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Weight Watchers, it’s a lifestyle change

It's just past 7.30am, and a half-dozen souls brave the morning chill to squeeze into this Weight Watchers meeting before their day gets going.

It's just past 7.30am, and a half-dozen souls brave the morning chill to squeeze into this Weight Watchers meeting before their day gets going.

Published Dec 1, 2015

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Washington - It's two days before Thanksgiving, and I've walked in on the cheesecake part of the discussion.

Specifically, if you replace regular cream cheese with low-fat cream cheese, will your guests know and when will they know it?

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It's just past 7.30am, and a half-dozen souls brave the morning chill to squeeze into this Weight Watchers meeting before their day gets going. Before they get busy working, shopping, making Thanksgiving plans. Before arguably the biggest eating day of the year (Americans on average eat somewhere around 3 000 calories on Thanksgiving). The day that ushers in a sustained period of overeating for some that doesn't end until the new year, and features hefty servings of weight gain and regret. If not self-hatred.

A young woman rushes in rolling luggage behind her, explaining that she's leaving for home right after work. She usually helps make the chocolate pie, and for the past two years, she has substituted in nonfat chocolate, “and no one knows the difference.” She doesn't worry that anyone will find out. She worries about being with friends who'll want to get together over food and drinks. About the boyfriend who is living with her - which is great! - but they eat out a lot, and her weight has crept back up.

“That's right, how can we manage after the holiday?” asks Mary Miller-Booker, who leads the meeting and whose nametag says she lost 45 pounds (about 20kg) in 2009. How do we manage others' expectations?

I find myself curious. I had thought the discussion would centre on food, but it centres more on people: the grandmother whose macaroni and cheese is not that good, but we eat it anyway because to her that feels like love. The husband who can eat whatever he wants and doesn't pay attention to the fact that everything you eat shows up on your thighs, so you have to constantly remind yourself that the kitchen table is not a place where you can be his other half.

The other people in the meeting room, five women and one man, had stories of their own.

“I have to portion out the leftovers,” says Joyce, originally from New Orleans, who makes a famous oyster dressing. “It's planning, but it's a personal goal. I want to be the same or less” after the holiday as she was before.

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Chris Martin, who usually runs the meeting but was travelling, urges “eat delicious!” when I spoke with him by phone. So many discussions regarding weight loss are about what not to do, he says. How about “think about what you really want,” then just eat that.

A recent New York Times Magazine article asked whether intuitive or mindful eating - paying attention to triggers and signals from your body - could be as effective as counting calories when trying to lose weight. Weight Watchers, which has 2.6 million members worldwide, apparently focuses on both with a food-equals-points system. I don't do the deep dive on the points, but I am focused on those little Bravo! stickers Mary is giving out and scheming on how to get one.

“Is this food worthy of me?” Joyce asks. “And do I want to wear it?”

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She gets a Bravo! for thinking about her goals.

Princess is doing a turkey trot Thanksgiving morning to “set the tone a little differently,” she says.

She gets a Bravo! for making a change that's “not necessarily related to weight loss but just something that's good for you.”

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What the meeting reminded me of was something that extends beyond the dinner table. We all lose control once in a while, and when that happens, it can feel as if you just want to keep the spiral going. Keep doing what you're doing, because why not? You've already blown it anyway.

Then you find a way to pull up. You let yourself spiral, but only until 3 o'clock, because after that you have kids to see to, or work to do, or an afternoon where you just want to do better. You find a way to hit the reset button, even if it feels late in the day, and you realise you're not just talking about food, but that this seems like a recipe for life.

Feels like a good one to take into the festive season.

Washington Post

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