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I have always been overweight. Ever since I was a young (I can’t say little) girl, when I was a foot taller than all my friends, and at least twice the size, I’ve always not quite felt right in myself. I don’t know why, but I suspect genes have some sort of role to play – all the women on my mum’s side of the family have all been very large, usually with varying degrees of illnesses such as diabetes, hypertension and eventually bad heart attacks.
While this has always been worrying to me, I never really let it concern me too much. I tried a few diets when I was younger – I lost 2 stone on the Slimming World diet (which I think is where my baked beans hatred stems from) and then lost a couple of stone on the Atkins diet two years ago. I always put it back on, with more, in the end, because the diets made me miserable, and I didn’t feel like the same person.
Then when Mum died last year (unrelated to her being slightly overweight) it made me take stock of my life. Women in our family seemed to die young, and I couldn’t help but think that perhaps unless I thought about my weight a bit more, I might as well. My Mum had been a Weight Watchers lecturer when she was younger, something I was reminded of when we found her ‘gold’ pin in her jewellery box, and people had mentioned the POINTS system to me before. After reading Whoopidoo’s reviews of food, all with details about how many POINTS they had, I went to the website and found you could have a week’s trial for free, so I decided to sign up, thinking that all I had to lose was some weight.
N.B. There have already been reviews of the Weight Watchers method of losing weight, so for some of you this is going to be re-treading old ground. However, I’m going to specifically talk about being an online subscriber to Weight Watchers, as I am unable to attend meetings, so if you already know how the diet works, you can always skip past the first section.
Where have you been hiding? Weight Watchers have been on the go for 35 years in the UK, and a little longer in the US where a woman named Jean Nidetch started it. She believed that the best way for women to lose weight was by eating normal food, and having the support of other women who could understand what they were going through. She started by having a few women over to her house for coffee every week, and following a diet recommended by her doctor. As word spread, she was hosting meetings in other women’s houses as well, until eventually she teamed up with a businessman to start the company, Weight Watchers. Four years later, the first meetings were held in the UK.
There are now 6000 meetings a week in the UK alone, each one hosted by a woman (or man, i've been reminded!) who has lost weight also using the WW plan. This ‘leader’ knows how the other people on the diet feel, as she has gone through the same thing herself, and can give suggestions, advice and support.
HOW TO JOIN –WHAT YOU GET FOR YOUR MONEY
You can find your nearest meeting by ringing Weight Watchers, or searching online via the website (contact information at the end). The cost to join is £9 (but they often have free registration vouchers in magazines or on the internet), and then each week attended, you need to pay an additional £4.75. This includes the weekly weigh-in, and a short chat afterwards by the leader, with new ideas to inspire you.
Weight Watchers have introduced two new ways to follow the WW plan – online (as I’m going to be discussing below) and ‘At Home’. The latter plan is followed form your own home, with regular contact with a leader via the phone. To join the At Home plan, you need to by a starter pack at £49 (or £54 with 2 extra helpful books). You can make a saving on this by mentioning the website when you order.
Anyone going to meetings, or following the At Home plan can also log into the website and use the community areas – however there are many areas online which are accessible to online subscribers only.
WHAT IS THE DIET LIKE?
The “Time To Eat” diet is based around POINTS – these POINTS are calculated using the calorie and saturated fat content of different foods. When you join, you are given
a book with POINTS values of different foods, and it is up to you to keep track of how many POINTS you are eating. The amount you are allowed to eat is based on your starting weight. For example, I’m eating 30 POINTS a day, but am hoping to get down to the correct weight soon to be on only 28 POINTS.
To give you an example of some POINTS values – vegetables are 0 POINTS, an apple is ½ POINT, a slice of bread is 1.5 POINTS, and a cream egg is 3.5 POINTS. Providing you keep track of the amount of POINTS there is nothing you are not allowed. However, you do learn to make sensible choices, to maximize the amount of food you can eat – such as swapping butter at 1.5 POINTS a tsp, for low fat spread at ½ POINT a tsp.
The diet also encourages regular exercise, for which you can earn bonus POINTS. You can use these POINTS as extra food, or just to boost your weight loss. For example, I do 20 minutes of Pilates a day, which earns me an extra 1.5 POINTS. I either eat 1.5 more POINTS worth of food, or I save the POINTS into my ‘bank’ for another day.
At the end of the day, any POINTS not used can also be saved in the ‘bank’. It is recommended that you do not save more than 4 POINTS a day, otherwise the diet will not be so effective. Some days I eat 26 POINTS, and save 4 for the weekend. The most you can ever save in a week is 12.
