I thought long and hard about whether I would write this blog post. I don’t want it to appear as if I am dissing or endorsing any particular “diet” or healthy-eating program or plan, but recent events have lead me to think many commercial plans are sending mixed messages about what is and is not “healthy eating”.
Let me back the bus up for a second. Back in the early to mid-2000s, I lost 50 pounds by following Weight Watchers and I kept the weight off for over 10 years. I was one of those SUCCESS STORIES. Until I wasn’t. Over the past 2 years, and especially the past 12 months, I have gained weight. A LOT of weight. It’s made me unhappy and uncomfortable in my own skin (not to mention my too-tight clothes) and has led to me feeling like a failure. I’m not a failure. I need to remember this, but frankly, it’s HARD.
This past weekend I did something I thought I would never have to do – I rejoined Weight Watchers. I don’t relish the idea of paying to lose weight again, but thought that maybe adding that monetary aspect would also add a little motivation to get back to goal weight as quickly as possible. Goal weight means “free” to me because I had achieved Lifetime status. What was shocking was to face how much weight I had actually gained. I am now 30 pounds above my all-time lowest adult weight and I need to lose at least 20 pounds to get back to lifetime status. This saddens me. It goes back to those feelings of failure and “How could I have done this to myself?” What’s done is done and now I’m trying to fix it.
So, back to those mixed messages. The subject of the meeting last Saturday was finding “healthier” replacements to the comfort foods many of us consume. As I sat in the meeting, I was SHOCKED at the responses of some of the attendees and leader in what constitutes a healthy replacement. Over and over I heard things like, “replace full fat cheese with fat free cheese”, “drink diet soda”, “use diet margarine in place of butter”, “fat free mayo is better than real mayonnaise”, “buy fat free salad dressings”, “baked chips over fried”. I can understand why they are responding this way. The assumption is that all fats are bad and they must be removed from our diets. But at what cost? A quick comparison between Hellman’s Real Mayonnaise and the light version when I was at the grocery store showed the real version is essentially eggs, oil, vinegar and seasonings. The “Light” version? You might need a degree in biochemistry to figure out the ingredients. Regular Lays Potato Chips are potatoes, oil and salt. Baked Lays Potato CRISPS (they can’t even call them “chips”) add corn starch, sugar, soy lecithin, dextrose (more sugar), and artificial color. Nearly every “diet” or “low fat” version of a real food adds something to the original list of ingredients – most often it is added sugar or starches.
If there was anything I learned from my foray into Paleo and clean eating in the past, it was that real food should always be chosen over the “fake” varieties. The 80/20 philosophy also works – eat clean 80% of the time and choose what you want in moderation the other 20%. So what on God’s Green Earth makes frankenfoods, made from a bunch of ingredients you can’t even pronounce, healthier than their natural counterparts? It took every ounce of self-control to not ask this question during the meeting. Maybe I should have brought it up but I was trying to shrink into the chair I was sitting in. Instead I came home and posted the question to Facebook, “Is it possible to follow Weight Watchers and avoid all the frankenfoods they recommend?”
It turns out it IS possible – it’s just going to take some creative meal planning. The “real” versions are typically higher in Points Plus, probably because the calorie and fat contents are a bit higher. Luckily, there are those weekly extra points that I can dip into if necessary. One of the commenters also suggesting following their “Simply Filling” program in which you can eat whatever you want from a prescribed list that is MUCH cleaner and you eat until satisfied but not stuffed. Since I’m trying to get a handle on portion control, I’m going with measuring and counting points, but it’s nice to know that option is out there. Our sister site, Shrinking Kitchen, also includes the points values and uses clean ingredients, so I’m finding lots of great recipe ideas there.
Like I said at the beginning of this post, I didn’t write this to slam Weight Watchers. They have historically been very successful in helping probably millions of people lose weight and adopt healthier lifestyles. It worked for me for quite a long time until age, stress, and life happened. I wrote this post as a reminder to everyone to READ food labels. Educate yourself so you know what you are putting in your body because these mixed messages are everywhere. You and only you can decide what to take at face value and what may require a little research on your part. I just know that I am the one in control of my destiny and the size of my jeans – hopefully with a little extra knowledge and support, I’ll hit those goals again.