Monday, December 31, 2018

My Relationship With Food

My Relationship With Food

How I Integrate WW Into My Life

Updated 2018.12.14

Introduction

This writing represents my individual experience struggling with weight and food, and how I implemented WW (formerly called Weight Watchers). Everyone will have a different experience, and my story should not be viewed a definitive guide. I am hopeful that my experience may be helpful to others on their journey.

I have no affiliation with WW other than as a customer. WW, SmartPoints and FitPoints are registered trademarks of WW International, Inc.

In addition to this site, I post on WW Connect @twisesq.

Key Points

  1. WW is the only diet that has worked for me. Eating within my point range is all I need to do to achieve and maintain my goal weight.
  2. Weight loss through managing food intake is vastly more effective and efficient than attempting to do the same through exercise.
  3. WW is about improving healthy habits over time. An occasional lapse, binge day, or strategic break from tracking will not reverse a weight loss trend.
  4. In case of a lapse, resume the WW plan immediately. Never punish.
  5. Be strategic with eating and exercise: Pre-track food especially when eating out; have easy access to low-point foods; enjoy lean proteins; focus on high benefit exercises like strength training and high intensity interval training.

Hitting Rock Bottom

I have an abusive relationship with food. I use food to punish myself. I use food to sabotage my happiness. This abuse led to body dysmorphia. Through much of my adult life, I experienced a pervasive anxiety about food, and extreme unhappiness about how my body looked. I was frustrated with my inability to control binge eating. I was frustrated with my inability to "just lose a few pounds." I was embarrassed about how I looked in photos, even if others did not perceive me as overweight.
I knew that my relationship with food was causing my anguish. But I could not control my eating, and therefore the resulting horrible feelings.
For most of my adult life, I have wanted to lose weight. Not a lot of weight, just ten to twenty pounds. I realize this is tiny by WW standards, and that most people on WW are struggling with much more weight, even 10x that. But I also know a lot of people who would just like to lose a few pounds, and develop healthier relationships with their body, food, and fitness. I have learned that WW can help a full spectrum of people who want to lose weight and be healthier.

Cycling Through Diets

I have cycled through many diets, fitness programs, nutritionists, trainers, 12 step programs, diet books, and therapy, trying to find a way to just lose a few pounds. I thought a few-pound start might give me the encouragement to lose more weight, and keep the weight off. Most of the time I would stick with a plan for a few weeks, with poor results. Other times I gave up after a few days and quickly went onto the next attempt. Fitbit, Atkins, P90X, CICO, OMAD, Intermittent Fasting, weight lifting, cardio, ketogenic, paleo, I have tried them all many times. A few times I have had significant success, but I was not able to successfully shift from the diet phase to a maintenance phase, and quickly regained all the weight I lost.

Abstainer vs. Moderator

Gretchen Rubin taught me that I am an abstainer. When I see a box of cookies, I have a binary choice of eating either no cookies, or bingeing on the entire box. In contrast, moderators can have a few cookies and walk away from the rest. I know this is also true of alcohol and drugs, not just sweets. I am an abstainer (all or nothing), not a moderator. Knowing this has helped me to have the power to walk away from temptations (sometimes).

Binge Eating Disorder

I have binge eating disorder, which has been a large aspect of my relationship with food. I have found myself in the snack room at work stuffing myself with cookies, candy, peanut butter cups ... without even caring what they tasted like. Or in the parking lot at the grocery store hiding in my car eating an entire box of cookies. Girl Scout Cookies represent a nearly insurmountable challenge, and every year after the boxes of cookies were distributed I would find myself eating an entire box in one sitting. I have often eaten a filling dinner, and then gone through the fast food drive-through for a second dinner, even though I was not hungry.
When I binge eat, I feel a loss of control, unable to physically stop myself. Through therapy, I learned I have had an addiction to sugar since I was a child. Although therapy was helpful in surfacing and discovering my issues with binge eating and sugar addiction, I lacked the tools I needed to overcome those challenges and successfully lose weight. I continued to suffer through the physical and mental effects of blood sugar highs even though I knew exactly what caused them.
WW provides me with a mechanism (SmartPoints) to quantify my eating and hold myself accountable. SmartPoints act as a motivation to avoid bingeing, and teach me what foods I can eat when I am hungry. But I still struggle and have binge eating days. I am working on learning what triggers me to binge eat, and develop skills and tools to avoid bingeing when I am triggered.

