Wednesday, May 21, 2014

WW, Part 2

Years ago, I visited a Weight Watchers meeting to learn more about the program and blogged about it here. An anti-diet proponent, I tried my best to be unbiased, and I walked away from the meeting thinking that as far as diets go, WW wasn't the worst-of-the-worst and that the meeting offered some cognitive behavioral tips and social support.

But still, it's a diet.

And diets can be incredibly damaging, even when they refresh their marketing campaigns and "allow" you things like unlimited fruit and especially when they start bequeathing you extra food allowances earned via exercise.

Recently, I met a woman I'll call Jessie. When Jessie told me that she was on Weight Watchers, my response was a simple, "Why?" To be honest, part of this was because Jessie was someone whom I'd describe as "normal" weight. I asked her from where on her body she planned to lose the weight. "I've already lost 13 pounds," she said, "And I still have a little to go." Okay. Well, the reality is, I would question anyone who told me she was on Weight Watchers, regardless of her size, because I think the diet mentality can create a disordered relationship with food, which ironically for her purpose, can lead to weight-gain over time.

Jessie and I ate brunch at a friend's home. Said friend served a beautiful spread - we each had some frittata, fruit, and a slice of banana bread. Now, here's where it gets interesting. Jessie ate what my friend served her, and then after the fact, told me that she was now going to have to make this a "cheat" day.

"What do you mean?" I asked. "That was a healthy breakfast!" I campaigned.

"I know," she said. "But I don't know how many points it was. And if I can't calculate the points, then I might as well just eat whatever I want the rest of the day and make it my cheat day."

Now, Jessie didn't mean that she planned on eating intuitively the rest of the day. She meant that she was going to overeat -and here's the kicker - not because she had overeaten already (which some people do out of black-and-white thinking) - but because she couldn't calculate the points and had therefore landed herself in Weight Watchers' no-man's land.

For some reason, I tried to protest. "How many points could it have been? I was satisfied but not even full."

"It's the banana bread," she replied. "The banana bread at Starbucks is almost my full-day's point allowance. If I have that, I can't eat much the rest of the day."

That criminal, homemade, small slice of banana bread. . . I was getting nowhere.

Weight Watchers, and other diets, set people up to alternate between periods of restriction and overeating. The rigidity, the rules, and the monumental distance from intuitive eating are all disordered in my mind. That a plan could say "Fine, you had your banana bread, now starve yourself until tomorrow" and call itself a flexible plan and, in any way, designed to promote health, is miles beyond my comprehension.

Want a true Weight Watchers disaster story? Read here how one woman dropped the program and regained a healthy relationship with food.

Now, that's a good plan.


Anonymous said...

I've always like the definition of normal eating by Ellyn Satter.(See

Ideally, people would stop labeling foods as "good" or "bad" and stop letting what they eat dictate how they feel about themselves. Personally, I'm not to a point where I can just eat intuitively, but that's my ultimate goal. Until then, I've found the diabetic exchange system to be the most effective way to guide my eating simply because it's the most flexible and doesn't encourage obsession and rigidity as much as calorie counting/point counting meal plans do. Nice post-- Good food for thought. (please excuse the awful pun, I couldn't help myself ;p)

drstaceyny said...

newb1 - thanks for linking to Satter's definition!

lesley_reece said...

The WW "Simply Filling Technique" (formerly known as the Core plan) does pretty well at encouraging intuitive eating. BUT it's still a diet because what foods you can eat are limited; e.g., no bread unless it's "lite" bread. You can eat regular bread, but you have to count points for it. That seems backward--in my estimation, "lite" bread, which is rarely whole-grain and frequently contains aspartame, is junk food.

Also, the SFT comes with the rest of WW including weigh-ins, which discourage me from eating properly. And while leaders can be fabulous, the other WWers can be kind of a drag with their self-imposed Food Rules: "We went on vacation and I was so proud of myself for buying food at the local chain grocery store instead of trying any of the regional favorites!" Or "There was a birthday at work and I ate a bite of cake but then I spit it out when nobody was looking." Much clapping. Wait--you WHAT?

drstaceyny said...

l_r - oh, my!

Meliss said...

I think that programs like weight watchers can be helpful initially by giving some guidance about healthy portions, etc. there was a time in my life where I ate so compulsively that I just didn't know what a "normal" day of eating even looked like in any shape or form.

however, once I learned that, I was able to take that information to the real world. I can "eye ball" a portion, and I know what a comfortable day of eating looks like for me.

and of course, I've learned "hungry" and "satisfied". BUT, initially, I had no clue and having a meal plan was helpful. and BUT if I deviated, I just went right back to it at the next meal.