Not very long ago, I did a blog post asking “Should I Eat My FitPoints?” In that post, I pointed out Weight Watchers advice on whether to swap FitPoints for food had switched (in the U.S.) from “In a nutshell: no” to “In a nutshell: Do what works for you.” (Note this post is based upon what Weight Watchers says in an email. The changes may end up being implemented in a way different from how it is explained in the email.)
Weight Watchers Again Changes Advice on Swapping FitPoints for Food
I woke up this morning to finding that the nutshell had changed once again. In an email this morning, Weight Watchers made several changes to FitPoints. On the topic of swapping FitPoints for food, Weight Watchers changed that nutshell once again, saying:
So, can I swap FitPoints for food?
In a nutshell, yes. At Weight Watchers, we believe in physical activity because it gives you more energy, helps you feel comfortable in your own skin and is vital in helping you keep off the weight you lose. If swapping works for you, keep doing it. If you’re not seeing the results you want, don’t.
So, yes, Weight Watchers is now forthrightly says we can swap FitPoints for food. A subtle difference is that the prior questions on the United States website (which are still there as I write this) asked “Should I swap my FitPoints for food?” The new question asks “can I swap FitPoints for food?” Still, it is clear that there is a change of philosophy that is now much more encouraging to swapping FitPoints for food. And, there is no discouragement from doing it.
Of course, the immediate objection many may have is based upon how easy it now is to earn FitPoints and wondering if we really can eat all those FitPoints. The new email addresses that as well. Essentially the FitPoints for the first 3000 step daily base you take each day will not be swappable for food. Only FitPoints after you meet the new daily base will be able to swapped for food.
The Weight Watchers email about the changes to FitPoints is, frankly, not all that straightforward. I do think the overall changes they have made are very good. And, I do think it is far better to have a baseline before you can swap FitPoints for food. However, the way Weight Watchers explains it in the email is less than clear.
Changes to FitPoint Goals
Somewhat, bizarrely, the email doesn’t even start out with the issue of swapping FitPoints or talking about the baseline. The first part of the email addresses changes to FitPoint goals. The title of the email is “UPDATE: We’re changing FitPointTM goals. Find out more!”
The email then starts out saying that in Phase I, Weight Watchers gave us FitPoint goals that were based upon weight, gender, age, height and activity level. It then says we are moving to Phase 2, which has two new features. First, the daily goal for FitPoints will go up to account for day-to-day activity. The email says this updated goal will start on our weigh-in day next week.
The second new feature is called responsive goals. Weight Watchers will review our goals about every two weeks and then will suggest changes to our goals based upon our level of activity. That will start in a few weeks.
Now, all of the above is fine. To be honest, I had (wrongly) assumed that FitPoint goals already included these things. I guess that shows that I haven’t really paid much attention to FitPoint goals. In any event, I think these are good changes. But, they are far from the most important changes in the email.
Weight Watchers goes on to say that it is adding the equivalent of 3000 steps to everyone’s daily recommended FitPoints goal. This equates to 3 to 5 FitPoints based upon weight. For me, I suspect this will be 3 FitPoints since I currently get a 1 FitPoint per 1177 steps. For my husband (who weighs a little more than 30 pounds more than I do), this will probably be 4 or 5 FitPoints.
So right now, I have a goal of 36 FitPoints a week:
I suspect that when this change goes live I will have a goal to earn another 3 FitPoints a day, giving me a total goal of 57 FitPoints a week.
What is really going with this change is explained in the email when Weight Watchers addresses why FitPoint goals are being changed.
Weight Watchers has found that members using activity monitors earn FitPoints more quickly than than people who do not use activity monitors. This is because those with activity monitors earn FitPoints throughout the day from their first step, while those without activity monitors only earn FitPoints when they track specific activities.
