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Weight Watchers, aka WW, seems like it’s always trying to reinvent itself by coming out with new plans. The latest, PersonalPoints, claims that it’s ‘customized like never before.’ Seems like WW is jumping on the ‘personalized just for you’ trend.
The company promises that their ‘nutrition and behavior change scientists’ design each and every plan to ensure a PersonalPoints budget and Zeropoint foods list that’s tailored for that specific person.
We’ve seen a lot of personalized diets and supplements lately.
From Persona vitamins to G-Plans’ metabolic typing to VShred’s somatotypes, it seems like companies are banking on the fact that people love feeling like they’re getting a product that’s tailored exclusively to them.
WW also loves to market itself as a ‘lifestyle change,’ not a diet. Oprah’s posts and ads are all about how fun the program is, and how easy it is to integrate into your life.
That all seems nice, but is it really the case?
Is WW a lifestyle change, or is it a diet in disguise?
Oprah: YOU GET A DIET! AND YOU GET A DIET! AND YOU GET A DIET!
Let’s take a look at PersonalPoints and see what’s going on.
Getting started on WW PersonalPoints.
The new WW PersonalPoints program begins with a PersonalPoints ‘Engine’ – basically a quiz that you take to let the algorithm know which foods to put into your plan.
The plan has two parts – a PersonalPoints budget, and a ZeroPoint food list.
The budget is the number of points you’re allowed to eat in a day. To stay within these points, just like in other renditions of WW, you’ll measure your portions and track your intake, except when it comes to ZeroPoint foods. Those are ‘free.’
Your budget is determined by your goals and your metabolism, which WW can’t possibly know anything about from a short quiz. In fact, while basal metabolic rate stays mostly the same, daily calorie needs fluctuate. And making caloric determinations from ‘metabolism’ sounds science-y, it’s mostly worthless, unless you have a metabolic chamber that gives you an accurate reading of your individual metabolic rate. You can get a rough estimate from our calculations, but really, it’s sort of a gamble.
There are only 30 metabolic chambers in the world, the majority being at major teaching hospitals. So it’s safe to assume that WW basing your points budget on your metabolism is mostly for show.
Plus, as I said, while metabolic rate is mostly static, energy needs vary day to day. This is one huge problem with calorie counting and budgets.
WW says that “you can eat anything you want, just follow your budget!” which is code for “we’re saying that you can eat anything you want, but you actually can’t.”
Once a program introduces a budget into the mix, whether it’s points, carbs, calories, or whatever, this takes away your freedom to eat intuitively. It immediately introduces restriction, regardless of how many ‘ZeroPoint foods’ you’re told you can eat.
Please sit me down and have a talk with me if I ever go on a diet that penalizes oat milk over almond milk.
The daily allotment of points is different for everyone, but appears to be somewhere around 25, give or take a few. Some people’s budget goes as low as 18 points a day.
When you have to count calories or points, you get some people trying to game the system. While a lot of people will do WW PersonalPoints and eat lots of fruits and vegetables, for others, it becomes a sort of game to concoct the lowest-point meals and desserts possible.
This sort of behaviour is completely disordered, and it arises when people feel like they don’t have ‘permission’ to eat what they truly want. So, they try to find a way around the ‘rules’ to give themselves what they’re really craving.
Can you eat anything you want on WW? Sure. But at some point, you’ll come to the realization that if you eat a real chocolate bar or milkshake instead of some concoction with powdered peanut butter, a protein drink, and sugar-free pudding mix, you’re going to be spending a heck of a lot of points that you could spend eating other foods.
And when you’re already hungry, that just doesn’t sound like a good option.
This is the push-pull that goes on in a lot of peoples’ minds when they’re on a program like WW. It’s exhausting, guilt-producing, and not healthy.
And just so we’re clear, I think it’s healthier to eat the chocolate bar and move on, than it is to eat this other type of food and pretend that it’s something ‘indulgent.’
That’s not healthy to me.