Enough Is Enough

I realized that my weight had hit an all-time high, that my fasting glucose levels were edging towards a diabetes diagnosis, and that my anxiety about food and weight was occupying all of my waking hours. None of the numerous diet programs and other attempts at a solution were working. I turned to WW.

Attempts At WW

Attempt 1: Five Days to Failure

In 2016, I tried WW for the first time. I lasted five days. On the fifth day, I exceeded my points for the week, got discouraged at my failure, and cancelled my membership. I later learned that this type of “all or nothing” view of diets never leads to success: The goal is not 100% compliance; the goal is progress.

Attempt 2: Achieving Goal, Failing Maintenance

A year later, in March 2017, having reached an all-time high weight, I gave WW another try. Mostly out of desperation to find a program that would work for me. I was attracted to the gamification of weight loss (daily points! weekly points! points to earn from fitness and spend on food!), integration with my FitBit, and the prospect of eventually using the more lenient Simply Filling plan (now discontinued) to achieve a successful transition from weight loss to weight management. I was hopeful that the points system would help curb my bingeing and sugar addiction.
WW taught me how to lose weight, still eat good quality and tasting food, and achieve my fitness goals. My first month I lost 10 pounds, my clothes got looser, my belt needed to be tightened another notch, and I could see the change in the mirror. And although I had a few bingeing episodes, I ate much less sugar, junk food, and fat than I had been before. By my second month, my total cholesterol had declined to a significantly healthier level than I was able to achieve with prescription statins. I managed to lose twenty-five pounds and came within one pound of my goal weight. Then I sabotaged my success.
By July 2017, I relapsed. I had nearly achieved my weight goal, but my old habits crept back. I felt the points system to be too restrictive. By December 2017, I had regained all the weight I lost, plus more.

Attempt 3: Work In Progress

By March 2018, I set a new weight high. I realized once again that sugar was the key part of my problem, and tried various attempts at low-sugar diets (including Keto), with limited success.
By August 2018, I returned to WW. I was exactly the weight when I started WW the first time in March 2017. This round took a bit longer for me to reach goal (which I achieved in November 2018, losing 32 pounds), but I eventually made it and entered the six-week maintenance window. I credit the Freestyle food plan, which was introduced for 2018, as helping me stick with WW and not feel that SmartPoints was too restrictive.

Implementation Tips & Hacks

Choice of Plan

I have used both the Online and Workshops plans. Access to the mobile app and website has been most valuable to me, meetings have been of limited use to me, but each person has a different experience. The meetings I attend are at my workplace, which is convenient and fosters a safe and trusting environment.
I set my goal weight based on the mid-point of the healthy BMI range for my height.

Eating

I try to be strategic about eating. Viewing eating as an opportunity to further my progress to my goals helps me keep a positive relationship with food and not resent the program I am on. Sticking to meal routines (same food for most breakfasts/lunches) reduces opportunities for slipping up.
I rely a lot on Freestyle foods. Especially chicken breast, eggs, fish, and beans. I typically eat 2-3 servings of fruit a day, and as many servings of vegetables as I can. I developed some go-to meals that are healthy, low(er) in points, and reliable foods for me to seek out when I am hungry or eating out: Freestyle foods; eggs and egg whites for breakfast (or any meal); salads with black beans and soybeans, apples, bananas, berries for snacks; Subway chopped chicken salads with mustard for dressing (1 point!); Starbucks Reduced-Fat Turkey Bacon & Cage Free Egg White Sandwich (5 points); tom yum chicken soup at Thai restaurants (2 points per cup); sashimi or tofu stew at Japanese restaurants; tofu kimchi soup at Korean restaurants; and poke bowls without dressing.
I have been a long-time heavy drinker of diet soda (2-3 cans a day). I know it was not great for me due to artificial ingredients and the possible link between artificial sweeteners and metabolic disorder due to insulin sensitivity. When I started WW I decided to continue drinking diet sodas. I felt making too many changes to my food routines all at once might cause me to fail in my goals. Once I achieved my goal weight, I made reducing my intake of diet soda a priority.

