Protein Pancakes are something I actually thought I invented. Until I checked online to find that others already had the idea before me! These are a big favourite of mine. At one point I even had my mum dieting on these to lose weight. She loved them and commented how filling they are!
I used just whey and egg whites to make these. This kept the calorie count minimal. But if you wanted to, you could always add extras like berries, bananas, oats, honey, nuts, etc. That’s if you didn’t mind bumping the calories up, then why not.
You could use whole eggs rather than just the whites like I did. But I find this makes the protein pancakes taste a bit more eggy than sweet when the yolk is left in.
The nutritional value for these were:
You could make these even better by topping them with Low Calorie Maple Syrup or Caramel or Chocolate!
The protein I used was this:
The egg whites I used were these:
Protein Pancakes are something I actually thought I invented. Until I checked online to find that others already had the idea before me! These are a big favourite of mine. At one point…
Egg White Pizza is something a little different, let’s just say it’s another invention of mine lol!
Right, so let me explain here! I was looking for something interesting to do with egg whites, rather than just a regular omelette! This is when I thought I’d try making myself a “pizza”, but using cooked egg whites as the base. Make sense? No, probably not lol. Anyway, here is what I did…
Right, so let me explain here! I was looking for something interesting to do with egg whites, rather than just a regular omelette! This is when I thought I'd try making myself a pizza,…
I took a packet of “cauliflower rice” and cooked this first. If you are unsure what cauliflower rice is, it is basically ground cauliflower. You could make this by bending up cauliflower yourself. Or a lot of supermarkets sell it packaged as “cauliflower rice”, advertised as a low carb rice / couscous substitute.
I then blended up the cauliflower rice with egg whites, so they were all mixed nicely together. I also added some herbs like basil and oregano, to give it more of a “pizza” taste.
Next I simply cooked the mixture in a frying pan (pre-greased lightly with low calorie cooking spray). I flipped it half way, to make sure both sides were cooked.
Now comes the fun part. I set the oven to gas mark 7 to warm up. In the mean time, I removed the cooked “egg white pizza base” from the pan and placed it on a baking tray. I then topped the egg white pizza with low-sugar salsa, to give that tomato taste without the calories. I then placed slices of low-fat “protein cheese” over the egg white pizza base to cover the surface nicely!
Lastly I put the baking tray in the oven for just a few minutes until the cheese was nicely melted!
And that is literally it! I will be the first to admit that the egg whites “base” didn’t resemble the texture of an actual pizza AT ALL haha!
But taste-wise the egg white pizza, was definitely a success! It really did have all the flavours you would get from a regular pizza! I made mine pretty plain, but if you wanted to, there is no reason why you couldn’t add extra toppings too!
Nutrition wise, it is definitely high protein, very low carb, and (because of the low fat cheese I used) it’s low in fat too.
A fairly common question that I get asked is “how do I actually read the nutritional labels on the back of food packaging? What is it that I am looking for?” The answer is pretty straight forward! Reading food labels is easy once you get the hang of it.
To summarise, there are three steps involved in reading food labels:
Look out for the serving size you are consuming
See if that is the “cooked” or “raw” value if applicable
Then look for the calories and macronutrients on the packaging. Simple!
Firstly, let’s talk about serving sizes. In the UK, you will find that most food lists its nutritional value per 100 grams, as well as sometimes listing by “serving size” too. What you need to do is figure out how much of the food you are consuming at a given time. As this often will NOT be similar to the packaging’s listed serving size at all.
Let’s say you wanted to eat a bowl of porridge, using dry oats cooked with water. You might pour the dry porridge oats into a bowl and measure it (weight it) first. The dry measurement of the oats you intend to use comes to 60g. Then you look at the nutritional information label on the oats packet. You see that the serving size value listed on the packaging is for approximately 50g of oats dry / uncooked. So, in this case it wouldn’t be quite accurate to use their serving size figures. It would be best to calculate your own, for the 60g that you used.
So next you look at the nutritional values per 100g. And simply multiply the figures by 0.60, to get the 60g weight you intend to use.
See the picture below.
So as mentioned earlier, we intend to use 60g of oats to make our porridge. Therefore, if we read the nutritional info per 100g, take the 367 calories (listed under “Energy, kcal”). Multiply that by 0.60, which equals 220.2 calories for our 60g bowl of oats.
Next to calculate the “macronutrients”, so that’s the “protein”, “carbohydrates”, and “fat”. So as mentioned earlier, we intend to use 60g of oats to make our porridge. Therefore, if we read the nutritional info per 100g, take the listed fat value of 8.4g and multiply that by 0.60, which equals 5.04g. Therefore, we know that our bowl of porridge will have 5g of fat in.
Now let’s do the same for the carbohydrates, which is listed at 56g, so 56g multiplied by 0.60 equals 33.6g, so we now know that our porridge will have 33g of carbs in.
Same for protein, we calculate that our bowl will have 7.2g of protein in.
One other value we may be interested in, though this has much less significance, is the salt value. Generally, we want to keep this fairly low. But in the case of our porridge the value is zero, so it isn’t an issue at all! Likewise, one last value we may also want to check is the fibre value. Generally, the more fibre the better!
RI and RDA
Things like the “Reference Intake” (RI), or “Recommended Daily Allowance” (RDA) are usually of little value to us to be honest. These recommended calculations are often unsubstantiated and are often recommendations made for the average sedentary non-active person, with minimal muscle, high body fat, and no six pack. You can appreciate that the recommended calculations for the lean mean six-packer will be a lot different!
