In September, 2008, I signed up for Weight Watchers.
It wasn’t the first time I’d tried the program. I’d done it online once before, with extremely temporary results. All that tracking was more than I could be bothered with, especially for the long haul.
On the other hand, at least on Weight Watchers I got to eat. In the late 1980s, Slim-Fast had a commercial that sang, “Give us a week, we’ll take off the weight.” One night, I thought, “Okay, fine. I have a week.” Sure enough, I lost weight. Mind you, the Slim-Fast plan at that time meant having one of their shakes three times a day (two meals and a snack), with one “sensible” meal. Who couldn’t lose weight on that? Especially in combination with a lot of walking and Jane Fonda’s low-impact aerobics (which were so low-impact that I didn’t bother my downstairs neighbor). Alas, keeping the weight off once I returned to a more traditional lifestyle, i.e., eating more than one meal a day, proved . . . impossible. Sigh.
But in 2008, I was motivated. Mom had just told me that my cousin, who is my age and also struggles with her weight, had just been diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes. Type 2 is generally caused by being overweight and inactive. After I hung up, I walked into the bathroom, looked in the mirror, and said aloud, “How much longer can you pretend this isn’t going to happen to you?”
So I went to Weight Watchers. I even signed up for meetings although I’m not generally a meeting person. It was the pre-Zoom era, which meant physically showing up. They met in the basement of a church located four minutes from my house. I figured it wasn’t going to get more convenient than that.
Something about the experience clicked this time. The leader was a college student who was kind and enthusiastic. The program had been revamped, and it was livable for me. I cleaned up a few bad habits (substituting brown rice and whole-wheat pasta for their white-flour equivalents). Since covid hadn’t yet shut down all the consignment shops, I became a regular customer: I’d buy a pair of jeans for $5, wear them until they were too big, bring them back for consignment, and buy another $5 pair in my new size. Over the next year, I lost 45 lbs.; then, I went for another five so I could say I’d lost 50 lbs. by my fiftieth birthday.
For two years, I kept the weight off. Gradually, though, the pounds began to creep back. Too gradually: nobody notices a one-pound gain in a month. On the other hand, when that happens every month for an entire year, you’re up 12 lbs., and it’s time to pay attention.
It didn’t help that shortly after I’d reached my goal weight, Weight Watchers completely revamped their program. The new leader insisted it was fabulous, an improvement based on science that would make life easier for all of us. For me, it was awful. Nearly all the good habits I’d developed had to be tossed to fit the updated rubrick. Worse, the new plan was far too strict, and I couldn’t stick to it. (Apparently I wasn’t the only one, because the next year, they changed it again.)
For a few years, I went to meetings with a friend, which helped both of us to stay on track. I needed all the help I could get. Maintaining my goal weight—and then, trying to get back to my goal weight—became a constant struggle that wasn’t helped by the company’s annual change-up of the program. (They always claimed the program was now much better, but it never was.) Finally, I just canceled my membership and coasted.
By the summer of 2017, when I’d gained back nearly all the weight I’d originally lost, I decided to go back to Weight Watchers. It was, after all, the only program that had ever worked for me. I might have succeeded that time, but just as I hit the 10-lb. mark, a house fire upended my life. I’d love to be one of those people who doesn’t eat when they’re stressed, but sadly, I’m at the other end of this particular spectrum. After a few weeks, I cancelled my membership so that I could focus on home repairs and related obligations.
The next year, I tried Noom. It sounded good—all that emphasis on psychology and behavior—but ultimately, it was hugely frustrating. I never actually knew what my calorie budget was because it changed so much during the day, depending on how much activity I’d fit in. Also, unlike Weight Watchers, absolutely nothing was “free” on Noom. Weight Watchers had categories of foods that you could eat without tracking, but Noom was all about calories, and pretty much everything has calories, so I never got a break. One night as I drove to a reading down on the shoreline, I snacked on blueberries the whole way down and back—a nice, healthy snack that Weight Watchers would have approved—only to find out later that I’d consumed 400 calories’ worth of berries, which was about a quarter of my day’s calorie budget.
Since I’m a stress eater/drinker, the pandemic was not kind to me even though I never actually got covid. Last year, I tried Weight Watchers again. They call it WW now, and they claim it’s about wellness, not weight loss. (Seriously? We all know there’s only one reason people are there: to lose weight.) Covid protocols were still in effect, which meant meetings were virtual. While I normally have had no problems with Zoom meetings (I don’t have to build in time to drive to and from a meeting! Woohoo!), virtual WW meetings were oddly unsatisfying.
