply cannot have a particular food it can create a weird mental friction (as well as often creating a false craving for what is forbidden).

ProPoints Tracker

So to talk about the service itself. The main meat of WeightWatchers Online is (no surprise here) the website, more specifically the tools available on the website. The core of these tools is the Points Tracker app. Here you enter what you’ve eaten throughout the day, keep track of your points, your exercise, your weight, look up recipes, create your own recipes, etc. While there is a large amount of documentation available on the website and one or two good additional tools (the routines tool where you set and try to maintain healthy routines is a great idea) this is largely what you’re paying for. The Points Tracker has a robust database so most of the time you’ll be able to find the food product already entered (one of the reasons I signed up for the UK as opposed to the slightly cheaper US option was because it has Aldi, Tesco, etc. in the database, no Dunnes unfortunately). If you can’t find it, or think the points look a little off, you can use the calculator to work out the points then and there. You can filter and sort search results in the common ways you’d expect and you can save commonly eaten foods as favourites or groups of foods as recipes. You can also enter notes about the entries or the day itself.

This is what I was most interested in when I signed up and so far it’s really delivered. I find that tracking the items you’ve eaten is quick and actually makes you think about what you’ve eaten a lot more. Personally it also helps to add structure to my meals as I used to eat fairly randomly but now I try to have breakfast, lunch and dinner (to be honest one of the biggest hindrances to dieting for me in the last five weeks has been my wildly erratic sleep schedule). I’ve only run into one issue so far and to be honest while its sort of annoying it’s also easily circumvented. The problem lies with how the tracker calculates points for recipes you enter and how that interacts with the free foods on the Filling & Healthy plan. In short it doesn’t. Recipes are calculated based on their full nutritional and points value without discounting any items that would be free. So if you’ve following the Filling & Healthy plan for a lot of recipes you’ll have to add in the ingredients individually. As I said, it’s a little annoying but easy to work around.

The other tools are solid if, by nature, unimpressive. The weight tracker does what it says on the tin, it tracks your weight, offers charts, graphs and projections. All solid stuff and exactly what you’d want from it. Actually while fiddling with it just now I discovered that I’d missed the fact you can view your ProPoints usage in a weekly as well as a daily format. Which is great as its much easier to identify “problem” periods in the week. The activity tracker is equally solid, again it does what the name would suggest, it tracks activity and exercise and lets you know if you’ve earned any “extra” points.

There is also a free mobile app available on both Android and iOS that replicates the functionality of these tools. I did run into some problems here though, on both platforms. Though in fairness it isn’t really WeightWatchers fault. In short the application for WeightWatchers Online UK is available only on the respective UK app stores. So I had to spoof the region on my android phone and I just created a dummy UK account on my iPAD (thank fuck its so easy to change itune store accounts in iOS 7). Once you’ve got them installed the apps work great and its really handy to be able to use the points calculator or food tracker on the go (mainly when I’m in the supermarket to be honest).

In summation, after more or less five weeks with the WeightWatchers Online service I feel that I’m getting my moneys worth. The program itself is helping me lose weight in a largely stress free manner and the online tools support and enhance the weight loss process. Unless something unexpected happens I’m confident that I’ll be resubscribing when my current three months are up (hopefully with much thinner fingers).

Vent your spleen