We have provided another example of a food nutritional label below.
This example is for a protein bar, and it is even easier to follow than the porridge example above. This nutritional label tells us the nutritional values “per bar”. This is perfect, as we do intend to eat all of it. Our serving size figure has 198 calories, 6.2g of fat, 2.6g of carbs, and 20.2g of protein. Perfect!
As well as listing nutritional information, food packaging should have a list of ingredients. Look out for added sugar. Sometimes it will be “disguised” by being listed as “glucose, dextrose, fructose, sucrose, syrup” or other names to avoid outright using the word “sugar”!
As well as listing nutritional information, food packaging should have a list of ingredients. Look out for added sugar. Sometimes it will be “disguised” by being listed as “glucose,…
So, there you have it! Reading nutritional labels and figuring out your calories and macronutrients really isn’t difficult at all. No one is saying to become obsessed doing it. But in the least it can make you more mindful about the food and drink you consume. This can lead to you making better lifestyle choices, which can be only be a good thing!
Think twice before drinking that bottle of regular Coke – check the label! How many calories and grams of sugar and carbs are in it? Wow, is it worth it?! Wouldn’t you rather opt for Diet Coke and save those calories to be consumed elsewhere?
Obviously, calorie counting apps are very helpful to use when tracking the nutritional value of food. To read about using calorie counting apps, see my blog post HERE:
If you’ve never used a calorie counting app before, it can be a little intimating. You may have heard of or seen others using these apps. But the thought of you using one might leave you scratching your head wondering where to begin. This post will show you that calorie counting apps are soooo simple to use. And with a little practice, you will be able to enter and track your daily food intake in seconds!
Video: How to use a Calorie Counting App on Your Phone to Track Food
In this video I show you just how easy it really is to use a calorie counting app on your phone!
Video: How to use a Calorie Counting App to Track Food When Cooking a Meal for the Family
In this next video I show you how you would use the app to track your own food intake if cooking a meal for the family.
Various Calorie Counting Apps to Choose From – and They are Free!
There are various calorie counting apps available out there. Most of them are free, but with some extra special features you have the option of paying for. Some of the popular ones include MyFitnessPal, MyNetDiary, Calorie Count, and Calorie King.
These apps have a database of all sorts of different foods. The nutritional information of foods is already stored in the app’s database memory. So, all you have to do is select a food, and enter the quantity / serving size you will be consuming. Then the app will display and store the nutritional values. This allows you to see the number of calories, protein, carbohydrates, and fats within that food. The app also calculates a total of these values per meal and calculates the total for each day. The app also tracks other more specific useful nutritional values. For example, fibre, sugar, salt, and various other vitamins and minerals.
They work by barcode recognition too, so you simply use your smartphone to scan the barcode on the packaging of the food!
If by chance a particular food isn’t found in your app’s database, then you have the option of adding this food yourself. This process only takes a minute.
If Eating at a Restaurant
If it is the case that you are eating out for a meal, no worries! You’d be surprised how many restaurants now list the calorie content of their food. Otherwise, a lot of these calorie counting apps have done the hard work for you! Many apps have already got the calorie content of various restaurant meals saved in their database. But if this isn’t the case, don’t panic. Just estimate the food quantities of your restaurant meal as truthfully and accurately as possible.
Many apps have already got the calorie content of various restaurant meals saved in their database. But if this isn’t the case, don’t panic. Just estimate the food quantities of your…
Calorie counting apps are helpful for goal setting, for you can enter and save your target daily calorie intake. Then, as you enter foods into the app throughout the day, the app deducts these foods from your target calorie intake. It gives you a running total of calories remaining as the day goes on.
You can also track your exercise on many calorie counting apps. These give you an estimate of how many calories you have burned, so if applicable, how many “extra” calories you can eat and still hit your weight loss target. I must point out though that I am skeptical of how accurate these burned calories estimates are on the apps!
Tracking progress is so important! If you’ve been putting in the hard work with your training and nutrition, you’ll be doing yourself an injustice not to track your progress. How will you know if your body is heading in the right direction if you are not measuring anything?
“What gets measured gets done”
There is a saying you may have heard before: “what gets measured gets done”. I believe this to be true. If your goal is to set a new personal best time for running 5k, then you better be timing yourself every time you run 5k in training. Likewise, if your goal is to gain muscle mass, then you better be tracking progress of your weights, reps, and sets in your resistance training sessions.
Going by this practice of “what gets measured gets done”, the logical thought process would be that if weight loss is the goal, then body weight should be regularly measured. This is a MISTAKE!
Well…not exactly, anyway. Yes, tracking scales weight can be a helpful tool in tracking progress. But to rely ONLY on body weight as an indicator of progress is definitely a mistake!
You may remember from my blog post on Why you should be tracking your body fat percentage and how to do it yourself! (https://howistayfit.com/diet/body-fat) I talked about the flaw of using ONLY body weight to gage progress. The problem is sometimes your body can be making positive changes, but your body weight will stay the same. Or you might be trying to lose fat, but your weight may even INCREASE! Occasionally you can be losing body fat but gaining muscle at the same time (this is often termed a “Body Recomposition”). If so, your body weight measurements won’t demonstrate that any changes have happened! This is why it is really useful to also take an estimated body fat reading. You will be shocked by some peoples’ drastic transformation photos, but you will never believe that often their scales weight stays the same!
Body weight is always fluctuating!
