Monday, February 14, 2011

Trying to profile the people having trouble on Points Plus

Weight Watchers CEO David Kirchhoff has a blog where he posts about his own experiences with the program, plus a few news items here and there that he relates to Weight Watchers.  He's in maintenance, so his posts are, of course, not about struggles with weight, but the blog seems like an attempt to humanize the Weight Watchers leadership.  Until reading his blog I never really thought much about who was in charge of Weight Watchers, and just pictured a stainless steel building at the top of a mountain filled with nutritionists and scientists in silver jumpsuits who were always testing foods and sending orders down from on high, "Henceforth, no Set Points for avocados!" Or something like that.

On a relatively innocuous blog post about the new USDA food guidelines, Kirchoff got dozens of comments from people struggling with Points Plus, people who said they had been doing great on Momentum but started gaining weight or at least not losing when the new program came along.  I'm fascinated by this because I can't claim, like they can, that I'm following it to the letter and it's not working for me.  I follow it really well on Mondays and Tuesdays, sort of halfheartedly Wednesdays and Thursdays, and then fall out of the boat every Friday and get back in sometime Sunday evening.  Amazingly, this doesn't work well.

It would be easy to write off the people who say it isn't working for them as being in my tipsy little boat, but I don't think it can be true for all of them.  I think that at least some of them must be telling the truth, so I have been trying to read between the lines and figure out what kind of person is struggling. This, by the way, is what I think Weight Watchers should do -- get some members to volunteer to share their journals and do some serious troubleshooting so they know what is going on.  I think that the people struggling probably fall into one of a few categories.

1. They were at the low end of the Points range before the new program.  On Momentum, the lowest daily points target was 18. Now it's 29.  That had to feel like a terrifying switch for people who were used to a very regimented, tightly-controlled food plan. At 18 points a day, a person would just barely be able to get in all the Good Health Guidelines if she planned everything out very carefully and stuck to a tried-and-true plan.  These could very well have been the people who never used their weekly points allowance.  If they had gotten their bodies used to a very low calorie intake, they could very well be gaining now that they have more points to work with.  Sure, some things (like oatmeal) have more points on the new plan but others (butter) have the same.  Plus, fruit is now zero points.  It's possible that the new plan is like getting to eat twice as many points all of a sudden, which could really be scary for someone who likes to keep things in tight control.

2. They like high-carb foods.  This would be on the other end of the spectrum from #1, probably.  I was unpleasantly surprised by how some of the foods I liked had changed with the new points values.  Bread, granola bars, and even popcorn all have more points now. Things that many Weight Watchers relied on, like 2 point bars and sandwich thins, suddenly aren't such good choices. Even though the points allowance is higher, if I have a day where I eat a second serving of those Kashi crackers, I struggle for the rest of the day.  Obviously, the message of the new program is to change some of those food habits, but it's not surprising that some members would find the change a struggle.

3. They are stuck eating on the run.  One thing that I notice with Points Plus: The foods that take a while to cook, like beans and whole grains, are still a points bargain.  But if you're trying to grab something quick on your way out the door or are stuck at an all-day work meeting where your only options are the buffet lunch or the vending machine, you're in big trouble.  Obviously that's because the kinds of foods that are easy to get on the run: processed carbs, sweets, etc., are not great choices.  But they are even "worse" with the new points than they used to be.  I had a recent meeting where a boxed lunch was provided: A sandwich, chips, a little cup of pasta salad, and a cookie.  No fruit, and I only had veggies because I had asked for a vegetarian sandwich. There wasn't much food there and it wasn't at all filling, so I had the choice of blowing half my points allowance or being hungry.  I ate the whole lunch and was still hungry.  Next time I need to plan ahead and bring my own fruit, veggies, and yogurt so I can skip the chips, cookie, and pasta salad.  Conferences are even worse because you're usually eating three catered meals a day and the choices are so limited.

4. They aren't crazy about fruits and vegetables.  Weight Watchers relies pretty heavily on those zero-point foods to fill members up. I don't think that a Weight Watchers points allowance is really a lot of food, despite what group #1 thinks. If you can't use those zero-point foods to fill in, you're going to be pretty hungry.

5. They are misinterpreting something about the plan.  One of the commenters called the plan "Atkins Lite" because of the changes to the points values of high-carb foods.  I have people in my meetings who are doing the program that way, too, snacking on hard-boiled eggs and cutting out all breads and grains.  Our leader said she found that someone was counting those little plastic cups of fruit in "lite" syrup as a zero-points fruit, and when they did the math, they were fairly high in points.  I could imagine that there are all kinds of places where people who didn't read carefully are making errors.

Like I said, I'm struggling too but I place the blame firmly on my own shoulders and not Weight Watchers, but I would be interested to see if my theories are right. What are you finding challenging about the new Points Plus plan?

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"Count your calories, work out when you can, and try to be good to yourself. All the rest is bulls**t." -- Jillian Michaels at BlogHer '07