Tracking

I use the app and website religiously for tracking. I track all my food, including 0-point food. If I have a binge day, I track the binge. Having data is helpful to keep me motivated and learn about what foods are good and bad for me.
I do not eat anything without knowing in advance what its points value is. Particularly the first month when I was still learning what foods had high vs. low points, I research all foods before eating. Otherwise it is easy to eat an entire days worth of points in one meal by accidentally picking high-point foods.
I pretrack meals when I know I will be dining out. I scour the restaurant's menu in advance and pick out my meal, enter it into the app, to budget points, make sure I stick to healthy options, and stay within my points budget for the day. Pretracking prevents point overages as it establishes rules for future meals, especially when eating at restaurants.
I use Favorites to store frequent foods and custom meals to make tracking easier.
There are a few foods I do not track: I run and cycle a lot, so I do not track foods or drinks consumed during an endurance (>1 hour) run or ride (e.g., GU gels, electrolytes), in the recovery area following a race, and one protein shake following event. I do not track sugar-free Metamucil fiber, to encourage me to consume fiber supplements.

Points

I use the setting for eating my weeklies but not my FitPoints. I eat all my dailies, use my weeklies for overages / special occasions, and I do not eat any of my FitPoints. On average, I eat all of my daily and some or all of my weekly points, and none of my FitPoints.
Blue dots on the app's calendar signify days when I ate within a healthy range of daily points. My goal is as many blue dots as possible. If I do not get a blue-dot day, I do a postmortem on what happened and try to learn from that.

Weighing

My weigh-in day is Monday. I weigh myself every day, and on Mondays I record in WW the average weight of the preceding seven days. This makes my weigh-in more representative of the past week, and less prone to fluctuations due to water retention, etc.

Exercise

I connected my Fitbit (and later my Garmin watch) to track FitPoints. I walk, run, bike, and swim a lot, so I earn a lot of FitPoints (20-25 a day). In settings, I selected a goal of 140 FitPoints (20 x 7). I believe success on a diet is 90% diet, and 10% exercise, so FitPoints does not have an oversized importance in my strategy. Focus strength training on the most effective compound lifts: bench press, squat, and deadlift. I never eat my FitPoints.

Vacation

When I go on vacation, I do my best to stick to the plan. But my goal on vacation is to maintain weight, not lose.
Having said that, I have gone on vacations that are food-heavy, where I did not want to feel guilty about indulging in delicious foods, and for those I put WW on pause (I stopped tracking). I resumed upon my return from vacation, guilt free.
I have gone on cruises while on WW, and found that the cruises offered WW-friendly foods, like egg-based breakfasts, vegetables, chicken breast, and fruit desserts.

Connect

I use Connect (social media for WW) to follow along with other members’ celebrations and successes, and follow some people who post useful content.
Through Connect I have also found a few YouTube and podcast channels from WW "celebrities" that I enjoy listening to: The Skinny on Weight Loss and Whys Advice.

Rewards

I am easily motivated by rewards. Rather than food-based rewards, which would be bad for a diet, WW uses charms. Charms are given for weight loss milestones. Charms are given out in meetings, and not available for online-only members. Because I am easily motivated by rewards/awards, I wanted charms despite not initially attending meetings. So I bought them on eBay.

Bingeing

I have accepted that I have binge eating disorder, and will always struggle with my relationship with food. I have definitely had binge eating days while on WW. I have learned when these days happen that I need to follow a set recovery procedure:
  1. disrupt the cycle and stop bingeing;
  2. track everything I ate to be accountable;
  3. do not beat myself up emotionally about what happened;
  4. just get right back on the plan the very next meal. 
When I do have binge eating days, I get right back to tracking and staying within my points budget (including weeklies and FitPoints), and I maintained or even lost weight on those weeks when I did have a binge eating day.
Bad eating days can create a negative feedback loop of overeating->restricting->overeating. Break this as soon as it is identified by just resuming the plan of staying within points. Do not restrict. It is important to break negative feedback loops with disruption and immediately resume to the normal plan.
Adopt a positive framework. A binge day (negative) is a spike day (positive). Spike days happen with any diet, and are healthy for metabolism. They key is to be strategic about them, choose food as wisely as possible, and not go hog wild on junk. An example of a strategic spike day is when you go on vacation and know you are going to have a day where you go over points. Plan for it and enjoy the good food without the guilt of points. I have had enough spike days to know that weight loss is still very much possible by resuming the plan immediately.

