Saturday, September 24, 2011

Do I commit fruit abuse? I claim complete innocence!

How much fruit can a man eat?

I had a chance to be on FoxBusiness on Friday to talk about obesity and healthcare.  While I was getting miked-up, one of the guys on the Fox crew pulled me aside to share that he was a Weight Watchers member.  As you know from previous posts, I always enjoy the chance to meet fellow-man travelers in the world of Weight Watchers.  We are a brave group of pioneers, and our numbers are rapidly increasing.  This particular guy shared with me that his one concern about the program was that fruit had zero PointsPlus values, and he was nervous about binging and perhaps had done a little of that.

I shared with him the advice I always give when asked about this.  I talked to him about the fact that it is pretty hard to go crazy on fruit.  If you look at it, while fruit does have natural sugars, it is also filled with fiber and water.  As a result, it's naturally filling.  It is also helpful our bodies have a way of reacting to fruit binges through vigorous feedback from our digestive system (enough said).  Finally, I told him that while fruit had a zero PointsPlus value, as do most vegetables, we encourage people not to go crazy on it and treat it as a mindless eating/binge food. The golden rule in weight management is to not suspend reality.  It is, in fact, hard to lose weight while eating 73 apples a day.

It takes a ton of oranges to make much less than a ton of OJ

Just as a fun math check, consider the commercial for Tropicana orange juice.  "16 oranges to make a bottle".  That's 16 oranges for a 59 ounce bottle.  That works about to 2.2 oranges for an 8 ounce glass.  Sit down and feast on 2.2 oranges along with the rest of your breakfast, and tell me if you still feel hungry.

I always come back to the reason why Weight Watchers made the decision to give fruit a zero PointsPlus value.  We are trying to encourage people to make the healthy food choice rather than the processed cookie choice.  The example I often give is this:  the 3 PM snack.

  • Old Points program:  it's 3 PM, I can choose an apple (2 POINTS) or a 100 calorie snack pack of Oreos (also 2 POINTS).  It would not surprise you to discover that many people would say "There is no way on Earth that I'm wasting 2 POINTS on a piece of fruit, give me the cookies or I will bite your arm off."  
  • PointsPlus program:  it's 3 PM, I can choose an apple (0 PointsPlus value) or a 100 calorie snack pack of Oreos (now 3 PointsPlus value).  All of the sudden that apple is looking pretty good.  It's also healthy and filling.  Good bargain, good satisfaction and good health.  That's a nice hat trick.  
Feeling very self-proud of myself for espousing the righteousness of our approach to fruit, I stepped back to ask myself the question:  am I a fruit binger?  

I've been on Weight Watchers since I joined the company 11 years ago (I have gray hair now).  Fruit has always been a big part of how I follow the program.  It was always a pretty good deal, and now it's a great deal.  As a result, I have grown to LOVE fruit.  It's almost an unnatural love.  I thrive on apples, and I can even tell the difference between varietals (I'm a particularly big fan of Fuji).  I love all manner of berries.  I like a good banana, as long as it's not brownish.  I have more recently discovered the mango, which pairs nicely with my old friend the pineapple.  If binging starts with love, I am an ideal candidate.  But am I a binger?

So here is my daily fruit round-up:
  • Breakfast:  This is my primary fruit eating meal.  I mix in a banana and a half a cup of blueberries or rasberries into plain oatmeal.  I also mix in about 1 1/2 cups of grapes in with zero fat Greek yogurt.  
  • Lunch:  I might or might not have an apple with my salad.
  • Snack:  I grab an apple, particularly if I didn't have one for lunch.  
  • Dessert:  my most healthy desert is mixing in frozen berries with zero fat Greek yogurt.  I haven't done this in a while, and writing this post is reminding me to consider getting back into that habit (i.e., instead of low fat ice cream).  
Therefore, a typical day for me is about 5 servings of fruit.  Just for fun, I was curious how many calories I was picking up.  Here is the tally:
  • Grapes:  1.5 cups = 90 calories (22 g carbs, 2 g fiber, 1 g protein, and 0 g fat).  Like most fruit, the grape is mostly water and pulp.  
  • Banana:  1 large = 121 calories (32 g carbs, 3.5 g fiber, 1.5 g protein, and 0 g fat).  Bananas are a bit of a watch out food for me because I know I can eat one in about three to four bites.  They go down a little too fast, so I usually only eat them sliced up in my oatmeal.  
  • Blueberries:  1/2 cup = 41 calories (10 g carbs, 2 g fiber, 1 g protein, and 0 g fat).  These guys are a pretty great deal.  Rasberries are an even better deal (32 calories for the same 1/2 cup).  
  • Apple:  1 medium = 95 calories (25 g carbs, 4.4 g fiber, 0.5 g protein, and 0 g fat).  One of the aspects of apples that I find most helpful is the fact that they take a while to eat.  I also find them pretty filling. 
  • My total for the day:  347 calories (89 g carbs, 12 g fiber, 4 g protein, and 0 g fat).  
If I were attempting to lose 1.5 pounds per week, my target calories per day would be slightly north of 1,600 assuming that I was doing zero exercise given my height, age and weight.  This would suggest that my 347 calories in fruit would be about 22% of my total caloric intake, which doesn't feel crazy to me.  In fact, the latest US Dietary Guidelines suggest filling half your plate with fruits and vegetables.  My 22% is right on target.  