EXAMPLE DAY’S FOOD AND EXERCISE
Breakfast (8 am) – 50g Raisin Wheats (2.5), medium pear (1), coffee (0), ½ pint semi-skimmed milk (2) shared between coffee and cereal = 5.5 POINTS
Lunch (1pm) – Mixed salad vegetables (lettuce, carrots, celery, cucumber, tomatoes) (0), fat free tomato and herb dressing (0), medium bread roll (2), 4 slices Quorn deli ham flavour (1) Mullerlight yoghurt (1.5), medium banana (1.5), can of diet coke (0) = 6 POINTS
Snacks (some at 11 am and 4 pm) – 2 large snack-a-jacks (1), Cadbury’s chomp (2.5) Nutri-grain elevenses (2.5) = 6 POINTS
Dinner (8 pm) – Cod loin (1) with pesto breadcrumb topping (2), served with ratatouille (0) and ½ a black olive ciabatta loaf (5), followed by a tin of peaches in fruit juice (2) with a Skinny cow ice cream (1) = 11 POINTS
TOTAL – 28.5 POINTS (1.5 banked for the weekend)
Exercise; 50 Minutes Pilates (6 pm) – 3.5 BONUS POINTS (not banked to help quicken weight loss)
What first caught my eye was the week’s free trial. Of course, you have to give them your credit card information, but as long as you cancel before the week is up, you won’t be charged anything. I was so impressed, I let them take some more cash and let me carry on!
Subscribing is very easy. You click on “The Diet” at the top, and then you can choose whether to go to meetings, do it at home, or subscribe online. You can take tours of each method to see which one will suit you, or just sign up straightaway.
Once you click ‘Sign up now’, you are directed to a page where you need to choose whether you want to pay for a month at a time, or three months (which saves you money). There is also a link for more details on the free trial conditions. Next you have to add your start weight, height, and other health details. There’s no need to be coy here, as no one ever sees this unless you want them to. This then directs you to the next page.
After choosing a username, password, security question, and entering your card details, they send an email letting you know it’s all gone through, with your personal details in case you need to refer back to them. You can start using the online services straightaway without validating anything.
After the free week, you pay either £39.90 for the first month, or £49.95 for the first three months. I chose the latter, as it made financial sense. After that the cost is £9.95 per month, but you can choose the three monthly saving plan at £24, saving £5.85. A lot of people would reach goal weight in three months if they didn’t have a lot to lose, so I think £49.95 at the beginning, and then seeing how it goes, is the best value choice.
THE ACTUAL WEBSITE
For me, the fact that I’ve paid to use a website means I make sure I use every single area, even if I don’t really want to, in an attempt to get my money’s worth. I find I am constantly surprised by all the different areas, and what information is actually contained within.
At the top of every page is a menu bar, so finding the right page is always easy. There is also a ‘shortcut’ menu down the left hand side of most pages for even more convenient navigation. I use this all the time, as it has quick links to every area I use regularly.
If you are not yet a member, the top bar provides links to help you join, find a meeting, or to learn more about Weight Watchers. Once you join, it provides a link to your profile, as well as letting you log in and out (I’m on automatic log-in, which I find a useful feature.
WHAT’S ON THE SITE?
I’m going to go through each of the tabs at the top of every page in order, explaining what each area is used for.
Home ==== The homepage, as you might expect, is a good starting POINT. As well as the shortcut menu, it has a section entitled ‘What’s New’ and links to other interesting places you might not have seen yet. When you’re logged in, there is also a yellow box with helpful tips for you, and reminders, such as “Don’t forget, it’s your weigh-in day tomorrow”.
My Diet ====== This is where all the action is. As well as showing you ways you can lose weight, suggesting menu plans, and some interesting reading material in ‘the library’, it links to the three most important and useful tools on the whole website.
1. The POINTS tracker
This is where I keep track of what I’m eating during the day. I think people do it with a pen and paper if they aren’t online subscribers, but I would never keep track like that, I write too much other stuff all day. It calculates how many POINTS I’ve eaten, how many I have left, and whether I’ve planned any exercise or not.
It’s very easy to use. You can add food in three different ways. You can either search the database to add it, choose it from your favourites, or simply add the POINTS manually. Once it’s filled in, you can print it out, which means it’s ideal for planning what you’re going to eat in advance. I usually plan the whole week, so I know what I have to buy from the supermarket – the POINT tracker even has a ‘shopping list’ feature, which prints off what you’ll need to buy to fulfil the week’s menu. I don’t find this that useful, as it doesn’t tell you how many of whatever it is you need.
You can also add foods to the database if you weren’t able to find them, or even add your own recipes that you cook a lot to make it quicker to add them to the tracker.
2. POINTS calculator
What if the food you’re eating isn’t in the database? Well WW have solved that for you as well. I believe you can buy calculators to calculate the number of POINTS if you know the calorie and saturated fat content – well you don’t need to if you’re a subscriber, because there’s one online. I use this all the time to find out the POINTS of foods not covered by the database.
3. Weight Tracker
There’s no POINT in going to all this trouble if you don’t keep track of your weight. Every Wednesday the home page reminds me to weigh myself, and log the weight. I can then see how much I’ve lost, as well as looking at the progress charts to see how close to my next 10% target I am. It makes me feel really good looking at the downward slope of the graph!
