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What's been going on with Weight Watchers - Bartender Geek [entries|archive|friends|userinfo]
Xiphias Gladius

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What's been going on with Weight Watchers [Feb. 13th, 2016|02:02 pm]
Xiphias Gladius
I guess I'll cut tag this, because a lot of people Just Don't Want To Hear About It, about weight loss. But I'm hoping that what I'm going to be saying won't be as problematic as one might think. I hope.
Three months ago, Weight Watchers was based on the best nutritional science of 1963. Oh, in the fifty-some years since, they've made some tweaks here and there, but the basic concepts have been pretty stable. You get a certain number of points per day, depending on your weight and sex. A "point" is forty calories. And there you go.

It was based on the idea that if energy consumed is greater than energy expended, your body stores the excess as fat, and you gain fat, and if energy consumed is less than energy expended, your body uses the energy stored as fat, and you lose fat.

And in defense of this idea, it's not, y'know, completely wrong, exactly.

But, yeah. That was what we knew fifty years ago. And, up until December of last year, that's what Weight Watchers worked on.

During the first week of December, Weight Watchers jumped forward a half-century. And they're still tweaking things, but they're tweaking things based on what we NOW know about nutrition.

Superficially, much of it is the same. You've got a number of points per day, and different foods "cost" different numbers of points, and you budget your food. You can still eat whatever you want, but you have to plan it out a lot more.

And, well... forty calories per point? No. Not so much any more. Now, you look at the food in terms of its complex carbohydrates, sugar, unsaturated fat, saturated fat, and protein.

It's not looking at the CALORIES in your food any more. It's looking at WHAT you eat.

Oh, sure, in a sense, "what you eat" includes "how much you eat", and overeating and undereating do have effects on your health, but different things have effects.

I calculated it out. "Normal" fats, and "normal" carbohydrates are about 33 calories per point. Saturated fats and sugar are about 16 calories per point.

And protein? Protein is 200 calories per point.

These calculations are still simplistic, of course. There are different kinds of saturated fats, for instance. The saturated fat in coconut oil is healthier than the saturated fat in lard, and the Weight Watchers calculations won't pick this up. Agave nectar is probably somewhat healthier than refined white table sugar, and Weight Watchers treats them exactly the same.

So, yeah. It's simplified, and misses nuances. Because it's got to be simple enough for people to actually be able to use. And I think it's got a good balance of being simple enough to use and actually matching reality.

So, that's the first part, the nutrition part. But Weight Watchers is now ALSO working on physical activity. Besides tracking your nutrition, tracking your activity is now also part of the plan. Getting a FitBit or other fitness monitor isn't strictly necessary -- but it sure helps.

It's still POSSIBLE to use the Weight Watchers system with pencil and paper. But it's not easy. In order to use the current Weight Watchers system, you really want a smartphone, web browser, and a Fitbit or Jawbone or whatever. Your daily activity, as tracked by your fitness device gives you FitPoints. When you deliberately work out, you manually add in your workout as well for more FitPoints. And then, after you get a reasonable number of FitPoints, what you can eat per day goes up.

A person who's training for a marathon ought to be eating more than a person who's mostly sedentary -- and Weight Watchers didn't always acknowledge that particularly well.

And the third thing?

Emotional health.

This isn't tracked as much as the first two, and they haven't REALLY nailed down good ways to completely incorporate it -- it's a lot easier to track what you eat and how you move than your emotions. But it's something we talk about a lot, and it's important. I wouldn't be surprised if, as things go forward, they work out ways to track happiness and satisfaction, and try to work out ways to create measurable goals for THAT, too.

And there's a lot of support for building a community, as well. So social health is also a part of what they're working on.

I've heard that some commercials that Oprah Winfrey has done on behalf of WW have been really upsetting to some of my friends. And that she's really putting out less-than-helpful messages.

And I wanted to see if I can't counter that, and talk a little bit about how this is going. Because what Lis and I are doing feels completely consistent with how I think about health and happiness. And I just wanted to let people know that.

