With Weight Watchers Beyond the Scale program, one of the first decisions to be made is whether you will eat your FitPoints. Or, to put it in Weight Watchers language, whether you swap your earned FitPoints for SmartPoints, thereby giving you more SmartPoints to eat. The way it works is this. The activity we engage in earns us FitPoints. If we choose to, we can trade 1 FitPoint for 1 SmartPoint allowing us to effectively eat that FitPoint. The default online setting is that you do not swap FitPoints for SmartPoints. But you can, in fact, go to your settings and flip that choice on. You can either swap FitPoints before Weekly Points or after them. I swap them after.
So, should we be swapping FitPoints? For once, I am going to give a clear and direct answer. Maybe.
The point is that there is no one size fits all answer. I like that we have the choice to do what works best for each of us. Some of us will do best swapping all FitPoints, some will do best swapping none of them, and some will do best swapping some of them.
Is it Against Weight Watchers to Eat FitPoints? Aren’t We Supposed to not Eat Them?
Shortly after Beyond the Scale came out, I did a post about earning FitPoints. Most of what I said there is still the case, so I suggest reading that post and then coming back here. However, a month and a half later there are some things that have changed. The biggest area of change is in what Weight Watchers in the United States says about swapping FitPoints. Back then, Weight Watchers was discouraging the eating of FitPoints. Now? Not so much.
In the Plan Guide, Weight Watchers said (and still says) this about swapping FitPoints:
Physical activity is great for you in so many ways–it makes you feel good, helps you to be happy in your own skin, and is vital to maintaining weight loss (Watching your FitPoints rack up is also a great motivator!) Most people don’t need to swap FitPoints. That said, if you go over a little on your SmartPoints values and you’ve earned a bunch of FitPoints, it’s OK to swap one for one.
Well, even then, that was a bit vague. But, I remember reading an FAQ on the Weight Watchers U.S. site, as well as those for the UK and Australia, and all recommended against swapping. I didn’t save what the U.S. site said, but a member indicated on the message boards that it originally said:
Should I swap my FitPoints for food?
In a nutshell: no. Exercise doesn’t cancel out food choices, so moving shouldn’t be an excuse to eat more. If you don’t do any exercise at all, you’ll still lose weight on the SmartPoints system. But the benefits of doing both are simply awesome.
And, that is consistent with what I remember reading as well. If I go to the Australian Weight Watchers FitPoints page today, it is consistent with the above:
Should I swap FitPoints™ for food?
In a nutshell, no. Exercise doesn’t cancel out food choices, so moving shouldn’t be an excuse to eat more. If you don’t do any exercise at all, you can still lose weight on the Your Way Program. But doing both is of course optimal. Watching yourFitPoints™ add up and hitting your weekly exercise goal can be great motivators and there are so many health benefits to gain from regular activity.
However, if you’re doing high-intensity workouts (for example, training for a marathon or attending multiple spin classes) at least three to four times a week, you might want to swap some of your FitPoints™ for food to account for the amount of energy you’re expending.
And, the UK FAQ page is similar:
Can I swap my FitPoints for food?
We recommend that you don’t swap them. Moving is good for your health and wellbeing, and that’s a brilliant incentive. But if your SmartPoints budget is running on empty and you really need them, then you can swap FitPoints for SmartPoints, one for one. Swap digitally by making your choice in the settings, or manually by keeping a log of your FitPoints as you earn and spend them.
Six weeks ago, those were all reasonably consistent. I actually thought then that the Australian page did the best job of giving a guideline of when it would be reasonable to swap FitPoints if you are expending a lot of energy exercising.
But, then a funny thing happened. Weight Watchers on the US page for Activity FAQs, now says the following:
Can I swap my FitPoints for food?
Consistent with our new program, Weight Watchers believes that eating more is not the only benefit of being more active; it also helps you have more energy, feel comfortable in your own skin and keep off the weight you lose. Plus it just feels good! So, we encourage you to earn FitPoints in ways that fit your life. If you prefer not to swap, go for it! If swapping works, keep doing it! (You can always try swapping or not later.) Swapping is just one of the many tools we have to keep the program flexible and livable. In a nutshell: Do what works for you.
