Friday, August 15, 2014

Weight Watchers Activity PointsPlus: Use or lose?

This week's Weight Watchers topic was about tracking Activity PointsPlus (from here on out in this post, I will just say Points).  Interestingly, in my meeting, I was the only one besides the leader who reported tracking activity.  Our leader tracks using the Active Link, Weight Watchers' proprietary motion tracker, which awards Activity Points directly for daily steps. I track using the iPhone app, and I enter the activity type and the time, and the app calculates the points earned using my weight, which is stored in the app, and the intensity it has assigned to that exercise.  

Weight Watchers awards Activity Points based on a three-level intensity score: Light, Medium, and Intense.  The highest Points value for cycling, for example, is earned at 12 mph.  Not surprisingly, since Weight Watchers is designed for regular people and not for athletes, who probably make up a vanishingly small percentage of the people at Weight Watchers meetings. 

There was a discussion of whether to use Activity Points. Not surprisingly, since most people weren't tracking activity, none of them were using those Points either. My leader joked that she only uses her Activity Points for margaritas, and then said seriously that she almost never touches them.   I got a lot of odd looks when I said that of course I used Activity Points. I was training for an event, and I didn't want to have my training compromised.   My weight loss is also slower than most people in the program -- I am averaging half a pound a week loss, and many people in my meeting are losing 2-4 times that.  

If I look only at the last few weeks' trend and let my weight loss be my guide, it might look like I should stop using those APs.  But to me, those last couple of weeks' gain have absolutely nothing to do with the fact that I used my APs, and everything to do with the fact that I stopped tracking completely by midweek.  It wasn't earning and using the Activity Points that resulted in the small (this chart makes them look big, but they are about 0.6 pounds each) gains the last two weeks.  I also know from long experience that my body tends to be on a four-week cycle with weight, and this is the week that I would have predicted a gain. Next week, if I track and follow the program, is the week that I can expect a big loss.
If I look longer-term and let my weight loss be my guide, the picture looks a little brighter. It might only be a 7-pound loss, but everyone has been noticing the difference, and I think that is because I'm not just losing weight, I'm losing weight while maintaining my lean body mass.  In Fat Chance, Robert Lustig says that when most people lose weight, they lose an equal amount of fat and lean body mass, keeping their overall body fat percentage the same and sabotaging their efforts to maintain the loss. According to my body fat scale, I'm maintaining and even increasing that lean body mass while losing weight, which might be why people think I'm losing more than I am. I don't mind losing slowly.  I think if I can get more consistent with my tracking, I can increase my rate of loss a little, but I'm not really worried about the speed.

I don't want to lose weight. I want to lose fat. I also want to maintain that loss long-term.

Part of the purpose of the meeting topic was to promote the Active Link activity tracker, which gives the Activity Points value for the daily steps a user takes while wearing it. I wear a Jawbone UP to track my activity, but I don't give myself points for those daily steps, just for my conscious exercise.  Because Weight Watchers has a built-in check against people overestimating activity and underestimating food (Activity Points values are only about half what they should earn in food values) and because the Activity Points are not set up to tell the difference between a 12 mph bike ride and an 18 mph bike ride, I feel justified in using the ones I earn.

I know this topic is a controversial one and that there are a lot of different opinions on it. For me, the program that is going to be the most successful is going to be the one I can follow, so I use just about every point that I can beg, borrow, or steal.  But I'm interested to see what other people think. Feel free to weigh in (pun intended).

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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