For the last ten years of my life I’ve had an expanding waistline. There are plenty of reasons for the weight gain; slower lifestyle, less cardio work, changing metabolism as I age (I’m pushing 50). But it may be more honest to say that I am simply less concerned about my physical condition than I used to be. The need to push myself, physically, to compete in the dating scene is long behind me. I have a good marriage, a happy family, and a job that I enjoy. And over the years, I got soft. So, it was a real wake up call — and a kick in the gut — when a family member suggested Weight Watchers.
Weight Watchers?!? What came to my mind immediately was those little prepackaged frozen meals that are never enough to fill you up and taste like crap, anyway, so that you don’t want to eat them at all. But when I did a little research into the program I found out things had changed.
Let me start with a screenshot of my Weight Watchers journey, broken down by week.
Overall, so far, I have lost 22.4 pounds. My goal is another 33 pounds. So I still have a ways to go.
How it works – SmartPoints
WW has shifted away from a focus on caloric intake toward helping you create habits of eating wholesome, healthy foods. And to help you do that, they use a system called SmartPoints. Every food has a points value, based on the amount of protein, sugar, saturated fat, and calories. The idea being that the fewer points you eat per day, the faster you will lose weight.
WW uses your gender, height, age, and weight to determine your daily point allowance, which helps you know what foods — and how much of them — you can eat while still managing to lose weight. I am male, 5′ 7″, 49 years old and 250.6 lbs was my initial weight. All of those details combined mean that I started with an allowance 35 daily points and 42 weekly points.
Daily points are the suggested number of points that I can use daily and still lose weight. This is where the real weight loss happens. Weekly points are “cheat” points. Cheat points provide flexibility in my diet. Those extra 42 points per week come in handy when I have a big work lunch, or want a weekend dinner out with the family, or maybe an occasional slice of key lime pie… you get the idea. Weekly points are there so I don’t have to hate my life while I’m losing weight. I’m not required to use them, but they’re there if/when I need them.
There is a scary looking mathematical formula you could use to calculate every food that you put into your mouth. It looks like this:
But, thankfully, your WW membership comes with access to a SmartPoints calculator and tracking system, both online and on their smart phone app, that’s much easier to use. It has a huge database of foods, will scan product barcodes to automatically retrieve commercially made products, and has a calculator where you can manually enter in nutrition info of your own recipes to find out how many points they are. If you look foods up ahead of time it really helps you decide if that quick drive thru meal is worth it.
For example if I wanted a Big Mac combo meal at McDonald’s, how many points would it cost me?
42 points total. That one meal would be all of my daily points plus seven weekly points. And you still have to spend points on the other meals and snacks for the day. This is obviously not what Weight Watchers wants you to eat. And when I really look at it, I’d rather spend my points on a meal at my favorite restaurant, or an ice cream run with my kids. Using SmartPoints makes me much more mindful when it comes to what I eat, and where.
Figuring out how everything works
It takes several weeks for you to figure out how many points your usual meals are, and I’m not going to lie. This is a rough couple of weeks. The realization that your favorite home cooked meals are probably WAY outside your points allowance is harsh. But it really can’t come as much of a surprise. You wouldn’t be needing WW if you weren’t eating too much of too many high point foods. This first week or two is when you seriously adjust your food choices, and portion sizes. But the immediate results make the pain easier to bear. If you work that SmartPoints program then you’ll start losing weight immediately. Your first weigh in, after one week on the program, is a triumph. And, if you keep changing your mindset and your meals to use less points, the magic starts happening.
But it does require a change in habits. For example, before WW, I would have a rum and Coke with my dinner almost every night. Let’s look at the points breakdown of that one drink:
Without making changes, my one rum and Coke costs me 12 points a day. That’s over 1/3 of my daily points allowance. For one drink. Now, I really dislike the taste of diet soft drinks. But there is no way that I can justify 9 points a day for just one can of Coke. So my wife convinced me to switch to Coke Zero. Damn, that hurt. But that one change in habit turns my 12 point beverage into a 3 point beverage and that made my nightly drink a realistic indulgence.
