This is the third of a series of posts about points, including whether to eat Weekly SmartPoints and whether to eat FitPoints. While not officially part of the series, I also suggest looking at my recent post about swapping FitPoints and how that is affected by the new baseline.
Some members find that they quickly run out of Daily SmartPoints. The first two posts in this series basically deal with that situation and discuss eating Weekly SmartPoints and swapping FitPoints for food.
This post deals with the opposite problem — members who find it difficult to reach their Daily SmartPoints Target. So, is it OK to just not meet the daily Target or must we eat the minimum? I would say that…it depends. First, note that members have a wide range of Daily SmartPoints Targets. The minimum Daily SmartPoints Target is 30 SmartPoints. But, it can be much more. Men tend to be larger than women and are usually more muscular and burn more calories. So, it is more common that men get a higher daily Target. Those who have lots to lose will also have a higher daily Target.
At times, I personally have struggled to get to my 30 Daily SmartPoints. Here is an example:
On the day above, I ate 28 SmartPoints. Note that I don’t always record zero point foods on Weight Watchers. I have some listed as part of my salad since I have that saved as a meal. But, if I had a snack of berries I wouldn’t record that on Weight Watchers.
I don’t remember the day specifically, but the typical situation where I end up not reaching 30 SmartPoints is when I don’t go out to eat and I am busy and just not thinking much about food. In the specific example, I had a salad for dinner and I’m often not really hungry after I do that.
I could have certainly eaten something to get to 30 Daily SmartPoints, but if I am not that hungry then I don’t always choose to do that. So, is that OK or am I required on Weight Watchers to eat my 30 Daily SmartPoints Target in order for me to be considered on program?
Does Weight Watchers Require That We Eat All of Our Daily SmartPoints?
I actually haven’t seen anything in the materials I received which said that it is mandatory to eat my Daily SmartPoints Target. In fact, it is often referred to as just that — a target. That to me seems to be a bit less firm than referring to it as, say, a minimum. In the materials, I have seen Daily SmartPoints referred to as a target or as a budget, but I haven’t seen anything say that it is mandatory eat that amount as a minimum.
On the other hand, the Weekly booklet received when SmartPoints came out specifically says about Weekly SmartPoints: You can choose to use them or not! That statement is not made about the Daily SmartPoints Target. And, online at the Weight Watchers site it is points out that daily SmartPoints Target doesn’t roll over and that it resets each day. You can’t save up unused Daily SmartPoints to use on another day.
So, does that mean the daily Target is a required minimum or is it more flexible? My perception — which might be wrong — is that it is a bit more flexible with SmartPoints than it was with PointsPlus. During PointsPlus, I had the very decided impression that we were encouraged pretty strongly to consider our daily PointsPlus as a minimum. In a past program there had been a daily range. So, my daily points might have been 20 to 22 points (I don’t recall exactly what they were). When that shifted to one number when the program changed back then, that really did seem to be a hard minimum.
And, we still have a single number with SmartPoints. So, from that standpoint, it does seem like a minimum. And, yet, I still have the perception that Weight Watchers has gone out of its way to not explicitly say that it is required for us to meet the minimum.
I did mention to my leader early on that I was struggling at times to get to 30 Daily SmartPoints. I commented that I could eat something even though not hungry and she was quick to not advocate that. But, other members have reported that some leaders still present the Daily SmartPoints Target as being a minimum. However, still other members have said that their leaders have said it is a target and is not a hard minimum.
Of course, the reality is that if I eat 28 or 29 SmartPoints, the Weight Watchers police isn’t going to come after me. My sense is that the daily Target is a goal and, more often than not, we should probably meet that goal. At the same time, to not meet it each and every day may not be that big a deal. And, in the end, it is up to us to decide what works for us.
In doing that, I think it is important for each of us to look at why Weight Watchers has a Daily SmartPoints target and to think about why we sometimes don’t reach it. Then, we can reach a considered decision about how important it is to reach it or not.
I also note that there is a somewhat different situation between the member who has a Daily SmartPoints target that is above 30 SmartPoints who sometimes eats less than their target but does eat at least 30 SmartPoints and the member who has a Daily Target of 30 SmartPoints and to not reach it would have to eat below the minimum Daily SmartPoints Target that Weight Watchers sets.
Why Does Weight Watchers Set a Daily SmartPoints Target?
Weight Watchers sets a daily SmartPoints Target so we will lose weight. In the Plan Guide, it is starkly stated:
When you joined, you got a personalized daily Target. Stick to that number and you’ll lose weight.
That is an important point to remember. Weight Watchers gives us a Daily SmartPoints Target based upon our age, weight, height and gender. Weight Watchers flatly states that if we stick to that Daily SmartPoints Target that we will lose weight. (I am sure there are exceptions. For example, if you eat 10 bananas a day then you might not lose weight, even if you stick to your daily Target). So, when we eat more than the Daily SmartPoints Target, whether by eating Weekly SmartPoints, or swapping FitPoints, or just going off program, we may or may not lose weight. Personally, I know I will lose weight if I eat exactly 30 Daily SmartPoints a day. But, it would drive me crazy and I would never stay on the plan. So, some days I eat more. And, I eat some or all of my Weekly Points and occasionally some FitPoints. And, occasionally, I eat less than my daily Target. But, the fact remains. Weight Watchers designs the program for us to lose weight if we stick our daily Target.
