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Before we start with the counting business and all of the wonderful analogies, please subscribe and sign-up for my newsletter that contains tons of motivational and information material by using the form on the right. Also, hit me up on Twitter if you’re on there.

Alright, onward we go.

If you’re remotely into health and fitness, you have inevitably met someone that has tried Weight Watchers or some other diet counting variation.

If you know one person that has succeeded, chances are you know others that have failed or fallen short. If you’re like me, you probably want to claw your eyes out at the people who have tried Weight Watchers on three separate occasions and have yet to see a positive result.

So, why is Weight Watchers still one of the most successful (in terms of members and profit) dieting programs in the nation?

Because it’s simple, yet it promises big results. It surely doesn’t hurt that the commercials are often packed by a star-studded cast.

There are dozens of apps and calculations designed to keep you under your allotted number of points. Stay within your point range and you’re golden – weight falls off. Then, almost inevitably, the success story fades away and slowly the weight starts coming back on. Since it worked before, the individual hops back on the program and starts living and dying by points.

Face it, you aren’t going to count points forever – unless you really want to which seems just a bit odd. Who wants to tally everything they eat? Not this guy. In fact, I’m currently on a kick where counting is a bit of a necessity and it’s an utter pain.

The Typical Approach: The Quantity System

Most counting-based weight loss programs are based on the idea that the quantity of food determines the size of the individual. That seems very easy to believe. Wouldn’t it make sense that the more you eat, the bigger you get?

I’ll make the analogy of money and happiness. Sure, money let’s you have financial freedom, more vacations, and a bigger house. But, I think all of you will agree that money doesn’t buy happiness. Experiences and the people involved create happiness. Similarly, food gives you a higher caloric intake, but hormones, activity level, and the type of food you’re eating create weight gain.

The two are closely related, but not directly cause and effect.

I’ll say that one more time because it’s really damn important – the amount of food you eat doesn’t directly cause your stomach to grow larger. Sure, there’s a correlation. People that eat a ton tend to be larger. But, I know a lot of people (like myself) that can eat a ton of food and stay relatively slender.

(Just for comparison and a little bragging, my typical breakfast is well over 1,000 kcal which would tower over the majority of the population. That doesn’t even take into account the days I splurge and go crazy. I routinely finish the day at 4,000 kcal when I’m doing good. If quantity was the leading factor, I would be getting bigger, but I’m not….cue the Twilight Zone music.)

The name of the game is what you’re eating, not necessarily how much you’re eating. As Jon Goodman once said “No one ever got fat eating fruit.”

Where the Quantity System Falls Short

Imagine giving your kids $500 at the start of every week. If you don’t have kids, close your eyes and dream them up, go with me here.

In scenario A, those kids can blow the money on whatever they want – probably video games, Chuckie Cheese, and fast food if it were me when I was young.

In scenario B, they have to spend the money on necessities like gas, food, school clothes, rent – you know, responsible stuff. They can spend whatever money they have left over on video games.

In both scenarios, the kids will spend all of the money because let’s face it – they’re kids. That tends to happen when you know the money will roll in every week. But, in the second scenario, you’re teaching them how to budget so that one day, when they’re making all of the money, they won’t blow it all on hookers and drugs.

In scenario B, they’ve also covered all of their basic needs – similar to micro and macronutrients. In scenario A, they’ve covered their pleasure needs but they’ll be SOL when they don’t have any clothes to wear.

It’s called nutritional responsibility.

Counting calories and points doesn’t necessarily teach you nutritional responsibility. It teaches quantity and math. Tweet that!

In order to fully understand nutrition, those looking to decrease (or even increase – yes there are those of us out there) their weight should be aware of how food interacts with the body not just how much one should eat.

Case and point, the other day, I had a client that was previously on a popular diet program for an extended period of time ask me the in’s and out’s of insulin. Insulin? Just one of the primary hormones that’s responsible for metabolic diseases? Education should be the backbone of any diet program – not math.

