Since the changes to the Weight Watchers program for 2018 went live a week ago in the UK, I’ve been looking for feedback on the program both from the UK Weight Watchers site and from members who are posting on various forums and groups. After one week, these are some of the high points:
As is often the case when Weight Watchers makes program changes, members are quite polarized about the changes. I’ve seen this with every program change that has been made while I’ve been active in Weight Watchers. Often members don’t like change, particularly if they have been doing well on a program. And. some changes are ones that some people like a lot while others hate the same changes. Sometimes people are indifferent. I was indifferent about zero point fruit because I don’t eat much fruit as I am more a veggie type person. I am cautiously optimistic about the new changes. I do like most of the new zero point foods (well, I think yogurt is awful) but currently I only average eating about 4 of them each day.
One thing that often happens with program changes is that adjustments have to be made to how you are eating. I eat very differently on SmartPoints than I ate when on the exchange program in the early 1990s. For some people, they love the new zero point foods and are happy with the change. Others don’t like those foods and are not happy.
The biggest resistance that I’ve seen to this program is among people who eat a lot of red meat and who can’t really imagine eating the zero point foods. And, I can see that being a big adjustment. When I was a child we had beef every night for dinner. We had pork (sausage or bacon) at breakfast. Lunch was usually lunchmeat. Once, maybe twice a week, we had chicken (at least one of those times was friend chicken). Maybe once a week we would have fish or maybe pork for dinner. Now, looking back on it, that wasn’t the healthiest way to eat. But, that was a long time ago and people didn’t realize that at the time.
But, there are still a lot of people who do eat that amount of red meat or who like their chicken breaded and fried. In that case, this program may be difficult for them if they don’t adjust what they eat. If you had 30 daily Smartpoints and now get 23 daily Smartpoints, that is fine if you were eating several points worth of food each day that are now zero point foods. On the other hand, if you were eating 30 daily points and only 1 or 2 are now zero point foods, then it can be a big adjustment.
I’ve seen some UK members unhappy with the program because the don’t like chicken or fish or because they feel that their family will rebel if they don’t have red meat at dinner. Some were really unhappy at the idea of eating chicken or fish each day.
There were a couple of reasons I had problems with that. First, a number of people pointed out that they still had red meat on Weight Watchers Flex (what it is called in the UK – I think it will be Freestyle in the U.S.). They didn’t necessarily have it every day but had it several times a week. Part of the reason was that they ate some of the other zero point foods. They weren’t just eating chicken/fish/eggs. They might also eat some beans, or peas, or corn, or fat free yogurt. So they had points left over to spend on red meat. A lot of the people worried about the program seemed to think they had to spend the equivalent of what had been 7 points a day on chicken/fish/eggs and didn’t consider eating some of the other new zero point foods.
Second, I was perplexed by those who couldn’t imagine eating chicken or fish on a daily basis. Some objected to eating chicken or fish more than once or twice a week. This is perplexing to me because I don’t eat beef at all. I eat pork maybe twice a month, mostly when I get bacon on a sandwich or occasionally if I eat out for brunch. I do eat chicken on most days and eat fish at least a couple of times a week. And, yes, there are days when I have some sort of chicken at lunch and some at dinner. But, I eat a variety of foods so the way I eat chicken at lunch is often very different than what I might eat at dinner. I guess I found it surprising that someone eating red meat every day for dinner wouldn’t think that was repetitious, but would object to having chicken several days a week.
Anyway, I think that this type of objection is one where it would help to expand the zero point foods eaten (eat some beans or corn, for example) and then add in some red meat for more variety along with also eating chicken or fish. And, of course, it is perfectly possible to have a main meal without having any red meat, or poultry, or fish. I am not currently a vegetarian but I spent a couple of years as a lacto-ovo vegetarian and I had plenty of variety in my meals.
For people who were already eating the new zero point foods (skinless chicken and turkey breast, eggs, fish, legumes, fat free yogurt, corn) or who wanted to eat more of them, they had less problems with the program. Their risk might be overdoing those foods. Remember, zero points is not zero calorie.
There have been some people who weighed in during the past week after starting the program or who weighed in today after their first week. As usual, results were mixed. Some people lost weight, some didn’t, a rare few gained. My sense was that people seemed to be having good losses overall. Of course, people are more likely to to comment about a good loss than when they don’t lose.
There was a fair amount of confusion about some aspects of the changes. One comment that I saw a lot was people scanning a zero point food such as fat free plain yogurt and being startled when they were told it had points. Actually, the food was zero points. But, when you scan a food it will display points based upon nutritional content. It doesn’t know that the specific food is a zero point food. For foods that are zero point, they shouldn’t be scanned.
Another area of some confusion was how to handle foods that contain zero point items, but are eaten in a restaurant of purchased in a package with non-zero point ingredients. I saw several instances where people had asked Weight Watchers chat in the UK and got different answers from different people. That is probably not surprising given the newness of the program. This is one reason to roll this out in the UK before it is rolled out in other places and a reason to roll it out before the influx of people at the new year. That gives time to see what questions are ask and to get consistent responses worked out.
Weight Watchers UK FAQS
The Weight Watchers UK website has FAQs that discuss a number of things relating to the plan changes. A few of them:
Blue Dot – Under the current U.S. program you get a blue dot if you are no more than 3 points below your daily target and no more than 7 above it. With the program changes, that is changed to no more than -10/+5 of your daily allowance.
This is interesting in a couple of ways. The top side of the blue dot is down two to +5 instead of +7. Of course, it is OK to eat above that if you have the weekly points (plus rollover) or fit points to do it. On the other side though, you get a blue dot if you are 10 points less than your daily point allowance. So your daily points are at 23 (the minimum), you get a blue dot for anything between 13 and 28 points.
