“Weight Watchers made me Gain Weight!”

“Weight Watchers made me gain weight!” You would be surprised how many times I have heard this statement. Weight Watchers is a weight loss program that focuses on sensible eating habits to promote slow and steady weight loss. The entire program revolves around “counting points,” and as long as you stay within your recommended daily allotment of points, you should lose weight every week. Points are now calculated using an equation that factors in a food item’s total amount of calories, fat and fiber. Generally, the higher the fiber content and lower the fat content of a product, the lower it will be in points. Fruits and veggies are considered “free points,” so they are unlimited on the meal plan. No food is considered off-limits as long as you count your points for the menu items consumed.

I simply want to inform readers that it is not the right meal plan for everyone and if it didn’t work for you, here’s why..

The program was launched in the 1960s by housewife Jean Nidetch, who had lost weight and recruited the help of her friends to help her keep the weight off. Since then, the methods have observed quite a few changes, but the basic principal of community support and consistent accountability remains solid.

I am not here to bash Weight Watchers. In fact, you can’t ignore the fact that it consistently tops the charts of “best weight loss plans” because many people are quite successful with it. I simply want to inform readers that it is not the right meal plan for everyone and if it didn’t work for you, here’s why:

Calories In vs Calories Out: This is based on the most basic principle of weight loss. In order to lose the pounds, you must reduce the amount of calories you eat and increase your activity level. With Weight Watchers, the total calories you need to consume a day equals your determined amount of points allowed. As you achieve weight loss milestones, your points goal will decrease. I have had several patients state that they are at the lowest level of points, exercise every day and still cannot lose a single pound. Does this sound like you? If so, that’s because more and more we are learning that the type of calories one consumes plays a very important role in metabolism. Another factor may be that you are not getting enough protein or enough fat on the limited amount of points/calories. Plus, it’s never fun (nor a good idea) to starve your metabolism in order to achieve weight loss!

Too High in Processed Food: Since Weight Watchers is such an established corporation, they have their own line of products from cereals to cheese to ice cream novelties. They list the point value on the front of the packages and make it extremely convenient for the on-the-go Weight Watchers participant. Even though these food items are low in calories and perfectly portioned, it still does not negate the fact that they are very processed and contain an astounding amount of chemicals and preservatives in them (just like all of our processed foods)! Sometimes, in order to lose weight, our bodies need to focus on nature’s ingredients and cut out the ingredients that are added in at a factory.

Too High in Carbs: When I have evaluated eating plans that follow the Weight Watchers methods, I often note that it is quite saturated with items like whole wheat bread, low calorie cereals, oatmeal, whole grain pasta, brown rice, beans, 100 calorie portions of popcorn, baked chips and crackers, pretzels, fat free yogurt, skim milk and perfectly portioned sweets. What do all these foods have in common? Carbs! Sometimes, our metabolisms do not respond well when our diets are too high in carbohydrate intake. High carbohydrate food items can cause blood sugar spikes, insulin spikes and leave you hungry and feeling deprived all day long!

Again, I want to reinforce that Weight Watchers is not an all-things-terrible meal plan. It has certainly helped thousands of individuals achieve a healthier lifestyle. I am just reinforcing that it is simply a meal plan. Not all meal plans work for everybody; just like vegetarianism and the vegan lifestyle are not right for everyone. If you have tried Weight Watchers or any other meal plan and feel you were not as successful as you should have been, please consider contacting your Springfield Clinic dietitian. It is our job to find the best meal plan that will work for you and your metabolism!




The Freshman 15: Myth or Fact


Rather than take the approach of “how to avoid the freshman 15”, I’d like to address what actually happens during your first year away from home. Is the Freshman 15 a myth or fact? It’s, actually, a little of both. Did you know that the phrase “The Freshman 15” was coined by Seventeen magazine in 1989? I learned this fascinating fact while doing a research project in college. What’s even more incredible is that the research evidence available at the time suggested that weight gain experienced during the first year of college typically only ranged from 0-8 lbs. The iconic tagline took off and continues to instill fear in many college-bound students. Rather than take the approach of “how to avoid the freshman 15,” I’d like to address what actually happens during your first year away from home.

What are some of the causes of weight gain during freshman year?

