Wednesday, December 21, 2011
A Return, of Sorts and Why Weight Watchers Doesn't Work For Me.
I haven't been blogging lately. Anyone who checks this site, and the regular readers I've lost in the last few weeks already know this. I've underestimated the impact of three nights spent working out, three nights spent raiding Dragon Soul in World of Warcraft and normal full-time job and holiday madness. My limited free time has also meant I've had little new to blog about. I've been focused on losing some of the extra 130+ pounds I've been carrying around these last few years and playing mostly Minecraft and WoW, with the occasional new Indie Game on Steam (Humble Bundles ahoy!) But I've done these topics several times now, and haven't felt inspired to tread the same paths in my writing during my limited free time. Now, I'm on Christmas Break from work, and what does inspire me is a topic some might call controversial. Let me blunt some of this by saying that despite my criticisms, I don't think Weight Watchers is a bad thing, and I've seen it work for some people. Like any program, it is up to the individual whether fitness changes are permanent or if there is some rebound, and any structure is better than no structure at all when it comes to being healthy.
Enough qualifying my opinion, let's get down to the Nitty Gritty.
Weight Watchers is, Essentially, a For-Profit Enterprise
Nothing is wrong with making a profit, but when there are elements of a program that seem to be more concerned with continued or repeat business than the best possible results, I get suspicious. Rather than focusing on building healthy habits that result in a permanent lifestyle change that would make the program no longer necessary, the program is structured with no "I'm done now" in mind. I frequently hear about folks who are "going back on Weight Watchers" after time off, making me think that repeat business is a major part of their revenue. For those who do stick with it, you are committing to a lifetime of group therapy with the meetings, with no goal other than maintenance. I know that after a certain amount of weight loss, your membership becomes free, but this doesn't allay my concerns, as WW is buying something with the money lost from your dues. Someone who has lost a ton of weight using their system and gets a free membership is a great marketing tool. I don't like the idea of making a commitment of paying a fee for therapy and a nutrition program for life, or until I become a walking, talking billboard for a for-profit corporation.
The Points System
Oh, God. This is the big one. I've heard that "Weight Watchers is the only program backed by research,"which isn't true, and hasn't been for several years. My main issue with the flex-point system is that it is entirely possible (for many people, I'd say easy even) to create a diet that the Laws of Thermodynamics prove will make you gain weight. Any research that says a magic combination of fats, proteins and fiber, or servings of fruits and vegetables will make you lose weight if you consume more calories than you burn is wrong. Calories consumed must be less than calories burned if you wish to lose weight. Period. Now, portion control and the fact that calories are a major part of how points are determined blunts the effect of this somewhat. However, fat content is weighted too heavily in accordance with the last twenty years of dietary research, and free fruits and vegetables are an issue. When eggs and nuts, excellent sources of protein and healthy fats are point-heavy, but I can load up on hundreds of calories of sugar-laden fruit, something is wrong. Small portions of high-calorie food supplemented by bowls of fruit because the calorie-dense food took up all the points and left hunger will make a person fat. Dietary fat is calorie-dense, but if the calories are kept in check and protein, fat and carbs are kept in healthy proportions, worrying about the fat in eggs, nuts or meat is counterproductive. Helping build healthy habits that control or eliminate food cravings instead of merely managing them is a better idea.
No Emphasis on Exercise
Now, I know that most weight loss is done in the kitchen, not the gym. However, we're back to the immutable Laws of Thermodynamics here, where there is the "calories burned" side of the equation. A plan that puts all of its focus on the eating part is nearly as bad as the gym rats who workout like mad and then undo all their hard work in ten minutes at McDonald's. Building muscle mass for increased efficiency of burnt calories and doing aerobic exercise to burn off a few more calories makes the journey easier. In addition, the mental and emotional benefits of "feeling better" as opposed to "feeling hungry" help set people up for success rather than failure. Is it easier to do something that makes you feel good, or something that makes you feel bad, even if you know your discomfort is good for you in the long run? In addition, people with a lot of weight to lose may experience sagging "loose skin," and filling that skin with muscle will make that easier to deal with as well.
These criticisms, I understand, are tantamount to an assault on principles nearly as deeply-held as those leveled at any religion. Weight Watchers can make a person lose weight. I have observed, however, for each person I've encountered who has lost a ton of weight on this program and kept it off, there are ten who gained it all back or couldn't stick with it. The program reminds me in some ways more like a crutch than physical therapy, once it is removed, most people aren't strong enough on their own to continue normally without it. As someone who has lost and then regained over 100 pounds, I'm focusing on programs that have their own obsolescence in mind, where once I've lost the weight, I've found my own motivation for keeping it off. Does this mean that I'd try to discourage anyone from being on Weight Watchers? No. I'm not remotely qualified to make that decision for someone as an individual. I would recommend research and a lot of thought about what sort of program fits each person taking this journey best. Calorie tracking, online motivation and strength training are working for me, as I've lost over 20 pounds since mid-November, but your mileage may vary.Blog Gadgets