And, it really does answer another question. People often wonder if they must eat up to their daily points. There was a time when Weight Watchers was very insistent that you had to eat the minimum. This was particularly so if your points were at the program minimum. So if I was at 30 daily points and I ate 28, I sometimes had people tell me I wasn’t doing it right. It honestly didn’t bother me, though, if I knew had had adequate calories for the day. Even with the current blue dot, I found it interesting that I could get a blue dot if I ate only 27 points.
It seems to me that Weight Watchers is making it clear that you do not have to eat up to your daily Smartpoints allowance. It is perfectly OK to eat below it. Of course, the question is how low can you go and still be within the program rules? The FAQ doesn’t explicitly answer this, but does give a guideline and suggests eating at a minimum -10 the daily SmartPoints allowance so that you get enough nutrients and a variety of foods. That seems pretty reasonable to me. I certainly don’t think it would be very sustainable to aim to eat only zero point foods and doing so would mean limiting nutrients that are healthy. And, Weight Watchers does not recommend doing that. Now, you can only rollover up to 4 points per day. So, if I eat 19 points in a day, I can rollover 4. If I eat 13 points in a day, I can still only roll over 4 points. That seems reasonable. I doubt there will be many days that I will eat less than 19 points to be honest. I like too many foods that have points. I don’t eat beef, as I indicated, but I eat nuts every day, have oil in my salad, eat some grains, etc. But, I am glad to know that I don’t have to feel guilty if I end up eating only 17 points in a day, but I had good nutrition and calories.
How Much Zero Point Foods Can I Eat? – Weight Watchers points out that there is no set limit. But, you should eat to satisfaction. In other words, you don’t have to feel like you are going to burst from eating a ton of chicken. Be reasonable. And, of course, “you should let your weight loss be your guide.”
Adjusting Restaurant and Grocery Store Food for Zero Point Foods – In the title for this section, I have put in 3 links to the FAQ talking about this. I think it is important to read all 3 of them. This is a complicated issue. I think I understand what Weight Watchers is trying to say, but I can understand why it is complex. In general, yes, if you go and buy a plain egg or a plain skinless chicken breast, for example, then it is zero point. But, of course, if you buying something in a restaurant or at a grocery store, it is rarely going to be just totally plain.
I think that one thing that complicates things is that some foods, if you make them yourself, are not pointed, but they have points if you buy them already made in a store. For example, if I make something at home and use the recipe builder and there are zero point foods used in them then that food doesn’t have points. If I make green beans at home and have a sauce on them, then the points in the recipe builder don’t include points for the green beans. But, if I buy frozen green beans at the store with a sauce on them, they do often have points. Some people back out the points for the green beans when they record the foods. Other people don’t.
I can see that issue becoming a much bigger issue when we are talking about chicken or salmon or beans, not just low calorie vegetables. So where is the line drawn?
The FAQ makes it clear that foods such as breaded and friend chicken or fish, fish in oil, beans with added sugar or chicken breast with skin still have points. So if I go to KFC and get a fried chicken breast, then the chicken will have points. If I buy a can of baked beans with added sugar — they still have points. That seems clear.
At another place. it is indicated that if 0 point foods are fried or breaded or have added sugar or oil or “in some cases, flavouring” then they are not zero points. That is where this gets a little unclear. What types of flavoring makes food non zero point?
It is also clear in the FAQ that in some cases Weight Watchers has taken foods that have some zero point foods and some non-zero point foods and have adjusted the value to account for the zero point foods. The FAQ indicates that the nutritionists have adjusted the values of some restaurant or grocery meals to reduce the points value of the meals that contain some zero point foods.
So, when do they do that and when do they not do it? That is less clear. One of the responses in the FAQ does address this issue. Weight Watchers says that it will take out the Smart points values for zero point foods that are “identifiable and quantifiable” and that are not breaded, fried, or processed to make a dip or snack. They also give as an example of foods that will be not adjusted – breaded and fried chicken/fish or fruit pies.
So we can break that down a bit to get an idea of what is going on. First, the zero point food has to be identifiable. If Weight Watchers knows that something has “chicken” in it, that isn’t enough. They need to know that it is skinless breast meat. It has to be quantifiable. How much of the zero point food is in the meal? Is it 4 ounces or 8 ounces or what? If Weight Watchers doesn’t know they can’t adjust the points value. My guess is that they have to rely upon the food manufacturer or the restaurant to give them this information.
Let’s say they get past all that. OK, they aren’t going to back out points if the food is breaded or fried. That is clear. But, what about food that isn’t breaded or fried, but was maybe sauteed in a little oil. What happens then?
If a restaurant or food manufacturer fundamentally changes the food such as taking chickpeas and making hummus out of them or taking beans and making bean dip, then it seems clear the food will be pointed. But, again, where exactly is that line drawn?
Of course, when the program goes live in the U.S., I am sure that this will get more clear. And, one advantage, of it starting in the UK earlier than here is that some of these situations will come up and dealt with this month so it may be more clear by the time December 3 rolls around.
Starting today, I am experimenting with the new program. I am going to manually track my points with the zero point foods and will use 23 daily points, rolling over up to 4 a day. I won’t have the benefit of seeing how Weight Watchers has adjusted points on restaurant foods and grocery store foods. I intend to try to apply the comments that are in the FAQ about how to do that. So far I have eaten 18 points today (1152 calories) and will have another snack. I did eat out today, but based most of my meal on zero point foods where I felt the zero point foods were identifiable and quantifiable. I had grilled fish with a sauce on it and I asked the weight of the fish so I could back the fish out. Nothing was fried or breaded. I’ll report periodically on how it is going.