Looking at all of the above math makes me feel even better about how well the program works for me.  All of that fruit is an awful lot of food, and it's a big reason why I don't spend my days starving to death.  For the volume of food it represents, the above fruit is a pretty great deal for me  (i.e., calories per bowl of food).  This is true even though I am a pretty big fruit eater.  I'm probably two standard deviations about the population average, but that's a stat I should probably check.  

Moral of the story for me?  It's nice to know that my not particularly planned fruit regimen is very much on target.  It is also a good lesson that zero PointsPlus value fruit does not mean throwing mindfulness out the window.  Tracking can be good even when adding up a bunch of zeros.  




  1. Here's another thought. The 0 points fruit has made it easier for me to maintain my weight. When hungry, or just looking for something to eat, it's easy to fill up on a banana and be satisfied. It has helped me make consistently healthy choices. Maintenance is truly easier. I would be interested to know if the long term effects of the new program will have a similar effect. I hope others on maintenance will comment.

  2. The problem is, free fruit combined with small persons, and the new formula doesn't work. I'm not talking about abusing fruit. But someone under 5' tall does not need the same points as someone nearly 6' tall, and someone close to 200 lbs should not be consuming the same points as someone closer to 130. The bottom of 20 points is too high, even w/o free fruit, but it also fills in all the wiggly space those of us smaller people need to have left alone. There is zero science to support tall and short, heavy for a size and not much to lose having the same number of points each day, and WW is supposed to be all about science. I don't understand this, and I don't want to pay $15 a month for a tracker that can't track what I need any more.

    I have not been successful on WW at all since the change (I gained the first 7 weeks) without counting EVERY piece of fruit by putting it in the recipe builder and using the # it would have been manually, and course, only 1 or 2 pieces of fruit a day depending on size. I finally stopped counting on WW for the first time in 9 years, because it is so hard to be diligent when the tracker appears to have more points available, even though I think with protein counting for something, WW's formula for assigning points is the best it's been, an more in line with the dietary recommendations I and others have received for preventing type 2 diabetes.

  3. I have been successful since the change last year BUT only because I knew right away that I would have to tweak the plan for me. Yep, another short (5' 3" tall) person. Also, I had been a member for six years so I knew what I could eat and maintain.

    I allow myself one free fruit serving per day and any others are counted as one point. I NEVER eat the extra 29 points. If I get to where I need those points, I'm approaching the space where the scale will soon be going up.

    I am still loving getting 29 points each day instead of 18. All around, I do well and will continue as a Life Time member at goal. :)

  4. I love the new program! I was very concerned about how I would manage when I got down to the minimum points allowance on the old program, but with PointsPlus I know I will be able to lose weight while still living. I've been with WW since August of 2010 and to date have lost 89.8 pounds. I lost well with the old program and have continued to lose consistently with PointsPlus.

    I want to thank you for introducing this healthy, liveable program!

  5. Hi David,

    It's nice to be reminded of the essential wisdom of the new plan - how we are gently but steadily guided towards the better food choice throughout the day. But you also touched on what I believe is the larger issue here for many if not most WW members and that is mindless eating.

    The fact that we see "Zero Points" and immediately translate that information into permission to binge is, to me, the heart of the matter. You've already addressed this issue beautifully in your posts about Wansink's terrific book MINDLESS EATING. I think the fruit issue is really that issue all over again, only this time presented in the guise of healthy food.

    Why do we feel the need to eat in quantities beyond the body's natural desire or need? That's what I still struggle to understand, and I have a of of company in this regard - as in every single person in my meeting. Whether it's a box of donuts or a bushel of nectarines, the insanity of that behavior remains the same.

    Jean N.' autobiography contains some very profound thinking and advice about mindless eating. I've suggested this before but perhaps it's worth mentioning again: I think it would be a great service to WW members for everyone to receive a copy - gratis -of her book when we join. I read her book in April when I rejoined WW and it has proven to be invaluable. But no one else seems to know or care about it. For example, I attended WW in DC this Spring for 3 months and I was the only person, including the leaders and receptionists, who had read it, and I went to virtually every meeting in the city. I've encountered the same thing back home in NYC - my meeting is at the new 23rd street location, a kind of retail headquarters for WW it seems, and yet the book is nowhere to be seen, and no one who works there has read it. Jean's book is a goldmine of help around the challenge of mindless eating but we are losing out on the gifts it contains because as a business decision, publication apparently wasn't successful. Those untouched dusty stacks of her autobiography have even disappeared from the one DC meeting I used to see it at ( on K street ). Who can say why it didn't sell - but it's a perfect example of throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

    Also, Jean's book is invaluable in that it illuminates the ways in which we, current WW members, are part of a continuum. The ways in which the program has grown and changed, and the collective success and wisdom of all those who have gone before us is profoundly helpful, I believe. Not to mention fascinating and at times incredibly entertaining.