This is not to mention that your body weight will always be fluctuating! There are so many variables at play, such as hydration levels, time of day, sleep, stress, water retention, menstrual cycle (for women), fibre intake, and climate temperature just to name a few!
Even worse, are the diets that focus on BMI (body mass index). Take someone who is carrying a lot of muscle mass, or even just a thicker set person who is simply inclined to carry a larger amount of body weight. They could be exceedingly healthy, but their BMI could incorrectly class them as “overweight” or even “obese”! So, BMI in my opinion is often NOT a reliable method of measuring progress.
Taking body measurements is a method I am much fonder of! It is pretty reliable too! This is a simple method of tracking progress that you can do at home. It only takes a minute, and all you need is a tape measure. There are various body measurements that you can take, but personally I prefer to measure:
Shoulders at the widest point across, shoulder to shoulder, arms by your sides
Waist circumference at the naval
Hips circumference at the widest point
Thigh circumference at the widest point. Use the same leg each time
Neck circumference at the narrowest point
Bicep (arm) circumference at the widest point. Use the same arm each time
Chest circumference at the widest point. Lift your arms, wrap the tape measure around your chest, then lower your arms
Wrist circumference at the narrowest point. Use the same arm each time
Alan Aragon, absolute don in the fitness industry, mentions that from his experience these are realistic rates an intermediate exercising person can decrease their body fat percentage:
Obese (>25%) 3-4% month
Overweight (20 – 25%) 2-3% month
Average (13 – 19%) 1-2% month
Lean (<13%) < 1%) month
Another method could be to simply keep note of how your clothes fit. If your jeans are looser on the waist, and your shirts are tighter at the shoulders, then you know your body shape is changing in a good way!
This is probably the easiest way of measuring progress. It could be as simple as taking a few selfies in the bathroom mirror. You would probably want to do this while wearing just your underwear, and to take one shot from the front and another from the side.
For consistency and to make for easier comparison, you will want to try to keep conditions the same every time you do this. So, if you take photos each week, try and do it on the same day each week, at the same time, standing in the same position, with the same lighting. It is also best to do these relaxed. No sucking in your stomach and flexing your muscles!
Again though, even with photos you may have “off days”! Just like when taking body weight readings, there can be days when you look bloated and watery!
Body weight alone is definitely not the best method of tracking progress! In fact, used in isolation, none of the methods of tracking progress discussed in this article are particularly helpful! However, when combining body weight with tracking body fat percentage, body measurements with a tape measure, and photos, you get a much better picture. You can then adjust your plan as necessary to stay on track.
So for tracking progress, every week or two, on the same day, at the same time:
Before I tell you more about my knee, I thought I would share with you a video of some of the exercises I have been doing to try and rehab it. Please note that this video is for information purposes only. And if you are carrying an injury, seek professional advice from a specialist. Don’t just copy what I’m doing and risk making your injury worse! Anyway, here’s the video.
So how did I do it?
I injured my knee a few months ago. It’s a suspected MCL sprain I got from Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. I hurt it at the IBJJF No-Gi British Nationals I competed in (but I won a medal at least lol!)
Like the moron that I am, I carried on trying to do my MMA training as normal. So everyday I was either doing boxing, Muay Thai, or Jiu Jitsu, or on some days a mix of all of them! My injured knee did not like this. Not at all.
It kept getting worse
It probably won’t be a surprise for you to hear that my knee did not get any better. In fact it was getting worse. I must admit that I was in denial as to how bad it really was. I kept telling myself that it was “just a niggle” that would heal by itself. This does seem to be possible with smaller minor injuries that can in fact heal with little to no rehab, but clearly this was more than “just a niggle”.
I carried on pushing through it, thinking that it would magically heal itself. Hiding the extent of the injury from my family and friends, as I was training at this point for another upcoming Jui Jitsu competition. I didn’t want them to know how stupid I was being.
What happened next?
It got to the point that I couldn’t even walk anymore pain-free. I’m embarrassed to say that it took me right up until the day before my next competition to take a reality check, and pull out of the tournament. I was gutted to say the least, and yes I was stupid, but thank God I didn’t try and compete with one leg. The results could’ve been REALLY doing damage to my injured knee, and surgery is the last thing I want!
What am I doing now?
The short answer is NOT being an idiot anymore! I am trying to be sensible now! I am still doing some light MMA stuff, but nothing that causes me any pain. If any activities hurt to do, I simply don’t do them! Duh! Lol! So alongside only doing a bit of light MMA training just to maintain some kind of level of skill, I am now focusing my training on knee rehab exercises to get my injured knee better.
The moral of the story
If you are injured, then seriously please don’t try and be a hero. Don’t be an idiot. It happens to all of us. Rest the damn thing! Don’t continue doing training that aggravates it. If it hurts, don’t do it! Train around it if you can, in a sensible way. There’s probably lots of other forms of training you can do instead. And take it upon yourself to seek professional advice. Be accountable, and take responsibility upon yourself to rehab your injury to get better as quick as you can! Health is your number one priority, always!
If you are injured, then seriously please don't try and be a hero. Don't be an idiot. It happens to all of us. Rest the damn thing! Don't continue doing training that aggravates it. …
When it comes to losing (or gaining) weight, measuring body fat percentage is an awesome tool. But I don’t think it is utilised as much as it should be.
