10 Features of Effective Weight Loss Programs

In my work as a psychologist, I’ve often helped people develop and implement plans to make healthy lifestyle changes such as losing weight, stopping smoking, eating healthier foods or getting more physical activity. A significant number of folks have dealt with ongoing weight issues, which can be due to medication side effects, poor nutrition, or physical inactivity.

While I’ve never been extremely overweight, my weight had crept up at an average of a pound or so per year since my mid-20’s. About a year ago, my weight was considered “overweight” according to the Body Mass Index (BMI) calculator, and only a few pounds away from the “obese” range.

As I began to consider the likely probability that my weight would continue to increase each subsequent year, I decided to attempt to reverse this pattern.

So I joined Weight Watchers.

As you may know, Weight Watchers (WW), is a highly rated commercial program designed to help you lose weight through food tracking, behavior modification, healthy eating, physical activity and peer support. Founded in 1963, WW has helped over 25 million people in over 30 countries achieve their weight loss goals, according to their website.

While I was familiar with WW, having seen several friends and family go through the program, I had never participated myself. Although I have lots of nice things to say about WW, I’m not being compensated by them. These are just my own opinions and personal experiences.

My WW weight loss plan included tracking my food and beverage intake each day via their smartphone app, which translates each item into WW’s “Smart Points.” You have a daily point limit based on your weight and weekly points you may use anytime during the week in addition to the daily points.

The WW app has a bar code scanner so you can check any food item package to see how many Smart Points it has. Plus there is an extensive database of foods and their nutritional information, including many restaurant and fast food items. You can also enter in calories, sugar, protein and fat grams to calculate Smart Points for any food or recipe.

It was really easy to learn how to track and record my daily food and drink consumption. A great feature about the plan is that no food is prohibited. You just have to make healthy choices to stay within your daily and weekly points limits.

Another part of my plan was to increase my physical activity. While I wasn’t working out regularly at a gym, I did strap on a step monitor, with the goal of walking 10,000 or more steps per day (about 5 miles). These steps then translate into activity points in the WW system.

Finally, my plan included attending a weekly support group meeting. The group offered encouragement, rewards for weight loss milestones and group discussion surrounding a weekly newsletter with helpful strategies for behavior change, increasing motivation, and healthy recipes.

I also weighed in at each weekly meeting. As I stepped up on the scale, I received instant feedback about how much (or how little) weight I had lost that week. I also weighed almost every day at home to get a sense of my progress in between the official weekly weigh-ins.

I did pay a modest monthly fee for all of these benefits. How did it all work out? Quite well. I had steady weight loss of 1 to 3 pounds almost every week and yes, I did have a few weeks in which I gained a pound or so. I also walked 10,000 steps or more on most days during this time period.

It took me almost exactly five months to lose 25 pounds, which was my goal. Along the way, I had to ditch the majority of my wardrobe as my pants did in fact begin to fall off and many shirts and sweaters started to resemble large tents on me.

After reaching my goal, I had to maintain my goal weight for six weeks to become a “lifetime” WW member. Now if I weigh in at least once a month and don’t go more than two pounds over my goal weight, I can continue to receive all of the WW services for no cost.

Today, I am almost three pounds over my goal weight due to the holiday feasting period and several admittedly poor food choices. So I’m now back to my overall plan to trim these pounds away again.

What have I learned from my weight loss journey? Here are 10 great features I liked about Weight Watchers, which you may want to look for when evaluating the effectiveness of any weight loss and healthy lifestyle program you may be considering:

1) Regular monitoring. You can’t judge your weight loss without measuring it in some regular and reliable manner. Weighing in weekly provided a simple but consistent metric to see progress toward my overall goal.

2) Accountability. By having my weight recorded at the weekly meeting, I knew I had to be honest and open about my weight loss efforts.

3) Peer support. From the small award tokens to the inspiring comments and applause for group member achievements, the weekly group support was always fun, motivating and uplifting.

4) Flexibility. Having lots of nutritious food choices was great and I appreciated not being limited to specific foods. Similarly, a wide range of physical activity options were offered.

5) Structured plans. My overall plan was well-structured and easy to follow. Plus the meetings and weekly weigh-ins were always efficient and well-organized.

6) Helpful resources. Having a wide range of resources including the app (point tracker/calculator, barcode scanner, restaurant foods, etc.) website, weekly newsletter, group support, recipes, low-calorie snack options and more was a tremendous benefit.

7) Proven strategies. I always came out of the weekly group meeting feeling like I had learned at least one beneficial tip or strategy. As a psychologist, it was also gratifying to see how many of the strategies were based in scientific principles from established psychological approaches including mindfulness, cognitive-behavioral therapy and behavior modification, just to name a few.

8) Affordable. I felt the modest program fees were a great value for all of the resources provided.

9) Accessible. The weekly meeting schedule was convenient, with times that didn’t conflict with my work schedule. Plus the mobile app and online resources were available anytime and anywhere.

10) Holistic. I really appreciated the whole health focus, including not only calorie reduction, but also a strong focus on nutrition, physical activity and behavior change.

Weight Watchers worked very well for me, but you will need to select a program that meets your individual needs. I wasn’t even considering losing weight one year ago, so I’ve also learned that meaningful change can sometimes sneak up on you when you least expect it.

Whether you want to lose weight or make other changes to achieve a more healthy lifestyle, it’s important to stay committed to your goal. Remember that achieving a long-term goal will almost always take a significant amount of time and steady effort. When you have the inevitable setbacks along the way, learn from them and fine-tune your plan to increase your odds of success on your next attempt.

But you won’t make any changes if you don’t start. Take a small step now and see where it takes you. You may be surprised to see what you can achieve.

Here’s a question: What steps can you take now to improve your overall health status? Please leave a comment. Also, please subscribe to my blog and feel free to follow me on Twitter, “like” my Facebook page, or connect on LinkedIn. Thanks!

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