Q&A with Weight Watchers dietitian Zoe Griffiths
In August 2014, Mumsnetters asked Weight Watchers expert and registered dietitian Zoe Griffiths for advice on weight loss and following the Weight Watchers programme.
Zoe has 10 years experience as a dietitian, as well as experience supporting a range of departments within Weight Watchers. She spoke about how Weight Watchers works, good foods to eat and maintaining after weight loss.
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Q. scousedelic: Over the years, the Weight Watchers diet has changed substantially from a fairly sensible, portion-controlled, fresh food diet to include more and more heavily processed diet foods, often sold as your own brand. Do you accept that the weight loss industry has some responsibility in the obesity problem?
A. Zoe Griffiths: With a great increase in the availability of ready-prepared foods in supermarkets these days, there are options to suit each individual person. The great thing about the Weight Watchers Plan is that no food groups or product types are off limits and it's up to you as to how you spend your ProPoints budget. So, whether you're a busy person who likes to buy pre-prepared food such as low-calorie ready meals to help stay on track, or if you're a from scratch kind of person who likes fresh seasonal ingredients, the ProPoints Plan suits both.
We suggest that you base your daily eating on our list of Filling & Healthy foods (such as fruits and vegetables, lean proteins and wholegrains) as these are the best for choices to help you fill up faster, stay fuller for longer and avoid the types of foods that can lead to overeating. The Weight Watchers Plan ensures that a healthy and sustainable weight loss rate of 0.5-2lbs a week is achieved, so that people reach their goal weight and stay there.
As a brand, Weight Watchers Foods concentrates on keeping the goodness in and taking the bad bits out. By using recipe expertise, combined with smart cooking techniques like baking instead of frying, all of the 250 Weight Watchers Foods products deliver in choice, flavour and satisfaction. The whole Weight Watchers Foods range meets the 2012 Department of Health salt guidelines. We work with all of our supplier partners to ensure that we naturally increase fibre whilst reducing fat, sugar and salt. We take pride in the fact that in doing so, we do not compromise on flavour.
Q. Hoopalong: I've always been put off trying Weight Watchers because it seems to be all about weighing food. Is this not the case now or am I still right that this is not for those who need it quick and simple?
A. Zoe Griffiths: We encourage members to get familiar with serving sizes right from the start, as the portion size of a food affects its ProPoints value. We suggest using scales the first few times you eat a food, but then you should be able to judge a portion by eye. In our experience, those occasions when you overestimate the portion are cancelled out by those times when you underestimate. We also offer ideas in our programme books to show how everyday objects can be used to judge portion sizes. There's no need to weigh and measure before and after eating, we simply give the information for both to cover both preferences. And if you choose to follow the Filling & Healthy day approach to the ProPoints plan, you don't need to weigh, measure or count those foods on the Filling & Healthy food list. You'll find lots of information about this approach on our website.
Q. puddock: If you have X number of points each day and you don't use them all up, are you permitted to carry them over to the next day?
A. Zoe Griffiths: The daily ProPoints allowance helps to create that all important energy deficit for weight loss. It's also set to help ensure that you have sufficient ProPoints values to be able to eat the full range of recommended healthy nutrients throughout the day, and that you have sufficient room to be full and satisfied as you lose weight. The minimum daily ProPoints allowance is 26, so it's important that you don't go below this. If you don't use all your daily allowance one day, it can't be carried over to the next.
Q. Dolallytats: I have IBS and am unable to eat a lot of fruit, veg and pulses. This makes Weight Watchers a difficult diet for me to follow. Do you have any advice for the people that can't take advantage of the free foods?
A. Zoe Griffiths: As no food groups are excluded from the ProPoints Plan, you should be able to accommodate your dietary requirements by choosing foods that suit you and your condition. Make the most of lean proteins and low fat dairy to stretch your ProPoints budget. For specific dietary advice regarding your condition we recommend that you speak to a qualified health practitioner.
Q. Sealight123: How do you keep the momentum going when doing a Weight Watchers diet plan? Is it treated as a diet or as a healthy lifestyle change?
A. Zoe Griffiths: Weight Watchers is definitely not a diet – it's a way of losing weight while learning to eat healthily for life. To stay motivated:
- set small, achievable goals (for example, instead of saying "I'm going to eat more healthily", you could say "I'll add a portion of fruit or vegetables to every meal this week")
- make tiny, positive changes to your behaviours (eg swapping your evening snack from crisps to veggie sticks)
- find ways to move more (eg pacing the floor while talking on the phone)
- don't let food fatigue set in (so explore our website, magazine and cook books for new and exciting meal ideas)
Q. Thewomaninwhite: What focus does Weight Watchers give to exercise?
A. Zoe Griffiths: Along with healthy eating, behaviour change and group support, activity is a key part of our four-way approach to weight management. Being less sedentary and getting more active is really important to successful weight loss. Being fit and active means you're improving your health, burning more calories and also earning activity ProPoints values, which can either be swapped like-for-like with food ProPoints values, or just put towards improving your weight and shape.