When following a fitness program, where the goal is to lose fat or to be build muscle, everyone seems to be obsessed with their body weight. They want to know what the scales says! But the problem with this is sometimes your body can be making positive changes, but your body weight will stay the same. Or you might be trying to lose fat, but your weight may even INCREASE! Occasionally you can be losing body fat but gaining muscle at the same time (this is often termed a “Body Recomposition”). If so, your body weight measurements won’t demonstrate that any changes have happened! This is why it is really useful to also take an estimated body fat reading. You will be shocked by some peoples’ drastic transformation photos, but you will never believe that often their scales weight stays the same!
Emphasis on scales weight
Why so many commercial diet programs emphasise scales weight only is a mystery. Or even worse, are the diets that focus on BMI (body mass index) too. Take someone who is carrying a lot of muscle mass, or even just a thicker set person who is simply inclined to carry a larger amount of body weight. They could be exceedingly healthy, but their BMI could incorrectly class them as “overweight” or even “obese”!
It could be that so many neglect estimating body fat out of laziness. They perceive it to be too much effort to calculate their body fat, so think that just going by body weight is an easier option. They would be wrong, because estimating body fat really doesn’t have to be that difficult at all. I am going to show you how it can take just a few minutes to get an estimate. Plus, you can do it at home by yourself!
Take the scenario that someone is eating in a “calorie surplus” while following a bodybuilding hypertrophy focussed weight training program to gain muscle mass. If they are eating in a “calorie surplus”, they are eating more calories than their body is burning, so they will inevitably gain “weight”. It would be useful for them to know how much of that gained “body weight” is muscle compared to body fat. When trying to gain muscle, it is almost unavoidable to gain some fat at the same time. However, by checking their body fat estimate each week or two, they will know if they are gaining “too much” body fat too quickly. If so, then they know to cut back on the food intake for a little while.
Alternatively, imagine if someone is trying to lose weight by eating in a “calorie deficit”, so they will have cut down their usual food intake. If they find that their body fat estimate is remaining the same, despite their scales weight decreasing, this is a bad sign. This indicates that the weight they are losing is muscle mass rather than body fat! No one wants to be “skinny fat” or be “smaller” but “flabby”. They could then take action by either increasing their protein intake, or possibly tweaking their program to incorporate more resistance training. This will then help them maintain or even gain muscle.
Or as previously mentioned, if someone was trying to lose weight, but found their body weight to be unchanged, a body fat estimate may show that they have actually lost body fat. Their body weight remaining the same would indicate that some of that body fat was replaced by added muscle mass!
NOTE: I am aware that there are scales available that also give you a body fat percentage reading. Use the scales to take your weight, but don’t waste your time with the body fat reading it gives you! I have never seen any of these scales to date that give an even remotely accurate body fat reading. This is why I want you to use calipers!
How to do it yourself at home!
The method I am going to show you, is how to use Skinfold Calipers to take a single site reading by yourself. This reading will not be 100% accurate by any means. But it doesn’t have to be. It is simply to give you a rough idea that you can check again every week or so to monitor for changes. See the video below!
NOTE: let me stress again that this method WILL NOT be particularly accurate, but it doesn’t have to be! This is just to give yourself a benchmark to compare to each week or so to track your progress! My bodyfat percentage came out at 4.5% here, which I know is certainly INCORRECT. I’ve genuinely been at 5% bodyfat before, and I was a lot leaner then than I am here in this video!
What you will need
You will need a set of skinfold measuring calipers. I recommend you use these ones (please note this is an affiliate link)
How to do it
You are to take a reading of the suprailliac, which is approximately one inch above the right hip bone. Holding the callipers vertically with your right hand, use your left hand’s thumb and forefinger to firmly pinch the skinfold. Keeping hold of this skinfold with the left hand, use the right hand to squeeze the calipers over the pinch until the calipers “click”. More details of how to do this, as well as a measurement chart to interpret the reading, can be found here:
It is claimed that the “healthiest” body fat range for men is roughly 11% – 22% percent. It is 20% – 33% percent for women. However, it seems that there is nothing inherently “unhealthy” about being beyond these recommendations. Say that a man was estimated to be at 22% body fat, but they exercised frequently and ate fairly well. In my opinion, they would still probably be “healthy”.
Body fat range for a “six pack”
In order to have visible six pack abs, men need to be at about the 10% body fat range. For women to have six pack, the range is about 17% body fat.
Body fat range for a “six pack” In order to have visible six pack abs, men need to be at about the 10% body fat range. For women to have six pack, the range is about 17% body fat.
As previously mentioned, the method I have shown you of estimating body fat percentage yourself is certainly not particularly accurate. But remember, it doesn’t have to be! This reading is simply something we can use as a benchmark to compare against week after week to assess progress.
There are other more high-tech methods to estimate body fat, and these include DXA scan and using the Bod-Pod. However, these are only really available at elite institutions and are used primarily for university research. They are rarely available to the public, and if so they are expensive to access!
Alternatively, there are also online body fat calculators available that estimate your body fat percentage based on measurements of the waist, hips, forearm and wrist. But these calculators are probably even less accurate than taking a single site reading yourself with the calipers!
If you wanted to, for a more accurate estimate, you could always get a fitness trainer to take a 7 site or 9 site skinfold caliper reading.
Realistic rates of fat loss
Tracking your progress weekly is a good habit, but please keep in mind that you can’t expect to see changes every single week.Alan Aragon, absolute don in the fitness industry, mentions that from his experience these are realistic rates an intermediate exercising person can decrease their body fat percentage:
Obese (>25%) 3-4% month
Overweight (20 – 25%) 2-3% month
Average (13 – 19%) 1-2% month
Lean (<13%) < 1%) month
Body fat percentages of college athletes
Just for your information, a 1983 study of body fat percentages of college students came up with the results below. The same study today would probably find higher levels of body fat for the average male student and lower levels for some of the athletes.
