I didn’t count points today. Or yesterday. Or the day before that. I think I’m officially done with Weight Watchers, at least for the time being.
I’ve been trying to follow the Weight Watchers plan for the last 22 months. Most of that time I followed the plan online, although I attended At Work meetings for about 9 months in the middle. As far as weight loss goes, I’ve been extremely successful (I’m 40 pounds down from my first WW weigh in). I learned some valuable lessons, namely portion size and how to lighten up super fatty recipes. However, I’d be lying if I said I stayed within my points every single week, or that I tracked every single day. I had two major recurring problems that contributed to this.
My Weight Watchers Struggles
The first problem I had on Weight Watchers was that on far too many occasions, all my efforts of pre-planning and tracking my meals would go down the drain when I found myself ravenous (from either real or hedonic hunger) at mid-afternoon. If I didn’t have a snack with me because my PointsPlus allowance didn’t have room for one that day, I would inevitably end up at the vending machine buying a Twix bar, or rummaging through the pantry at home for my husband’s granola bars or protein bars. Then I’d eat 7-10 points and be over my target for the day, no matter what I had for dinner.
The second problem was my inability to control my eating on the weekends. If I managed to stick with my point allowance all week, come Sunday I’d want to eat everything in the house. I didn’t always eat junk (because I didn’t have much of it around), but I’d eat anything I could find, including raisins, crackers, or those damn granola bars … in far too large of quantities. After tracking it I could easily be at a 50-60 point day (my target was 26-29).
Both of these problems occurred far too often.
Trying Something Radically Different
In the meantime, I continued to listen to one of my favorite podcasts, Half Size Me. Heather has been preaching the importance of weight lifting and feeding your body the calories it needs for quite some time. My Weight Watchers problems and Heather’s advice started to mesh in my head, and I picked up a book I’d half-heartedly read this summer – New Rules of Lifting for Women. I read the part about nutrition at least three times, and decided it was time for a change. I’ve committed to starting both the strength training and diet programs in the book, and that means incorporating a major dietary change.
For the next four weeks, I will not be restricting my calorie intake.
I’m doing this for two reasons. One: I want to eat at the calorie level that will maintain my weight, so I can get an idea of what “normal” life would look like if I wanted to maintain this weight forever (I still have some weight to lose, but I weigh significantly less than when I started this journey). I’m committed to sustainable weight loss, so I want a genuine experience of what sustaining this weight would take right now. Two: I want to build muscle so I can increase my metabolism and burn more calories by doing nothing, so I need to feed my body the proper nutrients during the strength training program to develop muscle.
I completed the equations in the book, and learned that my resting metabolic rate is approximately 1,350 calories, and when I don’t work out my Total Daily Energy Expenditure is approximately 2,025 calories. On days that I do a strength workout, my TDEE is approximately 2,295 calories. The authors of the book suggest eating every single one of these calories throughout five meals a day (six meals on days I work out). So that’s what I’m doing. I may still have a slight deficit on some days because I’m going to continue running a few times per week, but I’m not cutting any calories from my daily meal plan for the purpose of weight loss.
Here’s What 1900 Calories Looks Like
I shared this with my friends on Facebook, and after the first day following the meal plan I posted pictures of what it took for me to eat 1,900 calories in a day (I forgot to drink a glass of milk so I was 100 calories short of my goal). Here’s what it looked like:
Breakfast: 2 corn tortillas, 2 eggs, 1 oz reduced fat cheese, 1/4 cup salsa
Snack: 2 small apples, 2 tablespoons peanut butter
Lunch: large green salad with cherry tomatoes, 4 oz salmon burger, 2 tsp olive oil & vinegar
Snack: 1/2 cup fat free plain Greek yogurt with 1/2 cup strawberries, .75 oz almonds
Dinner: 3 oz tilapia, 1 cup quinoa, 1 cup roasted carrots
Dessert: 1/2 cup fat free Greek yogurt (flavored with Splenda, vanilla & lemon juice), 1/2 cup blueberries, 1/4 cup granola
Eating Food Is Amazing
I was never hungry this entire day. I went for a 3 mile run/walk before dinner and wasn’t overly tired, and after dessert I was able to fit in my second weight training workout of the week, which earned me a protein shake (290 calories, not pictured). Just for fun I logged the 1,900 calorie menu in my Weight Watchers app. It clocked in at 37 points, or 142% of my recommended daily target of 26 points. Had I been counting points, I would not have allowed myself to have the full two tablespoons of peanut butter (probably none at all, actually), or the almonds. I definitely wouldn’t have had the dessert. I would have been hungry, and likely gone off track. And the idea of drinking a protein shake would just seem like a waste of points. Why drink a 7 point shake when I could eat a Twix bar for the same points?
My mindset is already changing. I have a goal for the distribution of my macro nutrients (35% protein, 30% fat, 30% carbs), so the type of food I eat matters. I’m not afraid to eat 200 calories worth of nuts or peanut butter, because I have 10x that to work with throughout the day, and I know they’ll pack some bang (satiety) for the buck. AND, if all goes well, eating this way will help me build muscle, which will ultimately burn more calories.
Weight Watchers Was Setting Me Up To Fail
Now that I’m counting calories, I wanted to go back and see how many calories I was eating on an average “good” Weight Watchers day. I plugged in the following menu, which was exactly what I ate on September 30.
Breakfast: Spelt chocolate zucchini muffin
Lunch: Homemade tomato soup (no dairy), 1/2 cup brown rice, 1/2 cup raw carrots, 1/4 cup sunflower seed pate
Snack: small apple, .75 oz almonds
Dinner: 1 small pita, 1 cup cucumber, 1 oz feta, 1/2 cup hummus, 1 cup baked potato soup
This was 36 points, which I would consider an “OK” day on Weight Watchers. I’d already manually adjusted my daily target up from 26 to 29 (the highest they will allow), and this would also use 7 weekly points (which is what you’re allowed, on average, per day).
Calorie count: 1,429
This makes me sick. I still consumed about 600 calories LESS than I burned that day simply by walking around and breathing, and I would have been down on myself and felt like I could have done better. But mathematically, if I ate like that every day of the week, I’d lose 1.2 pounds. And I’d be hungry all the time. When it came time to maintain my weight, Weight Watchers would tell me that I still could only eat about 32 points per day to maintain (with weeklies for leverage). And in time, my body would adapt to that, and my metabolism would be ruined. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to eat 1,400 calories per day for the rest of my life.
Moving Forward: Food As Fuel
Although I’m still hoping to lose about 40 pounds, my new plan is to do this by changing my body composition—increasing lean muscle mass while decreasing body fat. I’ll eat my maintenance calories for four weeks while following my strength training plan (which calls for 3 workouts per week) and loosely following my 10K training plan (aiming for 2-3 run/walks per week). If something has to give, it will be the running (it can be almost impossible—and it’s not recommended—to do an endurance workout the day after a strenuous strength workout, at least for beginners). After four weeks, if I experience a weight gain (possible) or my weight stays the same (likely), I’ll cut 300 calories from my diet, for an expected weight loss of .6 pounds per week—which was more than I was averaging on Weight Watchers.
The key to this plan is to strive to hit my macro nutrient goals—particularly the protein goal. I need extra protein available to be turned into muscle. And, protein offers satiety, which should help me avoid the mid-afternoon run to the vending machine or pantry.
I’m grateful to Weight Watchers. It helped me get started on this journey, which has already lasted two years and will probably last two more. While it a great push at the start, however, I don’t think it will effectively get me past the finish line.