Not All Calories are Created Equal
Fit Life takes a look at more practical ways of looking at calories that were recently adopted by Weight Watchers.
Being the mother-in-law of a local baker who makes tantalizing cakes can’t be easy on the diet.
But Celia Stribrny, whose daughter-in-law Heather Stribrny operates IBake, doesn’t struggle with her weight anymore. Stribrny lost 70 pounds by following the Weight Watchers program 25 years ago and has maintained it ever since.
Stribrny has been a leader for Weight Watchers for 21 years, and currently educates and motivates over 400 members weekly at the Orland Park location at Park Hill Plaza. “My job is to facilitate the meeting; I’ll introduce a topic, such as portion control, and then let the members discuss it,” she explained.
And the system works for many people. Instead of being a diet that focuses on short-term results, it stresses a lifestyle plan for making correct food choices and being accountable for those choices. As a trainer, I have seen many clients have long-term success using the Weight Watcher program.
Weight Watchers recently introduced several significant changes to their program, which has stimulated some controversy among members. The Weight Watcher program traditionally is based on a point system rather than calories, assigning point values for every food and drink item. Members have a daily point value limit based on certain metrics, and can earn bonus points by exercising.
Under the old system, though, a calorie was just a calorie. A Danish pastry, for example, might be the same amount of points as an egg with whole-wheat toast and a piece of ham. This had the unintended consequence of allowing a dieter to skip a healthy meal for a nutritiously empty sweet or junk food.
“Our new program stresses making healthy choices and being aware of the nutritional value of each food,” Stribrny said. “We look at food as a whole.”
Foods are now assigned a point value based on their nutritional content as well as calories. Members keep track of their intake of protein, carbohydrates, fat, and fiber. They must meet the minimum healthy guidelines for each of these food groups daily, while making sure they stay on target with their daily points plus allotment.
Fruits and vegetables are now zero points in order to encourage dieters to choose fruit over a dessert, for example, and to meet the “five-a-day” serving guidelines. And certain optimal foods earn the designation as a “power food” by meeting stringent requirements such as being high in fiber, and low in sugar, sodium, and saturated fat.
Science has shown that all calories are not equal. Certain types of foods, such as fiber-rich foods, take longer to digest than others. The new system has changed the point allocations of many foods to reflect these factors.
But change can be difficult, and some members used to the old system may have to rethink their ways.
“You can’t just assume a point value anymore – you have to be conscious of everything you eat or drink,” Stribrny explained. “If I waste several of my points on something nutritionally empty, I’m not going to meet my guidelines that day.”
The new system, Stribrny said, is shaking things up and forcing people to think.
The program, which was launched just a couple of months ago, did help many members navigate the holidays easier, according to Stribrny. Members were able to make better choices overall.
“If you follow the guidelines, you’ll lose weight,” she said. “And you’ll feel better and have more energy because you are eating the right foods. The better the food, the easier it is to stay on the program.”
As for being able to enjoy her daughter-in-law’s cakes, Celia has a tool for that as well. Weight Watchers offers a Recipebuilder e-tool, which allows her to input all of the ingredients in a recipe to determine its point value. It empowers her with the knowledge of what she is eating and how it affects her daily diet. Celia can enjoy a small slice of cake, for example, without worrying about its possible effect on her weight. Often, though, she’ll just choose fruit instead of dessert.
“The Weight Watchers program is a great program that I can stay on for the rest of my life, and they are always improving it,” Stribrny says. “It’s a lifestyle.”