Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Wisdom Wednesday: Weight Watchers

Weight Watchers was founded by Jean Nidetch, a Brooklyn homemaker, in 1963. She says she was an “overweight housewife” who was very partial to cookies. Nidetch had tried several fad diets and had finally lost 20 pounds but was concerned her ‘weak resolve’ would mean a return of the body weight. She got in touch with several friends and started a support group.

This support group evolved and soon there were weekly classes. In 1978 the food company H. J. Heinz bought Weight Watchers. Nidetch is still a consultant. The thrust of the Weight Watcher’s program is on regular meetings, monitoring and encouragement, through self-help group type sessions. The dieter aims for a target weight or BMI (body mass index) between 20 and 25.

There is some science to support the physiological benefits of positive reinforcement. Research published in the journal Psychiatry suggests “social support reduces stress-induced cortisol release.” Excess cortisol has far-reaching negative effects on the endocrine system, including insulin resistance and weight gain.

The point system employed by Weight Watchers is considered by many as the easiest tool to help a person lose weight over the long term. Dieters learn how to self monitor on a daily basis. A simple way to calculate points is (Calories + (Fat x 4) – (Fiber x 10)/ 50

Food portions are assigned points. If a food is high in fiber and/or low in fat, it is worth fewer points. The higher the fiber content, or the lower the fat content, the more of that food you can eat each day.

Dieters can either join a Weight Watchers program online or in person.

When members reach their target weight they enter the maintenance period. For six weeks members gradually increase their food intake until they are neither losing nor putting on weight. During these six weeks there are regular weigh-ins. If a member manages to stay within 2 pounds of his/her target weight during the six-week period, that person becomes a “Lifetime Member”.

Lifetime members can attend any Weight Watchers meeting free of charge as long as they weigh in once per month, and do not veer from their target weight by more than 2 pounds. Lifetime members who do drift from their target weight range have to pay weekly for meetings, and then recover their Lifetime membership by going through the process all over again.

The Bottom Line:
The support system and self monitoring aspects of Weight Watchers are very effective for both the weekly meeting and online formats. The point system makes watching your caloric intake very easy. Adding regular exercise allows members more points each day to compensate for the increased calorie burn.

However, the format often leads to a deficiency of healthy fats in the diet as fat contains 9 Kcal/gram, higher than both carbohydrate and protein. The tendency is to avoid eating fat to save points. I would suggest that a better approach would be to increase the amount of exercise to accommodate the points used by eating healthy fat every day.

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