Let’s try another change. How about a typical breakfast sandwich.
First a delicious bagel breakfast sandwich. Sausage, fried egg, American cheese, and mayo all adds up to a whopping 21 SmartPoints:
Again, that’s spending most of my daily points in my first meal. Sure, I can do that once in a while, but it’s really not a great breakfast habit. So how about this instead? English muffin, ham, and cheddar cheese sandwich. 10 SmartPoints. That’s a much more affordable occasional breakfast option.
So by switching from a bagel to an English muffin, sausage to ham, American cheese to good cheddar and dropping the mayo. You use half the points. Those are easy changes, and you are really using the program to it’s full potential. But wait. There’s more.
Next is the concept of a ZeroPoint food. In order to push you towards the nutrient dense foods they want you to eat, Weight Watchers has designated over 200 foods as zero SmartPoints foods. Food you can eat as much of as you want, without using any points at all. These foods include skinless chicken, most seafood, fruits, vegetables, legumes (beans), and eggs. I eat lots and lots of eggs. Click on this link for a complete list of ZeroPoint foods.
So if I only used ZeroPoint foods I could do six scrambled eggs (using non-stick spray instead of butter), a little picante sauce for taste, a full pound of boiled shrimp, one cup of cantaloupe melon and use ZERO SmartPoints.
That is kind of a big meal. But just wanted to demonstrate what is possible and get your gears turning on just how much you really can do with ZeroPoint foods.
Now, just because a particular food is in the ZeroPoint category doesn’t mean you can cook it anyway you want. The oil and the potatoes that made the french fries in the earlier McDonald’s example added up to almost as many points as the actual burger.
And, even though seafood is ZeroPoint food, frying your fish, or shrimp, or anything else will cost you more SmartPoints than you want to spend. One of my favorite types of fries are sweet potato fries. And even though nutritionists push sweet potatoes for their nutrient content, the natural sugar in them makes them a no-no on WW SmartPoints scale. And I really wanted to believe that sweet potatoes were a healthy option. You really do have to be vigilant about looking foods up in the WW app when you cook or go out to eat.
Weight Watchers Recipes and SmartPoints
Since so many people are using Weight Watchers, there are thousands of great recipes available on the internet. And most of them already have the SmartPoints figured out for you.
Here are some good ones:
- Mexican Shrimp Skillet – 6pts
- Creamy Lemon Chicken, Broccoli & Rice Casserole – 8 pts
- Beef Stroganoff – 7 pts
- Bang Bang Shrimp – 0 pts
- Chicken Cordon Bleu – 4 pts
- Chicken and Mushroom Cream Pasta – 8 pts
- Beef and Broccoli Stir Fry – 4 pts
- Chicken Pot Pie – 5 pts
Please send me recipes that you would suggest and I’ll be happy to add to this list.
Here are some of the official Weight Watcher cookbooks available on Amazon.
Weight Watchers has three different plans for their program. They are all paid programs.
The least expensive one is what they call the Digital (for my area $3.84 a week). This is basically where you have access to their web site and their phone app. You weight yourself once a week and input this manually.
Then there is the Workshop + Digital (for my area $7.30 a week). This is the plan that I choose. So you get everything that is in the Digital plan. Plus a weekly workshop at a local location where they teach you more about the program. They also privately weigh you and it is automatically added to your online profile.
Next is the Personal Coaching + Digital (for my area $12.69 a week). With this plan you get everything from the Digital and the Workshop + Digital plans. Plus you have a personal coach who helps you build a specific plan for you. You have unlimited calls and messages with them.
The nice thing about the Weight Watchers SmartPoints program is that you have the freedom to eat whatever you want. You don’t have to eat those silly frozen meals. You eat real food. You just have to be mindful about the food choices that you make. And that’s a real survival skill.
I’m using Weight Watchers for my own survival. Are you ready to try Weight Watchers, too? Click on my Profile Link and we will both get a free month.
I hope this helps someone out there. Please email me if it does and I will be happy to email with you about your Weight Watchers journey!