Weight Watchers: ’80s Throwback or Magical Health Portal?

good things don't come from comfort zones quote

Earlier this week, I wrote about losing 40 pounds with Weight Watchers (which is now called WW), and I hadn’t planned on writing about any specifics. But that was a little bit stupid, because it turns out lots of people have questions about the program. I don’t want to become a WW blogger (well, actually, I’d love to blog for WW, so if you work for corporate, give me a call … but I don’t want to turn this blog into a WW blog), but I thought I’d answer some really common questions here, and then I’ll do some more in Instagram Stories today — so if you have a specific question, find me there.

I don’t remember you being fat.

This is nice to hear! Like a lot of people, I was probably more uncomfortable with myself than I needed to be. I was never really skinny, but I’ve never been particularly fat, either. I was the kind of overweight where you have to shove all the way to the back of the rack to find your size at The GAP, not the kind that experiences fat shaming. I actually worked really hard to accept myself and be proud of the person that I am in both body and spirit. That’s a work in progress, of course, but I didn’t hate the way I looked. Still, I wanted to be healthier. I didn’t want to have to change clothes three times before I left the house because I didn’t like how I looked in anything. And I didn’t want to get depressed whenever other people posted pictures of me on social media.

Why Weight Watchers?

I resisted WW for a long time; it felt very ‘80s to me (my mom worked for Weight Watchers corporate in the ‘80s while I was growing up, which was part of the reason for that). I didn’t want to go to meetings. And frankly, I thought the points system sounded dumb.

I ended up choosing WW anyway because, as we say in the program, “it just works.” It has a great success rate, and it’s different than what I was trying before because it incorporated a community. One thing I loved about it is that you eat regular food and it’s very adaptable to “normal” life, so I could go out to eat with a freelance client (or order hummus and 6-oz. beer from the cute bartender at Paramount) without having to explain that I was making strange food choices because of a diet.

How long did it take you to lose weight and did you keep it off?

It took me about eight months to lose 40 pounds with WW, and I was still active and going to meetings for a couple of years after that. Over the past five years, I’ve gained some back and then gotten back on track and lost it again, but I’ve never gained so much that my clothes didn’t fit or that I didn’t feel like myself.

Did you go to meetings?

Absolutely. As far as the meetings go, they are both awesome and annoying. WW demographics skew older, and there’s a serious generation gap between most of the older members, to whom the idea of “good fat” sounds shocking (and maybe anti-American), and those of us who are younger (and by “younger,” I’m including women in their 40s) and have different ideas about nutrition. (We younger members are much less enamored by low fat cheese and artificial sweeteners, for the most part.) But the meetings are important, too.

You can do WW online only, but I wouldn’t. There’s something about the accountability of weigh ins that really works. WW creates weekly recipes and support materials that you get at meetings that give both practical advice and encouragement. And you get a lot of support, ideas and advice from other members that can be a critical factor in your success. Meetings are lame, and meetings are also kind of magical.

What is the points system?

Before I joined, I thought points were just simplified forms of calories — like 100 calories equals one point or something like that — and they kind of are loosely based on calorie counts. But if a food has a lot of fiber or protein, that points value goes down. And if the food has a lot of fat, sugar or salt, the points value goes up. Essentially, it helps bust up that whole “a calorie is a calorie is a calorie” idea that doesn’t hold up in real life, because a diet full of protein and fiber and fruits and vegetables is going to be more healthy and better for weight loss than a diet with the same number of calories that’s full of microwave dinners and cereal. (Vegetables and almost all fruit are zero points on the WW program, by the way, meaning you can eat as much as you want.) Following the WW points system results in weight loss, but it’s also good for fighting heart disease, hypertension and all kinds of other health problems because it really teaches you to understand the nutritional value of food.

Are you still a WW member?

I’m not a WW member anymore, and I’m not following a WW-prescribed diet; I’m experimenting with something different to see if it impacts my health and to learn what works for me. But I think I will be a WW member again when it makes sense for my life, and I can’t say enough good things about what the program did for me.

Eight months! That seems like a long time.

I think it’s obvious that people lose weight differently because our bodies are very different, and my body is one that would kick ass in a famine, which is to say it holds on very tightly to calories. What works for everyone else in one month barely moves the needle for me in three months. I’m not saying this in a “poor me” way; there are plenty of things in my life that are easier for me than they are for other people — I read and learn quickly, I’m a good test taker, and I’m pretty handy with a selfie. Lots of people would love to have my advantages, so I’m not complaining. I mention this for those people who think they’re working harder than other people to get healthy and seeing fewer results — you might be right. You might have to work harder. But that doesn’t mean it’s impossible or that it’s not worth the struggle.

Whether you love WW or hate it, have advice to share or have questions, find me on Instagram Stories today or leave me a Facebook comment if you’d like to share.

Carrie Rollwagen is author of The Localist, a book about buying from locally owned stores and cofounder of Church Street Coffee & Books. Currently, she works as Communications Director at Infomedia, a web development company in Birmingham, Alabama. Find her as @crollwagen on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and most other social media platforms.

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