Fasting

I have read a lot about the benefits of intermittent fasting (“IF”, e.g., 16:8 method) to develop impulse control, give the digestive system a rest between digestion cycles, and normalize blood sugar levels. As I got close to my goal weight, I implemented intermittent fasting into my routine, primarily to get my blood sugar lowered as I have insulin resistance. I currently practice occasional intermittent fasting between 16:8 and 23:1. The first number (e.g., 16) describes the number of fasting (non-eating) hours, which includes sleep time. The second number (e.g., 8) describes the number of feeding (eating) hours, during which I eat all my daily points. Many people implement 16:8 intermittent fasting by simply skipping breakfast.

Maintenance

Once a WW member reaches their goal weight, they enter the maintenance phase. The goal of maintenance is to maintain at goal weight, plus or minus two pounds, for a six week period, at which point the member achieves Lifetime status. The six week maintenance window is designed to learn how many points are needed to maintain weight. The “plus or minus two pounds” test is at the end of the maintenance window at the six week weigh in, in order to achieve Lifetime status.
Switching from a weight loss goal to a maintenance mindset can be a difficult transition because many people feel that losing weight and seeing the scale drop is the reward for the hard work, and in maintenance mode the goal is to maintain weight, and not lose any more.
In the WW account settings, the default Focus is “Weight loss and healthy habits”, which establishes the daily and weekly points for the member. There is another setting, “Healthy habits”, which raises the points slightly to stop weight loss and maintain weight, while encouraging eating healthy foods. The daily and weekly points can be changed by the member (within a range) to accommodate what number of points results in maintaining weight loss for that individual. It is not clear when a member should switch to “Healthy habits”, but my experience, and the experience many have shared on Connect, is that the best time to make this switch is when the member achieves goal and enters maintenance phase. This allows the member to use the six week maintenance window to figure out what number of daily and weekly points best result in maintaining weight. I kept the defaults, but I will evaluate this as I go through maintenance and then into Lifetime.

Lifetime

After maintaining goal weight (plus or minus two pounds) at the end of the six week maintenance window, the member achieves Lifetime status. The main benefit of Lifetime status is not having to pay for WW meetings or eTools. Members do not lose Lifetime status. But members can lose the perks of Lifetime status (free meetings/tools) if they stop weighing in at a meeting at least once per month, or if their weight increases beyond two pounds above their goal weight. Members can go below their goal weight without losing Lifetime status.

Attitude

Even on the days or weeks when my weight loss is not as successful as I would like, I keep in mind the following:
I am eating vastly healthier than before WW. There is almost no comparison of my current healthy food intake vs. what I was eating in the past. More often than not, I *am* achieving my goals. Our bodies do not respond in a linear fashion to calorie restriction. When I do veer off course, refocus on increasing water intake, accurate tracking, and being mindful about what I am eating (hidden oils, etc.).

Appendix

Recommended Reading

Easy WW-Friendly Grocery Shopping List

  • Fruit/Veg
    • Vegetable sticks
    • Fruit - fresh, frozen, or canned (no syrup/sugar added)
    • Tomatoes (diced - for chili or sauce)
    • Applesauce with cinnamon (no sugar added)
    • Corn - fresh, frozen, or canned
  • Beans/Dairy
    • Beans (canned - any type)
    • Soy beans (shelled)
    • Yogurt: Greek fat-free plain, no-sugar added
    • Eggs (or egg/white substitute)
  • Meat/Fish
    • Chicken breast (ground 98% fat-free okay)
    • Turkey breast (ground 98% fat-free okay)
    • Fish - Canned tuna, salmon fillet, etc.

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