My advice for people doing Weight Watchers

Warning: I wrote this quickly. Expect mistakes and oversights

Today I earned "Lifetime Membership" in Weight Watchers. You get this when you reach your goal weight and stay there for six weeks.

This milestone took me seven months. And that's fine with me. I wasn't in a hurry. I just wanted to keep making progress (less fat, more muscle) without any real pain or deprivation. I learned this is entirely possible.

Many people have the wrong idea about getting in shape. They believe they must suffer to lose weight or to build fitness. This idea is damaging because the pain approach stops people from continuing (Seriously . . . who wants to endure pain?). And the idea of "no pain, no gain" stops many people from even trying in the first place.

How I got started
When I first met David K, the CEO of Weight Watchers, at TEDMED in 2011, I was impressed by two things. First, David has a great sense of how human behavior works. Next, I was impressed with this one idea: In the new Weight Watchers program, you can eat all the veggies you want. You don't have to track them. You can also eat most fruits. (And you don't have to buy any food from Weight Watchers. In all my months with them, I've never purchased any WW food.)

I loved the idea of the all-you-can-eat veggie policy. So I decided, for a variety of reasons (including my own research), to join WW and see how it went.

My conclusion
The Weight Watchers program clearly works. There's nothing gimmicky about it.

The program is not so much about motivation. The focus is on "how to." You learn a bunch of skills and you change a bunch of habits.

The key, I believe, is to look at Weight Watchers as a long-term change in your life. You will be following this path for the rest of your life. It's not a diet. It's a permanent change in how you eat.

I've made this change, and I don't feel deprived. I've learned to make some yummy food that has replaced food that wasn't so healthy. But that's not all. The program teaches you about portion control, what to do at parties, and on and on. You won't learn it all at once.


My advice
When you start Weight Watchers, don't overdo it. Just change a few things the first week. Then change a few more things in your life the next week. And on and on. Be persistent and take a long-term view.

My belief is this: "The slower the change, the longer it lasts."

Now down to my specific advice:

1. Go to weekly meetings
The weekly meetings are fascinating (at least to me). And you'll also learn a bunch of tips and tricks from others who attend. The meeting leader has a short lesson each week. Participate in the lesson, with questions and comments.

I admire people who come to meetings. They are the ones -- the few -- who are really trying to improve their lives. As I see it, those who go to Weight Watchers are top-notch people. I made some great friends at the meetings.

2. Learn PointsPlus and track
Tracking your food is the hardest part of Weight Watchers. Why? Because it takes persistence. The good news: You don't have to track food for the rest of your life. However, I strongly advise you to learn the system early (in the first few weeks) and to track until you really know how much you should eat each day.

I found that tracking with the WW iPad app was by far the best way -- better than paper, better than iPhone, better than web. (If you don't have an iPad, now you have an excellent excuse.)

3. Never be hungry -- eat all your points
Each day I can eat 42 points worth of food (plus all the veggies and fruits in the universe!). The obvious idea is to not exceed your points for the day or the week. But for me the real breakthrough ideas was this: I should be eating 42 points each day. Eating just 32 is a mistake. In other words, you *should* eat all your points.

You can eat anything you want and not feel guilty. Want ice cream? That's fine. Pizza? Fine. Just mind your points.

On days I was hungry and near my point limit, I learned what to do: I would eat veggies, plain yogurt, fruit, more veggies . . . and it worked. The hunger went away, and I felt successful.

4. Just aim to lose a bit of weight each week.
It's not hard to lose two pounds each week on Weight Watchers. But for me, that was too extreme. I didn't want to suffer, because I know that humans will work to avoid suffering. So I took it at my own pace. I learned eventually this meant I would lose about 1/2 pound a week. That was fine with me.

My goal each week when I weighed in was to just weigh less than the previous week. That's all. Even if it was one ounce less. And when I didn't lose weight, I went back to tracking and careful monitoring of my food. (Note: I didn't step up exercise. But that's the next point)

5. Do strength training, but don't punish yourself with too much cardio
Surprise: You don't have to exercise to lose weight. In fact, over the last 7 months I've exercised *less* than ever before in my life (I've been busy). But I did a good job of strength work, especially pushups and quads. I did all this mostly at home in short bursts (tiny habits for the win!)

I did cardio maybe once a week. That's all.

From what I can tell, most people think you must do hours of cardio to lose weight. That's a bad idea. It's punishment -- you huff and puff and you sweat. I know people will criticize me for this view, but I say cardio is the wrong place to focus if you want weight loss. Instead, use your time and energy to learn to eat differently. And build strength (pushups eventually get fun). And don't make any of it too painful.

6. Follow directions from WW
The WW program works if you adhere to it. So just follow directions. Do what they suggest (except don't buy or eat their food. (Sorry WW Execs, but you already know my view: I think you should get out of the food business completely. Selling food detracts from the real genius of your program.)

7. Forgive failures and keep going
You won't learn how to change all your eating behaviors in a few weeks. You probably have lots of old habits you'll need to replace. Do this little by little. Along the way, you'll make mistakes. But just don't take it too personally. Never feel guilty. Just keep going.

As long as you persist, you'll reach your goal.

Realize that your real goal isn't hitting an ideal weight. Instead, your real goal is to create a new set of eating habits that will benefit you for a lifetime.