One reaction I get frequently when talking about my weight loss is shock that I have managed to achieve it while studying. There are a lot of (admittedly accurate) ideas out there about student living, and much of the student lifestyle does revolve around boozy nights out and convenience food. When I first came to university I took full advantage of this, and would regularly drink upwards of a bottle of wine before heading out for the night - where I'd go on to drink seven or eight vodka redbulls and countless shots of sugary drinks like Apple Sourz or Sidekick. Then I'd come home and top the whole lot off with a takeaway pizza or burger. Fast-forward to the next morning and all I could think about was the huge fried breakfast I was craving...and so it went on. Fortunately I reigned these habits in pretty quickly, and joined Weight Watchers in the beginning of my second term of university. As my long-term readers will know I've had plenty of blips and falls off the wagon over the last couple of years, but I've always got back up and carried on. To be honest, I'm not 100% sure how I managed to stick with it for so long. There have been plenty of times when I've fallen off the wagon and not felt like getting back on it, but as soon as I see a few lbs creep back on I know its time to get things in check. I won't pretend that its always been easy, and I won't pretend that I haven't looked at some of my naturally slim friends eating junk food and downing snakebites without a care in the world and thought 'I wish I could be like that.' But despite that I don't feel like I've missed out on the student life - if anything, Weight Watchers has enabled me to enjoy it much more fully than I ever could have done at 20st. I'm the first one onto the dance floor on nights out, I love getting dressed up in (far too short) dresses and skirts and flaunting my new figure. It may not be perfect, but hey - I've worked damn hard for this body, and if I want to wear a revealing outfit then I damn well will.
So what are the things that have kept me coming back for more over the last two and half years? Probably the most important thing is the sheer flexibility of the plan. I know for a fact that I could never live in a world in which chocolate, curry and alcohol were off-limits - I mean, what would be the point in life!? People never believe me when I say that I eat chocolate pretty much every day and still lose weight - but its true! When I first joined Weight Watchers the old points system was still in place and I loved the freedom it offered. And then along came ProPoints and changed everything! I can have a drink, have chocolate, have a sneaky post-weigh-in McDonalds with my fellow Weight Watchers and know that it won't derail me. Which is good news, because I am partial to a Quarter Pounder with Cheese and a McFlurry on a Wednesday afternoon.
Another thing I love about the plan is that it teaches healthy habits that are sustainable for life. Put someone on a shake diet or give them pre-prepared meals a la Slimfast, Cambridge Diet, Jenny Craig or Lighter Life and the weight will come off quickly - but for how long? Plans such as the above teach us nothing about nutrition or portion control. With Weight Watchers I have learned that I don't need two chicken breasts, half a bag of pasta and an entire jar of sauce for one meal. Through following the ProPoints plan I now know that I should be aiming to eat foods that are high in protein and fibre and low in carbs and fat - sounds basic, but I didn't even know what those things were before I joined! These are all things that will stay with me forever, and when the time comes to have a family (in about ten years!) I know that I'll be able to teach them healthy eating habits so they never have to deal with being overweight like I did.
There are countless other things that I love about the plan, all of which I've espoused on this blog before - from the ready availability of products that make it easier to stay on plan, to the wonderful support offered by leaders and other members in the weekly meetings. I know a lot of my readers are already following Weight Watchers - in which case I'm preaching to the choir - or have found a different plan that works for them, but I wanted to share with you the things I love about the plan and the reasons it works for me. I think that there is still a certain amount of stigma or misunderstanding about Weight Watchers out there, and I wanted to express my personal (and admittedly slightly biased) opinion on it.
I seem to have digressed from my original point into a bit of a Weight Watchers love-in - my bad. Back to what I was supposed to be writing about - my student tricks and tips for Weight Watchers!
