Weight Watchers has been around longer than I have, and many clients of mine have cycled through the program several times before coming to me. I’ve always felt that in the world of commercial diets, Weight Watchers was the lesser of many evils. But is it?
In this installment of I Tried It So You Don’t Have To, I spent $22 a month and put myself on the Weight Watchers SmartPoints program for two weeks. I wanted to see how easy or difficult the program is to follow (sustainability), whether it works (weight lost), and how I would feel on the diet (ie did it cut out major food groups or irritate me at all…because counting).
In my research, I saw that a lot of people are seriously hating on the new SmartPoints program. I’m not up on all the prior Weight Watchers programs that came before SP, but there seemed to be a lot of anger in the comments on several Weight Watchers blogs about how the new program is impossible to follow.
I’m not a ‘counter’ type of person. Calorie counting, points counting, grams of whatever counting…it all drives me nuts. I was pretty sure that I was going to get exasperated by counting points, too. I’ve seen clients come to my office with Weight Watchers points values so ingrained into their brains and messed up hunger cues from the whole experience and the whole thing was really hard for them to get away from, even though it wasn’t doing them any good. But Weight Watchers is still here, so we have to assume that lots of people actually do find it helpful…or addictive, perhaps. People seem to do it, lose weight, regain weight, go back on it, lose weight, regain weight…well…sort of like any other diet.
Weight Watchers has adopted a ‘beyond the scale’ philosophy, emphasizing physical and emotional wellness as big drivers towards making good food choices. They’re right, too.
Keeping with the above philosophy, the SmartPoints program is really easygoing. There was plenty of encouragement on the website, like: “Keep track of what you eat and drink. No need to be perfect — but being consistent helps a lot.” And “The secret to success: Be kind to yourself. Perfection is over-rated. Be pretty good most of the time: Follow your budget, make healthy choices, and keep going. This is a lifestyle, not a temporary fix.” Cool, besides the reference to ‘good’ diets. Not into that, but I like that there’s no tough-love approach.
At least some diets are learning that yelling at people to make them lose weight doesn’t work.
To use SmartPoints, you log what you eat all day long, and the app assigns points to your choices. You also log your activity, and the app assigns you FitPoints. The Weight Watchers site has lots of helpful articles on weight loss and fitness, helps you connect to other people on the program and find meetings, and also allows you to chat 24/7 with someone who has successfully done the program. You weigh in once a week and log your results online. No cattle call scale sessions!
I’m not all the way on board with weekly weights, because I hate focusing on numbers. That being said, this is what many people want, and they can go to Weight Watchers to get it.
The SmartPoints system surprised me a LOT with how progressive it was in terms of what points values are based on.
Unlike the previous Points Plus system that was mainly based on calories, this new system is based on calories, saturated fats, sugars, and protein. So unlike PointsPlus, where you could game the system by eating junky crap like 100 calorie sugary treats and still stay within your points, that’s not happening on SmartPoints, nope nope nope. I know that’s pissing a lot of people off, but it’s real life. You can’t eat sugary crap and pretend it’s an apple (with PointsPlus, cookies and apples were both 2 points, WTH)
The weird thing I found on SmartPoints is that all fruits and most vegetables are zero points, which I don’t necessarily agree with (well, that is, until I had 30 points to spend every day…then I wholeheartedly accepted any point-free food I could get!!)
Theoretically, this means that you can eat 10 servings of fruits and bank all your points, but who does that? Do NOT do that. 2-3 servings a day max, okay?
Weight Watchers anticipated the use of fruits in smoothies though, and has assigned much higher points values to blended fruit. Good job Weight Watchers!
Most protein has very low points values, so the program encourages a diet high in lean protein and vegetables, low in sugary crap. Fair enough.
What was it like to be on Weight Watchers SmartPoints?
Someone on a blog I happened to read determined that each SmartPoint was the equivalent to 27 calories, which actually worked out perfectly in my calculations.
I’m 5’4 and 131 pounds, and this is my natural, healthy weight.
I told the Weight Watchers app that I wanted to lose 10 pounds, which would neither be healthy nor possible for me. My weight tends to want to be right at 131, and anytime I go under 129, people start commenting on how thin I look…like, in a bad way. I also get really really hungry as my body tries to bring my weight up, like it or not.
