Autumn: A Difficult Decision – Pulling Back from WW (Formerly Weight Watchers)

The author mostly off camera
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I’m taking a break from meetings at Weight Watchers, now known as WW, although I’ll probably continue weighing in.
This has not been an easy decision; WW has been my second home for the past two and a half years – it was there when I needed it most, and I’m forever grateful.
However, for the past year or so, my uneasiness has slowly grown, first as a nagging little voice letting me know that all wasn’t right, at least for me, to full-blown discontent.
Before I offer my reasons for pulling back, let me first affirm what I still love about WW.
1.    The program itself is sound, emphasizing a life-style change, as opposed to “being-on-a diet.” Because of this focus, I have, within a 16-pound window, kept the weight off for over a year and a half, something I have never done before.
2.    The people, both the other members and the staff, are very welcoming. No one has ever said a mean thing to me, and, as far as I know, to anyone else.
3.    WW is a no judgment zone. Back in the bad old days – 1970’s – there was a bit of naming and shaming if a member had a bad week. Now lapses are taken in stride and even accepted as being a normal part of life.
4.    The word “illegal” has been banned from the program: “We can eat anything we want – just not everything.” Moderation in all things.
5.    The fact that I can go to a WW’s meeting anywhere in the country – and sometimes the world – is very appealing. No one really believes that a member is going to stick to program 100% while on vacation, but it’s good to know that support is almost always close by.
6.    The online tools are awesome; I love being able to access the barcode tool and the points finder – great for on the-the-run information. Granted, I don’t use many of the online tools – I don’t track online, and I don’t check Connect too often. And that’s okay.
7.    I appreciate not being required to buy expensive “special foods” or lousy-tasting milkshakes. While WW does offer its own line of foods, available at both the grocery store and at the WW meeting center, I can plan my meals around regular food.
So, there is much to love about WW, and I would never try to talk anyone else out of joining or staying.
In fact, I would recommend WW, especially for a first-timer or young person who is struggling – but only if I were asked for my opinion.
Certainly, WW can offer that great jumpstart for people who need to lose a little or a significant amount of weight. It’s bright and shiny and very well organized. Comfortable. And it’s fun to watch one’s weight melt away and hear and see the success stories of other members – inspirational.
* * * * *
Now for the negative.
Once I hit goal weight, the support just wasn’t there anymore, although in Spring 2017, WW made a feeble stab at organizing quarterly meetings for Lifetime members.
I was ecstatic.
“At last,” I thought. “Something for me.”
And the meetings were well-attended and interesting, addressing the difficulties faced by members trying to maintain their weight, as opposed to losing it, where every ounce lost is celebrated.
But then…
Nothing.
Members at goal have very different needs than those in the excitement of shedding pounds; there are no longer celebrations for weight loss, nor should there be – there can be a fine line between maintaining a healthy weight and falling into anorexia.
What isn’t addressed in depth at WW: how to maintain a weight loss, probably the most difficult phase of any program having to do with weight management, and the head work required for keeping it off.
If it were so simple as just calculating points and monitoring exercise – food ingested and energy expended – we would all be successful at maintaining a healthy weight.
We all know what to do and how to do it, but then that urge to binge can be overpowering – at some point, strategies (drink more water, eat a stalk of celery, go for a walk, etc.) stop working because they don’t really address the addiction itself, and overeating is an addiction.
There is no mechanism at WW for addressing this aspect.
Lifetime members at or under goal weight no longer pay a weekly fee and may attend regular weekly meetings and participate in weigh-ins.
But I wonder if Lifetime members are viewed strictly as non-revenue and treated accordingly. Besides, when Lifetime members lapse and go over goal weight – and most do – they must start paying again, thus encouraging yo-yoing, which most medical experts believe is unhealthy.
I suspect that recidivism is part of the business model because so many of us are not first-timers – for me, this is the fifth or sixth time at WW.
I get that Lifetime members can be a financial drain for the bottom line, but WW could be missing an opportunity to expand its services to Lifetimers and to create an enhanced program for them – in addition to the free services already offered.
As I recall, several Lifetime members attending those 2017 meetings expressed a willingness to pay for specialized and in-depth meetings, designed just for them, but as far as I know, this idea went nowhere.
I realize WW is a for-profit corporation, but it feels as though that aspect has become front and center and that the focus on members has become secondary.
We are always reminded of the for-profit aspect, particularly in the upselling of products – most overpriced, I might add. If one can catch a week when products are on sale, they’re still expensive. If these products were both healthy and tasty, then, perhaps, it might be worth the premium, but some of the products still contain too much sugar and other less healthy ingredients.
I can buy similar products at Aldi for a third of the price. I have discovered foods outside of WW that are often healthier and fewer points, such as shirataki and protein pancake powder.