At least in the United States, that seems to be the most current guideline: Do what works for you. Swap or don’t swap. Either way is fine. Go into the settings and choose the option you want. Any of the three options is totally on program and allowed.
Of course, I know the next question is: Which option should I choose? And, for that, I think the first step in deciding that is to look at just how we earn FitPoints in the first place.
There are basically two ways to record FitPoints. One way is to wear an activity monitor, such as a Fitbit, that will sync with Weight Watchers. The other is to record manually without an activity monitor.
Using an Activity Monitor
I wear a Fitbit. It syncs with Weight Watchers and I am given FitPoints for my steps each day, plus additional FitPoints for other activity. Here is an example:
First, there are the days that my only activity is step based. As you can see, on those days, Weight Watchers looks at my total steps and gives me FitPoints. On the week above I had several days that I was really low in steps. For example, on the 9th I walked 1564 steps and earned 1 FitPoint. On the other hand, on the 15th I walked 8108 steps and earned 7 FitPoints.
One annoyance I have with stepped based activity using an activity monitor is that Weight Watchers apparently bases FitPoints entirely on number of steps and not on the intensity of what you do. I did ask some members on the Weight Watchers message boards about this and they found the same thing. It was the number of steps that mattered, not what you did to get that number of steps. On the 15th, I took a walk outside in my neighborhood. It is hilly and so even walking there is far more strenuous than walking at home or at the grocery store. But, if syncing an activity monitor, from a FitPoints standpoint it doesn’t matter. If I walk on a flat surface at the mall and walk 8000 steps I will get the same FitPoints if I walked 8000 steps on the hills in my neighborhood or if I was running in my neighborhood. Of course, if I was a serious runner I would certainly run more steps in a given period of time than I walked so I would earn more FitPoints.
I realize that part of this is that with an activity monitor Weight Watchers may find it difficult to know exactly what you did and whether it was running or walking or whether it was on hills or not. That said, I have a Charge HR so Weight Watchers theoretically could use my heart rate data to gauge intensity particularly on walks where I have actually specifically logged my walk as an activity.
Also, note that there is no baseline. I earned 1 FitPoint even on the day I only walked 1564 steps. This is a change from Activity Points in the old program. With that program, I had to have a baseline of steps before I earned any Activity Points.
The second type of activity that Weight Watchers records from an activity monitor is activity that is logged. Here is my Fitbit log for the week above.
As you see, on 3 days I logged my walk when I walked in my neighborhood. However, on Weight Watchers, those 3 logged walks don’t show up separately. Weight Watchers simply counts them as part of my steps for the day.
Look at the other entries (named Digifit Other on Fitbit). I wear a heart rate monitor when I do weight lifting or the elliptical. The HRM talks to Digifit to give it my heart rate data. Digifit figures out my calories burned and tells Fitbit which then uses that calorie burned data. For my weight lifting during the weeks (about 32 and 35 minutes each time) I earned 3 to 4 FitPoints. That basically equates to moderate intensity if I was manually recording (and that seems about right). For my 12 minutes on the elliptical I earned 1 FitPoint for my 50 calories burned.
Note that Fitbit says it doesn’t double count for steps during other logged activity. I’m not really sure if that is the case or not. (Edit: After I posted this originally, my husband and I went for a walk this afternoon and he tracked his walk using Digifit. That did show separately on Weight Watchers. He earned 10 FitPoints for the hour long walk. He only had a few hundred other steps during the day and he earned no FitPoints for those steps so Weight Watchers did not double count for his steps. I logged my walk with him on Fitbit and didn’t use Digifit. Weight Watchers, as above, didn’t track the walk separately and just gave me FitPoints for the day’s steps as a whole. I earned 6 FitPoints for the day having walked a little less for the day than my husband. For both of us, the main walking we did was the hour long walk we did together.)
