Thursday, June 18, 2009

Weight Watchers

I joined Weight Watchers this week. Weight Watchers is a weight loss program that works in an interesting way. Each food is assigned a "point value" based on its calorie content, fiber, and grams of fat. Higher calories and fat mean more points. You have a maximum quota of points based on your weight, age, height, sex, and activity level. Then you keep track of all the foods you eat and try to stay under the point level. There is also a list of "healthy eating options" that you are supposed to have. These include fruits and vegetables, healthy oils, and lean protein. Lean protein was one thing that I thought that it would be hard for me to find because I don't like meat, but it turns out that lots of places have chicken that I can eat. Another thing is that there is a list of "filling foods" that have a low "energy density" (i.e. number of calories per gram.) These are good to eat because they fill you up without lots of calories. As it turns out, 94% fat free, butterless popcorn is a filling food.

Another interesting thing is that it also mentions "fat-free cheese." I had no idea such a thing existed, but if it does, it would help me cut a lot of fat out of my diet.

By the way, an article in Wired magazine (it's about the sixth result on google for "weight watchers" offers the following explanation for Weight Watchers' success: it turns weight loss into a game, similar to computer role-playing games. For example:

- The "point system" where each food costs a certain number of points is similar to systems in games where you spend "points" to cast spells or use special powers.

- There are rewards you get when you reach certain milestones (like losing 5% of your body weight.) This is like in computer games where you can go up in level or get rewards by accomplishing objectives.

- The first ten weeks they give you one "book" a week, which slowly introduces you to new features of the plan. For example the week 1 book just talks about eating healthy and introduces the point system for food, and later books give advice on things like eating out and exercising more. This is similar to computer games where each level introduces more features.


The only problem with Weight Watchers so far is that there is no official iPhone app for it. There are lots of unofficial apps but those only have a very limited set of features. For example the app I am using now just lets you put in foods and point values and track them (and also lets you calculate point values from nutrition data). It doesn't keep track of any of the "healthy eating" items, and doesn't have the list of filling foods. So I still have to carry around the physical book for that. It seems so 20th century.

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