Today I’m going to talk about weight loss in a little bit different light, relating it to another thing that we all have to deal with in our lives, which is money. As I’ve talked to more and more people in different places, both online and in person, this is one of the themes that I keep coming back to in order to help explain how Weight Watchers works and how people can relate that experience to something that’s not quite so foreign if they’ve never looked at Weight Watchers before or if they’re constantly referring to it as a diet.
We’ll take a look at various aspects of gaining weight, losing weight, and maintaining. The purpose here is to help explain the concepts of losing weight with Weight Watchers.
Getting Started: What is a Budget
To start us off here, I’m going to pull a few lines from some websites I found that deal with establishing a monetary budget. We’ll start with this bit from practicalmoneyskills.com, “A budget is a plan for your future income and expenditures that you can use as a guideline for spending and saving. Although many Americans already use a budget to plan their spending, the majority of Americans also routinely spend more than they can afford. The key to spending within your means is to know your expenses and to spend less than you make. A good monthly budget can help ensure you pay your bills on time, have funds to cover unexpected emergencies, and reach your financial goals.”
Weight loss with Weight Watchers is no different. Let me convert that quote into weight loss terms; instead of dollars, you’re dealing with PointsPlus. “You plan for future income (weekly points, activity points, or new daily points) and expenditures (eating). Although many Americans like to think that they watch what they eat, the majority of Americans (and people of other nations) also routinely eat more than they can healthily afford. The key to spending your Points within your means is to know how much you can eat, and do so without over-eating. A good PointsPlus budget can help ensure you lose weight, have the points to cover unexpected food opportunities/surprises, and reach your weight loss goals”
When you get started with Weight Watchers the first thing they’re going to do is have you weigh in. This is what determines your budget. You have a daily budget, which is your Daily PointsPlus Target that is based on your personal metrics and any points left over at the end of the day disappear. You have a weekly budget, which is your Weekly PointsPlus Allowance which is always set to 49 on your weigh-in day for everyone. You also have another weekly budget, your Activity Points, which defaults to 0 and you have to exercise in order to build up those points. Both of the weekly budgets remain open with their points balances for the entire week, but once your weigh-in day rolls around any extra points go away and they reset to their default values of 49 and 0.
The biggest difference between a financial budget and a weight loss budget is that bills are typically handled on a monthly basis where weight loss is handled weekly. Instead of everything being due on the 15th day of every month (or whatever), you have a weigh-in day every week on the same day. Your daily budget is like paying your bills, those are points that you need to spend in order to give your body the fuel that it needs to function. Your weekly budgets are more like your wants instead of your needs.
Living Within Your Means: PointsPlus Values
The key to having a successful budget is making sure that you never spend more than you have available. The key to losing weight is making sure that you don’t eat more food than your body can handle while maintaining a healthy weight. Your body needs food, it just doesn’t need as much as we tend to give it. Just like you need to purchase “things” in order to live, yet we don’t always live within our means as we buy things we want instead.
I’m going to reference that same website above, but I’m going to take little bits and pieces from the article instead of doing a direct quote. If you want to read the whole thing, you can follow this link to Live Within Your Means.
If you are like many Americans, you may find that you are spending more than you’re saving and steadily going deeper into debt as a result. This is an easy and common pattern to fall into, and one that requires some planning and discipline to reverse. Once you’ve got a clear understanding of your current budget, your challenge is to find places where you can spend less (or earn more) in order to achieve your financial goals.
Here are some steps you can take toward that end:
1. Question Your Needs And Wants – What do you want? What do you really need? Take a look at the big picture.
2. Set Guidelines – We all have different budgets based on our needs and wants.
3. Track, Trim And Target – Once you start tracking, you may be surprised what you find. Cutting back is usually a better place to start than completely cutting out. Be realistic. It will help you to be better prepared for the unexpected.
It also talks about trimming expenses, but to keep it more focused on the weight loss side, I’m going to rewrite it with that in mind. Trimming expenses for weight loss is cutting back on those things that you really enjoy that are just too high in points to be eating them all the time. It could be anything from candy to bread, ice cream to ribeye steaks, sweet tea to alcohol. Different people have different weaknesses when it comes to food, and those are what we’re really focusing on here.