- Start cooking. A lot of students exist on a diet of pizzas and microwave meals. These are fine occasionally but not only are they high in ProPoints with next to no nutritional value, they can also actually work out more expensive than cooking meals from scratch. With a few substitutions meals like Chilli Con Carne, Spag Bol, Stew and lots of others can be made into much lower ProPoint value meals. Make a big batch, work out the value of each portion, and then freeze them for another time. Having dinner already made and waiting to go in the microwave is an absolute godsend when you're getting ready for a big night out. For those with monthly pass, there are thousands of recipes on eSource and it normally states whether or not they are suitable for freezing.
- Keep an eye on your pre-drinks. In my house pre-drinking is often a bigger event than the night itself. Spirits are lower points than wine/beer/cider, but can be more difficult to keep track of if you're pouring your own measures. One way to get round that is to pour yourself a set amount before the night begins. Use a measuring jug to pour out 150ml (or more or less, depending on how drunk you're planning to get) and decant it into a separate bottle. Use a diet soft drink as a mixer for no extra ProPoints. That way you can keep track of how many ProPoints you've used before you leave the house.
- Takeaways aren't always a no-go. Sometimes the word 'takeaway' is hard to say no to after you've had a few drinks and a hard night boogying on down. While there are plenty of Weight Watchers angels out there who will stick to a couple of slices of toast, not everyone has that amount of will-power. But instead of blowing out on a greasy (and disgusting) doner meat and chips or cheese pizza, why not go for a lamb or chicken shish kebab? Chicken is the lower in ProPoints of the two, but lamb shish is made from lean meat as well so it isn't too naughty. Ask for extra salad to bulk it out. If you fancy some chips try asking a friend to share a portion with you. That way you share both the cost and the ProPoints!
- Build up your support network. While my friends have always been super-supportive of my weight loss, the majority of them are very slim and have never struggled with their size and so could not empathise with some of my struggles. Over the last year or so I've become close with three girls - all students - who are also following the plan and are either at goal or are well on their way. Having them on standby to text when I'm craving junk food or faced with a ProPoints problem is invaluable. If we go out for a meal we can choose somewhere that won't blow all our ProPoints, and we often go to the gym or exercise classes together. If there are no students in your area that are attending your meeting or in the same boat, then make use of the conversation boards on the Weight Watchers website. I met one of my closest friends on the boards, and I don't know what I'd do without her.
- Make use of your leader. Its what they're there for! I am known to frequently text my leader with questions and confessions. They have seen, heard and done it all, and hearing the wise words of someone who's been through the same things can help get you back in the right frame of mind to try again after a slip.
- Be prepared. Keep a healthy supply of low-ProPoint goodies in the cupboard and make sure you have a low ProPoint snack in your bag for when you're out and about. Weight Watchers soups are great for lunches or for a mid afternoon snack if you're feeling peckish - they're between 1 and 3 ProPoints, keep you full for longer and aren't too expensive. Weight Watchers do a great range of biscuits, cake bars, yogurts and desserts which are great for those times when you need something sweet but don't want to blow lots of ProPoints. You can also pick up some low ProPoint alternatives for slightly cheaper in the supermarket. Sugar Free Jelly is 0pp, 2-finger KitKats are 3pp, Wotsits and Walkers SunBites are 3pp and Pink 'n' White Wafers are 1pp. Having the cupboard well stocked will mean you're less likely to grab something higher in ProPoints when cravings hit.
- Track Track Track! This one isn't student specific, but it is my number one tip for anyone following the Weight Watchers plan - or any Weight Loss plan for that matter. Keeping track of what you eat and drink will not only keep you accountable but will also help you to identify 'danger foods' - peanut butter is mine - and particular times of the day when you might get hit with cravings. If you know that you're likely to get the mid-morning munchies then you can make sure that you'll be prepared and won't end up buying chocolate or crisps just because its convenient and you're hungry.
There are loads of other tips and tricks to help keep you on track - these are just a few that immediately came to mind. Also big thanks to my lovely friend Liz, Nat and Nikki for chipping in with some of their tips too!
Lots of love,