Average college male 15% body fat
Canoe and kayak 13% body fat
Swimming 13% body fat
Weight-class athletes (boxing and wrestling) 6.9% – 7.9% body fat
Sprinting (100 and 200m) 6.5% body fat
Marathon 6.4% body fat
Note that bodybuilders diet down to body fat in the range of about 5% for contests. However, they can only stay at this low level for a few weeks at a time. Also keep in mind that many will be on performance enhancing drugs to help them do so too!
These are the calipers I use here (affiliate link):
Ursula Kyle et al, “Body composition interpretation: contributions of the fat-free-mass index and the body-fat mass index”, Nutrition (2003), 19(7-8): 597-604; R. Paul Abernathy and David Black, “Healthy body weights: an alternative perspective”, American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (1996), 63(S3): 448S-451S.
Steven Fleck, “Body composition of elite American athletes”, American Journal of Sports Medicine (1983), 11(6): 398-403; Lindy Rossow et al, “Body composition changes in elite male bodybuilders during preparation for competition”, Australian Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport (1997), 29(1): 11-16.
Lan Ho-Pham et al, “More on body fat cutoff and points”, Mayo Clinic Prodceedings (2001), 86(6): 584.
Lou Schuler and Alan Aragon, “The Lean Muscle Diet: a customized workout plan – eat the food your love to build the body you want and keep it for life”, Men’s Health, Rodale Inc. (2014).
So, I joined Weightwatchers…no, seriously, I really did!
Why? Simple. I wanted to stake them out! I was aware of the ins and outs of the “old” Weightwatchers program, as my mum was a member a few years back. My mum let me see her program material and she explained how it worked. However, this was a few years back. And since “the science” of healthy eating has advanced. Not to mention how technology has advanced too, with everything now being online and having an app. So, I thought I’d check them out to see how their program had (or hadn’t) changed!
Disclaimer – I know it’s not meant for someone like me!
Note: my mum successfully managed to lose a fair amount of weight a few years ago through Weightwatchers. However, as seems to be a common theme, she put the weight back on shortly after she stopped attending her weekly meetings.
Also, please note that yes, I am aware that I currently do not need to lose weight. Nor am I currently trying to lose weight.
And yes, I am aware that I do not fall under Weightwatchers’ typical target market. I am already a fitness fanatic. Which is why I approached this review with an open mind, to assess the suitability of Weightwatchers for the average dieter.
My membership level
Weightwatchers is certainly one of the most popular weight loss programs, helped in part by celebrity endorsements like that of Oprah Winfrey. More recently DJ Khalid has promoted the program too. Weightwatchers claims to acquire hundreds of thousands of new subscribers every year, so their popularity doesn’t appear to be waning either!
Firstly, let me clarify that I signed up for Weightwatchers’ lowest level of membership. This level involved online membership but no access to weekly meetups. I might be quite bold at times, but there was no way I was going to roll up to a Weightwatchers meeting! I think I do have access to chat online with someone if need be. But besides logging my own activity on my online account, I have no “check-ins” with a coach per se. This option is available, but not for my lowest level membership that I chose.
The “old” Weightwatchers
Now let me get the juicy stuff out of the way and talk about the “old” Weightwatchers program. For your information, the Weightwatchers program has undergone several revamps over the years. This is to adapt to changing eating guidelines, as new dietary research becomes available. Most notably, the program changed in 2015 to introduce “SmartPoints” instead of standard food “Points”. And it changed again to introduce “Weightwatchers Freestyle” in 2017.
How it used to work
If you don’t know this, Weightwatchers works by instead of counting calories, you count “Food SmartPoints”. Honestly, I don’t get the difference, it’s the same shit. For example, instead of counting “Food X” as having 200 calories, you count it as having “2 SmartPoints”. I could understand the reasoning if counting SmartPoints was easier to do than counting calories. If so, yes this would be beneficial for beginners, or for those who needed to learn how to count calories. But from what I’ve seen it really isn’t any easier to do. Plus, instead of learning how to count calories, a beginner must learn to count SmartPoints instead!
I must mention here that Weightwatchers conveniently do have their own line of food products that are already portioned and assigned a SmartPoints number. To make counting SmartPoints counting easier for you. At a markup to normal food products of course. How nice of them!
Anyway, as I understand it, the “old” Weightwatchers worked like this:
Your daily allowance of SmartPoints (yes, your daily calorie allowance), was calculated based on your gender, BMI and how much weight you had to lose. I believe it also considered your daily activity levels (e.g. whether you worked as a lumberjack as opposed to a bus driver). Then, it was up to you to keep your food intake each day within this points limit. All foods were allowed, but higher calorie foods had more SmartPoints than others. So, for example you could blow your whole food allowance on just ice cream or pizza if you wanted to. If the portion sizes were kept small enough to keep you within your allowance, it was OK. In other words, a simple calories in vs calorie out diet.