Don’t forget that WW has a lifetime membership for a reason: if it worked, why would they need to offer that?
Weight Watchers Food Lists.
The ZeroPoint food list is a list of foods that you don’t need to weigh or measure or track. Everyone’s ZeroPoint food list is different, depending on what your goals and preferences are.
This is where the ‘customization’ piece comes in.
Unlike previous WW plans, foods like legumes, avocado, whole wheat pasta, plain nonfat yogurt (whyyyy), brown rice, and potatoes can be ZeroPoints. Not everyone will have all of these on their list, but it’s interesting to see WW making starchy carbs a ‘free’ food.
Each food’s PersonalPoints value is determined by its calories, fibre, protein, saturated and unsaturated fats, and added sugars.
That’s all fine, but you know what I’m going to say about that: food is a lot more than its nutrition: it’s also how you feel after eating it; it’s memories, community, socializing, and love. And ALL OF THAT IS OKAY.
Again, WW says it isn’t a diet, but it has essentially reduced food to numbers.
That’s. What. Diets. Do.
I know that WW’s PersonalPoints are supposed to make eating healthier easier, but the counting and tracking and gaming and points budgets are just….and interference and a distraction from all of the other aspects of food.
You can ‘earn’ points.
On Weight Watchers Personal Points, there are three things you can do to ‘earn’ more points:
Drink 60oz of water every day. This will get you one more point a day.
Eat green vegetables. For every cup of non starchy vegetables you eat, you earn another WW point.
Exercise. Followers can earn points based on their activity.
WW says the ‘earning points’ thing is to ‘to help turbo-charge a healthy habit loop.’ In other words, you get something (more food) for doing something healthy. Except rewarding yourself with more food for doing stuff you should be doing anyway, is a really unhealthy way of doing things.
Even though WW claims that the research shows that incentives like points earning help people lose more weight, I have a massive issue with this sort of ‘earn food’ thinking, and it solidifies in my mind the fact that WW is nothing but another diet.
Like, I don’t really care how much weight you lose, if you come out of this with a messed up idea of what food is. Not worth it.
Working out to earn food isn’t good because exercise then becomes punishment for eating or a way to earn food which..well, you deserve to eat. You should never have to ‘earn’ your food. You should work out because it’s physically healthy and fun and because it makes you feel good. Not because it earns you a couple more points.
Aside from that, recent research has shown that our bodies essentially make up for the calories burned by tough exercise by slowing metabolic rate. So in other words, your body doesn’t work like that. You can’t just eat and then burn that food off.
Eating to earn more food doesn’t make sense, and it corrupts your relationship with food. Why should you stuff yourself with vegetables to earn points, instead of eating what you want, right off the bat?
Weight Watchers claims that Personal Points is about establishing healthy habits and the earning points thing is incentive. But what good is an incentive if it messes up the way you see food and the way you believe your body works?
That just doesn’t make sense.
To support their members, WW hires a lot of coaches. I was curious to see what sort of qualifications one has to have to be a WW coach, since I feel like the coaches aren’t only there for moral support, but also to give nutrition and wellness information and advice.
Turns out, qualifications like ‘nutrition classes’ or ‘psychology training’ aren’t required. You just need to have a computer, have 1:1 coaching experience, and a desire to live the ‘WW lifestyle.’
WW coaches undoubtedly give valuable support and encouragement to their group members. I think that’s valuable and important. But I cringe when I see nutrition MLMs and companies like WW hiring ‘coaches’ into positions where they are naturally supposed to give nutrition advice to others.
That’s when things can get a bit dicey. You know?
The CEO of WW said in the press release for Personal Points: “Everyone’s truth is unique. Everyone’s life is unique. That’s why it’s important to have a weight-loss program that is just as unique as you”
But she’s wrong. Everyone’s truth is not unique, not when it comes to diets and the way our bodies work.
The universal truth is that WW is a diet that’s masquerading as a non-diet.