We encourage our members to start by simply moving more than they did before, gradually building up to the Government's good health guideline of 30 minutes of moderate intensity activity, five times a week. For weight loss, this should be increased to 50–60 minutes a day, with muscle strengthening activity two or more days a week.
Q. littleduck: How much weight per week would be normal for someone on Weight Watchers to lose?
A. Zoe Griffiths: A healthy rate of weight loss is 0.5-2lb per week (after the first three weeks, during which losses may be greater due to water loss).
Q. TenMinutesEarly: Can teenagers join Weight Watchers and would you recommend that they do?
A. Zoe Griffiths: We're happy to welcome young people between the ages of 10 and 16 to Weight Watchers. All we ask is that they have written permission from their doctor, who will also set their target weight (the Leader has a special form for the doctor to complete), and that they're accompanied to the meeting each week by a parent or guardian (who doesn't have to be a member themselves). Young people have a higher daily ProPoints allowance than adults and, as they're still growing, a healthy rate of weight loss for them is around 1lb a month.
Q. thicksolidtight: Why is Weight Watchers not recommended for pregnant women?
A. Zoe Griffiths: In line with national public health guidance, pregnant women cannot be Weight Watchers members, even if they have a letter from a qualified health professional. NICE, England's independent organisation responsible for providing national guidance on promoting good health and preventing and treating ill health, have the position that weight loss programmes are not recommended during pregnancy as they may harm the health of the unborn child*.
As we take the health and wellbeing of our members very seriously, Weight Watchers always follow national guidance and that's why we cannot support women who are pregnant to manage their weight in any way. Pregnant members should consult their GP or midwife for advice on their weight, diet, activity and health during pregnancy. We welcome women into our services after their six week post-natal check-up; and many women find success with our programme at this time.
*NICE: Dietary interventions and physical activity interventions for weight management before, during and after pregnancy (July 2010)
Q. ShowMeTheWonder: Is Weight Watchers suitable for breastfeeding mothers?
A. Zoe Griffiths: Yes. All elements of the ProPoints Plan are suitable for breastfeeding mothers, and will give you a healthy weight loss of up to 1lb a week. Losing more weight than this may affect the quality and quantity of your breast milk. In your first couple of weeks you'll be using Simple Start, which focuses on the nutritious foods that sit at the heart of our plan - Filling & Healthy foods. You won't need to make any adjustments to how you follow it. Once you move on to counting ProPoints values, your Leader will check your daily ProPoints allowance, and then you will need to:
- Add 14 ProPoints values to your daily allowance if breast milk is the sole source of nutrition for your baby, or
- Add 7 ProPoints values to your daily allowance if you are weaning your baby and supplementing breastfeeding with solid foods
Q. rupert23: I have an underactive thyroid and need to lose six stone, would it be ok to do Weight Watchers?
A. Zoe Griffiths: People who suffer from hypothyroidism may experience weight gain, and may find losing that weight is more difficult than those with normal thyroid levels. As well as a reduced metabolism, weight gain before treatment can be linked to other symptoms of hypothyroidism, such as decreased physical activity levels associated with fatigue, increased food intake associated with stress, tiredness or low mood and the general ageing process. Once treatment is started and thyroid function is restored, the ability to lose weight is the same as someone without the condition. However, it is not uncommon for those being treated for hypothyroidism to lose weight at a slightly slower rate. It may be helpful for you to adjust your weight loss expectations to take this into account.
Q. petalsandstars: Breakfast options seem to be high in points values for what you get for it. What's the best type of thing to have for breakfast to keep you going until lunch?
A. Zoe Griffiths: There are plenty of low ProPoints value, filling breakfast options to choose from. By basing your breakfast on our Filling & Healthy foods, these will help keep you feeling fuller for longer. For a warming breakfast try porridge (30g oats and 160ml skimmed milk has a ProPoints value of 4) and top it with fresh fruit such as a banana or blueberries for no additional ProPoints values.
If you have time to cook breakfast, eggs are another versatile filling option. A medium egg has a ProPoints value of 2 – combine it with two bacon medallions, a grilled tomato, mushrooms and three tablespoons of baked beans, you have yourself a hearty breakfast for 5 ProPoints values. Alternatively make an omelette with vegetables or smoked salmon. A serving of sugary breakfast cereals will often leave you feeling hungry before lunch so it's worth finding that breakfast that keeps you feeling satisfied.
Q. mintbaileys: Why on Weight Watchers does an avocado have to be pointed in the same way as a bar of chocolate?
A. Zoe Griffiths: Avocado has a ProPoints value due to its nutritional content – it has a much higher fat content than other fruits. However the majority of the fat in avocados is unsaturated fat which is beneficial to heart health, so don't rule it out of your eating plan altogether.
