Saturday, October 3, 2009

Tracking POINTS: life-in-jail sentence or salvation?

Having been in a Weight Watchers place (literally and figuratively) over the past 10 years, tracking POINTS (we used to call it journaling) has been a presence in my world for 25% of my life. Is this a good thing or a bad thing?

To provide proper context for this discussion, I suppose I should share a little bit of my personality wiring. It seems that there are people who thrive on to-do lists, and those who find that exercise slightly more preferable to inserting toothpicks underneath their finger nails. If any one has ever had to take the Myers-Brigg personality test, they indicate the distinction between J(udging) and P(erceiving). J's love to-do lists, and P's prefer to take life as it comes. To put a finer point on it, J's use to-do lists on weekends, and P's find that practice to be more than a little bizarre.

I am a P. I do use a to-do list for work out of sheer necessity, but definitely not for the love of the exercise. My OCD tendencies tend to evidence themselves in ritual, not in elaborately detailed project management plans for how I plan to spend my Saturday.

I have always hypothesized that J's love to track POINTS for the same reason they love to write to-do lists. It gives them a sense of control and comfort, and brings a chaotic world into their submission. Similarly, I think that P's struggle to be religious trackers. Or at least I do.

So, in theory, I should probably despise the Weight Watchers program because it requires me to do something that I do not seem wired to do. Yet I heart the Weight Watchers program. Quite the little paradox I have going.

Counting POINTS when you don't want to...

When losing weight with the Weight Watchers program, I definitely relied on counting POINTS, but it would be a lie of gigantic proportions if I were to say that I tracked every single thing I ate over a 10 year period of time. Yet, I have no doubt that I would not have had success with the program if I had never counted. So with all this said, here is how I have used POINTS:

1) Achieving lift-off: on my last (and hopefully final) round of losing weight, I was pretty disciplined in counting POINTS for the first three weeks, including weekends. The exercise helped me return to reality on portion sizes, foods that were good POINTS values, and damage incurred by seemingly innocent grazing expeditions. For the first three weeks, counting gave me good focus and disciplined me in the process. It served both an educational (portions and food choices) and accountability (staying within the right input range) function.
2) Pattern recognition: for most of my breakfast and lunches, I usually eat from a fairly limited repertoire of meals. I used POINTS to identify meals that worked within my budget, and then I really didn't have to sweat counting them each day once they were embedded into my routine.
3) Mine detection: during both weight loss and maintenance phase, I have used POINTS to pre-identify dangerous choices, particularly when dining out. Getting nutritional information and converting it to POINTS early has allowed me to pre-approve foods so that I could safely incorporate them into my list of acceptable meals.
4) Recharging: now that I'm on maintenance, I have not been actively counting POINTS other than keeping mental notes of rough ranges for different meal times. However, when I feel myself going off the rails, I look at counting POINTS as my safety net. After returning from vacation at the end of August, I started feeling kind of gross. I used the POINTS tracker to refocus and to get myself back on the track of righteous healthy living.

One other key for me in counting POINTS: technology helps. A lot. Weight Watchers Online/eTools has been a huge help for me in sticking with the discipline when I need to. The POINTS tracker (web and now iPhone) allows me to perform the tracking process in break-neck speed. Having favorites and being able to drag-and-drop into the tracker has made the process pretty speedy (usually less than 5 minutes). The Recipe Builder has been a similarly big help.

In no way shape or form should the above be treated as an official Weight Watchers recommendation on how everyone should use POINTS. Everyone is wired differently, and I do believe it is important to find an approach that is livable for you and your life/wiring/circumstances. But no matter who you are, counting POINTS can and should be a salvation, not a life sentence. It can be your first line of defense in an otherwise weight-unfriendly world. At least it has been for me.


  1. Tracking is definitely key for me. If I track and plan I succeed! The past 2 weeks with the help of the new WW app has been so much easier on the go! LOVE IT!

  2. i think tracking is so key to just keep you on track. Boy that sounds too simple. But its so true. I lost my weight about 7 years ago and I guess I have been tracking for a long time. And its okay --not sure if I am a P or J or Y or Z. As Nike says Just do it.

  3. Thank you for sharing this with us. I love that you're honest about not necessarily tracking every little thing all the time. And you are an at-goal member! It just goes to show what we say to our members: Do what works best for YOU! You're doing it, and its working for you.

    I'm so happy to be a Weight Watchers leader and be inolved in this organization that allows you to live your life, your way, on your own terms - while still losing weight and keeping it off.

    Thanks again, loved your post as always!

  4. Turns out I'm exactly the same way! I thought you were going to talk about how wonderful it is to be counting every single point every single day for the rest of my life. And while I am pretty good at counting points, but being the "non-to-do-list" person myself, well, I do have a to-do list most days but only out of necessity, not for the love, I do the points when I need to ground myself again. Which actually is now, and tomorrow I will count again. I look at my history and see that I've counted pretty well for most weeks, and there are only a few days here and there where I've not counted, only to feel the happiness of getting back in and counting when I'm ready. I have lost most of the weight I've needed to and I'm mostly on a maintenancy now, so I guess I feel like, if I have some control over whether or not I actually want to count, it makes me want to count. That probably makes no sense whatsoever, but it does in my rebellious mind. Haha.

  5. Having been a life-time member for about 4 years now, I know that the trick for me is counting my points. Like you, I am sometimes more diligent about this then others, but I also know that I always feel more in control when I am tracking and being in control is critical for me making good choices.
    I just finished using a 12 week journal for the first time in a very long time and it felt great! am looking forward to starting a fresh, clean journal today!

  6. Congratulations on your first Yoga Class! Aren't they awesome! I am a very happy with WW Member in progress. I track and this week was down - .4 am learning every loss is a loss indeed! As a social media mom, I am working with WW to share the word about Lose For Good! at my own blog and through social media.

  7. I was reluctant to start a program where I had to count. After seeing my pop & step mom's success I had to check it out. I am not a meeting person, I'm an intreverted loner. So, when I learned about the on-line program I said, OK it's time to get real. I am now planning what I eat, and for me grazing is necessary, so I load my lunch bag each morning and input my points for the morning, midday & anytime (including my daily ice cream fix) then I can eat anything in my bag during the work day. Popcorn has been my savior at 1 pt, as has WW string cheese. After 8 weeks and 18 lbs I am feelng great, back to exercising, and finally making good choices about food. I have found for the first time in my life what full means and feels like, something I never learned growing up. This is my first share and it feels good to put in writing. Happy losing!

  8. All I ever hear from our WW leaders is the 'bite it, write it,' chant. It's refreshing to hear someone admit that tracking doesn't always happen...

    That being said, I am impressed by how much weight I've lost in the last several weeks (made my 5% goal this week). Tracking has been a VERY useful tool for helping me learn how to make value judgments before eating.

  9. I like to take quiet time in the morning to plan my points for the day. I put everything in my eTools tracker and I'm ready for what life throws at me. I feel like I've given myself a commitment to stay on plan. Then I go back to my tracker in the evening and make adjustments based upon how my day really went. 5% in 5 weeks, so it seems to be working for me.

  10. I recognize the need to track and the benefits of tracking. It has helped me lose weight and get healthier, though I am not yet at goal. But may I confess that even knowing all that, there are times I really resent it?

    Mostly I find myself impatient with the time it all takes. Heck to track what I eat and plan healthy meals that are going to be point friendly and interesting - that sometimes feels like a second job! And that's without doing any exercising or other healthy activity. It's at these times that I am most at risk of forgetting the benefits and falling into bad habits again. Does tracking ever get easier, more second nature?