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  • Most people know of Weight Watchers as a dieting programme used by their moms in the '90s.
  • Weight Watchers now caters to tech-savvy millennials with an amazingly easy-to-use app that takes all the guesswork out of tracking and balancing your food choices.
  • I've lost over 20 pounds (54 kg) by using the Weight Watcher app, and I'm still able to eat all the foods I love.
  • Below you'll find all the advice I have to offer about the programme, including how it works, which version I use, and all the tips and tricks I wish I had known when starting out.

There's a huge probability that your mom did Weight Watchers at least at some point during your childhood. Most of us can conjure up memories of little point-tracker booklets around the house, or the meetings she attended while we sat, bored, in the back of the room.

But the modern Weight Watchers programme is nothing like it used to be, thanks in large part to the creation of its app, which makes sticking to your goals as easy as posting on Instagram.

I was really hesitant about signing up for the programme, considering how antiquated I thought it was. At 26 years old, was I really going to start the same weight loss programme my mother did when I was a kid? After a friend my age told me she and her now-husband had been using the app (not a booklet!) and loving it, I realised that maybe the programme wasn't as outdated as I thought, so I gave it a go. Though I started out sceptical, I've been using the app (a programme called Digital) for about eight months now, and I've lost almost 25 pounds so far.

I've found that the app is a completely seamless and intuitive way to help me stay accountable. Considering how much time I spend on my phone anyway, it hasn't been much of a departure to add it into my daily rotation. It takes an extra 10 minutes of my day to track what I eat, and gives me a strange sense of reassurance that I'm not the only millennial who's doing this. Why would they create an app, otherwise?

Sign up for the Weight Watchers Digital app-only programme here

How Weight Watchers works:

Essentially, every food you eat is assigned a Point value. The new programme, called Freestyle, defines almost all fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, eggs, and legumes as zero-Point foods. The idea behind this is that zero-Point foods are harder to overeat, and generally contain a good ratio of fibre-to-carb-to-protein. Labelling these foods as zero Points encourages members to build meals around them, so that the majority of our diets consist of nutrient-dense, healthy ingredients. Every day, you have to "track" what it is you ate using the app, which shows Point values for pretty much every food you could imagine.

When you sign up for Weight Watchers, you can select packages that include in-person meetings, personal coaching, or just the use of the app (which has plenty of helpful resources if you hit a snag). I chose to just use the Digital programme that is app-only, and it has definitely been enough for me so far. After you choose your plan and check out, you'll set up a username that you can use to log into the free app.

If you are in weight-loss mode with the programme, you're likely to receive 23 Points per day, with an additional 35 or so flexible Points per week that can be spread around if you choose. The weekly Points change depending on your goals. It's completely possible to have a zero-Point day and still eat a full array of meals and snacks that are both delicious and interesting (for example, a "burrito bowl" made with black beans, grilled chicken or tofu, pico de gallo, corn, cilantro, and hot sauce would be zero Points).

Left: your daily home screen. Right: a look at Taco Bell's menu with corresponding point values.

Everything you need to know about the using the app:

Technology has totally changed the way Weight Watchers operates, with members relying heavily on an app instead of (or in addition to) in-person meetings. It has helped me tremendously - not just to lose weight, but to understand and better balance what I put on my plate.

The app allows you to track everything you eat, providing Point values for common packaged and branded foods, fresh ingredients, and even chain restaurant dishes. If packaged items don't come up when you search, you can add them into the app by inputting nutritional values. You can even use the app to input the recipes you make frequently at home, and it'll calculate how many points make up one serving. There are also options to adjust the portions of everything you track.

But the best part is that it has a barcode scanner, so you can essentially just take a picture of an item at the grocery store and immediately know its point value. This feature has really helped me to understand how and why certain foods are valued the way they are.

Often, you'll find two products that are very similar in calories, but one has way more points than the other. This is because of the nutritional makeup of a food. For example, I use a brand of tortillas that offers a plain and a honey whole-wheat option. They have the exact same amount of calories, but because the honey whole-wheat tortilla gets more of its calories from sugar, it costs me an additional Point.

