Growing up, I remember my mom going to Weight Watchers meetings regularly. I think she enjoyed the interaction, and she trimmed down pretty fast. Then she actually kept her figure -- and her new healthier eating habits -- for many years to come. Now, decades later, Weight Watchers is still going strong, lauded as one of the most reasonable and sustainable approaches to dieting.
A new generation is now discovering the program... In particular, one young PWD (person with diabetes) just finishing her graduate degree in journalism from Columbia University in New York City. She was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in May 1990.
Please welcome Amanda Cedrone, as she chronicles her WW experience, with insulin pump in tow...
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I don't like following diets. I don't even like using that word. But when I realized in January that the stress of graduate school had caught up to me in the form of a few extra pounds (darn you, Chipotle!), I needed to do something.
Any crazy fad diet was immediately out. For me, cutting carbohydrates for the rest of my life is not sustainable or healthy. I'm human, I'm Italian, and I love food.
I decided to join Weight Watchers. I had tried it once before in college, but I didn't really commit myself to it. So, I gave it another go.
I understand the basics of weight loss -- exercise and diet. That being said, I sometimes tricked myself into thinking that if I exercised, I could eat any amount of anything that I wanted that day. Not good for my stomach or blood sugar control.
Weight Watchers doesn't leave room for those sorts of mind games. It's helped me not only lose weight, but to manage my diabetes in a way I can see myself keeping up with for the next 30 years. The fact that it's so easy to follow is one reason that U.S. News and World Report ranked it as one of the best diets out there.
The Weight Watchers concept began in the 1960s, when founder Jean Nidetch began inviting friends to weekly meetings inside her New York City home to discuss the best methods to lose weight. Since then, the program has expanded across the globe. If the weekly meeting model doesn't work for you, the program can now be followed online and from a smart phone.
Here's how it works -- every food has a point value that is based on carbohydrate, fiber, fat and protein content. Based on your age, weight, height and gender, you're assigned a daily "point" limit. Fresh fruits and most vegetables are assigned a value of zero points.
In addition to your daily points, you are allowed 49 weekly bonus points that you can use however you want. You earn additional points by exercising that you can use (or not use) any way you choose.
Each day, users are encouraged to check off when they follow the "Good Heath Guidelines" provided by Weight Watchers. This means consuming the recommended amount of dairy, fruits and vegetables, healthy oils and water, taking a multi-vitamin, and exercising.
Like everyone else, Weight Watchers is now making full use of new interactive technologies, with a fancy online dashboard that lets you track food, activity and your weight, and see recipes, tips and tricks for staying on plan. Plus, their phone app is really great because it allows you to do everything that you would be able to do on a laptop -- but while you're out. Members can also access a second app that allows them to scan the bar code of food items and see how many points each contains — making healthy grocery shopping a lot easier.
(They also have a Twitter feed and Facebook page, but don't necessarily encourage users to publish their weight-loss progress via social media; but the company does actively reply to members who choose to ping them online.)
While no foods are off-limits here per-se, abiding by the parameters of the plan encourages you to make healthy eating choices for yourself. I know that when given the choice between a five-point granola bar and an apple as an afternoon snack, I'm going to choose the apple because I can think of much more satisfying ways to use those extra five points at dinner.
Of course, as with most aspects of my life, my type 1 diabetes complicates things.
The Weight Watchers website specifically states that it is not a medical organization and, therefore, cannot provide medical advice. Translation: It gives no special instruction for diabetics. It encourages users to talk to their doctor prior to beginning any weight loss plan, which I think is a good idea for any diabetic looking to make big changes in their eating and exercising habits. Based on my own experience, I think it's especially important if you're going to start Weight Watchers.
Being on the program, I'm eating a lot less than I used to. I've cut down on my carbohydrate intake and replaced that with a lot more fruits and vegetables. The program has encouraged me to step up my exercise game — I've taken up distance running, and I'm up to six miles!
All of these changes are great for my body, but for the first month I was on plan, I experienced a lot of low blood sugars. This was really frustrating. I would plan my meals and exercise regime perfectly to fit my daily point allowance - and then my blood sugar would drop — throwing a wrench into my whole day and sabotaging my plan to be bikini-ready by June.
I stuck with it though, and I slowly lowered the basal rates on my pump based on the pattern I was seeing in my blood sugars. In all, I've decreased my basal rates by at least 40 percent.
Since stabilizing my basal rate, I've seen a huge change in my blood sugars — they've been great. For the first time in my entire life, I can't wait for my next endocrinologist appointment. (Please excuse me while I go check to make sure I don't have a fever, because I never thought I'd say that while in my right mind.)
Of course, I've lost weight too. But I realized that's not the whole picture. Weight Watchers has helped me to adopt a healthier lifestyle.
The best part? If I have a bad day and I go over my points —- ahem, Easter candy anyone? -- I can always pick it right back up tomorrow.
While the program may not be for everyone, I spoke with another PWD who has been following Weight Watchers for five months and has noticed similar results.
Christine Nolan is a type 1 diabetic, and a student at Manhattan College in NYC. Like me, she has lost weight, is using much less insulin than before she was following the plan, and she's noticed a drop in her A1C.
"I like that it's not so restricting and I can have the things that I like, I just eat less of them," she said. "I still have that slice of pizza every once in a while."
The cost to join Weight Watchers as a weekly meeting member varies based on where you would be attending meetings.
Currently, I'm participating in the online plan, which is costing me $18.95 per month (plus the initial sign up fees.) If I'm home, I go on my laptop and track my points. If I'm out, I use the app on my iPhone to do so.
There's also the option to pay for a monthly pass, which allows you to attend in-person meetings while being able to access the online tools and costs about $42.95 per month, depending on where you live.
To some people, paying almost $20 a month to track what you're eating may seem crazy, and maybe it is. Not everyone needs that extra push to keep them on track. But it's helped to keep me accountable, and to manage my weight and diabetes, and for me, that's worth it.
Tried Weight Watchers yourself, Dear Readers? Let us know.