Looking Back at Points Plus

With Weight Watchers about to come out with a new plan in the next few weeks, I wanted to look back on the Points Plus Plan.

When I originally got to goal and became a lifetime member (back in the last millennium), I did it on an exchange plan.  Truthfully, in an ideal world, I actually think exchange plans are really good. To be blunt, the exchange plan encouraged healthy eating for me. I couldn’t eat much junk food since most junk food didn’t meet the exchanges and had to be taken from the small amount of weekly optional calories (I think it was about 550).  One disadvantage of an exchange plan is that it way harder to track than it is to calculate Points Plus.  Particularly when eating out, it can be very subjective to determine just how many breads or how many fats are in a food, even if you do know the nutritional information.

After motherhood and regaining, I went back to Weight Watchers during the years of points and I did….OK, but lost slowly.  I stopped and started and finally got serious in August of 2010.  And, I did fine.  But, in December of that year, Points Plus came out.  Lots of members didn’t like it and stayed with Points (many still do).  For me, I found that I did a little better on Points Plus.  It wasn’t a huge difference, but it was better for me.

The main changes I saw with Points Plus were:

  1.  It wasn’t just fat and fiber that was important.  Carbs and protein mattered also.  Technically, a food composed entirely of fat would be higher Points Plus than the same amount of calories that were entirely carbs and that would be higher Points Plus than the same amount of calories that were entirely protein.  For the first time, carbs were slightly disadvantaged points wise when compared to protein.  And, I think that makes sense.  This isn’t the 90s and we know now that it isn’t just fat that matters.  This gently encouraged people to somewhat prioritize protein over carbs.
  2. Zero point fruit.  I understand the rationale for zero point fruit.  And, truthfully, it did encourage me to eat more fruit.  I don’t like most fruit well enough that I wanted to spend points on it.  When it was zero points, though, I would be more likely to have half a cup of berries.  That said, this change was really difficult to handle for lots of people who ate a lot of fruit.  Zero points doesn’t mean zero calories.
  3. Calculating points became more difficult.  In fact, you really needed to use a calculator to do it.  I remember when you could use the cardboard slide to calculate points.  Having to go to a calculator or an app or a web page was a bit more tedious.  Yes, you could estimate it just from calories.  But, to get a truly accurate number you needed technology.  And, the old estimate was 50 calories per point while with Points Plus it was maybe 40 points or 38 points or 42 points (depending on the macro nutrients in the food).  That said, it was still way more easy than figuring out Exchanges, particularly with so much nutritional information available.
  4. For some people, the losses were slower because the minimum daily points were 29. For shorter, older women especially, it could be hard to lose.  When I started on Points Plus, I still had a lot to lose so 29 points was fine.  By the next fall, though, my losses were super slow.  And, that December, the minimum points were dropped to 26 points.  That helped.

I’m sure there were other changes, but those were the ones that I really remember.  So, 5 years later what do I think?

On the positive side, I got to my goal weight following Points Plus.  In the end, Points Plus was successful for me.  And, overall, I liked it better than Points.  I have often mentally debated whether I like it better than exchanges.  In a way, the biggest negative of Points Plus (and of Points) is also its greatest positive.  From the positive side, I have always loved that there are no forbidden foods.  If I wanted to have piece of candy, I could do so.  I just had to count it.  You could do that on the exchange program with optional calories, but the optional calories were really limited.  So, you couldn’t do much.

And, it wasn’t just being able to eat junk food.  I experimented a lot with different eating styles while on Weight Watchers.  I did low carb eating while on Weight Watchers.  And, it wasn’t that hard to do.  Points Plus was still a little fat-phobic so I used a lot of weekly points to eat higher fat foods, but it was doable.  I went gluten free for 30 days while on Weight Watchers.  It was easy.  I’ve had people tell me that you must eat grains in order to follow Weight Watchers.  That isn’t the case.  The Good Health Guidelines do says to choose whole grains, wherever possible.  That is, eat whole grains instead of refined grains.  However, the Guidelines do not require any grains to be eaten at all.

So, I’ve always liked that Points Plus does lend itself to a lot of different eating styles.  With the exchange program?  Umm, not so much.  You had to eat so many breads, for example.  It didn’t have to be grains, but it was starchy carbs.  Eating low carb would have been difficult.

My biggest complaint with the current plan and what we must eat is the emphasis that the Guidelines place on milk servings.  I have a little bit of lactose intolerance and find those Guidelines difficult to follow.  I mostly eat cheese, but it is hard to get enough to meet the Guidelines.

While this ability to eat anything and be on program is appealing and a strength of the plan, it can be a big negative.  Some members, in my experience, don’t even try to meet the Good Health Guidelines.  They just go by points.  It is way too easy to eat total junk food, but still be within your points.  And, even if you do diligently try to first meet the Guidelines, you still have a lot of points left and it is all too easy to fill yourself up with junk food.

