Why I quit Weight Watchers after 12 years as a lifetime member. A Moving, Sad, and Hopeful Interview.
Tell us a bit about your experience with Weight Watchers. I started 12 years ago. It worked and I lost weight. I was very strict following the program, working out, doing everything that I was supposed to be doing, plus I also had the pressure of my approaching wedding - the day I walked the aisle was the lowest weight I’ve ever been. If you stay within 2 pounds of your goal weight and weigh in once a month, you become a lifetime member, and you don’t have to pay the monthly membership fees and you get the free smartphone e-tools, which help you keep track of food and points (it’s all about points), look up restaurants, etc. They keep changing the points, and at one point, somehow, my goal weight went from 145 to 155.
I developed the mindset that eating less was better. It became a monthly challenge, I had to get to my monthly weigh in, but it was becoming harder and harder. I was working out and eating less and less, and the weight was staying. I didn’t understand what was going on. Only very recently did I realized that my body was messed up and that my mind was messed up. I was trying to do research and I realized that I probably need to reset my metabolism.
I reached out to Weight watchers to see if somebody could help me because it was taking a toll on my everyday mental ability to function: it was stressing me out. Everything was about weight everything was about food. I felt like I was talking to a robot. She didn’t know what I was talking about, she didn’t even know what a metabolic reset was. She told me that I should eat more zero-point foods. When I responded that that’s pretty much all I eat, she told me to eat less of them! When I told her that I am eating between 400-800 calories/day, I just ended the conversation. I contacted Annika the next day.
Were you really motivated to stay a lifetime member? I was. I went back and forth. I actually had the phone number up on my computer, I would close my laptop and then I would open it up again. It was ridiculous. I just couldn’t call to cancel. It wasn’t because I would have to pay if I was over, it was because I was a failure now. I failed. And that was killing me.
How long were you eating 400-800 calories/day? I don’t know because I didn’t pay attention to the calories until right before I quit because it’s a points system. I fell into a pattern where I would starve myself a week before I went to weigh in. It was affecting everything. I would never go out with my friends, because if I went out with them it would be social, and they would probably be at a restaurant, drinking and eating and I didn’t want to do that. I had an easy excuse: I’d say, “I can’t go out after work, I can’t go out, I have to go home to the kids.” So I didn’t have that. All this stuff is lost because of food and Weight Watchers.
How much did your weight fluctuate? I could gain 7 pounds in a week – it was crazy. And it’s not like I was bingeing or anything. I always watched what I ate. But if I ate my allotment of points, I would still gain weight.
So even doing exactly what Weight Watchers was telling you to do, you were still gaining weight? Somehow, I messed up my body over time. I don’t know when it started, I just thought it was me. I thought that this was just my body and this is just what I have to do. My son’s a boy scout, and at the pinewood derby race I was sitting with some friends who were trainers at the gym and they were like, “eat pizza”, and I’m like, “I can’t eat pizza because I’ll gain weight.” I made cabbage soup and that’s what I was eating all weekend. But they convinced me, so I ate the crust of my son’s pizza. That’s all I ate besides cabbage soup (which has nothing in it)! The next day (and yes, I am compulsive about weighing myself), I gained 2 pounds! All I had was a pizza crust!
Is this what you would do the week before weighing in, only eat cabbage soup? Yes, if I didn’t think I could reach my goal. I was eating two hard boiled eggs for lunch every day, and I am happy to say that since quitting Weight Watchers – I haven’t eaten a hard-boiled egg since quitting two weeks ago. I’m never going to eat another hard-boiled egg again – ha! I would have a banana for breakfast and two eggs for lunch and maybe grapes or an apple for a snack in the afternoon, but if I had that snack I wouldn’t eat dinner.
How were you feeling physically? I didn’t realize it until I started eating. I have more energy. I have two kids, who are 8 and 4, and I’m a middle-school teacher. I would fall asleep while putting my 4-year-old down. I haven’t done that since I started eating. My friend says that now I don’t look tired, and that I look better. I didn’t realize how much food is connected to absolutely everything. I didn’t have a lot of patience. I got a lot of headaches, and I always thought it was because I wasn’t drinking enough water, but it was because I wasn’t eating.