Also, the number of FitPoints earned for steps does appear to be at least somewhat individualized. I analyzed my data since FitPoints came out and find that I earn an average of 1 FitPoint per 1177 steps. I’ve seen several people who earned closer to about 1 FitPoint per 1000 steps. And, I saw one person on the Weight Watchers board who earned 1 FitPoint per about every 735 steps. That is most likely weight based. That is the more you weigh, the more calories you burn during activity so the more FitPoints earned.
Manually recording FitPoints
If you don’t have an activity monitor that syncs with Weight Watchers you can manually record FitPoints. You can look up your activity and record it online. Here’s the thing. It doesn’t really matter what you select in terms of activity. It is the intensity and duration that matters, along with your weight. For me, for example, 60 minutes at low intensity is 4 FitPoints, at medium intensity is 6 FitPoints and is 15 FitPoints at high intensity. If you have plan materials, the chart is on pages 44 to 47 of the guide.
If you have a pedometer, you can also record your number of steps on the Weight Watchers site and can get full day FitPoints based on steps. And, still another way to record FitPoints is to wear a heart rate monitor and decide how many calories burned you want to equal one FitPoint and then award FitPoints accordingly.
How Many Calories Equal One FitPoint?
With Activity Points, the rule of thumb (unofficially) was that 80 calories of activity would earn about 1 Activity Point. Since the rule of thumb was that 1 PointsPlus was roughly 40 calories, then you basically did 2 PointsPlus worth of activity for ever Activity Point you earned.
FitPoints is different. We earn FitPoints more easily (particularly if you are using an activity monitor). This is why it can be risky to all of your FitPoints.
I looked at all the activity I’ve recorded that isn’t walking since FitPoints came out. I wore a heart rate monitor with this activity so should have a reasonable idea of calorie burn. I then compared that to the FitPoints earned. What I found out was that I earn one FitPoint per about every 45 calories burned. There is some variation in this with the range from about 40 calories to 51 calories. Some of the variation is due to rounding particularly on shorter exercise activities. A baseline SmartPoint is about 33 calories (for me, it usually works out to about 37 to 38 calories per SmartPoint).
The important thing here is to realize that a FitPoint is not an Activity Point. We earn FitPoints more easily. With PointsPlus you basically had to do two PointsPlus worth of activity to earn one PointsPlus from the activity that you could eat. That gave some built in wiggle room. If you recorded your light intensity exercise as moderate intensity, it wasn’t that big a deal since you had that safety factor with Activity Points. You don’t have that with FitPoints. A 45 calorie FitPoint is way closer to the value of a single SmartPoint. And, if wearing an activity monitor you do earn FitPoints for things that are part of daily activity and not just exercise.
If manually recording FitPoints to be conservative with them. And, if eating FitPoints, it also makes sense to start out being conservative in eating them.
Should I swap FitPoints or Not?
Maybe. No, really. That is the answer. Maybe. Maybe not. There are a couple of specific situations I will discuss below (those who are highly active and those on maintenance). For the rest of us, I think it really comes down to two things. Results and motivation. On the Weight Watchers message boards, I see some people who eat every last one of their FitPoints (and sometimes more) and still lose. Other people, not so much.
So, what does this mean? Even though I have it set to swap my FitPoints (after Weekly Points), I know that I can’t eat all of them every week and still lose weight. A lot of that is simply because of me and what I do. First, I am an older female at goal weight and I’m not very tall. My resting metabolic rate was tested a few months ago at 1120 calories a day. I don’t start out burning a lot of calories. I live in a one story home. I work from home and do my work at a desk. The daily things that I like to do are mostly sedentary: writing this blog, websurfing, playing online games, reading. None of those burn very many calories. As you can see from my Weight Watchers activity log, on days that I don’t purposefully go out for a long walk I don’t take many steps. I can easily burn less than 1300 calories in an entire day if I don’t engage in formal exercise that day.
