By: Caroline Cottrell
It took a lot for me to want to lose weight. I had no idea how it happened, at first. My parents always served me balanced meals at home, but when I began college, I had no idea what the proper “serving” was for anything. Combine that with an excess of dining points and endless supply of bagels and late-night nachos, and I gained close to 50 pounds in four years. My parents would make food-related comments, trying to get me to see what was happening, but I took it offensively and refused to hear them. The real weight gain occured my junior and senior years, when I was dating someone dealing with ED recovery himself. In an effort to care for him, I would overeat anytime we were together. Suddenly, when we broke up, food became my comfort and my go-to for everything. In the stress of being single for the first time since high school, and student-teaching all hours of the day, my hunger cues went out the window. I’d stop on the way home from my internship for fast food every single night, eating until I could go to sleep. Although I hadn’t danced since high school, I stopped exercise and activity altogether, and instead bought bigger sized clothing. I still thought I looked good; I wasn’t upset at the gain. I was excited about food, perpetually waiting for my next opportunity to binge. It’s all I thought about and it was the only thing getting me through being alone.
Fast forward to the summer after graduation, and my friends decided to go on a group hike to Old Rag. I remember one of my friends warning us about how long and difficult it would be (9 miles up hill, rock scrambles, the heat of July), but all I could think about was spending time with them. Why wouldn’t I participate? Well, it took all of me (and all of my friend who lagged behind with me for support) to get up that mountain. My body just didn’t work. I was so tired after walking, I could barely lift my own body up over the rocks, and my poor friends had to wait for me and push me up themselves. I was so embarrassed. At the top of the mountain, I took a picture and upon seeing it, realized my size and recognized how out of shape I was. I was in complete disbelief at what I had done to myself. On that very mountaintop, I decided that not only did I want to climb it again, I needed to be able to do it on my own. I had to find a way to get back to myself again. I made my goal to lose weight by the following summer. After failed attempts at tea detoxes, juice cleanses, and trending diets, I joined Weight Watchers the week before Thanksgiving. I attended the meetings in secret, not telling anyone, even my parents (who I was living with at the time). In part, I needed to do it on my own, but I was also so ashamed. I was the youngest at my Tuesday evening meeting group, but I didn’t let that stop me from attending. Instead, I used it as a reason to keep going–I was going to lose the weight once and for all. In addition to WW, I joined a gym and started to take Zumba classes. I needed those Activity Points, so I finally listened to my mom’s advice and started dancing again. I fell in love with it, and soon was taking Zumba 7 days a week. I remembered standing in the back and wearing a baggy t-shirt to class, but after two months, I was up front and center, arriving to class almost half an hour early to secure my spot. I knew all of the choreography, and other women in the class started to notice. They told me I was good. They saved my spot. I felt like I belonged.
In January, the weight was starting to fall off. I received my first comment about it at the gym, and I felt incredible. In fact, I felt so body positive that I told my dad about Weight Watchers and was alarmed about how supportive he was about it. I was still nervous to tell my mom, but once I did, even more of a “weight” was lifted off my shoulders. My mom started coming to the gym classes with me, which empowered the both of us to succeed. Soon enough, at every check-in, I was greeted with positivity by the women at Weight Watchers and astonishing looks from the other members…how was I doing it so easily?, they’d ask me. This motivated me to get even better at it. I had to lose more weight! Even though I was advised against it, I dropped my goal weight down further. At the rate I was going, I knew I was going to reach it. I started counting points more obsessively. I stopped using my “weeklies”, otherwise known as extra points to use at any point during the week. Because of my height (I’m rather short), my daily points were the lowest they could go, and I was proud of this fact. I HAD to earn activity points every day, so I would go to as many fitness classes as I could. I stopped using elevators and escalators to increase my steps (more steps meant more activity points). I was only proud of my daily success if I had a deficit. All I wanted to do each week was beat the previous week’s points. It worked; I lost weight and I gained cardio endurance. Plus, I was still eating more than ever–if I could track the WW points, that is. If it wasn’t on their database, I wasn’t eating it. I measured everything, eating the smallest serving possible (the closer to a single point or two, the better). This helped me control my eating even further. My meeting leader would talk negatively about tastes, bites, food-pushers…this scared me. I was NOT going back to how I used to be. So I avoided my staff lounge like the plague and refused to eat anything I didn’t cook or scan the barcode myself. Restaurants were hard, so I was always the first to recommend a place whose food was already converted into points on the tracker. Weight Watchers points became my new safety, my new comfort food. In eight months, I successfully lost the weight from college and was considered to be in the healthy range for my height. I earned my Lifetime Status from Weight Watchers that summer, and everyone at my meeting was so happy for me. I was a role model, they’d say, as they begged me to come back and share my success story for others. The same thing happened at the gym, with the owner constantly praising me in front of the entire Zumba class. I was so happy with myself. I wore swimsuits comfortably, I went out on dates, and I was the best dancer in the class. I decided to move in with two friends from college, and there was a gym and Weight Watchers location less than 5 minutes away from my new place. I was set! Around this time, Weight Watchers changed their points system, and the people in the meeting were in an uproar. I was worried, too; I was so successful with the previous system, and now foods I ate all the time were worth so many more points. So, I adjusted, and my weight went down. The new ladies at the desk asked me if I was okay. Of course I was okay, losing weight was a good thing. They told me I was supposed to be in maintenance. Had I talked to my doctor? Don’t let the new points mess with you. Make sure you’re eating enough to work out. Are you using your activity and weeklies? I didn’t want to go back to the meetings and the weigh-ins. But I wanted to keep my Lifetime Status that I worked so hard for.