Food and Recipes ============= This section provides links to recipes with their POINTS already calculated. It’s a great way to get inspiration when I’m lacking it. You can either browse all of them, or search for a specific ingredient. There is also a lot of shameless advertising of Weight Watchers brand food, but you can’t blame them really, can you?
Healthy and fit =========== As you might guess, this area is devoted to the exercise part of the diet. I did go and look when I first started, but I rarely go back now. I usually just stick to doing Pilates and walking, and these activities are outlined in the POINTS tracker, but should I ever take up any other sport, I’d come back here to see how many bonus POINTS I could earn.
Success Stories =========== This is the motivational area of the site. I usually click on here if I’m feeling a bit rubbish and want to eat
Pictures of Weight Watchers
some chocolate. Seeing the before and after pictures somehow helps me to focus on why I’m doing it.Community ======== This area is the other one I use the most. You can use the chat room, or swap favourite recipes, but the real heart of the community is the message boards.
People come together to chat about their experiences, to share news of their latest weigh-in, or simply to renew their enthusiasm with some words of encouragement. Unlike other forums I’ve been to, there aren’t many trolls (trouble makers), and everyone is very helpful and friendly, no matter who you are or how much you have to lose.
Shop === This section shows all the things you can buy from Weight Watchers, but unfortunately doesn’t have an online shop, which seems a wasted opportunity to me – I’d have bought things from there if they had an online shop, but it’s too much hassle faxing an order form, or ringing through an order.
Panic ==== Nicely designed PANIC button, for when you’re going off the rails. I haven’t needed this area yet, but it gives link to inspirational articles, motivational techniques, and some low POINT treats to get back on track.
I find it tremendously easy. The fact that nothing is disallowed means that I can have my chocolate and still stay under POINTS, and you do just learn to make sensible changes to maximise your POINTS. The bonus POINTS earned from exercising motivates me to actually exercise, because some days I think, “Oh, if I do my Pilates, and bank the POINTS, I can have another 2 biscuits”. I haven’t felt deprived at all, in fact since I started I’ve been out for 2 meals, and had a big booze-up at home, and still lost weight.
IS IT AS GOOD ONLINE AS GOING TO MEETINGS?
Some people might find it hard to discipline themselves; without a leader or any other witnesses, you could lie about your weight on weigh-in day. Personally I couldn’t bear the meetings when I used to go to Slimming World. I dreaded going, and it made the diet no fun. I actually got up at 6 am yesterday because I couldn’t wait to weigh-in. The community boards are helpful, because you can chat to other people like yourself. I have met a couple of people, and got some great advice from there, and they often keep me on track. There are little challenges, and everyone is so pleased if you lose weight, it’s very heart-warming.
MOST IMPORTANTLY, DO YOU ACTUALLY LOSE WEIGHT?
In two weeks I’ve lost 1 stone 3 pounds, which is more than I usually lose throughout the whole diet. I know that the amount of loss is only due to me being so big to start with, and will slow down as I lose more, but if I lose 1 pound a week, it’ll only take me 3 years to get to goal weight, and I’ve been fat for 28 years – 3 years isn’t such a long time when you look at it that way, is it?
1. Drink at least 2 litres of water a day (I drink 3 because I’m so big).
2. Make sure you have your milk allowance every day – I have half a pint of semi-skimmed milk and a pot of yoghurt every day.
3. Do some exercise every day, even if it’s just a short walk – but only bank the POINTS if you need them.
4. Make sure you eat all the POINTS you are allowed – if you don’t, your body thinks you are in a famine, and doesn’t let go of the weight.
5. Never weigh yourself early – I did in the first week and was lucky as I still had the same loss, but you could end up disapPOINTing yourself if you don’t have that loss by the time you really have to weigh-in.
UPDATE - 36 weeks into the diet, and I have now lost 74 pounds (a bit over 5 stone) in total. I'm still finding it easy to follow, and have now progressed from Pilates to Aerobics, earning me more bonus POINTS and accelerating my weight loss. I have also tried a bit of Tae Bo, and have started doing sit-ups to help tone my stomach down a bit! You can see 'before' and 'latest' photos on my personal homepage. I'm delighted to also add that I've gone down 5 dress sizes, and am having to buy all new clothes!
Fantastic review, and well done you on all the weight loss!
Leopardskinny 23.03.2008 09:02
Wow well done! That is quite an impressive weight loss! :) Great review too! X
coolchanty 18.01.2008 09:56
What an excellent review. I have also been overweight now since I was 16. I started mixing with people who ate too much and I copied and then started to eat more of the wrong things and got in to relationships where I wasn't happy etc. It is so easy to put on but so hard to loose it sometimes. You definately have to be in the right frame of mind to do a diet and find what works for you. I have just started weight watchers last week, which I have followed before and I did the points plan. This time around I am trying the core plan as I did not find the points plan to work aswell. I think it is because I was not bothering to measure and weigh all my food and just guessing. I don't really have time to weigh everything so the core plan is probably much more suitable for my needs and I have lost 5lbs in my 1st week. I was delighted as this is the most I have ever, ever lost in a week :-)
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