Unfortunately, WW seems to stop offering the healthy products, such as the Skinny Pasta konjac, which I can’t find in my area.
The major turnoff of WW (which seems to have gotten worse in the last year): the infantilizing of members, which is downright cringe worthy. I have no wish to be referred to as “Miss Jennifer” – a simple “Jennifer” is fine, thank you. I want to be treated as an adult with the opportunity to address important and deep issues/topics during meetings, not just the rah, rah moments, albeit important, too.
I suspect this model comes directly from Corporate – no one seems to be very comfortable with this middle-school tone, including the staff.
We get enough of this nonsense at the doctor’s office.
I recall one meeting, about two years ago, when the topic touched upon fat discrimination and how it affects women especially. We really got into feelings and how it affected our daily lives – some of us even cried! Now that was a good meeting, a thorough soul-searching, head-cleansing session.
And it never happened again.
It was almost as if Corporate got wind of it and put the kibosh on any future soul-searching nonsense, instead opting for the faux cheerful baby talk.
Part of this is related to the topics themselves – important topics, to be sure, having to do with people struggling with weight issues and strategies for overcoming roadblocks. But we never seem to get into these topics in any meaningful way – it’s just a surface glossing over.
Moreover, if one attends meetings regularly for a long time, the topics begin repeating, which would be okay if the approach were different each time. This is more of a long-termer problem, I suspect. Perhaps, when the program is new and shiny, this is not such a major issue.
Last year (late 2017) when WW rolled out the Freestyle program, I was all in. The list of 0-points foods expanded exponentially, and it seemed to open up new possibilities, with the premise that if one ate foods from this list and restricted others (beef, sugar, high fat, refined carbs), the weight would fall off. Yes, the daily points allotted would be lower – in my case, from 28 to 23, but it seemed worth the sacrifice. Also, Freestyle offered some foods that I was avoiding because of high points, such as salmon and Greek yogurt.
Another advantage: If one front-loaded points early in the day, one could still have a decent meal with protein in the evening and not go over points.
Unfortunately, Freestyle hasn’t worked out well for me. Part of it probably has to do with my age and my pickiness. I discovered that I don’t like some of these 0-point foods, such Greek yogurt. No matter how I dressed it up, it still tasted too tangy and, well, like yogurt. Other foods, such as eggs, are okay, but I tire of them quickly. I love salmon, but, in the end, it’s still a high-calorie, high-fat fish; if I eat too much of it, I gain weight. So, I have had to restrict a lot of the 0-point foods anyway. In the end, calories are still calories, even healthy calories.
Freestyle has left me wanting – my spiral downward seems to have coincided with its rollout – although, in the end, I do own my successes or failures.
Others, I’m sure, disagree and are doing well on Freestyle – I’m just not one of them.
Finally, this is what has always bothered me about WW: an obsessive fascination with food and recipes.
If I were a recovering alcoholic, I would not be sharing recipes for concocting Harvey Wallbangers or Singapore Slings, albeit “lighter” versions.
And, yet, at many WW meetings and on the website, food is often the center of discussion. I always must make sure I have a substantial meal ready after attending a meeting – I have even binged afterwards!
Personally, I would like to see more focus away from food and more on other topics, such as exercise, avoiding food triggers (other than real hunger – one can’t fight that), and common psychological aspects of overeating. Also, I would also appreciate hearing about new WW research regarding the biological causes of weight gain, metabolic slowdown, and increased hunger and what researchers are recommending going forward.
I am convinced that the calories-in, energy-out model is far too simplistic. It doesn’t explain why some people have a hallow leg and never gain an ounce, while others, like me, gain a pound after eating something miniscule.
I suspect that I might be a minority here – unlike many members, I don’t like to cook or bake, and I prefer uncomplicated meals, even when I eat out. I’m not an adventurous diner. In addition, I must cook for a picky husband, so my recipe options are limited, anyway.
In closing, I’m not asking WW to change based on my desires; I’m just working out (1) Why I have been avoiding WW meetings and (2) How my personal journey will move forward with a limited WW presence in my life.
Already, I’m looking into face-to-face support group options – the online options don’t appeal to me: too many trolls, scammers, and fakers online.
So far, I have come up empty.
I did find a promising support group, but the one meeting I attended turned out to be its last – folded up shop right before my eyes.
I will be meeting with my physician soon to discuss a weight management program through Wellspan, my healthcare provider.
I’m still within a normal (albeit high) range, so my insurance may not cover it.
This is one of the conundrums of our age: if one is overweight, weight management programs are covered, but if a normal-weight person is struggling with food and weight issues, likely not.
I would have to gain weight.
Crazy, isn’t it?
I am truly a fat woman walking.

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