    This is all to say that I think the fruit issue is just the latest manifestation of the oldest and I think the toughest part of the struggle - our inability to stop eating when we are full.

    There's one item that I think is healthy to binge on - intelligent information/sound nutritional science. We can never read too much rational material about the WW journey, and as always, your terrific posts are exactly that - great food for thought. And at zero points I can read, and reread, them as much as I want!
    Jonathan Fried

  6. David,

    It was suggested that we only eat about two portions of fruit a day, then the rest veggies, since fruit has a lot of sugar. I love the new Points Plus system - since it changed over, I just went with the new plan and this made it easier to adapt!

    Also, quite a few Lifetime members in our meeting suggested that we get free e-tools. We are still buying the WW products and enjoy them - I myself love the WW oatmeal!

  7. I am loving the "free" fruit! I feel I make better choices for snacks for sure. Although, that being said I think I will have to cut back a bit because I feel as I get closer to goal it is getting harder to lose. My 4-5 per day may need to go down to 2-3. But I always say, I didn't get to be overweight from overeating fruit!

  8. I love PointsPlus. I first came to Weight Watchers Momentum fresh from a lowered carb, lowered sugar, whole foods diet in order to jolt myself out of a stall. I knew I needed fewer calories, and figured WW was the way to go. It wasn't long before I found myself going for the 100 calorie snakpaks rather than fruit or other healthy foods because, as you stated in your post, it seemed a no-brainer: Why spend points on fruit when I could have sugar for the same amount of points? Yet, I was always uneasy with those choices because I knew they were far different than the clean eating I had been used to and needed to continue. It wasn't long before I had completely gone off the 'deep end' diet wise. When I read of the changes of the PointsPlus plan, I gave WW another go. I am loving it! Now the choice is to spend 3 points on a 100 cal snack pack, or 0 points on fruit. Another no-brainer, but a healthy one this time. The plan also gives me reassurance that if I get hungry, I can always choose a few grapes or a small apple with no point penalty. I, too, am a short person, at 5'3", and have had no problem losing so far; granted, I've only been on PointsPlus for about 6 weeks now, but I've lost 14 pounds and I feel great. WW has a new fan in me.

  9. I absolutely LOVE the free fruit. I would avoid bananas in the past because they were so high in points! Now my family of 2 buys 7 lb. of banana each week. Am I abusing it? Maybe. When I reach for a snack I reach for fruit rather than a bag of chips. But I don't think any of us got fat by eating too many fruits and veggies...

    For those that the free fruit doesnt work: I'm also short (5'3") and it works wonders for me. I never use the 29 points, I work out, and I have cut out most of the processed sugars, carbs and additional fats. Maybe the rest of what you're eating is making you gain, and not the fruit/veggies? Up your workouts? Drink more water? I've lost 30 lb. on the new program and I love love love the fact that I'm eating more healthy things this go around :)

    Yay for the bananas!

  10. (Ahem... never use the EXTRA 29 points. I eat the regular 29 points just fine ;p)

  11. Another shortie here (5'3") and I'm not sure what other short folks are doing, maybe they are experiencing a self-fulfilling prophecy with their attitude assuming it was not going to work for them? It's working wonders for me and I am LOVING the free fruit. It's making me choose healthier foods consistently. 2PP bananas rather than 3PP 100 calorie packs. Stick with the GHG's, exercise and tracktracktrack and you're all set!

  12. I agree with many of the comments here. I'm really happy with the zero point fruit option as it does allow better snack choices and encourages us to eat whole foods. Yet, I think the reality is that past 3 fruits, many people need to count it somehow. I generally count the 4th fruit as two points (which is about the average point value according to the recipe builder). I'm now losing again on WW.

  13. I realize this is an older post, but I have to say that I do not like that fruit has no points. Yes, I understand the analogy about the cookies or the piece of fruit, but the great thing about WW was that nothing felt off limits, that there were no 'moral' value placed on one food over another, and now there is. I think it was a bad move.

  14. If I ate an extra 300+ calories of "free fruit" every day, I wouldn't lose an ounce. Or rather, WHEN I ate an extra 300+ calories of free fruit, I didn't lose an ounce. In fact, I gained. I absolutely loved PP when it was first unveiled, but I never lost weight on it, and it was because of my inability to to deal with free fruit.

    Yes, we should eat all things in moderation. If I were good at that, I wouldn't need the structure of Weight Watchers. Removing fruit from that structure was not helpful to me.

    When I taste sugar, I want more sugar. Fruit is no exception. In fact, I love fruit. All kinds. Always have. And, left to my own devices, I eat far too much of it. In your example, Dave, I would choose fruit over those tasteless snack cookies any day.

    I'm glad other folks are making healthier choices and not overeating fruit. I guess this one just doesn't work for a middle-aged, female, sugar-loving, compulsive overeater like me.