Monday, January 22, 2018

Battling the Bulge Part 2 - #Freestyling Food by Leah St. James

In my earlier post this month, I shared my favorite fitness routines for those who might be looking for some ideas on adding activity to their days. (Getting in shape is the No. 1 New Year’s resolution this year after all!) Now it’s time to talk about one of my favorite things: food.

I love to eat. I always have. I’m one of those people who thinks about what I’ll have for dinner while I’m eating lunch. Over the course of my life, much of which was spent overweight, I’ve come to realize that food is my drug of choice. I eat when I’m happy, when I’m bored, but most of all, when I’m stressed. (I keep a bag of raw veggies at my desk for obvious reasons.) 

When I finally lost weight back in 2008, it wasn’t so much beating that addiction, but learning to live with it to maintain a healthier weight. Then I got lazy and over time gained back about 15 pounds. So back on Weight Watchers I went in November, and I’d like to share my experiences with the program and its new “Freestyle” plan.

Disclaimer: I am not a nutritionist or in any way trained or expert in nutrition. These opinions and observations are mine alone, based only on my personal experiences.

Basics: Weight Watchers uses a system of points for accounting for the food you eat. Food points are a combination of calories, fat, proteins, carbohydrates and who knows what else. Certain foods (most fruits and vegetables, certain lean meats) are zero points, which encourage users to make those healthier food choices.

The program also counts activity points which, from what I can tell, are loosely based on the length of the activity and the intensity of the workout.

Each day you get x-number of points to spend/eat. You also get 35 extra points for the week which you can spend over the course of the week, or all in one day if you’d like. (Although I have to say, that would be one whopping day of eating.) Your activity points are factored in as well, so the more you work out, the more you can eat. (I like that part of it!) Also, Weight Watchers lets you count things like vacuuming and mopping floors as activity. (Not that I enjoy housework, but at least you get credit for it!)

Recently, Weight Watchers introduced its Freestyle plan, which increased the number of zero-point foods, including almost all fruits and vegetables (although alas no potatoes or sweet potatoes), chicken breast, turkey breast, eggs (yes, whole eggs), beans and more. At the same time, daily points limits were reduced to balance out the change.

I’ve been on the plan (pre-Freestyle and Freestyle) for about three months and have had some success. Here are my observations:

What I like:
I love the zero points on vegetables and chicken/turkey breast. That means if I eat a grilled chicken breast and some steamed veggies for dinner (no bread or potatoes), that’s ZERO POINTS. That means I can have a small dish of frozen yogurt for dessert and maybe a snack a bit later in the evening! And that makes me happy. 

I love the Weight Watchers website. I can create my own recipes and play around with the ingredients to make the per-serving points workable for me. The mobile app has a scanner that allows you to simply scan a bar code while you’re shopping to find out the points values of that food! Very cool. So if I’m looking at two brands of bread and want to buy the one that’s lower points, it’s quick and easy.

This was my dinner a few days ago -- homemade turkey meatballs (made with 98% lean ground turkey breast), a small scoop of spaghetti with sauce and steamed broccoli. It was pretty yummy, if I do say so! (Eating "healthy" can be a challenge when you're married to a meat-and-potatoes guy like I am. I just have to make it work for me.)

I like that I can track my food in advance to get the day’s total and figure out what changes I might want to make before I actually eat the food. It’s a huge help with social events or dinners out. And you don’t have to count zero-point foods, so the new Freestyle plan means spending less time tracking food.

I like the points system. I have tried My Fitness Pal in the past, which is a really good option if you prefer a free site, but you have to watch calories, carbs, fats, etc., for each food. It’s too much for me. Weight Watchers does the calculations for me. (I don’t need added stress while I’m trying to lose weight!)             

What I’m cautionary about:
"Free" fruits. As much as I love that I can eat fruit all day “for free,” I have a son who’s diabetic, and I know how much sugars are in fruits. I also so know that sugars are not great for us. They serve a purpose in overall nutrition, but too much is...too much. I love fruit, but I limit myself to one or two pieces of fruit a day. (When I first went on Weight Watchers back in 2008, fruits were not free.)

Tips to make it work for you:
One word: Planning.
Seriously, you can eat anything you want on Weight Watchers, but you have to plan for it and account for it. It does take effort, but for me that’s a good thing. Mindless eating is a perfect path to weight gain for me, especially because I use food as an emotional crutch. Weight Watchers forces me to pay attention to what I’m eating and to be purposeful about my choices. I won’t stay on the program forever – mostly because I’m cheap and don’t want to pay forever – but I hope by then I’ll have retrained myself to make better choices.

If you’re battling your bulges and are considering Weight Watchers, I hope this helps give you an idea about the program and whether it might work for you. 

