DOWN TO THE POINTS 

One man's experience with Weight Watchers.

It was only the third day, and all my FlexPoints were gone. Probably shouldn't have gone to the deli so early in the week. And yet there I was, looking at a dessert called Ship Goes to Pieces Against the Rocks: mint ice cream on a brownie with fudge sauce streaked with raspberry. Must be 37 points in that damn thing, and it's winkin' at me.

This is the part where I use one of my Tools for Success. I'm supposed to remember why I'm doing it, remind myself that the goal is worthwhile, that I am worthwhile, something like that. I'm also supposed to have rehearsed for this moment, watched myself succeed in "the movie." Or I shouldn't be here at all, should have said no, or checked in with my buddy beforehand, asked for his support, asked him to not let me order dessert. All those shouldas, and now the Ship is headed straight for the Rocks.

It'll be tough to explain to the women on Wednesday. Of course, there will be nods of understanding, but there will also be subtle mumblings of how I had been doing so well. There's a mountain of rationalizations available -- you're in it for the long haul, give yourself a reward, make it up next week, learn a lesson about what I was thinking beforehand -- but the truth is, the last thought that went through my head was "To hell with it. Gimme the menu!"

It's a good thing I'm not on a diet or anything. I can't imagine a diet that has room in it for Ship Goes to Pieces Against the Rocks. People see the weight that I've lost and assume I'm doing Atkins or South Beach or who knows what, then hear me talking about ice cream and peanut butter and jelly and a new kind of bacon I'm trying out, and they kind of look at me funny.

Often that funny look turns to shock when I tell them I'm going old-school: Weight Watchers. More than a few people have asked the same question I wondered about: Do they let men into that program? The answer, I have found, is yes, but the first time I walked in, it was me and about 35 women.

So it was that I was introduced to the Points. The Points come from some mysterious combination of dietary fiber, fat grams, and calories. This seems an appropriate time to point out that virtually no one knows what dietary fiber, fat grams, or calories are. Still, from the ooze of the unknown emerge the Points, doled out to us like an allowance: a certain number per day, with more earned through exercise, plus the FlexPoints, to be used whenever we like during the week.

During the week the Ship hit the Rocks, I had gone to a New York-style deli and ordered a corned beef and pastrami sloppy joe, with a side of macaroni salad. You get 35 FlexPoints in a week. When I added up the score of that sandwich, I gave up at 30 and didn't even deal with the salad. The ladies cringed when I told them this, but the program does allow for the occasional bender -- and oh have I bent.

The vibe at the meetings is considerably female and overtly cheery. Our leader claps a lot, and when you do good things, like exercise for 20 minutes four times a week, you get colorful little stickers to put on your record book. Five-pound milestones get you a star, and when you lose 10 percent of your starting weight you get to -- no, you have to -- get up and testify how good you feel about yourself. The fact that it's true -- I'm a "10-percenter" and have testified honestly to these things -- doesn't change the fact that it's quite Stuart Smalley: "I'm thin enough, and gosh darnit, people like me!"

We also trade recipes, tips, and "food finds." Perhaps the oddest recent milestone in my life was looking at the nutritional information on a fudge pop, realizing it's only a point per pop and thinking, Dang, I've gotta tell the group about this!

Or asking the staff at Popeyes if they had nutritional info on their Web site.

Yes, it's come to that. And no, they don't do nutritional information at Popeyes. It's like asking for a price at a Jaguar dealership, both in principle and in the numbers that pop up.

The thing about Weight Watchers is that when all the points are done, and your little book is covered with colorful fruit stickers and shiny five-pound stars, it boils down to a very non-quick-fix system: eat reasonable portions, get plenty of fruits and veggies, go easy on the sweets and fat, drink a lot of water, and get some exercise.

Pretty exciting stuff, huh? But it does work. It worked for me, anyway. Which means I am a success story! And I'm worth it! In fact, I'm going to stop typing and clap for myself right now! Yay! And then I'm going out to celebrate by crashing another Ship Against the Rocks. n

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