If there’s a food that you really love and it’s high in points then you need to make a decision. Can you live without ever eating that thing again, or can handle eating smaller portions of it? Do you have some self control in relation to that food, or do you have none at all? If you can handle it in moderation, then all you need is a plan and the determination to stick to that plan and you’ll do just fine.
For this example, we’re going to use one of the highest-points desserts in the Weight Watchers database, which is an Ultimate Fudge Brownie from Kona Grill which has a 50 PointsPlus value for a single serving. You love that brownie, it’s your favorite thing in the whole world. For some people, knowing that it’s 50 PointsPlus is enough for them to say, “You know what? That’s a dang good brownie, but it’s just not worth 50 PointsPlus to me, so I’m going to walk away and never eat that thing again.” Some people can do that, and they can stick to it. Other people, just can’t. They need to find a way to work that in.
If you can’t cut an “expense”, or a food that you absolutely have to have, then you need to try to trim it. You can do that by either eating smaller portions of it if that’s an option; this would be things like either ordering only a partial serving, sharing it with friends/family, or if you make it yourself then cutting the portions that you make or that you dish out to begin with. Or, you can go ahead and eat the full portion but cut back on how often you eat it.
Once you’ve identified these foods you need to make a plan and set a goal. Goals should be specific or else you’ll never achieve it. “Eat less brownie” isn’t a goal because you could leave a little spec of the brownie on your plate and say that you ate less of it. Be specific. “Only eat the ultimate fudge brownie once per month,” is an achievable goal. “Only eat half of the ultimate fudge brownie,” is an achievable goal. Both of those are acceptable as long as they fit within your budget. If you’ve got the points, then it’s alright to eat the whole thing. You’re not cheating or failing if you eat something that’s high in points as long as you’re staying within your budget.
Once you have the specific goal you need to make it measurable. If eating half the brownie or eating it once per month is enough measurement for you to stay within your budget then you can stop there. However, what if you had a birthday party and ate cake and ice cream and already used up some of your weekly points, and now the only way you will be able to have that special expensive food is to earn activity points? In that case, you need to update your goal to this, “I want that 50 Point dessert, and I currently have 40 Weekly points but 0 Activity points saved for it.” Now you know that you have 40 of the 50 points that you need. You know how far you have to go (50) and you know how close you already are (40+0=40) so you know how far you have left to go (50-40=10). Now you know exactly what you need to do in order to fit that dessert into your budget and you can plan accordingly. If you have 5 days left until you eat that dessert, then you know you need to get an average of 2 Activity Points per day (10/5=2) and if you know that one of those days you’ll be out of town and unable to exercise, so you need to get an extra 2 points in on the other 4 days that you have left.
Your goals also have to be attainable, it has to be something that you can actually achieve. If you haven’t been doing any exercise at all in forever, and you’ve only got 10 Weekly Points left for that 50 Point brownie on Friday, do you think you’re honestly going to be able to make up 40 Activity points in the next 3-4 days? If your goal isn’t to eat a specific thing, but rather to lose a specific amount of weight, is losing 15 lbs in a week attainable? Not for most people. If a goal isn’t realistic, then there’s no point in setting it in the first place.
Measurable in time. You don’t want to set a goal that has no end date. “My goal is to weigh 110 lbs,” sounds like a good goal, right? How soon do you want to get down to that 110 lbs? By the end of the summer? The end of next year? Before the age of 85? If there’s no time limit set on your goal, then you’ve deflated your motivation. Remember, even your timeline has to be something that’s realistically attainable, but there needs to be a timeline set for achieving the goal. A lot of people trying to lose weight are doing it because they kept putting off eating healthy or getting back into shape. They put it off, then put it off again, and just kept on putting it off because there was no timeline. “Man, I really need to get around to losing some of this weight…” How many times have I said that in my lifetime? I’m not sure I can count that high. I can tell you that about 90% of the times that I said it I did so right before or right after eating something that had a huge Points value, though.
Debt: Gaining Weight
Now that we’ve talked about how the plan overall relates to a budget, let’s take a look at why budgeting is actually important. When you’re dealing with finances, you’re basically looking at how much income you have minus your expenses to see how much you can tuck away into savings or how much you can put towards paying off debts.
With Weight Watchers it’s almost exactly the same thing; you’re looking at how many PointsPlus you have available each day, minus the points values of your foods, to see how much debt you can pay off. You can’t tuck anything away into savings, because your body doesn’t allow savings accounts.