Q. Mumsbe: I have a massive sweet tooth and I snack all day, what would you recommend to make me fuller for longer and what would satisfy my sweet tooth thanks?
A. Zoe Griffiths: Start by making sure you base your meals on Filling & Healthy foods. These foods will help you stay fuller for longer which can help prevent snacking. Keep fresh fruit to hand for when you feel the urge to snack on something sweet. Sometimes hunger can be mistaken for thirst, so reach for a glass of water or cup of tea first. Also don't make yourself miserable by depriving yourself as it can often lead to overeating with frustration. Plan a sweet treat into your daily eating plan - a small 20g bar of chocolate has a ProPoints value of 3.
Q. ShyPhilosopher: Do you have any advice for how a comfort eater can adapt to a healthier diet?
A. Zoe Griffiths: Eating for emotional reasons is really common, so you're not alone. It's often out of habit – reaching for food when you're sad or bored is a learned response, so it is possible to change your behaviour, or 'unlearn'. The first thing to do is identify the trigger – is it always a particular time of day, for example? Once you know when the comfort eating is most likely to strike, decide to do something different – either take yourself away from the food you turn to, or replace that food with something else. It doesn't have to be carrot sticks! It could be a more controlled portion of your favourite food, or something lower in ProPoints values. Alternatively, put as much distance between yourself and the source of food as you can, and distract yourself with something not related to food – go for a walk, take a bath, call a friend. Most of the time, the urge to eat passes because you haven't responded instantly to the trigger.
Q. Hopezibah: Do you have any top tips for eating out?
A. Zoe Griffiths: Absolutely, eating out doesn't have to be a challenge. If you know where you're going before you head out, check the menu so you can suss out the best options. If you're a Weight Watchers member you can search online, in the app or in the Eat Out guide for the ProPoints values of popular restaurants. Look out for words on the menu such as baked, grilled, poached and steamed as dishes described as this will be lower in ProPoints values than dishes described as fried, breaded, creamy, buttery and battered.
Don't turn up to the restaurant hungry as you will be less likely to be in control of your menu choice, and the bread basket will disappear in seconds! If bread is immediately put on your table and you don't want it, send it back or put at the end of the table away from your reach. When it comes to ordering, often a starter-sized portion of certain dishes such as pasta can be enough as a main meal, just order a large side salad or portion of unbuttered veg to accompany it.
Sharing side dishes such as chips or naan bread can halve your ProPoints value intake and may make you realise that you didn't need a whole portion anyway. With desserts, the best options are sorbets or ice creams, or share a dessert to spread the ProPoints values. Remember, you have your weekly ProPoints allowance of 49 to fall back on.
Q. LottieAndTheDinosaur: Are you allowed to have unlimited fruit and vegetables for 'free' on the Weight Watchers plan?
A. Zoe Griffiths: Fresh and frozen fruits and vegetables, and fruit canned in juice (drained) all have a ProPoints value of zero. However, you do still need to pay attention to feelings of satisfaction when eating foods that have been assigned a ProPoints value of zero, stopping when you feel satisfied. The Government's healthy eating guidelines recommend five portions of fruit and veg a day, so if you're eating much more than this, and your weight loss is affected, you may want to cut back a little.
Q. Gooseysgirl: What are your top tips for staying at your goal once you get there?
A. Zoe Griffiths: If you attend meetings, your Leader will give you the programme book called 'You Did It! Welcome to Goal'. In there you'll find all the information you need to help you make small adjustments to maintain your weight, rather than lose any more. You can also check out the maintenance articles on the My Plan area of our website. Keep tabs on what you're eating and drinking, and gradually your weight should stabilise. People who are more active are known to be more successful at keeping their weight off long-term, so step up your activity levels. Finally, stay in close contact with those who helped you lose your weight – either your Leader and fellow meeting members, or the online community.
Q. FrancesHB: How many of your clients who lose a significant amount of weight have kept it off after five years?
A. Zoe Griffiths: The published evidence that we have on successful Weight Watchers members shows that the (often) firmly held belief that people who lose weight 'just pile it all back on again', is not actually true for us. In one study* which followed up successful Weight Watchers members five years down the line, almost 80% of them were below their initial weight, with almost 40% within 5lbs of their healthy weight goal.
Weight Watchers is committed to providing an approach that not only helps members achieve a healthy body weight but, more importantly, provides weight loss that is sustainable. Our whole approach is focused around helping people learn and adopt the lifelong skills and habits that are critical for success.
*reference Weight-Loss Maintenance 1, 2 and 5 Years after Successful Completion of a Weight-Loss Programme. M Lowe, TVE Kral, K Miller Kovach. British Journal of Nutrition 2008; 99:925-930.
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