I’ve tried a few different diets (Atkins, South Beach, Weight Watchers, Volumetrics, the bean diet, the peanut butter diet, and a handful of others) and Weight Watchers is the hands-down winner from a number of perspectives:

(1)    I lost weight on it—a lot of weight. I lost 60 pounds the first time I tried it, 70 the second, and 60 the third. No, those were not incremental and yes, the reason I had to do the Weight Watchers dive multiple times is because I kept gaining the weight back. (Incidentally, each weight gain coincided with a new job, a job that was hitting the skids, or a job that was going so well, I let it take over my life.)

Brace yourself but you can't get fit eating this stuff. Impossible. (Image via Wikimedia; Source: Penarc)

(2)    It’s fairly flexible. I’m not restricted to eating just protein or just solids with high water content or just, and you’re not going to believe this one, beans.

(3)    It’s about as healthful as healthful gets. If you do it right, you’re minimizing calories and fat as you kick up the fiber in your diet, all while guzzling more water than a desert nomad. Without realizing it, you’ll end up eating more of all the heart-healthy kinds of essentials and much less sub-optimal food.

(4)    When you pair it up with intensive and consistent exercise, it’s unstoppable. The pounds will melt away.

But odds are that like me, even the most dutiful Weight Watcher will find herself gaining all the weight back and then some. Apparently, only 5% of dieters keep weight off after 5 years of dieting (Trieu, 2007).

Why?

Weight Watchers knows. All these diet companies know.  In fact, they’re beginning to acknowledge it.

Go to the WeightWatchers.com site and what’s the first tag line you see?

“Change starts here.” It starts here but it doesn’t end here? Hmmm….

Then take a look at the “Success Stories.” How many of them feature people who have lost weight on Weight Watchers (!) and gained it back? Dinorah’s story is a good example.

Click on the “Eat Well” tab. Wait, eat what? That’s right, “eat well.”

All-out cheese? On Weight Watchers? Not likely. But all-out mixed messages? Yeah, likely. (Image via Wikimedia)

Then, what do you see? Yep, three—count ‘em, THREE—separate articles on Thanksgiving, including one called “Thanksgiving Countdown.” We’re counting down to a turkey feast? On a diet?!!! Hee-haww! Now, this is what I call a weight loss plan. All I have to do is starve myself a little but keep in the back of my mind the simple thought that in just days, I’ll be stuffing myself so full I could be the premiere float in the next Macy’s parade. But best of all, Weight Watchers will help me run the countdown. That’s what I call service.

My favorite, though, is the “Topic” link toward the bottom of the page: “All-Out Cheese.”

All-out cheese? What kind of diet IS this? We can eat cheese all-out? I can go hog-wild on cheese?

Honestly, every time I read this, I think about that film, Defending Your Life, where the main character gets to eat anything he wants risk-free while he’s on trial in the afterlife. (Take a look at the 2:53 mark in the following clip.)


But then I click on the “How Weight Watchers Works” tab and I see something different:

“We know you want to keep weight off for the long haul. What you eat is important, and the Momentum program will help you to make smart choices and keep hunger in check. And what you learn will stay with you for a lifetime.”

And Weight Watchers is by no means the only diet organization sending mixed messages. A friend of mine went to see a diabetes-specialized dietitian. One of the first pamphlets she handed him was a guide to fast food. Are you kidding me? Want a quick guide to fast food? Here’s mine: Never get any again. But, Mike, what about all the salads? Salads? The three leaves of lettuce that comprise those salads didn’t fill up the very hungry caterpillar and they won’t fill up a grown human being either. Skip fast food. Period.

Weight Watchers telling everyone to eat well, dietitians guiding diabetics to fast food, what’s going on here?

Can I stuff myself beyond recognition at the nearest Mickey D’s or do I have to eat smarter? Can I get drunk on mozzarella the next time I have to work late, or do I have to eat more thoughtfully? Can I make long-term, life-long changes on diets such as Weight Watchers or does change only START here? Will these people make up their minds?

Well, the problem is they can’t because—and I’m only guessing here—the marketers want to make this diet as accessible to every human being as it can possibly be while the nutritionists want it to work. As long as the forces of evil battle the forces of good for diet supremacy, we’re going to see this tension on even the better diet program Web sites such as Weight Watchers.

To its credit, the Weight Watchers organization seems to be sending purer, more homogeneous messages of late. See the Jennifer Hudson campaign as an example:

But the problem, as we have seen on Weight Watchers’ Web site, is still out there. Needless to say, if Weight Watchers can’t make up its mind about whether it wants dieters to feel as if they can eat with abandon or make smarter choices, then how can its dieters?

Dieters end up food-obsessed (just check out the Weight Watchers message boards) and bouncing on and off the program. They even have a glossary for the bounce. They say they’re “on program” when they’re sticking to it and “off program” when they’re not.

If my history is any indication, when you start using words like “off program,” you’re done. Consider yourself an official yo-yo once you start brandishing the binary diet language.  The very possibility of leaving the program makes you vulnerable to recidivism.

Again, per my last post, it comes down to RESOLVE. You’re either in it to win it or you’re not.

These thoughts are hardly revolutionary. Just two years ago, a handful of researchers in Australia captured the reasons why dieters drop off and then jump back on a program (including Weight Watchers). They pointed to the mixed messages coming from diet companies and singled out the following dieter’s representation of the problem: “They all work..when you stick to them. It’s when you go off them that they don’t” (Thomas et al, 2008, p. 4).

Let me summarize the tips emerging from this post:

(1)    Resolve is everything. Per the last post, you have to stick to the diet.

(2)    I know this is going to come as a huge shock to some of you but on any respectable diet plan such as Weight Watchers, you can’t have anything you want most of the time. You can’t. I’m sorry. You CAN have some things you want in controlled portions once in a while BUT all-out cheese and fast food? No. No way.

(3)    There’s no off-program, on-program. There’s always on program (but see the tips below for how to think about this).

(4)    This DOES NOT mean you can’t have non-diet meals. Your program has to allow for those meals. If your program does not allow for those meals, then modify the program or find a different one. You can’t spend your life eating one type of food or even one series of foods because sooner or later, you, your family, or friends will go nuts watching you and they will—mark my words—try to sabotage your efforts. You will have to make portion-controlled concessions from time to time: your diet MUST allow for this. How to do this will require a blog post all to itself (coming soon) but for now, just consider the thoughts here.

(5)    Counting points or sticking to one type of food does breed obsessiveness. Use methods such as Weight Watchers’ point system to learn how to make smart choices and then free yourself from it. If you’re THINKING properly about how to get fit and feel better, you won’t need the point system after a while. You’ll make those smart choices because you’ve internalized the lessons and WANT to get fitter and feel better.

(6)    Do find a diet such as Weight Watchers; the online channel is fine. It provides a healthful approach to getting fitter and leaner.

So, what do you think? Am I right? Or, do you have experiences to the contrary?  Do tell! Would love to hear your thoughts.

–          Mike Raven

References

Thomas, S.L., Hyde, J., Karunaratne, A., Kausman, R., & Komesaroff, P.A. (2008). “They all work when you stick to them: A qualitative investigation of dieting, weight loss, and physical exercise in obese individuals. Nutrition Journal, 7, 1-7.

Trieu, G.(2007). How many Weight Watchers points is that?. Retrieved from http://www.healthyweightforum.org/eng/articles/weight_watchers_points/

Advertisements