The problem with the old system
Do you see the problem here? Firstly, is it accurate to set target daily calorie intake using BMI? This could work for the majority, but what about exceptionally muscular people or naturally heavier people? Secondly, what about macronutrients? No attention is paid to protein or carbohydrate intake. And with the “old” Weightwatchers program you were “punished” for choosing foods higher in dietary fat (despite some of these foods containing “good fats”), as these had higher points. Please note though that this fell into the old line of thinking. It was believed that eating cholesterol gave you high cholesterol, or eating fat made you fat, etc. So anyway, it appears that all foods were a free-for-all, if the total daily calories eaten were within range. Surely this allowed for nutrient deficiencies, especially regarding micronutrients. Not to mention that the importance of fibre and protein appear to be undermined, both of which contribute greatly to satiety in a calorie restricted diet.
Fat loss vs weight loss
To comment further on the lack of importance given to macronutrients, the lack of emphasis on adequate protein intake brings up another issue. The “old” Weightwatchers plan failed to differentiate between “weight loss” and “fat loss”. The focus of the plan was on losing scales weight. But this very often would include a loss of fat mass AND muscle mass. This is why you may know someone who lost a significant amount of weight, but they went from being “fat” to being “skinny-fat”. Basically, they ended up a lighter smaller version of themselves. Their body is “smaller” and lighter but is soft looking and lacks any muscle tone. In fact, they look anything but toned! This is in part a result of inadequate protein intake! Adequate protein is essential for maintaining muscle mass, and it also seems to assist in fat loss too!
The good points
The “new” Weightwatchers
Now here’s the interesting part! Weightwatchers appear to have “fixed” this macronutrient problem. When I signed up, I immediately noticed that Weightwatchers have changed their Zero Point Food List! What this means, is that Weightwatchers have a list of foods that have no points assigned to them. So, you can eat unlimited amounts of these foods as part of your diet. This doesn’t sound particularly significant, until you look at what foods are on this list. The whole list consists of lean protein (as well as healthy “fatty” protein like whole eggs, mackerel, and salmon), legumes, fruit, and fibrous non-starchy vegetables. I am unsure exactly when this change came into effect (after a quick Google search it appears to be 2017 at some point). But this is quite a breakthrough to their program. So basically, on the “new” Weightwatchers plan you can now eat unlimited protein and fibre.
Protein and fibre
This was very refreshing to see! Weightwatchers appear to have made the effort to bring their plan up to date to reflect current heathy eating research. They also appear to do this in what may or may not be a clever way. They don’t outright tell people to monitor their protein and fibre intake to ensure adequate intake. But by making these foods “unlimited”, participants of the program, in theory, will naturally prioritise these food options!
A balanced diet and “banking” SmartPoints
Weightwatchers also promote a “balanced” diet still, by not cutting any food groups out. They don’t cut out any foods for that matter. It is still the case that you can have your pizza and ice cream. But these must be within limited quantities to keep within your daily SmartPoint allowance. Another cool addition to the program is that you can “bank” SmartPoints if you want to. So, if you eat less than your allowance of SmartPoint foods for a few days in a week, you can tally up these “missed” SmartPoints and save them for a special occasion. So, you could save them for later in the week, like a night out for example.
What appears to be another addition to the program, is that completed exercise grants you FitPoints. Your challenge is to gain so many FitPoints per day. In other words, to burn so many calories per day through physical activity. If you gain more FitPoints than normal, you can then “trade in” these FitPoints by allowing yourself to eat more SmartPoints. This makes perfect sense. If you are more active than normal, then you have the option of rewarding yourself by eating more! Weightwatchers recognises that not all activity has to come in the form of “formal exercise”. So physical tasks like cleaning the house for example, also count towards your activity level. I think this is a great incentive to get people moving more. A criticism of the “old” program was that not enough emphasis seemed to be placed on exercise, so this is encouraging to see!
Slow and steady
A further good point of the program is it encourages slow and steady weight loss at a rate of 0.5lb to 2lbs a week. This is certainly not a crash diet. And the diet can be very flexible to your individual preferences, with freedom of food choices and meal timing. For example, it would be very simple for someone of special dietary requirements to follow the program. Like, if you were vegan perhaps. Of if someone liked to incorporate Intermittent Fasting, this would work for them too.
I’ve talked about a lot of good things about the “new” Weightwatchers program, but now to address some criticisms.
So, does the program work? That is a very hard question to answer. It appears that all the research I have seen was in fact funded by Weightwatchers themselves! You can refer to my previous blog post on Fitness and Misleading Studies. It doesn’t take long to realise that it poses an issue in assessing the reliability of any study, when it has been self-funded! But from what I have seen, I would say, people do lose weight on this program. How many people manage to maintain their new body weight afterwards? That, I don’t know, but I am tempted to guess that most people will put the weight back on.
Putting the weight back on
Why do I think that most people will put weight back on after reaching their target? Firstly, for the ironic reason that they have “reached their target”. People naturally seem to be more motivated when they have a clear goal they are working towards. So, once they have reached their goal, then what? Motivation slips. Adherence wanes. Weight very often slowly but surely creeps back up again! Until one day, the person realises “oh no, I’m overweight again! I must stick to my diet now!” And the cycle continues. They will now be motivated again. Will lose weight again. They will reach their target again….and then they will let things slip…again!
What about “maintenance”?
So, while I have praised Weightwatchers a lot in this post, I think they could work more on a way to keep people motivated to stop this relapse happening. “Maintenance” should be a big part of any weight loss program. But then again, perhaps it is in their best interests as a business NOT to stop people regaining weight! This yoyo dieting cycle keeps their customers coming back again and again! All you have to do is a quick search online, to see numerous stories of Weightwatchers members that struggled to keep the weight off. So, this leads me to believe that “maintenance” is a genuine issue with the program. It seems that little advice on maintenance is offered. And there are many accounts of people feeling lost, not knowing how to adjust their diet out of “weight loss” mode without getting fat.