Why Would Weight Watchers Want Us to Not Eat Less Than Our Daily SmartPoints Target?
In the years I have been a member of Weight Watchers, I’ve seen plenty of people want to eat less than their daily Target. A common reason for wanting that is because they want to lose weight more quickly. But, there is a good reason for Weight Watchers to give us a target and to expect us to most days reach that target.
First, Weight Watchers has always encouraged us to have a safe amount of weight loss. Online, Weight Watchers indicates that the “program is designed to result in a safe rate of weight loss of 1/2 to 2 pounds per week (but don’t be surprised if you see more in the first few weeks.” So, even if your Daily SmartPoints Target is much higher than 30 Daily SmartPoints, Weight Watchers still doesn’t want you to aim to lose more than 2 pounds a week.
So, why is the minimum Daily SmartPoints Target 30 Daily SmartPoints? I don’t know the exact formula used for SmartPoints, but basically Weight Watchers doesn’t want us to eat so little that we don’t meet our nutritional needs. And, the current program recommends that we take a multi-vitamin-mineral supplement each day that provide more than 100% of the % Daily Value. Of course, Weight Watchers recommends that you consult with your doctor if you have specific dietary needs.
The minimum, by the way, does mean that those of us who are female, older, and/or shorter may well find it difficult (or impossible) to lose 2 pounds a week. To lose 2 pounds a week, we need an average calorie deficit of 1000 calories a day. I often burn 1400 to 1500 calories a day (based upon my Fitbit). To lose 2 pounds a week I would have to eat 400 to 500 calories a day. That would not be safe or healthy for me so I am not going to do that. And, Weight Watchers doesn’t want us to do that. They want us to eat enough so that we get enough calories and nutrition.
It is for this reason that people who have a Daily SmartPoints Target of 30 must be particularly careful if they eat less than 30 SmartPoints in a day. I strongly recommend that if you do this that you count your calories as well (including those from zero points) and look at the nutritional quality of what you eat. On days that I eat less than 30 SmartPoints, I look carefully at what I eat.
Who Finds It Hard to Meet Their Daily Target?
So, why is that sometimes people aren’t able to get to their minimum daily Target even though they aren’t really trying to eat below it? I am sure there are many reasons. But, I want to highlight the three I have seen most often.
Those Who Eat Higher Protein and Lower Sugar and Lower Saturated Fat
When SmartPoints came out, some members were immediately shocked to find out that the foods that had eaten on PointsPlus suddenly went up a lot in points value. They had been eating totally on program on PointsPlus and now were suddenly blowing through their points eating the same foods. Some of us, though, kept eating the same foods and found that our points eaten didn’t go up much at all. And, that resulted in some of us not meeting our daily Target.
For example, on PointsPlus my daily Target was 26 PointsPlus. My daily SmartPoints Target is 30. Now, some people found that what had been 26 PointsPlus for them was now way more than 30 SmartPoints. For me, that really wasn’t the case. What had been 26 PointsPlus was often 27 or 28 SmartPoints. Why the difference?
First, I don’t eat much added sugar. While I don’t entirely avoid it, I usually eat less than 20g of added sugar a day, often much less. I also don’t eat a lot of saturated fat. Part of that is because I don’t eat any beef at all and eat processed meats only a few times a month. And, then there is the protein. Because I am trying to build muscle I make a real effort to eat at least 80g of my protein a day (1g per pound of lean body mass) and actually aim to get closer to 100g. I eat a lot of lean chicken breast, as well as fish. Protein is lower in calories. That salad I had for dinner in the picture above was only 6 SmartPoints and part of the reason was 3 1/8 oz. of chicken breast was only 1 SmartPoint for over 100 calories of chicken.
Because of how I eat (when at home), I don’t get a lot of the extra SmartPoints for sugar and saturated fat, but I get a lot of the reduction in SmartPoints due to protein. So, I found early on that many days that had been 26 or more PointsPlus actually pointed out to less than 30 SmartPoints. In fact, for the first few weeks of SmartPoints, I dual tracked PointsPlus and SmartPoints because I was concerned that I wasn’t getting to 30 SmartPoints. When I found that I was getting to 26 PointsPlus, though, I felt better about it.
I also found that most days I didn’t get to 30 SmartPoints I was getting at least 1200 calories of food once I included zero points foods. For example, there was a day that I ate 29 Daily SmartPoints, but ate 1341 calories (according to MyFitnessPal). Mostly this was a day where I ate very little added sugar and I ate a lot of protein. So, on a day like that, I am not going to stress about having only gotten to 29 Daily SmartPoints.
On the other hand, if I hadn’t eaten very many calories or ate food that wasn’t very nutritious or if I was way below my daily Target, then I would make it a point to have a snack that would give me some more nutrition. That said, it doesn’t bother me to occasionally have a day that is slightly below 30 Daily SmartPoints. I recognize that in some instances I am being advantaged by the low SmartPoints value of certain proteins and if that is why I am a little below my daily Target then I don’t worry about it. But, I wouldn’t consistently do that and I do try to get to my 30 Daily SmartPoints each day.
