Watching Points

Men, if you want to meet women, join Weight Watchers. At least, that appears to be true based on the class I attended the other week. There were fifteen women in the room (including the leader) and I was the only man. So I asked the women in the room: do men, like, ever do Weight Watchers? Someone remembered a man who joined briefly some months back, but in general, at least with this group, men just don’t do Weight Watchers. Maybe Nutrisystem or something is a more manly way to lose weight. After all, prominent well-remunerated ex-football coaches endorse it.

Granted, if you are looking for super skinny women you won’t find any at a Weight Watchers meeting, except for possibly the leader, who is probably already spoken for. I also happen to be spoken for and as best I could tell the other women in the room were too. However, by being the only man in the room you may find women competing for your attention. Also, you are probably far more interesting than the weekly weigh in.

My cardiologist suggested Weight Watchers. “It’s easy. You eat what you want,” she said, which is okay for her to say, as she is from India, vegetarian and as skinny as a rail. My experience in dieting over the years probably parallels yours: it is never easy. Mainly it is a matter of consistency and force of will. If you regularly slip on either of them, you tend to put on the weight again.

While I would normally no more go out of my way to attend a Weight Watchers meeting than I would an AA meeting, I had to confess to myself I do not have that excuse. A group meets weekly on my floor, in a conference room about a hundred feet down the hall. Moreover, Thursdays from 11 to Noon, their meeting time, was also a convenient time for me to attend. Having no viable excuse and knowing my cardiologist would keep giving me a hard time, I opened my wallet and signed up.

I am on Day Nine of Weight Watchers. The one thing I have not actually done since my first meeting is weigh myself. That was because yesterday I was facilitating a large meeting of more than a dozen people, most of whom were from out of town. Nevertheless, I certainly have been scrupulously tracking points. Points are what you track if you do the Weight Watchers thing. You can look up the number of points for some dish in a convenient book they give you or on their web site, or you can use their calculator to convert calories, dietary fiber and fat content into points.

The women in the meeting looked at me enviously. I hope it was because I didn’t look like I should even be at Weight Watchers. I have no beer belly and what excess fat I have tends to be in the form of modest love handles. Their envy likely had more to do with me being a male, which means I am larger, thus burn more calories, which means I get six extra points a day. I am not supposed to exceed 33 points in food per day, whereas all the women in the room were somewhere in the mid to upper 20 points per day.

It is true you can eat anything you want on Weight Watchers and theoretically lose weight, but of course, you probably cannot eat as much of you want of the foods you like. You quickly learn that if you eat what you like, such as calorie-dense food full of sugars and fat, you can earn your daily points with just a few candy bars. Moreover, these sorts of food simply make you want to eat more of them. Naturally, if you are intent on minimizing your misery you quickly discover the virtues of filling foods, i.e. foods that have few points, and are relatively low on calories and fat and high in dietary fiber. One I like is grapes. One cup of grapes is just one point. They have some dietary fiber, taste nice and sweet, contain zero fat and are available year round. However, a cup of most fresh fruits will do the same thing. As I tend to like berries, a cup of fresh raspberries or blackberries as a snack or with a meal goes down rather pleasantly.

Still, you have to keep meticulous track of what you eat, at least for the first six weeks. You also need to track activity points. That’s not a problem with me, as I already get adequate exercise, so many days I earn extra points. This of course means you can eat more and still lose weight. However, exercise does tend to make you hungrier. The benefits of exercise though go far beyond weight loss, so it makes sense to exercise and diet simultaneously.

After a couple months, my feelings may be different, but overall the first week was not as hard as I anticipated. The trick seems to be to be doggedly consistent. In the morning, before I rush off to work I usually have a bowl of cereal. Since starting, I now measure one cup of Cheerios and three quarters of a cup of soy milk. That’s four points. Mid morning snack is that cup of whole grapes: 1 point. Lunch: soup and salad from the cafeteria. We have plenty of variety in the salads we can create. The trick is to add heaps of healthy vegetables, go sparingly or skip the salad dressing and avoid the urge to load it with proteins like chicken or tuna. If you do this, the salad can be just a couple points. If your idea of a salad is a Caesar salad loaded with dressing, three cups of Caesar salad is seven points! I love soups and most are only a few points. Many though are loaded with salt, which may be a reason to avoid them. An apple is just two points and very filling so it works for dessert. Enormous dinners are out, of course, and creating even modest dinners and staying within your point range can be challenging. I make sure I reserve two points for a Skinny Cow, a sort of ice cream sandwich-lite.

The goal of Weight Watchers is not just to help you lose weight. Virtually any diet will succeed in letting you lose weight. The hard part is keeping it off permanently. It means a new way of eating. It means listening to your body so you reach for a snack while your body is just starting to get hungry and stopping when you are satisfied but not full. The goal is to stay in the “comfort zone” so hunger does not drive you to excess eating. Small binges are okay. Weight Watchers realizes some days you will crave more calories, so it adds in 35 weekly points. If you don’t use them you lose weight faster. Last week I used up about half of my weekly points.

Time will tell whether a modest decrease in my weight will reduce my cholesterol and blood pressure. I am skeptical that I can wholly relearn eating habits because if I had been successful in various strategies I have tried in the past, I would not be losing weight yet again. Americans’ relationship with food is very complex. It is incredibly easy to overeat in America without really trying. Mindfulness through the tracking of points is a bit challenging but so far has not proven overly onerous. Perhaps with persistence my blood pressure, weight and cholesterol will soon all return to the normal range again.

Stay tuned.

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