All the weight that you need to lose right now is debt that you’ve built up throughout your life. It’s a debt that you owe to your body, and one that can weigh just as heavily on your mind as it does physically on your body. What happens when you go into too much financial debt and can’t pay your bills? A not-so-little thing we call bankruptcy. When you become too indebted to your body you run into things like gallstones, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and/or triglycerides, coronary artery disease (CAD), a stroke, or sleep apnea. Debt can be a very serious thing no matter how you slice it.
Debt, in terms of weight loss, is the extra weight that you’ve put on over the years that you’re trying now to get off. In weight loss there is no savings for you to build towards, instead you’re either relieving debt (weight gained) or you’re staying out of debt (maintaining your weight). Because weight loss isn’t a single event, you don’t simply lose it and then suddenly you get to live out the rest of your life being skinny. Your body just doesn’t work that way. It’s the same reason why diets never work in the long term. Weight Watchers isn’t a diet, it’s a lifestyle change. They give you the rules to live by to be successful and the tools to do it with. That’s why it succeeds.
Going on a diet is like getting a credit card. It has it’s perks, but if you don’t watch it you’re just going to end up even deeper in debt than you were before you started. Have you ever tried a diet, had success, and then stopped the diet and not too long after you gained back even more weight than you started with? That’s why Weight Watchers will consistently beat out every diet out there. Because it’s not a diet that tells you what you can and cannot eat, it’s a tool that you can use to live a healthy life. It’s the difference between a credit card that you abuse, and one that you actually use wisely and with control. If you use it correctly and establish a goals-based or rules-focused life style around it you can actually get ahead.
Executing the Budget: Meal Planning
I know that last section was a downer, so let’s pick it back up here and talk about how we get out of this debt and build a better life. We’re going to talk about meal planning, and a few different ways that you can handle planning head.
Weekly Planning (Hard, but effective if you can pull it off)
We’ll start off with the method that you tend to hear most often in meetings from your leader, which is to plan ahead for the entire week. Some people don’t have any problem at all planning out a week’s worth of meals in advance. In our experience, every time we tried to plan a week’s worth of meals we failed. We’d either go off plan half-way through the week and then throw the plan out the window for the rest of the week, or we wouldn’t even be able to come up with a whole week’s worth of meals that actually sounded good and then we’d just give up all together. If you can handle planning a week at a time, that’s great. If you can’t handle that much planning, then try one of these other methods instead.
Weekly planning gives you total control of what’s going to happen the entire week, which makes it easier for you to plan how you’re going to spend your weekly points and activity points (assuming that you’re going to spend any of them at all). If you know everything you’re going to eat all week long, you can more easily plan in special treats for events where you know you might not be able to accurately track the foods that you eat. If you know there’s a party on Friday but have no idea what food is going to be served there, then you know in advance that you need to keep all of your other days within your daily points so that you have your weekly points available for that unknown party.
The drawback is that by planning the entire week in advance, you need to be very conscious of your weekly points and activity points or else you will not be able to handle surprises as easily. For example, if you have already planned out your entire week and today at work your best friend invited you to a BBQ at his place tonight, then you might not have the points available to do that. That doesn’t mean that you can’t go, it just means that you’re going to have to go back and re-plan the rest of your week to allow for that surprise.
Semi-Weekly Planning (Easy-Medium, but very effective and easier to stick to it)
This is the method that we’ve adopted over the last couple of months and has been a huge success for us so far. Instead of planning out a full week worth of meals, we now break it up into one plan for Monday-Thursday, and another for Friday-Sunday. Our weigh-in day is Thursday, so right after the meeting we head to the grocery store and eat at the deli there and then do our grocery shopping with our minds still focused on the meeting and making the right choices. We shop to get us through the weekend and then on Monday we do the same thing, minus the Weight Watchers meeting. Since our meetings are on Thursday, we consider that the start of our weight-week so even though we plan on Monday and Thursday, Monday is actually the second plan of each weight-week with Thursday being the first.
Doing this, we know that if a surprise does come up, we still haven’t planned the second half of the week, so we can set aside weekly points if we need to and we still have time to earn activity points if it’s something that serious or if we’ve already spent some of that budget on a planned event earlier in the week. Since our first planning of the weight-week is on Thursday, and most “surprises” often happen on the weekend, surprises are usually much easier for us to handle.