Activity Points and the Baseline with Pedometers and Activity Monitors
Now, this is not a shock to me. This occurred as a consequence of getting rid of the baseline that was required with activity monitors before this program. To go back in history a bit, way back in 2011, I bought a Weight Watchers pedometer. It had two settings. You could track specific walks only. That is, if I was going to walk around the neighborhood for an hour I could track just those steps. That was treated like any other activity. I would earn Activity Points based upon how long I walked coupled with the intensity (this might also change with my weight). Alternatively, I could put it in All Day mode. In that mode, it tracked all of my steps the entire day. I could enter those steps on the Weight Watchers activity page and I would earn Activity Points. However, because this included my day to day activity and not just purposeful exercise, there was a baseline of steps that I had to meet before I started earning Activity Points. So, if I walked only 2000 steps during the day I didn’t earn any Activity Points. I had to walk somewhere north of 3000 steps to earn my first Activity Point and then the next point would come more quickly.
Later on, I got the ActiveLink when it first came out. It was similar. It measured your entire daily activity. Because of that, you had to have a certain baseline of activity before your earned any Activity Points. Still later, I got a Fitbit. And, when I could connect my Fitbit to Weight Watchers, a certain baseline of steps was required to earn an Activity Point. I found that I didn’t earn my first Activity Point until I was at about 3500 steps. If you think of 1000 steps as equal to an Activity Point, that made sense. About 3000 steps for my baseline, and then 1 FitPoints when I was halfway to the next 1000 steps.
All of that made sense to me at the time. Your daily basic steps as a sedentary person shouldn’t really earn Activity Points. People who didn’t have activity monitors or pedometers didn’t earn Activity Points for those kinds of steps, so those with an activity monitor shouldn’t earn them either. On the other hand, someone who doesn’t do formal exercise but who does a lot of daily walking might reasonably earn some Activity Points for walking more than the baseline number of steps even they weren’t engaging in formal exercise (for example, someone who walks 10,000 steps in a day just through day to day activity).
The Baseline Vanishes When Beyond the Scale with FitPoints Came Out
Given this history, it never made much sense to me when the new program Beyond the Scale came out and FitPoints were earned from the first step walked. The other day I didn’t feel well and was in bed a lot of the day. I walked 784 steps total and earned one FitPoint! I mean, really? That makes no sense that I could swap that for extra food. In fact, Fitbit told me I burned a total of 1181 calories that day. I did not need to be eating extra food! I never felt that getting rid of the required baseline made much sense. There should be some amount of daily movement required before we can earn points that we can swap for food. I felt from the beginning that getting rid of it was problematical. And, this was the real risk in eating FitPoints. I think this was the heart of the reason that Weight Watchers originally recommended against eating FitPoints.
I think Weight Watchers was in a hard spot. To motivate people to move, they gave FitPoints out easily even if you barely moved. Since they were given out so easily, they were most likely wary of people eating them. Hence, the discouragement to use eating them. But, I suspect there were finding that people weren’t really motivated by earning a FitPoint by brushing their teeth. And, if people did eat all their FitPoints they were often finding that would be too much food. On the other hand, the people who really did need to eat FitPoints (those who do engage in a lot exercise) were often discouraged from eating FitPoints. The simple solution to a lot of this was to put in some sort of baseline.
With the new iteration of FitPoints (not yet active as far as I can see), Weight Watchers has now fixed that problem. The result of the solution is to essentially put back in a baseline for people using activity monitors. The way the solution is implemented, however, may end up being confusing to people. To understand, it is important to talk about people with activity monitors separately from people without activity monitors.