The other nice thing about the app is that there are plenty of resources to help you when you're in a rut. You can find local meetings, look through tons of recipes for inspiration, and browse restaurant menus with points to help you make smart choices when going out. You can even track fitness goals and sync the app with your FitBit or Apple Watch.

Somehow, the app has managed to go beyond just helping me track what I eat and count my Points. Through daily use, it has changed the way I approach food entirely. I no longer view foods as "bad" or "forbidden," in part because the programme is very careful not to associate negative language with certain types of food. What the app has helped me do best is visually illustrate the fact that high-Point foods should be balanced with low-Point ones, like fruits, veggies, and lean proteins.

Pricing and programme options:

Digital:

This is the most popular option and the one I use, involving just the the app and the website. You can still access local meetings if you need them, but you'll have to pay for those additionally. The standard monthly fee for Digital is $19.95 (about R275), and the starter fee is an additional $20 (about R276).

Studio (formerly Meetings):

This plan includes everything the Digital plan has to offer, plus unlimited access to in-person meetings. This is a good choice for anyone who needs extra support, be it emotional or otherwise, as they navigate the programme. The standard monthly fee for the Meetings plan is $44.95 (R620), and the $20 (R275) starter fee also applies.

Helpful tips and tricks from a regular user:

Meal prep: When I first started Weight Watchers, it was really helpful for me to pre-track all the things I planned to eat in a day. I did this by mapping out my week's meals so I knew exactly what days I'd need to save extra Points for, and what meals would take up more or less of them.

I knew that depriving myself of things I loved to eat (like pizza and pasta) would only make me hate the programme, so instead, I just budgeted my Points wisely throughout the week so I could make informed choices about when to indulge. If I knew I was going out to an Italian restaurant on Tuesday, I'd build myself a protein-heavy breakfast and lunch that would keep me full without using many points. That way I could have the pasta I was craving for dinner without worrying about going over.

If you really think about it, this is how we should be eating anyway - in balance and moderation, with fruits, veggies, and protein as our main source of energy.

Eating at restaurants: If you eat meat or seafood, navigating what to order at a restaurant is actually pretty easy. Since lean proteins like fish, chicken (without skin), shrimp, and turkey are all zero Points, you can usually find a relatively healthy option that can either be customised or ordered as-is. Consider how much oil or butter was used in the dish, and estimate portions in order to properly track things like side dishes or dressings.

To make things easier, chain restaurants usually have dishes pre-programmed into the app so you won't have trouble finding their Point values - but it helps to look at the menu and check on the Points ahead of time so you don't order a dish only to find out it's secretly loaded with 30 Points worth of butter.

I'm a vegetarian, which does make things a littler harder, since not every restaurant is going to have a tofu or bean dish that works for me. Most vegetarian options are either salads with no protein or pastas that have a lot of empty points. Sometimes that's when I just say "screw it" and order that pasta - but whenever possible, I try to go for the healthiest option and always get dressings and dipping sauces on the side so I can control how much I use.

Sometimes you're just not going to know what's in a dish, but you can often search something similar and just guess from there (for example, you might not know how much oil went into that stir fry you ordered, but you can search something like "chicken stir fry, restaurant style" and just track from there). It's not about being perfectly accurate - it's just about being accountable to yourself and trying your best.

Taking your time:

It takes time and patience to lose weight, but this programme really does work. I've lost about one pound a week on average using the app (Weight Watchers says users can expect to lose about one to two pounds per week), but I've learned to give myself the flexibility to occasionally stay stagnant or put a few pounds back on over the holidays. The programme has helped me think about weight management and healthy eating as a lifelong goal as opposed to a short-term diet.

That doesn't mean you can't lose weight quickly on the programme - some users are able to lose more per week by being extra careful about their Points. But I've found the best way to achieve and sustain long-term results is to give myself some leniency and allow it to be a slower process.

Sign up for Weight Watchers Digital app-only programme here

Download the app for iOS or Android

This article was originally published on 3/5/2018.

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