Temporary fix vs habit change
Further reading suggests to me that Weightwatchers is failing to create permanent lifestyle changes in a lot of people. It seems that upon reaching their target weight, most people take one of two options. Option one is to carry on with their diet just as strictly as before. They continue as if nothing changed and continue to attend meetings indefinitely. Option two is to fall off the wagon completely. They revert to their pre-diet ways. Both options suggest to me that the program is failing to educate people on “good lifestyle and eating habits”. It seems that some people see Weightwatchers as a temporary solution to a problem. Which is why when that “problem” (being overweight) is resolved, they are quick to abandon the program soon after. Or on the other hand, if Weightwatchers has failed to educate them enough, that once reaching their target weight they are incapable of making better lifestyle and eating choices without the constraints of the program, this is also a problem.
A further issue is I am sceptical as to how the program is adjusted (if it is adjusted) to overcome plateaus in weight loss. Through any weight loss journey, you will almost always come across “sticking points”, in which weight loss stalls or stops completely. Simply put, the body is very good at adapting. Once you cut calories, the body’s metabolism begins to slow down. This is called “Adaptive Thermogenesis”. I know from experience that there are ways to adjust a program to overcome this issue. I have found that usually the different options are to do ONE of the following: further reduce calories; or further increase exercise; increase protein intake; or to introduce higher carbohydrate refeed days. However, Weightwatchers offers little advice on this. Their only offering is telling you to “be patient”, checking that you are not “cheating” on your diet, or ensuring you are being “active” enough. Or interestingly asking yourself “why you are afraid of being slim?” So straight away they assume that you are somehow self-sabotaging! Notice how Weightwatchers concludes that YOU (the dieter) are at fault if weight loss stalls. And it is nothing to do with their program needing adjusting!
Enough protein? What about “fatty protein”?
I am unsure why the program doesn’t encourage the monitoring of protein intake to ensure adequate amounts. I appreciate that this could be to possibly give dieters one less thing to worry about. And by making protein “Zero Points”, Weightwatchers assume that protein intake will naturally be high enough anyway, through dieters’ own choice. But this may not be the case. Additionally, some of the “Zero Points” foods include fatty protein sources like mackerel, salmon, and whole eggs. While these are healthy foods, and their fat content is healthy too, I think people are misled to think they can eat unlimited amounts and still lose weight. These foods, despite being healthy, are still high in calories. So yes, it certainly is possible for someone to overeat these foods and therefore prevent weight loss.
The same could potentially apply to some of the legumes listed as “Zero Points” too, as again, overconsumption can mean an intake of too many calories. Admittedly, I don’t think many people will be overeating legumes though, without their digestive system giving them grief!
Why us points instead of calories?
I must comment on the “Food SmartPoints” concept overall. I don’t see why they try and be cute about it. Why don’t they just get people counting calories? Or at least count macronutrients? I understand completely that all calories are not equal. And I truly believe that most food generally should come from natural, unprocessed, unrefined sources. And that sugar and hydrogenated fat should be limited. But if people are still going to be having to track their food anyway, I’m not sure if Weightwatchers having their own “food currency” so to speak, is necessary! To me, it’s like choosing between trading in US Dollars as opposed to British Pounds! It’s still counting money at the end of the day! But then again, I suppose this forces you to use their app and website to convert food into “SmartPoints”. So again, encouraging you to remain a customer!
Why not just use a free calorie counting app?
I question the “SmartPoints” system, because I am doubtful of its value as opposed to just calorie counting. But I also realise that this is a barrier Weightwatchers have put in place to force me to use their app. And therefore, pay my membership money! Keep in mind that with my basic membership level I don’t attend meetups. All I get is the online resources. If Weightwatchers were to use calories to track food (like the rest of the world!), then I could very easily use one of the hundreds of free calorie counting and exercise tracking apps out there. Pretty much, this is all I seem to be paying for – their version of a calorie counter that I could get free elsewhere!
Lack of structure
This brings me to my next point, that dieters will still have to be motivated enough to track their food. Some people find weighing and measuring food and portion sizes a daunting task. And to be honest, some people are just lazy. So, I could see this being a potential pitfall. Also, some people may be overwhelmed by having “too much freedom”. It’s a funny situation, because some people will moan that their program is too restrictive. But there are others who will moan that it is paralysis by analysis, and they feel stuck from having “too much choice”! Some just want someone to tell them exactly what to do and exactly what to eat! They need a strict structure and routine laid out for them! Weightwatchers does have some sample meal plans for ideas. But for these types of people who want all the decisions already made, I don’t think this program is quite right for them!
Only suitable for beginners
Again, questioning my value for money, it is apparent to me that Weightwatchers’ target audience are absolute beginners. They are aiming their product at those who are sedentary, to transfer them into being active, or at least semi-active. That is totally understandable and is very cool. These people do need help. But again, I question what about people who have reached their target weight? What happens to those people when they are no longer beginners? My membership provides me with exercise programs and instructional videos, with different intensity levels. But still, even at the “hardest” intensity, these exercise programs are not aimed at the fit, or at least the semi-fit person. I would be better off finding exercise programs online myself – for free!