Earning and Swapping FitPoints With an Activity Monitor
Basically, we keep doing what we are doing. We will continue to earn FitPoints from our first step. Nothing changes in how we earn FitPoints if we are using an activity monitor. What changes is how we swap FitPoints. Conceptually, we have to exceed a 3000 step daily base before we can swap additional FitPoints for food. This will equate to 3 to 5 FitPoints per day. What I take from the email (without seeing this implemented yet), is that depending on our weight we will have to earn from 3 to 5 FitPoints a day before we can swap FitPoints. I suspect it will be 3 FitPoints for me. Let’s say I have a sedentary day and earn 2 FitPoints. I would earn those FitPoints but would not be able to swap any of them for food. On the other hand, let’s take a day where I earned 3 FitPoints weight lifting and then earned another 3 FitPoints from walking about 4000 steps that day. That would be a total of 6 FitPoints for the day. If my baseline is 3 FitPoints, then I would be able to swap 3 of the FitPoints I earned that day (6 – 3 = 3).
I saw that conceptually we will have to exceed a 3000 step daily basis before we can swap FitPoints for food. It looks like from the email that it doesn’t really matter how you earn those first 3 to 5 FitPoints that constitute your base. That is, the first 3 to 5 FitPoints you earn (regardless of how you do it) won’t be swappable for food. The FitPoints beyond that will be.
The difference between this and how the baseline worked with Activity Points is this: With Activity Points I wouldn’t have earned any points until I got to my baseline. Once I started earning points, I could then trade all of them for food.
With Beyond the Scale, however, I earn FitPoints from the first step. But, I can’t swap them for food until I’ve earned a certain number of FitPoints (3 to 5 depending upon weight). In other words: I don’t have to meet a baseline to earn FitPoints. I have to meet a baseline to eat FitPoints. (Note that all of this is based upon what is in the email. I do wonder if that is what Weight Watchers will actually implement. It is possible that despite what is in the email they will implement it like they did with Activity Points: you have to meet a baseline to earn points and then can eat all you earned. That isn’t how the email is written. But, Weight Watchers has not always been clear in how they explain what they are doing.)
Earning and Swapping FitPoints Without an Activity Monitor
Without an activity monitor, things are different. You only earn FitPoints when you personally go into the Weight Watchers site (or app) and record a specific activity. Weight Watchers strongly implies in the email that those without activity monitors weren’t earning as many FitPoints as members with an activity monitor. This makes sense when you realize those with activity monitors were gaining FitPoints for daily non-exercise activity and could earn a FitPoint even if very sedentary. So, the phenomenon of the easily earned FitPoints was most likely seen primarily with those who use an activity monitor.
Now, under the old way of doing a baseline (the first X number of steps earned no FitPoints), there was no need for those without an activity monitor to do anything different. With the new method of creating a baseline for swapping FitPoints, those without an activity monitor must find a way to enter a daily baseline of activity into Weight Watchers.
Basically, Weight Watchers wants you to go into the website and simply add in 3000 steps each day to meet your baseline. Weight Watchers puts it this way as to how to do it if you don’t have an Activity Monitor or other way to measure steps:
…if you’ve completed your typical routine (errands, work, etc.), give yourself 3000 steps. Gone beyond your usual routine but unsure how many steps to track? Estimate the amount of minutes you’ve been walking (and at which intensity) instead of steps and track that.
I can already see that this will be confusing for many. First, let me be clear. If you don’t use an activity monitor and you paper track and don’t use eTools, don’t worry about any of this. You can award FitPoints for specific activities and can, if you choose, swap them 1 for 1 with SmartPoints. It is as simple as that.
Also, if you have an activity monitor synced to Weight Watchers, it is simple. Keep wearing it and Weight Watchers on your app or on the website will tell you how many FitPoints you earned and how many you can eat (if you choose to swap). Simple, again.
The more complicated scenario is if you use eTools, but you do not use an activity monitor, and you want to swap FitPoints. If you don’t swap, then this doesn’t really matter. If you do want to swap FitPoints for SmartPoints, you must record 3000 steps a day online with Weight Watchers or you will be shortchanged in the number of FitPoints you can eat.
Why is that? Well, imagine 2 people. I am one of them. I walk 4000 steps one day and I earn 3 FitPoints doing it. I also go to the Y and exercise and earn 4 FitPoints doing that. My baseline is 3 FitPoints. I earned 7 FitPoints can can swap the 4 FitPoints above my baseline for food.
