Weight Watchers: Starting Basics

Below I am posting many of the wonderful resources I’ve found on the Interwebs over time that helped me begin (and succeed on) WW. I’ve also provided a general overview of how the system works.

The Plan (in general)

With Weight Watchers Points systems, new or old, you can literally eat whatever you want. Not necessarily the AMOUNT of everything you want and then some, but unlike earlier incarnations of Weight Watchers that your grandmother or mother remember that revolved around only eating from a certain foods list, this one allows you to eat whatever you crave. (Note that certain still-existing WW plans such as “Simple Start” and “Core” still use eat-only-foods-from-this-list rules, but I honestly don’t know anyone in 2014 still doing that. This is likely the only time I will ever mention those systems on this blog, so you can safely always assume that if I say WW, it’s a points plan to which I’m referring.)

Those that prefer the restricted-foods-list method of eating I mentioned above often tend to go for Atkins, South Beach, Paleo, etc. diets. I mean, the real appeal of WW these days is in eating what you want and not cutting such-and-such completely out of your diet, even from day one. That might work for some but not for me. There’s nothing wrong with it, and I’ve done Atkins and South Beach several times in the past, but they never produced in me the long-term dedication that WW did. That said, I’ve learned some very useful tips from these plans that continue to help me even on WW and I’ll mention from time to time.

The balance of what you can-and-should eat is measured with Points, or for the newer version, PointsPlus. You get a daily allowance of points based on your body type, age, gender, activity level, etc. (links for calculating this are provided below for both plans) and you try to hit that number as your Target Points Goal for the day.

But wait…there’s Flex Points, too!

Flex Points are an additional weekly points allowance that you can whip out any time you like. You could blow them all in one day (on top of that day’s normal allowance) or keep track of them throughout the week to be used intermittently. WW knows that every dieter encounters a naughty day when they want or need to “cheat.” Unlike other diets, where a cheat day can set you all the way back to Day One or leave you feeling like a failure and wanting to give up completely, WW accounts these cheats right into the program as part of your ACTUAL PLAN. It is your God-given right and patriotic duty to eat that Snickers bar. Just do it. ‘Merica.

Flex Points on the old plan were 35 per week, regardless of your regular daily points allowance. Flex PointsPlus on the new plan are 49 per week, also regardless of your regular daily points allowance.

As you might suspect from reading the above notes on the Daily Points Allowance, your allowance will probably reduce over time, particularly if you are very overweight or have a lot of weight to lose and will be passing through stages. It was always easy for me to tell on the old points plan when I was getting close to losing a daily point from my allowance because one of the factors in determining the allowance was the first two digits of your weight. So, if you went from 160 to 159 lbs, guess what? You just lost a daily point because 15 is one less than 16.

This might seem really depressing, but the important thing to remember is that the system’s moving with you as you adapt. When I first started the old points plan, I could eat 28 points a day. Over time, it went down into the teens, but as I learned over time to make healthier choices, better light recipes, and trained myself to actually crave raw veggies and healthier foods, I sometimes had trouble at the end of the day making myself eat MORE when I wasn’t hungry just to hit my target points goal. (You don’t want to go under it or your body won’t efficiently burn the calories you do consume.)

Daily Food Points Allowance: When you begin WW (either new PointsPlus or old Points system), the first thing you must do is determine what your Daily Points Allowance is.

  • You can learn how to calculate your (old) Points Allowance here.
  • You can learn how to calculate your (new) PointsPlus Allowance here or here or here.
  • If you’re unsure which plan is right for you, you might want to read my basic comparison page here.

Earned Activity Points: You can earn extra activity points for doing exercise that you can (but don’t have to) use to increase your food points allowance.

  • Using this tool is awesome because it has a dropdown menu for choosing new or old points plans to calculate for.

Calculating the actual Points or PointsPlus in the foods you eat:

There are COUNTLESS places on the Internet to do this. I prefer sticking with sites that offer both new- and old-system calculations in once place. Sometimes I like to compare and see what difference the two formulas make on a particular food choice.

  • This one is the one I keep bookmarked on my iPhone browser to use instead of a $$$ app. I have used it since the beginning (it used to only have old points but now has both) and is easy to zoom in and quickly use on my phone at the grocery store when I’m making decisions about new foods or comparing them side-by-side.
  • This one is also good and offers both Points and PointsPlus conversions as well.

For everything else, GOOGLE IS YOUR FRIEND.

There are countless other sites that I’ve relied upon over the years, like MyFitnessPal, which lets you track nutrition (though not points exactly) from your phone and monitor percentage goals like carbs/protein/fat pie charts each day. More importantly, it has an incredible searchable food database. Like, if I ate shredded Kroger cheese on my soup at lunch and have no idea how to calculate it because the container is at home, I just type “Kroger cheese” into the search bar and it gives me a zillion options to choose from of what type of Kroger brand cheese I ate, and then provides different ways to alter the serving/portion calculation so I’ll be sure to know the right nutrition stats to enter into my points calculator. (MyFitnessPal also has a terrific mobile app that I’m becoming increasingly addicted to.)

You can also search for nutrition menus for many restaurants (though sadly not *ALL* my favorites yet) online, and at this point many companies are even making it possible to customize your meal using their online calculators. For example, I never eat mayonnaise, and if you’re ordering something like a chicken sandwich, there can be a giant discrepancy in WW points and nutrition depending upon whether or not you ate it with the mayo that normally would come on it. The Jimmy John’s website is a perfect example of this. Sidenote: Using the old points system I actually devised a way to eat a 1-point “Unwich” for lunch using JJ’s online nutrition tool, and I could even schedule the deliver online first thing in the morning when I got to work, so I wouldn’t get caught up in my hectic day later and change my plans on a whim, throwing me off-plan, because I knew my 1-point lunch would already be magically appearing at the office for me at noon). Not every chain has jumped on this bandwagon yet, but more are joining the Interwebs every day so if your favorite chain hasn’t done it yet, don’t despair. Just keep checking from time to time!

Reminder: If you Google “how many ww points is in [food item]“, be sure to pay attention to whether or not the site you find is using the new or old system. Many WW-related sites have created whole databases you can scroll with menu items and associated points values, but be sure you know if it’s Points or PointsPlus they’ve calculated.

One last hat tip.

Of all the countless blogs and writers that convinced me with their friendliness and success stories to give WW a try, I’d be remiss if I didn’t publicly thank Roni Noone of GreenLiteBites and Roni’s Weigh for initially lighting that fire within me to do more to take control of my health. She’s simply amazing, and I consider her sites among the most upbeat and encouraging things the Internet has to offer. Thanks for your years of openness, resources, and recipes, Roni. Your work has made an incomparable difference in my health and life.


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