Saturday, December 4, 2010

Weight Watchers: The New Math

Last week, Weight Watchers drastically overhauled its points system for the first time in 13 years, and as the New York Times reports, some members are going batshit crazy over the change.
“It’s a complete overhaul; it doesn’t get any bigger than this,” said Karen Miller-Kovach, the chief scientific officer for Weight Watchers International. “Fifteen years ago we said a calorie is a calorie is a calorie. If you ate 100 calories of butter or 100 calories of chicken, it was all the same. Now, we know that is not the case, in terms of how hard the body has to work to make that energy available. And even more important is that where that energy comes from affects feelings of hunger and fullness.”

Some people were drawn to the Weight Watchers point system by the idea that it seemed almost like an anti-diet: you could eat whatever you wanted, as long as you gauged the portion, counted the points and, if necessary, scrimped elsewhere. And while many members are lauding what one blogger described as a “Weight Watchers meets Michael Pollan,“ and celebrating the advent of the guilt-free fruit cup, others are pushing back.

“I don’t want to be forced to choose veggies. I do NOT like veggies or fruit,” one member wrote in an online discussion on the Weight Watchers Web site. “I feel like I am being forced to ‘diet,’ and that is what I DO NOT WANT.”
Of course! I mean, if I paid good money to join Weight Watchers, the last thing I'd want to do is watch what I eat, or consume anything other than packages of Little Debbies and Cool Ranch Doritos.

Weight Watchers is taking a (very, very small) step in the right direction by backing off of its long-held "a calorie is a calorie is a calorie" nonsense, and recognizing that folks should avoid carbs and processed food (by increasing the number of points for such foods).

But IMHO, the company's overall approach remains pretty awful. With its closely monitored points system, Weight Watchers is still encouraging obsessive weighing and measuring. And while it's not strictly calorie-counting anymore, members can still choose to eat incredibly unhealthful shit -- all they'd have to do is pare back their overall intake levels. In other words, they can still starve on Cinnabon and cupcakes.

Plus: Under the new system, "[a]ll fruits...are point-free," while the points for fatty foods (including stuff we know are actually good for you) have been bumped up. So under this plan, a person struggling to lose weight is allowed to gorge all day on bananas -- a fruit that's 93% carbohydrate in content -- without having to tally a single point. Smart.

(Source: The New York Times)