I remember back in the day, I ate a small piece of chocolate cake while on the program.  I think it was about 350 calories out of what I think were 550 optional calories.  Basically, once I had that piece of cake, I wasn’t going to be able to eat much more junk food that week.  Now?  Theoretically, I could hit my Good Health Guidelines and then fill up on cake.

Another mixed issue, is that of zero point fruit.  Honestly, I think that all calories do count.  In MFP, I do count my veggies and fruit.  I like knowing how much they contribute to my total amount eaten. If I eat a 100 calories of fruit, it is still 100 calories.  The zero point veggies didn’t bother me as much, mostly because it is harder to overeat veggies.  But, I’ve known plenty of people who got stalled on weight loss because they ate too much zero point fruit.  My husband was on Weight Watchers with me and he got derailed by this.  I have literally had people argue to me that you can eat any amount of, say, bananas and still lose weight, since the bananas are “free” and have no points.  But, honestly, you really can’t.

At the same time, I understand the reasoning behind zero point veggies and fruit.  Weight Watchers didn’t want to control what you ate as much as they did during the exchange days.  Back then you had to eat so many bread servings a day and so many protein servings, etc.  Now, we have freedom from that.  But, Weight Watchers doesn’t really want us to fill up on cake every day.  So, having a piece of fruit for a snack is a better option from both a health and a calories standpoint.  And, to be honest, it worked for me.  I’ve never really loved fruit.  And, I certainly never wanted to spend precious points on it.  Once it became zero points, I would get half a cup of blackberries for a snack.  For people like me, the zero point fruit did exactly what Weight Watchers wanted. That said, I really felt that they should have required us to count any fruit eaten above X number of servings a day (maybe 3?).  But, that wasn’t the direction they went in.

In the end, all “diets” restrict the calories you eat in one of two ways.  The first way is to restrict what kind of food you can eat.  This almost always leads to eating fewer calories overall.  When I did Atkins induction, I counted my calories and my Points Plus.  It was a struggle to get t0 26 points and my calories consumed went down.  This was because of greatly restricting carbs.

Points Plus doesn’t do much to restrict what you can eat.  It gently encourages you to prefer protein, and the Good Health Guidelines do give us some framework to encourage at least some healthy eating.  But, really, Points Plus lets you eat anything so long as you are willing to spend the points for it.

The other form of restriction is to restrict how much you eat.  At the end of the day, Points Plus works by limiting the total calories we eat.  I’ve double tracked at MyFitnessPal and Weight Watchers for years.  I aimed to eat 1200 calories a day while losing weight.  I’ve learned that if I average that every day, I will also be within my Weight Watchers points for the week (I will eat some, but not all, of my Weekly Points).  Conversely, if I eat all my daily points and stay within my weekly points, then my average calories eaten won’t exceed an average of 1200 calories a day. It is a fair point to wonder if Points Plus gives us anything that we don’t get from just counting calories.

On balance, I think it does.  This is especially true for those who are newer to weight loss.  I know from attending meetings, that many new members of Weight Watchers don’t know how many calories are in food.  They also don’t really know how to eat in a healthy way.  Using Points Plus instead of calories does two things.  First, you are guided toward overall healthier food choices.  You quickly learn that this food is 5 points while another food has the same calories and is 4 points.  Most of the time that 4 point food is a healthier food to eat (alas, this is not always true since Weight Watchers still disadvantages even healthy fats).  Second, it is easier to keep track of a 2 digit number than a 3 or 4 digit number.  It is just easier to remember I had a 8 point lunch than to remember that I ate 320 calories.  Personally, I actually track both eventually, but if I’m away from home I tend to think of food more in terms of Points Plus than calories.  It is easier to remember.

What would I like to see with a new plan?  I would like to still have points, but be able to choose to follow, say, a low carb plan in which carbs are disadvantaged in the calculator, but fats weren’t.  Or, I could choose to follow a low fat plan and the opposite would be done (I’ll never follow that plan, but some would like it).

The big thing that I would love (and am sure I’ll never see), would be to require that junk foods such as cake, cookies, and chips, be eaten only as weekly points or as activity points.  That is, all your daily points would have to be spent on “real” foods.  Think of it sort of like a variation on Simply Filling where non-power foods have to be counted as weekly points.

I’m looking forward to seeing what Weight Watchers has coming out in December.  I like seeing a new program because I hope it will take advantage of all that has been learned about nutrition and weight loss in the last 5 years.  Today, Weight Watchers had a quarterly earnings call and the CEO said the following:

The innovation that we will be launching, both in meetings and online, in all our major markets, has been built on strong consumer insights. Today’s consumers want more than diet and restriction. They want a more holistic and personalized solution, integrating healthier eating, fitness and emotional wellbeing.

Later, he said:

…while consumers are deeply interested in weight loss, their mindset has changed. They want to get there in new ways. Less attractive is the approach of dieting and restriction. Rather, they are seeking solutions that reflect a more holistic integration of healthy food choices, relevant fitness activity and the right degree of personalization.

I was really interested to see him talking about personalization.  Also, the integration of food and activity is intriguing.  I’m not sure what will be coming out, but I know that I am looking forward to trying it.




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