Those Who Eat a Lot of Zero Point Foods
Some people eat a lot of zero point fruit or veggies, to the point that they get full on those and so eat fewer Daily SmartPoints. To an extent, that can be a good thing. On days that I eat a lot of zero point fruits and veggies, I usually do get full easier and I tend to eat fewer SmartPoints. And, fruits and veggies are foods that Weight Watchers encourages us to eat for good nutrition. Now, in reality, most zero point veggies are pretty low in calories. Zero point fruits can vary quite a bit in calories, though. And, yes, Weight Watchers wants us to eat more fruits and veggies, and many people don’t eat enough of them. So, to a certain extent, I can understand not being that concerned if I don’t get to my daily Target because I have eaten a lot of fruits and veggies.
But, there is a caution. Well, two of them. First, fruits and veggies are not actually zero calorie even though they are zero point. Some of the fruits, particularly tropical fruits, can actually have a lot of calories if you eat several servings of them. If you eat so many zero point food that you aren’t meeting your daily Target, I would suggest tracking them and then adding up your calories to get an idea of whether you are eating enough or just right or even too much. If your weight loss stalls, that might be something to look at.
The other caution is that eating a lot of fruit, in particular, could possibly crowd out other foods that might give us good nutrition as well. Weight Watchers wants to encourage us to eat fruits and veggies, but we are also encouraged to eat lean protein. If eating zero point foods causes you to not reach your daily Target then it makes sense to look closely at whether you are meeting all of your nutritional needs.
Those Who Aren’t Used to Eating “Healthy” Food
Over the years I have been a Weight Watchers member, I have several times seen/heard an inquiry that will go something like this:
I get X points a day. I can’t possibly eat that many points a day. I don’t understand how Weight Watchers could give me that many points a day. I am eating all day and I can’t make my target.
In response to an inquiry as to what the member is eating, the member will then post a day or two or a week’s worth of food eaten. And, almost always, I notice that these lists of food are often really healthy, good food. In fact, it is much cleaner than my own eating. I am actually in awe of it. There is no junk food at all. Everything is, in fact, nearly perfect. You might think that this is someone who perhaps just eats really cleanly and that is why the member is having trouble getting to the daily Target.
But…there is a problem with that. The daily Target is, after all, devised to give us an amount to eat where we will lose weight. Usually the member with the inquiry is someone who is still quite overweight (hence the reason to have recently started Weight Watchers). It necessarily follows that the member was eating more than X points a day before joining Weight Watchers. I mean when I went back to Weight Watchers and weighed in at 207.4 pounds, I had most certainly been eating way above the points that Weight Watchers gave me to eat! That was why I was overate. I ate too much!
So, it used to puzzle me how it could be that someone had gained weight, but joined Weight Watchers and consistently couldn’t eat up to their daily Target and they had the food diaries that showed such clean eating. What I often found out was that the clean eating was new to the member. Before joining Weight Watchers, the member had often eaten like I ate before I went back to Weight Watchers. Back then, I had a Snickers bar every day from the vending machine at work. I had fast food for lunch several days a week. We often went out to eat in the evening and I would order whatever looked good. Or, we would order in pizza or whatever. And, I would have cookies or ice cream for snacks and I didn’t pay much attention to portion sizes. Now, those foods were not really clean eating. And, even under Points or PointsPlus they were high in point count.
In short, some members found it hard to eat 35 PointsPlus of “healthy” food, but they hadn’t found it hard to eat more than 35 PointsPlus of “regular” food before joining Weight Watchers. Or, to speak of myself, a better term might be “junk” food. The thing is that some members who join Weight Watchers want to change their eating habits and start out eating all “healthy” foods and they banish the junk food and the treats. And, when they do, they find that they can’t reach their daily Target, particularly if the daily Target is relatively high. And, it is great to start healthier eating habits.
The problem that some run into, however, is that they have made a huge and abrupt change in eating and it may be difficult to sustain that change long-term. The point is that the Weight Watchers plan is designed — even on SmartPoints — so that we can have some treats and food that is perhaps not the kind of food we need to eat every day. A lot of what we learn with Weight Watchers is how to balance our eating. So, we can mostly eat the food that is good and nutritious, but we can also have the occasional piece of chocolate or have pizza. If you aren’t reaching your daily Target because you are being super strict on what you eat, then you may want to think about whether you can sustain that kind of eating for the long term.
So Do I Have to Eat All My Daily SmartPoints?
In the end, it is up to us. I have often heard the mantra: Let your weight loss be your guide. What I say to myself is: Let your weight loss and your health be your guide. Weight Watchers says our Daily SmartPoints Target is, well, a target. Weight Watchers has given each of us a target and tells us that if we stick to that number we will lose weight. And, Weight Watchers has good reasons for not wanting us to just try to eat less than that. For that reason, I really do aim to meet my target each day. At the same time, I personally dual track calories along with SmartPoints so if my calorie count and nutrition are OK and I am a point or two low sometimes then I don’t worry about it.