If you have a favorite program or system to track what you eat, we'd love to hear about it! I'm always looking for new ideas.


Leah writes stories of mystery and romance, good and evil and the power of love. As you might guess, her food addiction finds its way into much of her writing, and she often eats vicariously through her characters, many of whom don’t have to Battle the Bulge. Lucky stiffs. 

Learn more at Her days to blog here are the 6th and 22nd each month.


Unknown said...

Interesting Leah! I myself am working to get rid of 15 pounds but using a different method. Most of those pounds came on last summer when I had (but didn't realize) reflux and was putting anything in my mouth to ease the discomfort. 10 pounds later here I am; reflux is under control and it's time to lose the weight.

EXERCISE: I read your exercise column and I will tell you that my #2 yearly expense (after LTC insurance) is my gym and personal trainer. I have a nice gym setup at home which I rarely use; as you pointed out, getting off the couch is the problem. I do drive to the gym 3 times a week, and once there, my trainer works me hard. I plank, push the prowler, lift weights, do lots of stability and balance exercises and to strengthen my knees: step ups (which I hate). I should mention that I have a trike that I ride in the summer and a rowing machine for winter exercise at home that I seldom use.

My trainer was a physical therapist before he was a trainer so the most important thing he's done is keep me from getting hurt while getting me fit; which at 75 is very important. My gym, 11 Athletics is not one of those glamor gyms, there are many professional and college athletes that work out here. I notice your articles include pricing. I traveled over 90 days last year and still spent about $3000 on membership and training. Like I said, it's my #2 budgeted expense.
EATING CHANGES: I don't want to say diet as I don't want to diet; however I am making eating changes. Recently an article on the national news [When did the news quit being news and instead became a social media, "here's something interesting you want to hear about..." faucet; ah, but that's a different rant.] prompted me to look into various types of fasting. A very good BBC program (from 2011 but still relevant) is Eat, Fast & Live Longer. Even if you don't think you want to fast, you might check it out. IMHO, the trick of fasting is that it gives your system time to empty out your digestive track and allows the opportunity to burn fat; however, the scientists also talk about changes in blood chemistry and even in the brain.

Fasting comes in many forms; there's the 2:5, alternate day, the 8:16, intermittent. It's all about when do you eat and when do you fast. My husband has decided to do the 2:5; he eats normal food 5 days a week and choses 2 days to eat only 600 calories (most of which end up as milk in his coffee). That doesn't appeal to me so every day I eat during an 8-hour period and have liquids for the next 16 hours. I'm a 2-Cappuccino every morning type of girl so I started off eating between 8am and 4pm but that doesn't work for our life style as dinner is at 7pm. So I am sitting here this morning with black coffee and won't eat until noon. We've committed to do this for a three month period. My husband, of course, has already lost 5 pounds. My scale is the same but my waist size is down 1.5 inches. Go figure!

Dana Grubbe used to work with Leah in NJ when she was a computer engineer. She is now an artist working in encaustics, encaustic monotypes, and oil and cold wax as seen on her blog.

Brenda Whiteside said...

Good educational post, Leah. Weight is a battle for so many of us who spend most of our time sitting at a computer. But then, in this day and age that is a common practice. Fast food, out and at home, is a spoiler. Getting back to good eating habits and exercise is hard but is the key. Thanks!

Jannine Gallant said...

Sounds like you found a system that works for you, Leah. I'm too cheap to pay to lose weight. I've been trying to eat less since I already eat healthy (except for ice cream). I've noticed post menopause, that my metabolism seems to adjust every time I cut back. Pretty soon I put back on the few pounds I lose despite the new regimen. It's making me crazy. It's like my body WANTS to be 20 pounds heavier. I've never had a weight problem, so this new phase in my life is not making me happy. I can literally eat whatever I want and maintain this weight or eat a slimmed-down version and maintain this weight. I'm starting to wonder why I should even bother to try...

Rolynn Anderson said...

Jannine makes the point that drives me batty, too. No matter what I do, when I get on the scale, I weigh the same amount. My body has a gauge of its own...homeostasis writ large. As I said, years ago I whittled off 20 pounds that sneaked themselves in somehow...and I've kept those off, but can I lose the 'extra' 10. NO. I haven't tried the fasting...but I definitely do the 16 hour-no-food thing. Will my new stand-up desk help? Homeostasis says NO. Hard to admit, but I think we have to eat healthily, exercise and love the body we are with.

Andrea Downing said...

Been fighting the battle of the bulge all my life and am now heavier than ever. Going to try Nutrisystem. I haven't got time to think about points I'm afraid, though it does look interesting. If I could just eat eggs, turkey, chicken and veg and fruit I'd be happy. Oh! that IS what I generally eat. Must be the wine that goes with it . . . .

Alison Henderson said...