How were you, emotionally? I was just frustrated, maybe, frustrated and angry, those are the emotions. And then once I realized that I was stuck, then I was just sad and felt stuck. Were you angry at yourself or at the world around you? I don’t think I was mad at myself because I didn’t know what to do. I knew I had to find help and take care of myself. I was angry that they couldn’t help me when I asked for help. They should have actual doctors and nutritionists there, not people with a script.
I’m sure that you’ve heard that they are planning on offering this for free to teens, what would you like to say to a teen: Go to a nutritionist and not Weight Watchers - it’s just a money-making scheme. It didn’t work for me, it messed me up. And it makes me upset that it could happen to a bunch of kids, because I could be one of those kids. My pediatrician, when I was young, always wanted me to lose weight. I was always on a diet. If this was around when I was that age I would have been sucked in earlier.
There’s been a lot of discussion about the relationship between these diets and eating disorders. Do you think you may have an eating disorder? I think I probably do. When I started researching eating disorders – there’s bulimia and anorexia – and I’m not one of those, but there’s that other one, OSFED. It was hard to realize that I probably do have an eating disorder. I was very emotional after realizing that because what I was doing was not normal. I didn’t realize how much food was controlling every aspect of my life until I quit and started eating again. It wasn’t that long ago, and I still have a lot of work to do to undo what’s happened to me these last 12 years. I’m looking at this as starting over and trying to undo the past.
What did your friends and family say? Everyone always told me that I wasn’t eating enough. What I ate was healthy, just not enough. Nobody new. I wasn’t throwing up or anything, I wasn’t not eating anything. It’s not like anybody was letting me get away with anything. Nobody realized anything, just like I didn’t realize anything. And I was going to weight watchers! If I had a problem I would talk to them and ask for help, which I did. My mom always told me, “ask them for help,” and I did. I always just thought it was me.
Can you say a bit about your relationship with food? How often do you think about it? It’s very different now. And it’s only been about a month since I quit. I don’t think about it as much. I bring food to work that I actually like to eat! I eat breakfast. I have snacks. I love baking and cooking, but I didn’t cook when I was on Weight Watchers because I didn’t want to eat the food. After my first appointment with Annika, I went to a website, and I found a bunch of different recipes, and I had a different focus (I was looking for calories and protein) but this website also puts down Weight Watchers points. One particular meal that I’ve made every week since has 10 weight watchers points! I would never have considered eating that - it’s like all I would have eaten in a day, if that! According to my new guidelines it’s perfect, in fact, it’s a bit less than I should be eating for dinner. I am excited to look for and find new recipes and going to the grocery store a shopping for them. It is a completely new experience. I’m slowly changing my relationship with food.
Is there anything else you would like to add? Last week we had a long weekend with the kids. My son and I both had Friday off and he wanted to visit this historical house that he’d learned about in school, so we went and we’re in this old house and there’s stuff out. Normally I would have been on edge like, “DON’T TOUCH THAT! GET OVER HERE! STAY AWAY FROM THAT!”. But I was totally calm – it was a lot lot different.
After we left the historical house, the older one asked if we could go to a diner. Normally, I would have said, NO! Because, first of all, I wasn’t going to eat, I don’t eat out. If we went anywhere, it would be somewhere like Panera’s, where I wouldn’t have to eat and we could get their food and leave. He wanted to go to the diner, and I was like, “[long pause] alright, we can”. I took them to the diner. And we were there for so long. With the waitress [long pause] and I think that was my first time taking them out by myself. And they were fine, and I was fine. They were probably calm, because I was calm and not worried about everything. And I actually ate. I ate out at the diner! And I’m OK [laugh]. I survived. That’s so little, but to me it’s like, huge.
This interview was recorded on Monday, Feb. 26th at 7p.m., the interviewee wishes to remain anonymous.