[User Picture]From: chanaleh
2016-02-13 07:22 pm (UTC)
Yay for all of this.

But I do have one question:

The saturated fat in coconut oil is healthier than the saturated fat in lard,

Healthier how exactly? (I ask this in the Good Calories, Bad Calories context of "saturated fat is actually much better for you than has been promulgated for the last 50 years", because I'm curious what difference you understand between the two.)
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[User Picture]From: xiphias
2016-02-13 08:02 pm (UTC)
No idea. When I look up online "healthy" recipes, they often say that coconut oil is healthier. I mean, sure, it could be completely wrong, and I certainly have no idea what the difference is. Just that everyone says there is one.
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[User Picture]From: browngirl
2016-02-13 11:09 pm (UTC)
This is useful information. Thank you.
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[User Picture]From: cellio
2016-02-15 12:02 am (UTC)
Thanks for sharing this. I knew they were changing some things but didn't know any details.
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From: idhren24
2016-02-19 07:31 pm (UTC)
I wonder how long it will take them to incorporate that WHEN you eat also matters — there's a circadian rhythm to glucose tolerance, so the same exact meal eaten by the same person will result in different levels of blood sugar, insulin release, and insulin sensitivity depending on whether that meal was eaten during the person's biological morning vs evening. (This is part of why night shift work is a major risk factor for diabetes and weight gain - meal timing is out of alignment with when your innards expect you will be eating vs sleeping, and the general state of circadian misalignment reduces the amplitude of your metabolic rhythms to boot.)

Or another way to put it: how your body will break down and store vs make immediate use of those fats, proteins, sugars, & nutrients will vary by biological time of day even after accounting for physical activity level and all the other usual confounders. So if you're trying to 'watch' how what you eat will impact your weight, when you eat is like a slight multiplier or divider for every meal depending on the timing, with measurable impact over weeks. (Biological morning -> more immediate burning, less storing vs. eating later in one's biological day.)

/yearns for fitbit equivalent for circadian rhythms - some easy way to measure when it is in one's biological time without having to repeatedly sample salivary or plasma melatonin levels or internal temperature. Most people's biological time stays at a consistent phase within an hour or two relative to local clock time if they aren't jetlagged or on night shift, but that can still mean 9am for one person can be biologically like being a time zone away in one direction (~10am), and for another is like being two (or even three) time zones away in the other direction (~7am or ~6am).

Jakubowicz, Daniela, Maayan Barnea, Julio Wainstein, and Oren Froy. "High caloric intake at breakfast vs. dinner differentially influences weight loss of overweight and obese women." Obesity 21, no. 12 (2013): 2504-2512.

Morris, Christopher J., Jessica N. Yang, Joanna I. Garcia, Samantha Myers, Isadora Bozzi, Wei Wang, Orfeu M. Buxton, Steven A. Shea, and Frank AJL Scheer. "Endogenous circadian system and circadian misalignment impact glucose tolerance via separate mechanisms in humans." Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 112, no. 17 (2015): E2225-E2234.
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[User Picture]From: xiphias
2016-02-21 01:28 pm (UTC)
It's definitely true. We know that sleeping enough, and sleeping to an appropriate schedule both help weight loss, even when you're eating the same number of calories. We know that "front-loading" calories in your day tends to be healthier.

I would be surprised, though, if these things were added to the WW plan, because they have to simplify everything enough to make it easy for people to follow. The more accurate your model of a complex system is, the more complex it is, and the harder it is to use. So for a mass-market system, you have to leave out important parts to keep it simple enough to be usable for an average person.

I could see making sure that WW leaders and coaches know this stuff, so that if someone is having trouble reaching their goals, the leaders and coaches could give them other suggestions like this to add in.
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[User Picture]From: xiphias
2016-02-24 12:58 am (UTC)
For us, we ended up saving money -- but that's because we were eating out so much, which I bet you aren't, and also, because I have a good amount of free time to go around from store to store finding various ingredients and cooking things that take longer, which may be different for you, too...
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