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Saturday
Dec102011

Day Eight: Behavior Change and Weight Watchers

This week Weight Watchers rolled out their new plan: Points Plus 2012. Last year at about this time they started the Points Plus program, which was the first major change to the plan in close to a decade. Now with a year of research under their belts, WW has decided to modify the plan to help members become more successful. I find sort of a sick pleasure in seeing middle aged women FLIP OUT because their routine is being changed. This morning at my meeting I feel like an anthropologist studying some remote tribe…not a chunky girl who was hanging out with a bunch of suburban soccer moms.

I joined Weight Watchers 15 months ago, and honestly it has changed my life. We were doing a project with one of the biggest food producers in the country (and probably the world) and they were trying to find ways to prevent obesity. We followed a typical innovation research process by doing contextual research, shop-alongs, and in-depth interviews. We also decided to have a couple of employees audit popular services that were known for behavior change. I was asked to audit Weight Watchers and report back to the team.

Weight Watcher has helped me create a framework for behavior change by introducing a number of tools to help manage my physical and emotional needs. This is how the plan works:

You get a personalized daily point target- this is the number of points you can eat in a day and lose weight. The number is based on your age, height, weight, and gender.

Every food has a point value- this number is a mysterious formula that is based on the fat, carbs, fiber, and protein in each food you eat.

Everyone gets an extra 49 points to use through the week- this is supposed to make the plan feel more livable and help members avoid feeling deprived.

You can earn activity points- workout, get points. The points are calculated based on the time and intensity of the workout. You can then choose to eat those points if you want to.

You are strongly encouraged to track- that means everything you eat or drink and all of your activity. There are lots of digital and analog tools provided to assist with tracking.

You attend weekly meetings (and can participate on message boards online)- this helps you stay motivated and realize that you are not alone. Also, when you attend in person meetings you are weighed in and your weight is tracked each week. This act of weighing in keeps you accountable.

Last year when points plus launched, Weight Watchers introduced a lot of changes all at the same time. The scale for the daily points target changed drastically, as did the formula used for calculating the points value of foods. WW also introduced free fruits and vegetables which meant that most fruits and veggies didn’t have points. Points Plus also raised the weekly points from 35 to 49 points per week. This was a whole lot of change to lay on people (especially 2 weeks before Christmas).

This year Weight Watchers has decided to slow their role and introduce small changes one week at a time. This week we learned that the daily points target is now variable. Each member can choose to increase or decrease their points target by 3 points each day. Everyone in my meeting was fairly calm about this change, especially compared to the crazy bitching that happened last year. Honestly, I was throwing more of a fit than anyone else in the room. I understand that this change is supposed to make the plan more flexible giving lifelong behavior change a shot, but I am worried that this level of variability will muddy the water. My personal weight loss journey has been super inconsistent. I will frequently lose 6 pounds one week and gain 3 the next. For me I know that as long as the overall trend is going down then I am fine, but almost every Saturday morning I talk to a member who is ready to jump off a cliff because they gained .2 pounds. Here is my weight loss tracker for the year (not a seismograph of the great New England earthquake of 2011).

 

I honestly think most of the people in my meeting will lose weight this week. I think any change makes you a lot more diligent. Last year everyone had gotten lazy by this point in the year and the introduction of new points values meant that everyone had to start from scratch and re-learn a new system. This meant no more relying on memory and half-ass measuring. It meant getting down to business and really tracking everything. Obviously a heightened sensitivity leads to better results.

So how did I end up in weight watchers…other than being a hired spy of course?

My whole family is on the chubby side. I managed to stay in a pretty normal weight range until high school because I was a three season athlete, until I separated my shoulder playing volleyball and then shattered my collarbone playing fast-pitch softball. I had never really learned how to cope with stress without hitting balls, and had always been able to eat whatever I wanted because I was always in training for something. I gained 20 pounds during the last two years of high school, and another 20 pounds in college. I maintained as slightly plump until I started working at Continuum. I was under so much stress and traveling so much that I ended up gaining 50 pounds in less than a year. The crazy thing was, I was too busy to even notice that I was slowly killing myself. It wasn’t until I went to Weight Watchers for work that I realized how out of control my weight had gotten. Three months later I quit my job at Continuum because it became clear that I was never going to be able to put myself and my health first while working 80-100 hour weeks.

After that first week of Weight Watchers I was in it to win it. I have made amazing behavior changes in the last 15 months. I have learned how to identify my triggers (stress) and have developed techniques for getting through stressful situations.

Zimmerman, Olsen, & Bosworth created what they call The Change Model. I have added some sas to their model.  

 

Have you ever tried any major behavior change like quitting smoking, increasing exercise, abstaining from alcohol or losing weight? How did it go? Did your journey follow The Change Model? Did you ever experience any relapse? How did you bounce back?

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