Now, imagine someone else identical to me, but without an activity monitor. She walks the same number of steps but doesn’t have an activity monitor and doesn’t record the steps on Weight Watchers. She goes to the Y and does 4 FitPoints of exercise and does record that. Her baseline is also 3 FitPoints. Weight Watchers says she can swap 1 FitPoint for food because she had that baseline and only earned 1 FitPoint above her baseline during the day. However, if she instead records 3000 steps taken (or, frankly, anything that would give her enough FitPoints to meet her baseline), then she would earn 4 FitPoints at the Y and could swap all of them for food (since she met the baseline with the 3000 steps).
In short, if you don’t have an activity monitor and you don’t record 3000 steps each day to Weight Watchers online, you will be shortchanged in swapping FitPoints as compared to the person using an activity monitor.
A Word of Warning for Those Without Activity Monitors
I do want to give one word of warning for those without activity monitors. It is entirely possible to over estimate your FitPoints when not using an activity monitor. This can happen in two ways. First, your FitPoints are determined by intensity. Many people kid themselves when recording activity. They saw it was medium intensity when it was really low intensity. Or, it was high when it was medium. Or, they fail to realize the intensity changed during the exercise. For example, you go to a class for 30 minutes and it got really intense during the middle. So, you record it was 30 minutes of high intensity exercise. But, you forgot that during part of the 30 minutes, you were warming up or cooling down. Part of it was low intensity, part of it was medium, and only a minority of it was high intensity. When you don’t use an activity monitor, it is easy to get this wrong. When the ActiveLink came out, I remember some members being shocked to find out they were earning way fewer Activity Points than they had been recording. One of the reasons was that they were overstating (unintentionally) the intensity of their exercise.
The other warning to those without activity monitors, is that if you only count purposeful activity and assume you meet a daily baseline, you may be overstating FitPoints earned if you had a sedentary day apart from exercise. Here is a personal example of that:
On this day, I did weight training at the Y. That is the 3 FitPoints I earned which is noted as Digifit Other. My steps for the day, though, were only 2812 steps and I earned 2 FitPoints for them. The total I earned was 5 FitPoints. If I have a baseline of 3 FitPoints to swap food, I would be able to swap 2 FitPoints for SmartPoints. Fine.
But, imagine I did the same workout and didn’t have an activity monitor. I track the 3 FitPoints from the weight training. But, I don’t know my number of steps and simply track 3000 steps as a baseline. I can trade 3 FitPoints for food! But, in reality, I shouldn’t do that because I didn’t really meet my baseline of 3000 steps for the day. But, without an activity monitor, I don’t know it.
This is why I really do recommend using an activity monitor, particularly if you want to swap FitPoints. It keeps me from kidding myself. Now, if you don’t plan to swap any FitPoints, then it may not matter as much. I personally, though, find that it helps my motivation. Regardless, if you don’t want an activity monitor, I would suggest being conservative in recorded baseline daily steps on days when you aren’t very active.
Rolling Out These Changes
My weigh in day is Saturday so this is not active for me. I briefly changed my weigh in day to Sunday and it is still not active for me. So, believe it will not start being activity until next Sunday. However, this is not entirely clear to me. If anyone sees the change active before then, let me know.
Again, I overall think this will cure a lot of the problems with FitPoints. We will still earn them too easily early one, but we won’t be able to swap the first 3 to 5 FitPoints we earn each day (depending on our weight). That will make use of FitPoints a bit safer. And, I will hope that people who need or want to use FitPoints won’t be discouraged from trying it. At my meeting just yesterday, a member mentioned a relative who was hungry on SmartPoints and was very active, but eating no FitPoints. That is the kind of person who might do much better eating some FitPoints. And, I think the baseline will help to make it clear that it is extra activity that is supposed to earn FitPoints.