There is, perhaps, no greater frustration than a weight re-gain. It seems we’re not surprised when the weight comes back, but when it does, we blame ourselves and our confidence is shaken. It’s happened to most of us and it’s happened to me–more than once.
Yet something changed the last time I lost weight on Weight Watchers. For the first time, I started to change my lifestyle in a much more fundamental way. I stopped treating Weight Watchers like a diet and started using it as a path to a new way of living. I finally took charge. I’m happy to report that since becoming a Lifetime Member in March 2009, I’ve kept my weight off and have remained within 5 pounds of my goal weight. So yes, you can truly succeed at losing weight and keeping it off. I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished, but I’m hardly a hero. I have my struggles just like everyone else, but I’m now better equipped to deal with them.
So, for all of us who have ever regained the weight, please, please, please, please give yourself a break. It happens and, in fact, it happens for a good reason.
Blame it on evolution!
Our human bodies were perfectly constructed for a world of food scarcity. We were given fat cells that allowed us to store energy for long periods between meals. We were given a hormonal system that triggered hunger signals as soon as our energy stores ran low. To encourage us to eat whenever food was available, our brains were wired to make the act of eating pleasurable. Of course, for thousands of years, we did not know when our next meal was going to come. Even in more recent centuries, food could not be taken for granted. As well, virtually everything we ate was prepared by us from simple ingredients in an unprocessed form.
That was then and this is now. The advent of efficient transportation and refrigeration made food much more accessible year-round. Food manufacturers worked aggressively to innovate products, offer variety and give consumers more “value” for their food dollar. Plus, they found new ways to make foods all the more palatable through the use of sugars, fats, salt, etc. Suddenly we were eating all of the time whether we were hungry or not. A body, brain and system perfectly developed for a world of food scarcity was wholly unprepared for a world of food overabundance. It’s hardly a surprise that we gained weight. In fact, the obesity epidemic was seemingly all but inevitable.
There’s not much point in looking for a villain in this story. We can hardly be surprised that food companies and restaurants sought to grow their business. Or that technology made our lives far more sedentary. Ultimately, we became the beneficiaries of the scourges of affluence.
Can we please stop the stigma and self-flagellation!
The truly sad perversion in all of this is the degree to which the overweight population (most of us) has been set-up to fail and then forced to feel bad about it. Society wags its finger at the overweight and saddles them with stigma. Our self-esteem drops, and we think that if only we had willpower and were stronger, we would finally be in control. In truth, we never really had a chance.
Blaming people for being obese seems like blaming someone who lives in a bad neighborhood for being mugged. Yes, we can learn to protect ourselves in our bad food neighborhood, but ridiculing the victim is hardly a winning path to defeating the obesity epidemic.
We now know enough to be dangerous (in a good way).
We know so much more today about why we overeat than we did five, ten or 50 years ago. We now understand that not all calories are equal, particularly when considering how much energy our bodies use to convert food into useful energy as well as differences in satiety and nutrient density.
We now understand that there are systems in our brains that can make it easier to overeat that have nothing to do with nutrient or energy deficits. This so-called “hedonic” eating system is the wiring in our brains that can lead to over-responding to trigger foods, craving them, and then getting a shot of dopamine when we eat them.
We now understand that in our current food environment, we face a steady and spectacular stream of food choices virtually every minute. It is estimated that we make 200 food decisions every single day, but we are only conscious of 10 to 15 of them. It’s no wonder we mindlessly eat with only fleeting recognition that we are doing so.
Given all of the above, it’s even more troubling that we would ask people to tap into hidden reservoirs of willpower. Research suggests that willpower -- housed in our pre-frontal lobe -- is not a limitless resource. We now understand that decision fatigue sets in over time, and we eventually give in. When we find ourselves in a food trance, staring down our favorite indulgence becomes a hopeless fight. Simply stated, willpower is horribly over-rated.
So how does success happen?
Everything I’ve seen from our successful members clearly shows that losing weight and learning to keep it off requires a combination of all of the following:
- Becoming more mindful of what we eat. Research has shown that keeping a food diary is remarkably effective in helping us tackle issues related to 200 daily food decisions.
- Learning to make food tradeoffs we can live with. Deprivation always fails us. There is only so much misery we can bear. However, if we start choosing foods that taste great, are naturally filling, and provide bulk, we can better avoid the misery.
- Taking accountability and control when we feel out of control by employing tools that give us a way to avoid being a victim to our food environment.
- Learning to rebuild our personal food environment, at home, in the office, in our cars etc., we can create a place where we avoid temptation.
- Recognizing that the best kind of willpower is the discipline to have a plan before we enter a scary food situation.
- Recognizing that simple, easy to do routines can help to make healthy behavior second nature. Boiling the ocean never works. However, implementing a few small changes at a time can have a profound multiplier effect on our other behaviors.
Welcome to Your Future: Introducing Weight Watchers 360°
I think you know where this is going: We’ve created a new program that uses the game-changing knowledge mentioned above. For me, this new program represents one of the most important steps into the future that Weight Watchers has ever taken.
It’s time for Weight Watchers to provide a simple, engaging program that builds upon the tremendous impact of our PointsPlus® system (introduced two years ago) to help people systematically rebuild their food and activity environment (No, we didn’t change the formula, and no, you don’t have to buy new books!). We’ve reached beyond PointsPlus and given our members tools that can help them create small, but deceptively powerful healthy habits. Said differently, the Weight Watchers 360° program is about:
Tracking (PointsPlus): making the smart food/activity choice
- Spaces: making those choices easy
- Routines: making those choices second nature
Weight Watchers 360° is designed to allow our members to systematically, yet simply, find the healthy lifestyle that will help them not just lose the weight, but learn to keep it off. This program pushes Weight Watchers and its members into places where we have never been. It takes the suggested and makes it explicit. It shines a light on what needs to be done without being overwhelming.
Having a fantastic new program is not enough.
In creating Weight Watchers 360°, we looked for every way imaginable to make it livable, compelling and fun.
To this end, we are supporting the launch of Weight Watchers 360° with a full assortment of tools ranging from a completely new weekly topic curriculum to a refreshed website, and for our subscribers, a full battery of mobile tools and apps and our new ActiveLink™ integrated activity experience.
All this technology and all these learning tools are incredibly important, but the program becomes truly spectacular when we combine it with the experience that has made Weight Watchers work for so many people in the last 50 years: the Weight Watchers meeting. When we go through the process of losing weight with others we are so much more likely to succeed.
The meeting becomes the force that helps us to stay accountable, creates a ritual of success and gives us the support and sense of belief we need to stick with it and thrive. As a collective group we are much stronger than any of us could ever be on our own.
Weight Watchers is turning 50 in 2013. For half a century, we have been on the ground helping people change their lives, one member at a time. We’ve seen successes and we’ve seen struggles. We know them all too well because we’ve experienced them ourselves. Our members’ struggles and victories are our struggles and victories. While our inherent human nature often causes us to trip and fall, the most compelling aspect of our nature is that we are so much stronger than we know. We have learned much over these 50 years, and we now bring all of that learning and experience together to create the program that is perfectly designed for human nature.
Weight Watchers 360° — designed for human nature. Built to harness our strength, and to recognize our vulnerabilities. Through it comes the possibility that we can tackle this issue once and for all. For too long, we’ve been set up to expect disappointment. Now, we can expect amazing.
Welcome to the next 50 years.