So, for me, it doesn’t make much sense for me to eat all my FitPoints. I find it hard to create a calorie deficit and I lose very slowly. Eating all of my FitPoints including those I earn on sedentary days would slow down my weight loss to non-existent.
On the other hand, imagine someone younger and taller who has a more active lifestyle. Imagine someone who is constantly on the go and who has a job where there is a lot of walking around. Imagine someone who has a lot of leisure activities that involve moving even if not formal exercise. And, add in several days of exercise in addition. That person might be able to eat all or most of their FitPoints and still lose plenty of weight.
So, my first suggestion, is to check your weight loss (or maintenance) results if you eat FitPoints. Find out how many you can eat (if any) and still get the results you want. If I could eat every last FitPoint and still have the weight loss I wanted, I would certainly feel it was fine to do that. On the other hand, if I ate every FitPoint and didn’t lose any weight when I wanted to, then I might come up with a different plan.
However, whether we should eat FitPoints is not simply a matter of how eating those calories affects our weight loss. There are other factors that are just as important, although more intangible. For example, does swapping FitPoints help you to stay on track with the program? Maybe eating a few FitPoints helps make the program more livable for you and you stay on it as a result, even if you maybe lose a little slower. A couple of weeks ago, I ran out of my daily and weekly points and all I had left was FitPoints. I ate some of them. It got me through a difficult day. Had I not eaten the FitPoints, I would have been tempted to just say the heck with it for the day and then ended up getting way off program for the day. Instead, I looked at my FitPoints and ate some of them. The next day I was back eating my Daily Points with no trouble.
I also sometimes see people who are struggling with SmartPoints and feel they aren’t getting enough food to eat and are starving. Now, I do think that, in large part, changing eating habits may help with this. But, that takes time and doesn’t really help that much in the here and now. Often times, I see people who feel this way and they are refusing to eat FitPoints simply because the default on the Weight Watchers site is not to eat them. But, they actually have plenty of FitPoints they’ve earned. In that situation, it might really help to eat some FitPoints while working on changing eating habits. If I’m starving, I am at real risk of going off program and eating whatever is in sight with no brakes on what I’m doing. In that situation, if I eat a few FitPoints then I stay on program and and I’m not starving and it all becomes way more sustainable.
There is also the motivation to do activity. Many of you may love exercising and do lots of it already. This isn’t for you. I’ll talk to you a bit farther down. Many people on Weight Watchers either don’t like exercising or see it as a chore to be done because it is good for us. Sort of like brushing our teeth. No one loves doing that, but we do it because of the benefits we get from it. For people who don’t like exercising or who see it as a chore, giving a reward for doing it may help. Yes, yes, it should be its own reward. But, honestly, when I was earning Activity Points and often needed to do 10 more minutes on the exercise bike to get an extra Activity Point, I would sometimes do it, just to get the point. And, I wanted the Activity Point because I wanted to have the option to eat it, even though I usually didn’t eat it. For many people, simply knowing that we have the FitPoints and could eat them gives a feeling of security, even if we don’t usually eat them. I know that is true for me. So, being able to earn more FitPoints and having that possibility of eating them is motivating to me. Simply earning FitPoints to see the number get bigger (withoug being able to swap for food) doesn’t do much for me.
So, for most of us, in determining whether to turn on swapping of FitPoints or not, I would look at the results I get from eating some or all of my FitPoints and to really look how swapping or not affects my motivation. All of this is an individual choice, so we each have to figure out which way works best. There are a couple of special situations I wanted to mention.
