I have been a fan of Weight Watchers for many years. I first joined when I was a senior in high school when the plan was based around exchanges, e.g. Fruit, Vegetable, Bread, Milk, Protein, Fat and you wrote everything down on a paper tracker:
I used that program on my own for many years off and on. It worked when I actually paid attention to it and followed the program. I ran into problems when I thought I could start eating “normally” again, i.e. the way I did when I was heavier, and the weight would come right back on.
Weight Watchers Overview
Weight Watchers typically changes its program every few years. They recently launched a new plan in December 2017 called Freestyle. They currently offer two options for following the plan, OnlinePlus or Meetings + OnlinePlus. OnlinePlus is online access only to all Weight Watchers tools and support from the Connect community. Meetings + OnlinePlus includes weekly meetings and online access to all Weight Watchers tools and Connect.
Weight Watchers also offers a Coaching option in addition to either OnlinePlus or Meetings. This option gives you more 1-on-1 support to help customize your journey to meet your needs.
I use OnlinePlus because I am not a meeting person. Some people love meetings and find the support they need there. You have to figure out what works best for you personally. I am active on Connect and other online groups through Facebook and elsewhere.
My husband has also been a huge support to me. After he saw my success on the program, I finally convinced him to go on Weight Watchers with me and after about 7 or 8 months he’s also at goal. He’s not a fan of measuring, planning, counting, etc. He’s someone who likes to be told, ‘eat this for breakfast, this for lunch, and this for dinner’. It’s easier when you’re not the only person in the house following the program so I plan and prep for both of us.
I started Weight Watchers for the last time on January 21, 2017. At that time the program was called Beyond the Scale and used Smart Points. I lost all of my weight on that program but have adapted to the newest program called Freestyle. The programs are similar in nature, they just approach certain protein sources differently.
Weight Watchers Freestyle program gives you a daily points allotment based on height, weight, age, and gender. This is a set amount of points that you are to eat daily. You also get a weekly allotment of points aptly named Weekly Points. These points can be used above and beyond your Daily Points throughout the week. If you don’t eat all of your Daily Points in any given day, you can “carry over” up to 4 Daily Points and they will be added to your Weekly Points allotment.
In addition, you can accrue Fit Points based on your activity level. You can sync your Fitbit or Apple Watch to the Weight Watchers app and it will automatically calculate how many Fit Points you’ve “earned” in a day. If you don’t have a Fitbit or Apple Watch, you can manually enter your activity and the app will calculate your Fit Points for you.
You can choose to use Fit Points or not each week. You can also choose to use Weekly Points each week or not, it’s completely up to the individual. I personally use most, if not all, of my Weekly Points every week. It’s rare that I will tap into my Fit Points but it has happened. I didn’t want to set the precedent early on of only eating the bare minimum because I knew I would have to sustain that over the long haul.
What are Points?
What do Points represent? They represent the value of any given food. I equate it to money.Say you have $50 to spend on food in a day. You can use that money however you’d like for your daily meals and snacks but that’s all you have to work with for any given day. You do have additional money “in the bank”, i.e. Weekly and Fit Points, if you want to use them but the $50/day is your daily allowance. In regards to Weight Watchers, Daily Points are your “money” for the day.
The Weight Watchers website and mobile application (app) provide a database of pretty much any food you can think of and the associated Points values. If the database does not contain a specific food, you can add it in yourself and provide the necessary nutritional information. Based on that nutritional information, Weight Watchers will calculate the Points value for that food.
The mobile app also has a feature that allows you to scan an item’s barcode using your cell phone to quickly determine its Points value. This feature comes in handy at the grocery store when you’re debating whether or not something is worth it Points-wise.
The new feature introduced with the Freestyle program is a larger list of “free” foods. Under the Beyond the Scale program, most fruits and vegetables were “free”. The Freestyle program added many additional lean protein to the “free” list including, but not limited to, chicken breast, turkey breast, eggs, beans, lentils, edamame, tofu, seafood, shellfish, and fat free Greek Yogurt. For a more comprehensive list you can go to www.weightwatchers.com or Google.
As a result of the additional “free” foods, you are allotted fewer daily points on Freestyle than you were on Beyond the Scale. To give a little perspective, on Beyond the Scale I got 30 Points per day. On Freestyle I get 23 Points per day. Weight Watchers is trying to encourage you to eat more lean protein, fruits and vegetables over more processed or high-fat foods.
IMPORTANT: Free does not mean calorie-free, it just means the food is Zero points of which you can eat as much as you want. While very few people, if any, have gained weight by eating too many fruits and vegetables, the calories can add up. You can’t eat a 52 gallon drum of grapes and still expect to lose weight. Use those Zero points foods, just don’t go nuts and eat your weight in fruit or chicken or eggs or…
To give you an idea of what a “typical” day might look like on Freestyle, here is an example from my own daily planner:
Breakfast: 12 Points
Salt Bagel – 8 Points
Chive Cream Cheese – 2 Points
Skim Milk for coffee – 2 Points
Lunch: 3 Points
Cooked Shrimp – 0 Points
Cocktail sauce – 1 Point
Dannon Yogurt – 2 Points
Fruit – 0 Points
Snack: 0 Points
Edamame – 0 Points
Dinner: 8 Points
Homemade Lasagna – 6 Points
Salad with Dressing – 2 Points
Total for the Day: 23 Points
The other driver behind Freestyle is to try and minimize the amount of tracking you have to do. For some this works beautifully, for others who need more accountability it wasn’t seen as a better approach. I personally like to track everything I eat, including “free” foods. Doing so gives me a better overview of what exactly I’m eating and also provides good data for figuring why/if the scale is going up or down. I’m a big fan of the more information the better.
My husband, on the other hand, hates to track. Hates it. He complains about having to do it all the time. This change was a good thing for him. With anything, you have to make it your own and tailor it to meet your own personal needs.
The other reason I track everything I eat is to stay aware of how much food I am eating. I don’t eat meat so that limits my protein choices to some extent. Carbs like pasta and bagels are also some of my favorite foods. I eat a salt bagel with chive cream cheese (measured out) every day. Tracking how many “free” points I’m using with regards to lean protein options allows me to assess if I’m getting enough calories.
If I don’t eat at least 7 points worth (the difference between the Daily Points I was allotted under Beyond the Scale and Freestyle), I eat those 7 points using foods with Point values. It makes it a little more complicated but since I lost my weight on Beyond the Scale, I know it works for me. You can read more about how I do this on my blog post, How I Make Weight Watchers Work for Me.
Overall I love Weight Watchers. It is the program that has always worked best for me. It allows me to lose weight while still being able to eat the foods I love, just in moderation. It’s sound nutrition and flexible enough to tailor to fit your own dietary needs.