Anyhow, I was assigned 30 points per day to use, plus I had another 28 Weekly SmartPoints to use however I wanted. That meant that I had a daily 810 calories plus fruits and vegetables (except for avocado..which really sucked), plus 756 weekly calories for when I wanted a piece of cake or go for dinner. Considering that I usually need a lot more calories than 800 a day, I didn’t know how this was going to work. I wasn’t about to eat 16 pieces of fruit to bring the calories up to a more manageable level, and the calories from non-starchy vegetables really just don’t add up all that much. Basically, I was stuck with what appeared to be a low calorie diet. Noted though that most people need a hell of a lot more calories than that, even to lose weight. I was a bit disappointed in this part of the diet, because eating too little can also hinder weight loss.
What ended up happening was that I ate the way I always do, being more mindful about what I was consuming. That’s a function of counting…so I expected that.
What I didn’t expect was that I was penalized for making some of my normal, healthy food choices. Italian tuna in olive oil? 5 points. Tuna packed in water (gross, never eating)? 1 point. A mere ¼ of an avocado? That cost me 3 points.
I guess if I used more Weight Watchers products I could keep the points lower, but I wasn’t prepared to eat thin sliced bread and Smart Ones frozen dinners.
My meals ended up being between 9 points (breakfast) and up to 13 points (lunch and dinner), but I was always going over and dipping into my Weekly SmartPoints. One margarita-fueled night out would send your Points expenditure into overdrive. The horror.
I felt guilty when I went over my 30 points in a day, even with all of Weight Watchers’ platitudes about how being imperfect is wonderful. I’m type A, Weight Watchers. I don’t believe you when you tell me it’s okay to go over my points. Especially when it happens Every. Single. Day.
In terms of sustainability, I think it depends on your tolerance for counting things and for guilt when you go over your points. I assume (maybe incorrectly) that eventually you can let go of the points counting and cruise.
I was assigned a really low number of points to use, which was hardly doable and questionable in terms of being a healthy level of calories and other nutrients. HM. I guess when you’re giving a computer your height and weight and it uses a logarithm to determine your points needs, that’s what you’re gonna get. That’s a major flaw of this diet, although it’s partly my fault that I got such a low calorie value. I’m the one who told the program I wanted to lose 10 pounds. Still. I could probably lose weight – albeit slower – eating more calories than what they allotted me. Eating too few calories is a popular way to sabotage your weight loss so keep this in mind.
Weight Watchers SmartPoints focuses not on perfection, but on physical and emotional wellness.
If you’re not going to use a registered dietitian to help you with your diet, Weight Watchers might be a viable option depending on who you are. But really, an RD is a more personalized and evidence-based choice.
Diets in general don’t work that well, but if your diet is rather shitty and you learn how to appreciate healthier foods on Weight Watchers, then you’re coming out ahead vs never making any changes to your current diet.
The SmartPoint program gets the fact that not all calories are created equal, which is really forward-thinking for a commercial diet program. I was really happy about that part.
The diet encourages lots of vegetables and whole fruits, lean protein, and minimal sugars.
You can’t game the system like with the old PointsPlus. This is a good thing, although a lot of people are pissed about it.
The program seems balanced in macro and micro nutrients.
This program will appeal (and work for, most likely) to people who are into counting things.
If you’re not a ‘counter’, walk right on by.
I felt guilty when I went over my 30 points every single day. I guess with a ‘counting’ type of diet, there’s no getting around that.
Weight loss: I lost nothing. 0/5, but that’s because I cheated on the program and, I don’t have much to lose.
Sustainability: Depending on who you are (of course). If you’re a counter, you might do okay on this diet, if you get enough points to use. If you don’t, it will likely be crash diet city: 2/5
How I felt on the diet: 3/5 – I still hate counting things, and I still felt guilty when I went over my points. But the diet is well-varied, nothing is off-limits, so that’s good. I was hungry, though.
Overall? SmartPoints is a well-varied diet program for the most part, with lots of support for followers. Not bad for a commercial diet, but like all things, not for everyone: especially Type A people. Also, the overall calories it may give you could be too low to sustain. As in, sustain normal metabolic processes. So watch for that.