I might have managed the virtual meetings, but I couldn’t get used to their latest new program. When I first started in 2008, you had two options, Core and Flex. With one of them (I don’t recall which), you tracked everything you ate; with the other, you had a huge list of things you could eat for free (including fruit, veggies, legumes, lean proteins, whole-wheat pasta, brown rice, and fat-free dairy), and you only tracked things that weren’t on that list (wine, butter, chocolate, potato chips). The non-tracking plan fit me like a glove. Alas, those days are over. Under the current plan, you pick one of three plans, and even on the one where you do the least tracking, the free list is very limited. The bigger annoyance is that you have to fill out a questionnaire, and based on that, they give you a “personalized” list of foods you don’t have to track. They tell you that if you want to change your list, you can just do the questionnaire again. Sounds great and flexible, right?
Not so much.
Say, for example, that you fill out the questionnaire in a way that it tells you whole-wheat pasta is one of your “free” foods. This is fine if all you ever want to eat is whole-wheat pasta every single night. If, however, you want to have salmon and brown rice the next night—an indisputably healthy meal—you either have to count the points for the rice or redo the questionnaire so that brown rice is your free food. So your choices are either (a) do the stupid questionnaire five times a week so you can vary your meals, or (b) eat the same thing every single night (which, as anybody who’s ever tried to lose weight knows, is the Gateway to Boredom—a guaranteed slippery slope to Screw The Diet).
So a few months ago, I cancelled my membership. I wasn’t following the program anymore, so paying for it was silly. About ten minutes later, I started receiving emails that tried to sell me on reasons to come back. Ever since, I’ve gotten emails at least six days a week offering all sorts of great deals I never got when I was a member. Get three months free, get a reduced rate, get the starter fee waived, get a free scale—they’ll give it all to me, if only I’ll come back.
Yesterday, I nearly gave in. There’s no question that I need to get my weight back under control. I’ve seen up close the havoc poor eating habits and inactivity can wreak as a person ages, and it’s Not Good. Granted, I’ve been lucky so far, but judging from statistics and family history, my luck won’t hold forever. As I said, Weight Watchers is the only program that has ever worked for me, albeit when I was much younger. After spending a depressing hour on Saturday shopping for clothes in sizes I would never confess to anyone, I knew I needed to take action.
So when I received yet another WW email yesterday, I was ready for it. This time, WW was offering a one-day deal on something I’d never seen: a locked rate of $15/month forever for a digital-only plan or $30/month forever for unlimited meetings plus digital (normally around $45/month). One day only. Expires at midnight. Don’t miss out. The clock is ticking.
Lordy, I was tempted. I already knew something needed to change. Plus, I’m a sucker for a good deal. Saving money every month forever sounded promising. There are live meetings in my town, one with a leader I know and like. And I definitely need to do something. So I really, seriously thought about taking the plunge.
But then, something strange happened. As I reviewed the information, I could actually feel my stress levels building. I imagined myself arguing with the leader about how the program was inconvenient, how it required so much time and energy that I didn’t have, how the only real changes I was making were changes I could make on my own—all reasons I’d quit in the first place.
I reviewed the site to confirm what I’d suspected, namely that the plan hasn’t changed in the last few months. I pondered all the success stories, the before-and-after photos, the promises. It was so seductive: come back and have a new, healthy, slender life!
Except there was no rational reason to believe I’d do better this time. The exact same things that didn’t work for me before weren’t going to magically work now. Tracking would never be anything except an irritating burden. I was always going to resent doing that damned questionnaire every time I wanted some other (equally healthy) food. Once more, I would be spending money on a plan I wasn’t following because the plan was simply too much of a hassle.
They’d almost sucked me in. Almost.
I’m sure there are a lot of people who find WW’s present program fantastic. Good for them. But it’s not for me. At least, not right now.
I suppose there’s always hope. After all, I know the program will change. It changes every year. When WW implements their updated plan, I may take a look. If it seems feasible (and affordable), I’ll consider it. But for now . . . nope.
So, I don’t have a formal weight-loss plan at the moment. On the other hand, I’ve learned a few things from Weight Watchers over the years. There’s nothing to stop me from using those techniques to drop a few pounds. Maybe I’ll formulate a few new habits, like drinking more sparkling water and less wine. More cooking spray, less butter. More fat-free yogurt, less ice cream. More fruit, fewer cookies. Pay attention to how much I’m eating. Pull out the food scale and remind myself what reasonable portion sizes look like. Write at the treadmill desk. Get outside to walk or work in the yard. Simple stuff, and I don’t even have to pay $30 a month to hear myself say it.
Besides, if DIY doesn’t work, I can always stick around for the next incarnation of WW.