Highly Active Members
The reality is that most Weight Watchers members are not highly active, particularly those not at goal weight. When I first went back to Weight Watchers several years ago I wasn’t doing any formal activity. I was busy. I worked full-time. I had 3 kids at home. Fitting in activity was tough. And, to be honest, I didn’t love doing it. At best, it was a chore that ranked somewhere below brushing teeth. There did come a time when I decided that I needed to do more. And, I’ve finally gotten to a spot where I get a reasonable amount of activity in. I work out with a personal trainer twice a week for my strength training. I walk outside or on a treadmill 3 to 5 days a week. I use the elliptical at the Y most days that I do there. Sometimes, I use my exercise bike at home. So, I do OK. And, I’ve learned to enjoy most of what I do. But, if definitive research suddenly said that there was zero health benefits to exercise and that it was fine to sit at a desk all day, I would probably do much less exercise. I think I’m pretty typical.
But, some of you are really very active. And, you love it. You do way more exercise than the average person, let alone the average Weight Watcher. Many of you burn a ton of extra calories through high intensity exercise. Many of you are runners and may be in training for a marathon or other race. You may do serious cycling or other exercise. You eat all of your daily points and all of your weekly points and are hungry for a very good reason. You need fuel. Your body is burning a lot of calories through heavy activity. Where I burn 1500 calories on an exercise day, you may burn 2500 calories or more. And, maybe we get the same 30 daily SmartPoints and 28 weekly SmartPoints.
You are the people that the Australian Weight Watchers site is talking about when it says that if you are doing high-intensity exercise several times a week then you might want to swap FitPoints “to account for the amount of energy you’re expending.” I wish the United States page talked about this directly. I see so many people who are highly active who don’t want to eat FitPoints. In some cases, they don’t swap FitPoints but eat more than their Daily and Weekly SmartPoints and then feel bad about going over their points. In reality, had they swapped their FitPoints, they might not have been over at all. If you are highly active, there is most certainly nothing wrong with eating FitPoints! That doesn’t mean going wild on eating. It does mean recognizing that your needs are different from that of the person who is more sedentary. You can lose weight on the same number of SmartPoints where I would gain. Of all people, you are the ones who may most need to eat some or all of your FitPoints. At a minimum, I would check out the results I would get from eating FitPoints. And, if I was routinely going over my daily and weekly SmartPoints, I would certain see what the result was of swapping my FitPoints.
Technically, I am a lifetime member at goal weight. I have myself set to losing mode, but I can change to maintenance mode any time. If I do, I get another 6 Daily SmartPoints. The software (at this time) doesn’t allow me to personalize that goal. However, Weight Watchers has always allowed lifetime members at goal to adjust points as needed to stay within your desired weight range. And, this makes sense. If I didn’t want to lose any more weight and was at goal, I would need to do something to maintain my weight. So, Weight Watchers has always given us a default number of points to add on for maintenance and then we adjust up or down until we neither gain nor lose.
Beyond the Scale doesn’t change this. If you get 36 Daily SmartPoints and 28 Weekly SmartPoints on maintenance and still lose, then you can certainly eat more food to get to a point where you don’t lose. There are two ways to do this. First, manually decide on the extra SmartPoints you want to eat, then shoot for that. Ignore the fact that Weight Watchers online says you are over. Keep track on paper or in your head. But, basically, add to your SmartPoints as needed.
The other way to do it, though, is to simply eat your FitPoints. I find that if I eat my 6 extra Daily SmartPoints and most of my FitPoints then I maintain. If I didn’t want to lose any more weight (I do, though), I would eat my FitPoints in addition to my maintenance level SmartPoints. If I still lost, then I would add still more SmartPoints. As a maintenance member trying to maintain, I would add whatever SmartPoints I needed to add in order to maintain and not lose.
I think that any maintenance member can feel comfortable eating FitPoints as needed to maintain weight loss. Of course, if doing so, puts you off track or results in a gain, then that would be a reason to choose a different solution. You have to individually tweak this during maintenance.
If I Eat FitPoints, How Many Should I Eat?
So, if we eat FitPoints, how many should we eat? All of them? Half of them? Something else? Like the decision on whether to eat FitPoints at all, this is an individual decision. It really is up to you. My first suggestion is trial and error. Eat some and see what happens. I would caution that you may not be able to tell much for one week. Weight loss is sometimes delayed and other factors, such as water retention, play a part in what shows up on the scale. I don’t think it is easy to make a determination just based on one week.