I didn’t think I could keep the weight off without the meetings, so I’d stay for a few minutes and then head out before they could see me cry. I felt so lost; I couldn’t eat anything the way I used to with the new system and I didn’t want to eat weeklies. Even though I made goal, my number of dailies only went up a little bit, and I was feeling hungry all of the time. I upped my activity level at the gym and started weight training, HIIT classes, and Zumba. I figured I could justify eating more if I worked out hard enough, so I did 2-3 classes a day. I stopped getting my period. I started weighing myself every morning and at night, and only going to Weight Watchers every month to maintain my Lifetime status. The lady at the desk was always so excited to see me, but I couldn’t get myself to stay anymore. All of these people were getting into the new system, but I wasn’t getting enough food AND I had been gaining weight, according to my own scale. I wanted to look like the fitness instructors in my classes, so I stopped tracking as much and started Googling other types of calorie counting. I decided I needed more protein to lose fat, so my diet revolved around every type of protein source I could find. I checked in with my WW tracker once a week, and ate the same thing every day to be safe. I felt free from tracking for awhile, and it felt good to not think in Points. But I wasn’t getting the results in body composition. I came across IIFYM (if it fits your macros) and decided to try it. It was just like Weight Watchers; count your macros, count your points. And it worked. I gained muscle and lost fat. I got compliments at the gym. I lifted heavier and ran faster. I was called an athlete. I was walking on air. But I still wasn’t perfect.
Here I am two years later. I teach the group fitness classes I used to attend. I’ve got close to 100 members on my HIIT team on Facebook. I cook my own meals every week and go out to restaurants on the weekends. I became certified and then hired to teach Health and P.E. to middle schoolers. But I still can’t let go of my calorie tracker. My Apple Watch has to reach it’s calorie goal every day. I still pinch my stomach constantly and wonder why my six-pack abs won’t appear. But I’m okay. My boyfriend convinced me to get help, so I see a therapist and a nutritionist now, and it’s changed my life. Fitness and nutrition myths are everywhere, and I was a sucker for every single one. They’re still trying to help me cope with my “Weight Watchers mind”. That’s what they call it. My obsessive need to track, to know the perfect numbers, to eat the perfect foods, to burn the perfect number of calories. I was never a perfectionist until I joined, but now, my biggest fear is failure. I know deep down I’m not going to fall back to my own ways, and I know how to control urges and proper portion sizes. I know that food is fuel, and food is good for me. But I still track. I can’t let it go. So that’s why I’m half a success story, and half a reason to avoid the program altogether.
Weight Watchers helped me gain control of my life, but I also lost all control of food in the process. I’m relearning how to determine hunger/fullness cues. I’m learning about the importance of balanced macronutrients. I’m learning how to order mindfully at restaurants and snack to keep my body going between classes. My biggest success? Eating food that’s offered to me without fear! My mom’s fresh-baked cookies are no longer the end-all-be-all. But this healthy lifestyle is a process, and although I’m far from where I was, I’m still on my journey to wellness. I do know one thing for sure though; wellness isn’t measured in points.
About the Author: Caroline is a middle school Health/P.E. teacher in Maryland, who teaches Les Mills group fitness classes after school hours. She is very passionate about instilling healthy habits in others, especially kids. She believes overall wellness is the key to a fitter planet!