I've never tried Weight Watchers. It always seemed a bit complicated for me. I ultimately lost my extra poundage following a very simple diet called Volumetrics. Basically, it's the same idea. You increase the number and size of your vegetable portions, which fills you up so you don't crave the bad stuff as much. I added more vegetarian recipes to my repertoire, and it soon became the norm. Neither OG nor I have regained any significant weight in the past decade.

Leah St. James said...

Wow, Dana....thanks for the great information! I've thought about fasting before but the thought of not eating (chewing) has always turned me off. I've also never tried smoothies. I know some people who swear by both though! (You made me laugh with your comment about your husband drinking his calories as milk in his coffee!) :-) Thanks so much for stopping by and sharing your process.

Leah St. James said...

Brenda - you're right. Staying active and healthy eating are key (at least for me), and that's my overall goal. Right now I need to do this extra work to get back to where I feel best.

Leah St. James said...

Jannine, I'll try not to hate you for never having to worry about weight gain. :-) I think hormone changes do play a major role in how we metabolize what we eat. For whatever reason, I had more success after I hit my 50s. Maybe because my kids were basically grown and I had time to think about what I put in my mouth! (Excuses....excuses...) In any event, I think you look lovely as you are, although I know it must be annoying from your perspective. If I could eat whatever I wanted and stay within 20 pounds, I think I'd go for it! :-)

Leah St. James said...

I tried losing 10 pounds about five years ago, Rolynn, and Weight Watchers didn't do it for me at all. I think at that point they had made fruits "zero" and I went crazy eating fruit all day. In fact, I think I actually gained weight on that WW program. I ended up using My Fitness Pal and losing a few pounds, but that program didn't work for me this time around. Maybe my body wants to be shocked into something new. I don't know. But you are right that we need to love the bodies we have, even if we want to make changes. :-)

Leah St. James said...

My husband lost about 65 pounds on Nutrisystem, Andi. It's exactly like you said -- he has no patience for counting points or measuring food. I can't say he loved the food they sent, but he stuck with it long enough for it to work. He's managed to keep most of it off too. Good luck with it whenever you decide to give it a try!

Leah St. James said...

Weight Watchers does take effort, Alison. I hate weighing/measuring food and confess to eyeballing it more than I should. I've never heard of Volumetrics but I'm going to check it out!

Diane Burton said...

I've always had a weight problem. Like you, Leah, food is my drug of choice. Many, many years ago, I tried the Adkins diet. Wow. I got down to a dress size 11 (the smallest I've ever been) and I looked great. But Adkins (back then) was not a balanced diet. I've used Weight Watchers many times. I lose weight when I work at it. I gain when I don't. I'm not good at planning meals. I know how, I just don't like doing it and procrastinate. Then we eat convenience foods or go out to dinner--where portion sizes are double what they should be. Consequently, I'm the heaviest I've ever been. I'm not sure what it will take to motivate me to work at eating a healthy diet.

Leah St. James said...

Diane - I went on Atkins years ago, too. I lost something like 25 pounds quickly, and gained it back as soon as I started eating carbs. I've never checked out the program since. (It was too depressing.) I understand exactly what you mean about convenience foods and portion sizes. I'd gotten into those same habits over the past couple of years, and I'm sure that's the main reason I did gain weight. The thing that motivates me is the thought of having to buy new and bigger clothes. But if I'm in a place in my head where I'm not ready, no program is going to work.

Vonnie Davis said...

I'm late. So sorry. The flu has had me in it's claws for days. today I didn't get out of bed until noon and crawled back in around 3, running another temperature, coughing up my sixth lung, and trembling all over. This is an excellent post for those with the persistence to lose weight, which means changing one's lifestyle.

Leah St. James said...

Oh, Vonnie - that's just awful. I hope you feel better soon! Take care of yourself, please.

Alicia Dean said...

Ugh, I'm very late! Great post, Leah. Thank you for all the detailed info. I know Weight Watchers works fabulously. I have close friends who have been successful. But, like others, the point counting is just a bit intimidating and troublesome, although I've been told several times it's very easy 'once you get used to it' but I don't think I'm patient enough to get used to it. I MUST do something, though. I don't eat healthy and get NO exercise. Even if I don't use weight watchers, your post inspired me to do SOMETHING. :) Thanks!

Leah St. James said...

Ally, I can only say that it's a struggle for me every day. At work we constantly have food available -- and not healthy food. I have to bring enough snacks to stave off all the temptation. Plus my job is mostly sedentary. (If only I could get fitness points for answering the blasted phone calls.) But as hard as it is, I do feel significantly better when I'm able to maintain in a certain range. I have less pain climbing stairs, and don't lose my breath bending over to tie my shoes. That's what motivates me. I wish you much success with whatever you decide to do, whenever you make that decision.


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