Some factors that I think play at part in it:
- Level of activity – Someone who is highly active can probably eat more FitPoints and still lose weight then someone who is more sedentary.
- Personal characteristics – Younger people, men, and heavier people likely burn more calories than someone like me.
- How good your FitPoints data is – I will give a few examples here. I think my Fitbit data is reasonably OK since it doesn’t rely on my entering it. But, there is no baseline and even steps earned during daily life earns FitPoints. There is a real risk there for me earning more FitPoints than I can realistically eat and still lose weight. Another example: Someone who manually records only FitPoints earned during exercise and they use their heart rate monitor to get calorie burn data. This is way more conservative and likely to be much safer to swap. A third example. Someone who manually records data and slowly rides an exercise bike at no resistance while watching TV and records it as 60 minutes of high intensity activity. Ummm, garbage in and garbage out.
So, there are a few things there. I have a sedentary lifestyle and I’m short, older, and female. I also use a Fitbit and know that it gives me FitPoints even on days I barely walk 1000 steps. I can’t possibly eat all my FitPoints every week and still lose weight.
If you manually regard your FitPoints, I think the best option is to use a heart rate monitor to get a better sense of calorie burn. If you don’t do that, my simple rule of thumb is this: Record everything as low intensity. Sure, if you are one of those really high intensity people, then maybe you can move it up (but if you are one of those people you are also really likely to be using a heart rate monitor or an activity monitor). Many people find it really difficult to judge intensity. I remember when the ActiveLink came out and some members were shocked to suddenly earn many fewer Activity Points than they had self-recorded before. In many cases, the culprit was that their intensity wasn’t as high as they thought it was.
There are basically two ways to decide how many FitPoints to eat. The first option is to decide what percentage of your FitPoints you want to eat. This is the option I tend to follow. I don’t really want to average eating more than about 1/3 of my FitPoints. Note, I look at this more overall and not by week. Last week, I had 18 Weekly SmartPoints left. So, I came nowhere near to eating my FitPoints. On some weeks, I’ve eaten a few of them. Maybe 10% or 25%. This week? This is the last day of my week and I’m pretty sure I am going to eat every last one of my FitPoints (that’s what happens when I eat out 4 times during the week). But, overall, I don’t think that right now I can sustain the weight loss I want if I eat more than 1/3 of them over the course of a month or so. Your percentage may be entirely different. You may be able to eat 100% of them. Or, 10%. Or, half. Or, none. Trial and error.
The other approach is to eat all of some types of FitPoints, but limit the types of FitPoints you eat. So, if you were using an activity monitor, you might not eat the FitPoints that you earned through just walking around unless it was an actual exercise walk. I would count the 3 long walks on my Fitbit activity log, but wouldn’t swap the FitPoints for the rest of my steps during the week. If you manually record FitPoints you might only record the FitPoints that you felt were earned through exercise intense enough that it should count. I actually like these approaches, but with a Fitbit it isn’t that easy to figure out which steps earned how many FitPoints so I don’t do that. But, if you want to do it, I think it is a very viable approach.
Should I Swap FitPoints Before or After Weekly SmartPoints?
This is totally personal choice. I swap after Weekly SmartPoints. Back in the Activity Points day, I did that as well. I did try doing it the other way for awhile, but didn’t like it. I didn’t like the uncertainty of never knowing where I was since I didn’t know how many Activity Points I would earn.
I think that swapping FitPoints before weekly SmartPoints may work best for those (1) who earn a lot of FitPoints and really need more fuel for their body and (2) who don’t like to eat Weekly SmartPoints except on major occasions. That is, the member who really likes to stick to Daily SmartPoints, but who exercises enough to need more energy, may be happier eating FitPoints first. This is, again, something you can set for yourself on the Weight Watchers site. I like that we are given flexibility on this because what will work best for each of us varies.