  • Complete access to dining halls. Guess what? If you want to eat pizza every day, you can—because it’s always available! There is no one to tell you what to eat and what not to eat, and no one to control what is being served for dinner. Sometimes with this new freedom of dietary choices, we forget the importance of balanced meals.
  • No more PE. Your life changes a lot when going to college. Previously, you may have been involved in multiple sports or participated in physical education every year. PE is not a requirement for college curriculum, so it’s up to you to follow an active lifestyle! Many students overlook how important regular physical activity is for keeping a healthy weight.
  • Late-night habits. In high school, I would hit the hay routinely around 10pm. Once I went to college, that bedtime could be anywhere from midnight–2am. Drastic changes in one’s routine, lack of sleep and excessive late-night snacking can all alter your metabolism and cause weight gain.
  • Alcoholic intake. For those that choose to drink alcohol, remember it is a source of non-nutrient calories. Alcohol can also impair our good judgment skills. Suddenly, you find yourself justifying that an extra-large pepperoni pizza at 1am sounds like a perfectly good idea! Research suggests that students who gain the most weight are typically heavier drinkers.

Is weight gain in college really all that bad?

Absolutely not. For a lot of people, their bodies are nowhere near done maturing at the age of 18. Boys can continue to grow taller and develop more muscle mass. Girls’ bodies may mature more with continuous breast and hip development. Both of these growth examples are natural and have no correlation to being in college. Weight gain among college students is quite variable and some even lose weight their first year.

Should I be worried?

Nah. College was one of the best experiences of my life! Plus, you don’t have to follow a perfect diet to maintain health and wellness. Focus on all the new opportunities you will experience, such as a gym membership, culturally-diverse food choices and social gatherings. It was in college that I took my first group fitness class, fell in love with it and became an instructor. My taste buds exploded with all the new foods I was trying. And I met some pretty incredible people and made memories to last a lifetime.

It’s really simple. You’re going away to college.

Remember to:

-eat breakfast

-try to get at least 6-7 hours of sleep every night

-don’t forget your fruits and veggies

-have fun!

Prevent Holiday Weight Gain

One of the most common questions I hear this time of year is “How do I prevent weight gain over the holidays?” The “weight gain season” is typically associated with the time period from Thanksgiving—New Year’s. The answer is rather simple but for many, difficult to achieve. You must better balance the calories you consume with the calories you burn. This misbalance of calories occurs year after year for several reasons.Holiday weight gain

1) During the colder months, people tend to become less active. Weight gain can occur if you are not burning extra calories through exercise yet continue to eat the same amount of calories as before.

2) People also tend to consume more calories, primarily from rich, high-calorie and high-carbohydrate menu items that are associated with the winter months and holidays such as casseroles, spaghetti, mashed potatoes, dressing and sweets.

3) With the holiday season comes increased social interactions and more opportunities for non-homeostatic eating to occur. What this basically means is that we are more likely to eat in the absence of hunger in social settings. Think about the last party you went to and how much grazing on appetizers and desserts occurred while deep in conversation with friends or family.

Year after year, this pattern of decreased activity and increased caloric intake can attribute to weight gain over the lifetime. In fact, many studies have shown that more weight is gained over the holiday season (mid-November through mid-January) over any other time during the year. Researchers in the New England Journal of Medicine found that 52% of annual weight gain occurs over the holiday 6-week period (just 12% of the year).

The next most common question I hear is, “What are some low-fat or low-calorie desserts I can make?” Yes, I completely agree that desserts are a source of unneeded calories, but this is where I side differently than other health professionals in my field. As a sugar-aholic myself, I don’t like my desserts to be messed with; I love them for all their high-sugar, high-calorie glory! Thanksgiving is the one time every year that I get my Aunt’s apple pie. But this is where I understand my habits are different than others; I do have the discipline to turn down some desserts and then allow myself to indulge in others. Plus, I do not believe that replacing more natural ingredients with chemicals (mainly sugar-substitutes) makes a dessert any healthier for you (other than the fact that it may be lower in calories than the original version). This sets the tone of why my holiday eating advice targets balancing calories better rather than finding low-calorie substitutes for holiday favorites.*

