On Weight Watchers and eating better…

When I started this whole journey back in 2012, one of the things I knew needed to happen was a support group or tool to help me get my eating under control.  Hunger is not a reliable gauge of how much I need to eat – I’m in a constant state of hunger, after all – so what I’ve got to be able to have is a way to keep it toned down enough that I can make smart decisions.  I’d tried a handful of other systems (NutriSystem’s food is awful, by the way), but my wife is a big fan of Weight Watchers so I decided to give it a shot.

Shout out to the Weight Watchers marketing department here, by the way, for advertising targeted toward men.  I’d always thought of Weight Watchers as primarily for women, and in some ways I still feel that stigma.  But hiring Charles Barkley as a spokesman was a stroke of genius.  Even his famous “Weight Watchers is a scam” gaffe did nothing but get the word out there that this program works, and men are not excluded.  Brilliant and well done.

The reason I love it is a commonly cited reason – nothing is off limits.  Weight Watchers assigns a certain number of points to everything you eat or drink, and they give you a limit on the number of points you can have in any given day, with a weekly “bonus” point budget that you can use for a cheat meal or any other reason.  The key here is that they don’t at all restrict how you use those points – if you want to use your points eating chocolate cake and donuts, then knock yourself out.

What you learn very, very quickly is that the trick is to use your points to manage hunger. The amount of chocolate cake I can fit into my points budget is relatively small, and the problem with using the entire budget on things like that is that you are absolutely starving three hours later.  Which is a problem, since you don’t have any points left to deal with that.  But over time you learn that empty calories don’t fill you up, and you only need relatively small quantities of the nutrient dense, high point items that also have a tendency to not fill you up (things like nuts, meat, even dairy).  You still need those, but in moderation.  The low points (even free points) items – fruits and vegetables, mostly – are really the key to managing hunger.

Today's tracker after breakfast
Today’s tracker after breakfast

Now, one of the things I didn’t realize when I first started with WW (though, in retrospect, it is obvious), is that when you start to lose weight the program takes points away from you each week.  This makes for a bittersweet weigh-in day – “Yay! I lost weight! Boo! I don’t get to eat as much next week…”  Last week, for instance, I went from a daily budget of 65 points down to 64 – which, by the way, is an enormous number for most people, because I’m so freaking big that I can eat an enormous amount of food and still lose weight.

Last time, I started with 65 points, and by the time I was done I was down to 54.  Now – lets do some math.  11 points a day times 7 days is 77 points per week.  On an original budget of 65 points, I was eating the equivalent of a whole day’s worth of food LESS than I was when I started.  It is as though I said “Lets just skip food on Wednesdays,” but done in a much more sustainable way.

Going from nothing to Weight Watchers removed a considerable number of calories from my diet.  Weight Watchers slowly but surely removed an awful lot more.  And I still had 50 pounds (at least) to lose.  And I was still living in a constant state of hunger.

No wonder I’m fat.

But, this is a process, not a goal.  A journey, as it were, not a destination.  And so, I’ll enjoy the 14 point breakfast you see up there and the 15-or-so point lunch that I’ve got planned for today, and I’ll lose this weight.

Its what we do.

A Few Words on Food Drives

‘Tis the season for giving.   And that urge to give, that desire to be helpful in a world that needs it, is a glorious thing, a ray of light in what can be an otherwise bleak world.  But here’s the thing.  We are VERY BAD at making efficient choices.   Inefficiency = waste, and waste = not helping people that need help.   So lets boil this down to one sentence:

 If you really want to help people who are hungry, don’t give food to food banks, food pantries, or soup kitchens – give them money.

Lets do some math, shall we?

(there is some rounding here – the scale works, regardless of how you round)

At this link, you can buy bulk pasta:

http://www.alibaba.com/product-tp/123143095/Vega_Spaghetti_and_Short_Cut_Pasta.html

That link takes you to dried spaghetti noodles that you purchase by the metric ton.  1 metric ton = 2,204 pounds of spaghetti.  And they charge, on average, $700 for that much pasta.

$700 / 2,204lbs = $0.32 per pound.

Now – this link takes you to the cheapest spaghetti noodles I could find available at retail:

http://www.amazon.com/Anna-Spaghetti-Pound-Bags-Pack/dp/B001L49AT6/

Here, you get 24 pounds of spaghetti (which is still an awful lot) for $30.99 with free shipping.

$30.99 / 24lbs = $1.29 per pound.

Now – you won’t be buying a metric ton of spaghetti for donation, but you might buy 24 pounds.  And you’ll be doing the equivalent of setting money on fire.  Because a food bank WILL buy it by the ton.  And that means that if you give them the $30.99 instead of giving it to a retailer, they can buy nearly 4.5 times more food than you can.

If we assume that 1 serving = ½ pound, then you can buy 48 servings with $30.99.  They can buy 212.  Put another way – for every $30.99 you spend, you’re taking 164 servings of food OUT of the system.

I did this with spaghetti, but it works with just about anything – cereal, canned goods, fresh vegetables, etc.  And this is just for direct food purchases – food banks also get matching donations, which scale this up, and they receive food from the USDA for free or very nominal amounts.

And this is for real food, food that addresses nutritional and hunger needs.  They don’t need your dusty cans of chili sauce or Rotel.  Or your expired food.  Or really anything else but your money.

If you simply must give food rather than money, then at least don’t use it as an excuse to clean out your pantry.  Go buy new cans, and buy “meal-in-a-can” items.  Things like Chef Boyardee products, Campbell’s Chunky Soups, or other items that can be a single meal are the best, because they are the easiest and the least likely to sit and spoil.  Think about it this way – if you have no home, and no money for food, how are you going to cook spaghetti and sauce?  That’s not how you’ll think.  Instead, you’ll take a can of Chef Boyardee Raviolis and put them in a sink full of hot water at the mall, or the Home Depot, or anywhere you can.  And then you’ll get something resembling a hot meal, at least.

That’s sad, that people are heating cans of raviolis in public sinks.  But it is reality.  And we should work with the reality we’re given.

Give, and give generously.

But if we’re smarter about it, we can do more with it.

‘Tis the season