So far we haven’t run into any drawbacks for semi-weekly planning. It has worked out incredibly well for us so far, and we plan to keep it that way.
Daily Planning (Easy, can be effective as long as you’re tracking diligently)
If you just don’t have the time to plan out your meals for any portion of the week in advance, then you can plan for a single day instead. You need to be careful with weekly and activity points this way, as it’s easier to give into impulses and temptations when you haven’t bothered planning for the days ahead. We have had success doing this in the past, but if you look at the chart of our weight loss during these time periods you’d think it was a 4 year old’s drawing of a mountain range from all the up and down that we went through because of poor planning and not thinking ahead. Overall it more or less worked in the end, but it wasn’t very effective and certainly wasn’t efficient.
Single Meal Planning (IT’S A TRAP!)
What you want to avoid if at all possible, is not planning ahead at all and always focusing just on the meal you’re about to have. If you don’t plan ahead at all, you’re leaving yourself vulnerable to both surprises and temptations. If you already know in advance what you’re going to eat for the entire day, then you know whether or not you have room for temptations. If you just wing it and give in to a temptation because “I’ve got weeklies for this” and then there’s another temptation and “I’ve got weeklies for this” those little temptations are going to catch up with you. That’s why tracking is so important as well. If you’re tracking everything then you will know for sure whether or not you have the weekly points for things.
With this method it’s easy to find yourself in situations where you had little or no breakfast, a big lunch, and then come dinner time you have a fairly low amount of points but plenty of hunger. In the final section below I’ll talk about this a little bit more, but basically if you find yourself in this situation then you are significantly more likely to give up on the plan either for the day or the whole Weight Watchers thing all together, and you’re more likely to give into temptations. You’ll be more likely to spend your weekly points and less likely to track spending them which could lead to thinking that you have more points that you actually do later in the week and end up spending points that you don’t actually have.
A Little Psychology
Alright, this part doesn’t really fit within the scope of the rest of the article here, but it’s something that can help you understand impulses that I talked about in the section above. The following information comes from an article called Your App Makes Me Fat from seriouspony.com. The article itself is actually about how developing complex user interfaces can be a really bad thing for your users, so it doesn’t completely apply to our topic, but it’s the study that’s mentioned there that’s important to us here.
I’m not going to post the whole article here, but let me summarize the important parts for you.
Back in 1999 a study was done on some grad students where they asked half of them to memorize a two digit number and the other half was asked to memorize a seven digit number. After the memorization task was complete, they were told that the experiment was over and each of the students was offered a choice of snacks: either a bowl of fruit or a slice of chocolate cake. Their findings were that the students who had to memorize the seven digit number were 50% more likely to choose cake over fruit. (We’ll talk more about this in a minute.)
Another experiment was done in 2010, this time using dogs instead of people. They had half of the dogs sit inside their kennels for 10 minutes before letting them out to play with a puzzle toy that was rigged so that they couldn’t actually get to the treat inside. The other half of the dogs were commanded to sit and stay for 10 minutes before being allowed to play with the same, rigged puzzle-toy. The findings this time were very similar, the dogs that were left in the kennels and had nothing else to do gave up on the toy after about 2 minutes of not being able to get the treat out, while the ones who had to sit there and focus on remaining obedient gave up in less than 1 minute.
What these tests concluded was that our brains use the same resource for self control and problem solving. If you focus all day long on solving problems at work, then you don’t have as much self control at the end of the day because you’ve used up all of your resources on solving problems at work. Similarly, if you’ve spent all day resisting temptations sitting in your kitchen, then you won’t be able to think as clearly at night because once again you’ve already burned up those resources.
That’s why planning ahead plays such a key role in overall success. If you already have the day’s meals planned out in advance, then you don’t have to worry about giving into temptation for the meals themselves. The more you do throughout the day, the less control you have over yourself in the evenings. That’s just how our brains work. If something makes you think, then it’s draining the same resource that allows you to say “no” to foods that don’t fit within your budget. It doesn’t matter whether the problems you face during the day are work, taking care of your kids or pets, or if you just watch TV and play games on your cell phone, you’re always burning those resources.
Planning ahead is how you avoid those dangerous situations and find lasting success.