I’ve never voiced or typed out this question on the Weight Watchers message boards, but I always wonder if anyone ever truly graduates. Are there people who drop 50, 60, 70 lbs. or more; leave the program, rather than attending Lifetime status meetings or continuing to log eating diaries online; and keep off their weight by relying on what they have learned from the program? People who can consistently practice major feats of self-control with food and carry out a regular exercise program, exhibiting intrinsic motivation and not carrying out platitudes from a support group? Can we translate weight loss and maintenance strategies to normal, unregulated life, or will we be forever dependent on counting points?
I ask this question because I regularly see Lifetime lifers on the boards. Not necessarily struggling with weight, as much as just hanging around. Or, you’ll hear tales of people who do struggle, who lost a major amount of weight to meet their goal, even achieving the coveted Lifetime member status, only to gain some, or all (or all plus more) weight back.
The system has helped me get where I am today, but I can’t help feeling like it’s just training wheels for my actual life as a thinner person. That I should be responsible for reining myself in when it comes to food, without the help of an obscure mathematical formula and database of food nutrition values. That should be the goal, right?
One blessing in disguise of my current plateau is that I have been able to explore how it feels to experience life and food like a “normal” person, unfettered to Weight Watchers. Yes, I do log my points most of the seven days of a given week still, but sometimes I go off the grid and rely on what I’ve learned to get me by. At the times when I am not taking advantage of this and overeating, I find that I am able to lose weight or, at least, not have a gain.
I am so thankful that the Weight Watchers program helped me to get to where I am today, but I want to be dubbed Most Likely to Succeed without it someday. Here’s what I think we need to master to be able to graduate with honors:
- Portion control. This is tricky, as chain restaurants don’t even pretend to try to serve realistic portions of food, which distorts our thinking on how much we should actually be eating. At home, I still use an array of measurement aids–spoons, cups, and a food scale–to keep myself in check on portions. This is a non-negotiable for me at this stage in my life. But ultimately, the goal should be to be able to eyeball a serving of food as it really is, and determine if it’s just right or too much, without emotions distorting your vision.
- Avoidance of peer pressure: Food is often a key ingredient in social interactions, which is understandable–I love to cook and enjoy the aspect of caring for friends and family by sharing good food with them. But when you always end up in a booth at Friday’s or scooping up buffalo wings at the buffet table your bestie has laid out for the Superbowl, something’s gotta give–either you have to incorporate more bonding time that doesn’t focus on food, or you have to bring your “A” eating game, to avoid overindulging.
- Compensation. This is where science and art meet in weight loss. We all know it’s impossible to eat with impunity at the scale, and yet we often keep on eating willy-nilly because we feel that we reach a point of no return and might as well go all out on consumption. But it is possible, and the wise thing to do, to try to inject a sense of balance into your eating habits. We hear of people who don’t struggle with weight who just know that if they eat a big piece of cake, they have to readjust their eating somewhere else, or add exercise. And they follow through with this plan. That’s what life should look like for those of us who want to achieve homeostasis with our scale numbers.
- Honesty. This is probably the most important area to master: nursing a need to be accountable to one’s self. Weight Watchers members often dream up contests anyone can enter to lose a certain amount of weight by a certain time, to exercise to specifications outlined in the challenge, or even to eat a salad every day. If you want bragging rights for winning the challenge, you’ll follow every step to the letter. Or, you don’t have to, because there are no real consequences. As a result, you see contestants who, at the weekly check-ins of the contests, feel obligated to explain why they didn’t have a positive result that week. Others will just drop out, with no announcement or explanation. Ultimately, however, we have to be honest with ourselves–on how much we’re eating, on what we’re eating, on why we’re eating–if we want continued success. And we have to give ourselves a kick in the pants when motivation flags.
These are the areas of concentration I strive for in my life. It is a slow-moving process for me to get there, but one that I will not give up on. I know the outcome, of having lost weight and acquiring (and regularly using) the skills to keep the weight off will serve me well for the rest of my life.