Lack of emphasis on resistance training
An additional issue I see, is the lack of emphasis in incorporating resistance training in the program. When restricting calories, resistance training is important for maintaining muscle mass. Again, let me remind you of people you may have seen that lose weight to become lighter, smaller, yet soft and flabby! Combine a low-calorie diet, with inadequate protein intake, plus little to no resistance training, and you have a perfect situation for losing muscle tissue. Say goodbye to any chance of being toned and shapely!
Lack of value in their articles and recipes
An additional point is that I wasn’t impressed with the information articles I get access too as part of my membership. The level of information is so very basic, for example there are tips likes “drink more water”. For those beyond absolute beginner level, these are not of much value. And again, this information is free all over the web! Likewise, I would criticise their recipe database too, regarding value for money. They have a lot of “healthy recipes”. But on closer inspection they appear to be just “regular recipes”. These are the same standard recipes that you can obtain access to all over the internet for free! There is nothing original about them. Except that they tell you how many “SmartPoints” they contain!
I was pleasantly surprised to see that the Weightwatchers plan is evolving, and it has improved greatly compared to what it once was!
I like the emphasis the diet inadvertently puts on protein and fibre. Yet I think there is still the potential for dieters to end up not getting adequate amounts without tracking. I think the program would do better to incorporate monitoring of all macronutrients in general. But I do like that the diet promotes slow and steady weight loss. And it doesn’t cut out any foods completely like some fad diets. This makes it appear to be a more sustainable program for the long run.
Lots of room for improvement
Their diet plan has the double-edged sword of being very flexible. This will work well for some, but not so much for others who need a more rigid structure. Additionally, I think the exercise part of Weightwatchers needs work. This is especially so regarding the lack of emphasis on resistance training. Which helps prevent metabolism slow down, prevents loss of muscle, and prevents fat loss stalling.
Weightwatchers addresses the needs of the beginner quite well. But it seems little advice is given regarding weight loss plateaus. And even less advice is given regarding adjusting the plan into “maintenance” mode. The general advice, articles, and recipes were overall unimpressive too, considering that you are paying money for access to these.
For this reason, I question the value of Weightwatchers. It seems that with the level of membership I chose, I was essentially just paying for a calorie and exercise counter that uses “points” instead of calories. I could have downloaded one of these apps for free.
Furthermore, we don’t really know how successful the program really is. We cannot rely on Weightwatchers’ own funded research not to be biased. And we don’t know how many people keep the weight off once they have lost it. I would question if lifestyle changes and good habits are truly being learned here.
Where their real value lies
In saying all of this, I think the real value in Weightwatchers involves the meetups. Accountability and adherence are probably the biggest thing in any weight loss plan. I can see how being part of a “group” is more motivating, so I think the concept of a weekly meeting can be a great thing. However, this will NOT appeal to everyone – for many, a public weigh-in sounds awful! However, again if you were to go the free route, you could simply download a free calorie counter app. And then meet up with a friend every week to ensure you stay on track!
Additionally, it seems the plan fails to teach “self accountability” if the only way people manage to keep within a healthy weight range is by attending their weekly meetup for life!
Is the program really working if it is not instilling permanent lifestyle change and habit change? How can the program be called a success if members don’t finish the plan empowered enough to control their own weight?
Weightwatchers doesn’t teach healthy habits and lifestyle changes enough to ensure that dieters won’t relapse once they stop attending meetups. But then again, this is possibly in Weightwatchers’ best interests. To keep these customers coming back again and again.
Weightwatchers doesn't teach healthy habits and lifestyle changes enough to ensure that dieters won’t relapse once they stop attending meetups. But then again, this is possibly in…
Still, Weightwatchers’ target audience is absolute beginners. So, for this demographic, I think they will get value from this program just to get started at least. This could explain why the exercise component of the program is so very basic too. Anything more is unnecessary to those very new to exercise.
The problem would clearly lie in once people get past this beginner stage.
So, my overall verdict – is Weightwatchers worth it? For the absolute beginner, maybe. But probably just as a very temporary solution, to get them started on their weight loss journey.
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Chicken Balls! These Cheesy Chicken Balls are High in Protein, Low in Calories!
Chicken balls are a favourite of mine! These are made from low fat cheese and lean chicken mince. Plus some of my favourite herbs and spices too!
Prep and cooking time comes to about 25 mins! So easy!
See the chicken balls video below:
The batch I cooked up served 4 people (all of us strapping lads), so there should be plenty for all!
I used lean chicken mince and low fat cheese to make it a low fat (as well as a low carb) meal. This brought the calorie count right down. You could use regular full fat cheese if you wanted to. This just means the calorie content will obviously be higher.
The nutritional break down of the chicken balls is as follows:
Calories 1424kcal; Carbs 30g, Fat 14g, Protein 267g
Calories 356kcal; Carbs 7.5g, Fat 3.5g, Protein 66.75g
The ingredients list is:
– 1kg Lean Chicken Mince
– 4 Egg Whites
– 65 Protein Cheese (grated)
– 60g Low Fat Garlic Soft Cheese Spread
– 100g Chopped Onion
– 2 tablespoons Shawarma mix
I served these with microwaved mixed vegetables, but if you wanted carbs too, you could always chop up some potatoes into fries and have those with them too. Otherwise rice could be an option. Also, I wouldn’t want to take away from the flavour of the cheesy chicken balls, but if you wanted, you could serve with sugar-free ketchup, with mustard, or even low-fat humous:
Chicken balls are a favourite of mine! These are made from low fat cheese and lean chicken mince. Plus some of my favourite herbs and spices too!…