The name of the game is education, not portion sizes. If I have someone looking to lose weight, the first thing I’m going to do is have them take a food log. At this point, calories aren’t the top of my priority list. I want to find out where their food is coming from; then, we’ll address total caloric intake. Calories don’t matter if they’re all coming from Twinkies and Cheesy Puffs.

What Works? The Quality System

So, what is the proper approach? If you haven’t come to the conclusion by now, it’s approaching the quality of food first. In most cases, the quantity of food will take care of itself.

No one is going to count for the rest of their life. It’s not a sustainable practice for losing weight and keeping it off. Inevitably, you’re going to lose track of how many points you’ve had for that day. That’s where the quantity system fails. It doesn’t teach long-term solutions for managing weight.

By learning what to eat rather than just how much, you’ll be more successful in the long haul.

If you’re on a weight loss plan with nutritional intervention (which you should be if you’re looking for weight management), you should be aware of the basic tenets of a successful and sustainable diet, including hormones, macro vs. micronutrients, and have a clue how to use the glycemic index.

If you’re looking for all of those shenanigans, this is the place to start.

Alright, so now I want to hear from you. Like it? Love it? Want some more? Had success counting calories? I want to hear it all in the comments section. And please share with all of your brethren on the social networks including MySpace. Let’s alert the world mmkay?


Note: I posted this on Facebook the other day and received some comments:

Writing a post about how much I despise Weight Watchers. Everyone knows SOMEBODY that has been on Weight Watchers and lost weight. But, you also know someone that has gained it back. Here’s a main contention:

“This is easily compared to fiscal management. I could blow $500 on clothes, shoes, and iTunes music, OR I could pay my rent, buy groceries, and put gas into my car. Bottom line, I still spent $500. One allowed me to get all of the necessities, while the other was a bunch of useless crap. It’s about fiscal responsibility.”Take Home: Any kind of weight management that starts with counting rather than educating is setting you up for complete and utter failure.

One of the comments in particular on the page took into account someone that had success with Weight Watchers specifically. I’m not degrading anyone’s accomplishments or the program of Weight Watchers. I’m just highlighting the need for education as a priority. Count all you want if that’s what makes you feel like butterflies inside, but do yourself a favor and learn while you’re going through the process.
Good? Good.

Leave a Thought

  1. Don’t forget the simple equation of calories in – calories out. I lost 30 lbs over a year using this core principle. I got a general idea of how many calories I burned in a day (without exercise), totaled up how many pounds/kcals I needed to have a deficit of each week to reach my goal, and then used a rough estimate of the kcals I was consuming each day. I never restricted type of food, just the amount. I still ate McDonalds occasionally or chocolate when I wanted it, AS LONG AS it fell within my caloric intake for the day. The key is the old saying “everything in moderation.” I lost the weight and got where I wanted to be two years ago without a vigorous exercise program or an expensive fad diet. I have maintained my weight without ever calculating a single calorie for the past two years. The thing to remember is that if you are losing weight at a healthy pace (1-2 lbs per week) you will learn the proper eating habits and food portions along the way. That is why I have maintained my goal weight without thinking twice about a calorie.
    As far as guys like you go, you should calculate the opposite way I did…how many lbs you’d like to put on. Don’t forget RMR and calories burned during exercise. Some people burn insane amounts of calories a day which means they need to consume insane amounts of calories to gain weight. It’s all about the individual and their specific caloric needs.

    • Definitely. Moderation is key. Plus, you’re already educated about food and nutrition. Some don’t have the background knowledge. RMR is another element individuals leave out unfortunately. Thanks Kim!

  2. Great post, Jeremey! I completely agree. People need to be educated about nutrition for a weight loss/gain program to work. I think on a very basic level people should be able to read nutrition labels and understand what macronutrients. Even better would be to understand some of the hormones that influence metabolism.

    I think the intentions behind Weight Watchers’ Point system are good but really it just reduces food to points and doesn’t actually teach people good eating habits. It may also influence the “good” and “bad” foods mentality, which is not a healthy mindset, in my opinion.

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