  • Don’t skip meals. Many of us will often skip a meal or two in efforts to balance out calories consumed at a holiday meal/social gathering. Skipping meals can trigger your metabolism to slow down and can throw off your hunger/satiety hormones. This can lead to excessive eating and eating beyond the point of actually feeling full.
  • Do choose lower calorie menu items more often. For breakfast on days I know I will be going to a holiday party, I make a big veggie omelet. The protein and fat from the eggs help keep me full between my meals and the veggies help fill me up without adding a ton of calories.
  • Put your appetizers on a plate. Often we converse around the appetizer and dessert displays. When you’re lost in conversation you often mindlessly munch on the food in front of you and may find yourself thinking, “is this my 5th or 9th chocolate covered pretzel I’ve consumed?” Putting your food on a small plate can help you better track how much you have munched on.
  • Make exercise a priority. With the hustle and bustle of the holidays, we often sacrifice our workouts for shopping and social occasions. If you don’t have a gym membership, purchasing some home equipment is a great investment in your health. If this is out of your budget, then take advantage of walking at the mall or large department stores such as Menards, Lowe’s or even Walmart.
  • Focus on quality. Have you ever consumed a menu item or dessert that really didn’t taste that good but you finished it anyway? To avoid feelings of guilt after eating poor-tasting foods, focus on the flavors of your food. This happens a lot with desserts for me. If after one bite, the flavors just aren’t working out for you, then immediately throw the rest away or cover with a small napkin if you don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings.

*These tips are geared toward the general population. For individuals with specific conditions, it is medically necessary to control sugar and nutrient intake with holiday selections.

For more detailed information on overeating check out this video by Dr. Stephan Guyenet: 


[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mp2p4TdLn_8]

Your Skinny Vacation

vacationVacation and weight gain; unfortunately, the combination is a very common reality for many people. Vacation, for a lot of us, is a time to relax or take on new life adventures. My husband and I recently accomplished both of these objectives on our last vacation. While staying at an all-inclusive resort, we didn’t have to worry about grocery shopping, meal preparation or household chores. Instead, we had full access to a wonderful breakfast and lunch buffets, exquisite dinner restaurants and 24-hour room service. While I did my best to order vegetables with every meal and stay away from fried foods, my fear became a reality when I stepped on the scale my first day back at work. Yes, even a dietitian gains weight on vacation.

Despite working out almost every morning and going for long walks on the beach, the truth was I over-ate my calorie needs. Portion control and a little overindulgence in high-fat foods were the causes of my excessive caloric intake. Common vacation-diet villains that make their presence on our tropical get-a-ways include:

The buffet. No, not Jimmy Buffet; I’m referring to the endless tables of tantalizing foods filled with everything from decadent desserts to bacon wrapped jalapeno peppers. My own response to all this food was, “Oh, this looks good and that looks good and that and that!” You get the picture. It has been well researched that increasing the variety of an assortment increases the quantity consumed. Please visit Dr. Brian Wansink (2004) research on this fascinating food consumption observation: http://foodpsychology.cornell.edu/pdf/permission/2004/Assortment_Structure-JCR_2004.pdf

Tips for the buffet-goer:

  • Scan and Plan. Before you grab your utensils, walk around the buffet and compare the variety offered. Try to choose at least one lean protein and fill at least ½ your plate with non-starchy vegetables.
  • Plate size. Choosing a smaller plate will force you to take smaller serving sizes of the variety of foods you consume at that meal.
  • Don’t feel like you’re forced to clean your plate. Most of the time, we take too much food anyway.
  • Sit facing away from the buffet – A tip created by Dr. Brian Wansink, researcher at Cornell University. Wansink suggests that this will help keep your mind from being fixated on the food.

Alcohol. The saying is, “Its 5 o’clock somewhere,” right?  Our favorite poolside beverages are cool and refreshing, but they are often the biggest source of calories consumed on our vacation days. Some of the heftiest calorie-containing beverages include margaritas, pina coladas, strawberry daiquiris, long island iced teas and mudslides. One ounce of 80-proof spirits (rum, vodka, gin, whiskey) contains about 65-90 calories. After adding fruit juice, syrups, mixes or soda, the calorie content of the drink goes through the roof! The pina colada takes the prize for most calories. According to Forbes magazine, a pina colada contains more calories than a Big Mac!

vacation2If you want to consume a refreshing “vacation” beverage, but not pay the caloric price, here are some alternatives:

  • Vodka and water. You may also add a sugar-free water enhancer. In fact, Crystal Light now makes three “mocktail” flavors including margarita, appletini and mojito flavors.
  • Light beer. Most light beers contain anywhere from 65-105 calories.

Remember to alternate alcoholic beverages with water to help prevent dehydration.

frenchfat-mWhile vacations are not the best time to lose weight; the ultimate goal is to maintain one’s “pre-vacation” weight. Make plans to fit in physical activity every day. Luckily for us, there was an accommodating fitness center at our hotel. My husband and I also enjoyed daily walks along the beach, snorkeling and other fun, scenic activities that included physical activity. Don’t deprive yourself of your vacation favorites, but enjoy smaller portion sizes.  Whether the beach, mountains or amusement park call your name this summer, remember to relax, enjoy, take pictures and live well.