Tracking Calories vs. Points
I was excited to read about the new PointsPlus program that Weight Watchers is now launching since I was never a big fan of the original Points program. To be consistent with research on foods, health, and weight control, points are now adjusted for fat, carbs, fiber, and protein. Fresh fruits and non-starchy veggies are free (no points) to encourage greater consumption of those foods. While I applaud the PointsPlus program for helping people make better food choices, I think point adjustments could be hard for a lot of people. I also wonder about how the adjustment of points will affect calories. Ironically, this new system has the potential to underestimate total calories when one has a diet high in fiber, protein and fresh fruit. Excluding fresh fruit from the point total could mean a possible error of up to 300 calories if three pieces of fresh fruit are eaten daily. If people eat more fresh fruit, will they necessarily eat less point-containing foods? Will PointsPlus be as effective in creating a calories deficit - the ultimate bottom line for weight loss - for those of us with big appetites who don't adjust our food intake downwards despite eating more fresh fruit and non-starchy veggies?
I have to assume Weight Watchers has tested their new PointsPlus program for efficacy before launching it. As a dietitian who has worked a lot with tracking calories, I can't help but wonder if certain eating patterns might make the points system more difficult to lose weight. Despite differences in the caloric cost of metabolizing fats, carbs and protein, research shows that you still have to create a calories deficit to lose weight. It takes a deficit of about 3500 calories to lose one pound of weight. That means you have to eat less than your total calories burned by about 500 calories/day for lose 1 lb/week, 250 calories/day for 1/2 lb/week, 125 calories/day for 1/4 lb/week, etc.
One member on the Weight Watchers message board posted that she switched from Weight Watchers to MyNetDiary's diet and exercise tracker, met her final goal weight and saved money at the same time. Another member on the Weight Watchers message board posted a query about why she should use a points system now – why not just add up the actual values of fats, carbs and proteins to get an exact calories intake? Essentially, she was asking why not just count calories instead of fiddle with point adjustments. Good question – why not count calories instead of points? The answer is really up to you. The program you follow needs to be easy to use, effective, safe, healthful and sustainable over the long term. If the new PointsPlus system works for you, then by all means stick with it if you can afford it.
If are ready to try something new or simply need a less costly way to manage your weight, then please consider online food and exercise trackers. These trackers are inexpensive or free, easy to use, include mobile app access, automated goal setters, large food databases and have interactive community forums. As both a user and consulting dietitian with MyNetDiary, I am a big fan of calorie counting now since I was able to meet my own goal weight without a lot of fuss. It is also the best tool I have ever used for weight maintenance.
What is right for you? You have to discover that for yourself. Try different mobile apps if you have a smart phone. Try different web programs if you rely mostly on computer access. As you would with a new pair of shoes, "try on" programs to see how they fit. Tracking calorie intake and expenditure is the most direct way to control your weight. Points are only a proxy for calories. Now that calorie tracking is so easy with inexpensive online programs and mobile apps, it essentially makes point counting obsolete. Although I am a big fan of Weight Watchers, I want people to be aware that there are other options out there that are simple and intuitive to use. And importantly, if cost is preventing you from consistent use of a program, then finding an affordable program is essential for your success in losing weight as well as weight maintenance.
Have questions about this topic? Let's hear from you! Post your questions on MyNetDiary's Community Forum.
Kathy Isacks, MPS, RD
Consulting Dietitian for MyNetDiary
MyNetDiary.com Diet & Weight Loss Resources.
USAToday.com. "Weight Watchers revamps plan, introduces PointsPlus."
WeightWatchers.com message board.
Disclaimer: Please note that we cannot provide personalized advice and that the information provided does not constitute medical advice. If you are seeking medical advice, please visit a medical professional.