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Why the Weight Watchers Quick-Start Program Worked for Me

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Rose Mary is an Air Force veteran and an Occupational Therapist. She enjoys researching and writing on a variety of topics.

Weight Watchers Could Be Right for You

I have never been to a Weight Watchers meeting. I’ve never paid a Weight Watchers fee, had a Weight Watchers sponsor, or registered for a Weight Watchers website. I do however have several Weight Watchers cookbooks, and I relied on Weight Watchers many times to keep me within my weight limits during my 20-year Air Force career.

One of my favorite Weight Watchers recipes, Beef, Cabbage and Pasta

One of my favorite Weight Watchers recipes, Beef, Cabbage and Pasta

My Air Force Early Years

My Air Force Early Years

My weight was only a struggle for my entire 20-year Air Force career. When I met with my recruiter in 1988, I was less than 20 lbs over the maximum allowed for my height. He didn’t want me to show up for my physical and just screech in under the limit, so he wanted me to lose 25 lbs. I don’t remember what I did diet-wise at the time, but do recall doing miles and miles of walking on an indoor track at the YMCA near where I worked.

In my early Air Force career, we had annual weigh-ins, which were announced well in advance. I commissioned into the Air Force in November of 1988 and reported to Scott Air Force Base in Illinois in late January of 1989, about 2 weeks before my 30th birthday. Nearing the end of my first year on active duty, as the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays approached, our annual weigh-in was announced for late January or early February of 1990. I can’t remember exactly when. What I do remember was panic! I was going home for Christmas. There was no way I could restrain myself. Baked macaroni and cheese, my mom’s famous cakes, and all of the other great foods that make up a traditional Southern Holiday feast! I was really going to have my work cut out for me when I got back from leave.

Two things happened while I was on leave that made all the difference in the world for my weight loss effort. For one, I bought a copy of the Weight Watchers Quick Start Plus Program Cookbook. The second thing that happened was that I saw my sister at Christmas. She had lost weight and looked so good, I almost felt like someone knocked the breath out of me when I saw her. I was happy for her, but I felt a little sick.

So right after Christmas of 1989, I returned to Illinois with determination, motivation, and fear regarding my weight loss plan. I could relate to the Weight Watchers Quick Start Program’s guidelines of servings or “exchanges,” rather than tracking calories directly. I had previously worked in a doctor’s office and learned how to do the patient education for the diabetic diet. So I already knew the basics of an exchange program and what a serving is. You’re actually counting calories, but indirectly through tracking servings.

Stir Fry: another favorite Weight Watchers recipe

Stir Fry: another favorite Weight Watchers recipe

It’s easier to learn what a serving of starch, dairy, or protein is, rather than learning the calories for thousands of foods. The Weight Watchers Quick Start Plus Program Cookbook has extensive tables to guide you as to what constitutes a “serving” in the different categories, bread, protein, fat, dairy, fruits, and vegetables. I learned the servings, but also educated myself on some key calorie counts, to help me with some “legal cheating”. More on that as we go along.

For most starches, such as potatoes, rice, pasta, beans, or legumes, ½ cup is one “bread serving”. One slice of bread or ½ of a small bagel is a bread serving. On average this is 80 calories. If you find a 40 or 45 calorie per slice sandwich bread, you can have two pieces as one bread serving.

A protein serving is basically one ounce of lean meat or low-fat cheese or one egg. On average, a protein serving is 60 to 70 calories. Generally, beef and pork have more calories than poultry, fish, or shellfish. The plan limited red meat to 3 times a week, therefore, somewhat decreasing protein calories on the whole. I didn’t really count how many times a week I ate red meat. Shrimp is about 25 calories per ounce, so I tripled my allowance on shrimp! The local grocery chain always had shrimp for $2.99 a lb, and they would steam it with spices for free. Even on second lieutenant pay, I could afford that! I would have about 6 ounces of shrimp every Friday. Thankfully shellfish promotes the “good cholesterol”, which was later borne out to be true with my lipid panel labs.

My vegetable soup

My vegetable soup

Fats are about 45 calories per serving, or “exchange.” One teaspoon of butter, margarine, or oil is one exchange.

There is a huge variety of dairy servings compared to 20 years ago. It can seem a little more complicated, because just about everything is available in full fat, low fat, and no fat. You can figure a dairy serving to be 80 calories. Eight ounces of skim milk would be one dairy serving. Most 6 to 8-ounce low-fat or no-fat yogurts will work. Cheese is almost always more calories and more fat, so when I used cheddar cheese, for example, I counted 1 ounce of cheese as 1 dairy and 1 fat serving.

Fruits are about 60 calories a serving. This category is highly variable, depending on the fruit, ½ of the fruit is a serving for some fruits and 1 full fruit for others. One small apple is a serving or ½ of a large apple. For bananas, sorry, only half of a banana per serving. Some fruits servings are ½ cup, ¾ cup, or 1 cup. One-half cup of pineapple is a serving, but you can have ¾ cup of sliced strawberries.

Vegetable servings are about 25 calories for a ½ cup. Weight Watchers Quick Start recommends a minimum of 2 servings of vegetables a day. My strategy on vegetables was to eat as many as I wanted (or as many as I needed) in order to make it through the day! I often made a large batch of vegetable soup with tomato juice, green beans, broccoli, spinach, okra, and cabbage. I would then add ½ to 1 cup of starch, such as potatoes, corn &/or butterbeans, to 1 quart of soup, which would be 1 or 2 bread exchanges. Alternatively, I would add 2 or 3 ounces of chicken or ground beef, which would be 2 or 3 protein exchanges. I would then eat my soup throughout the day. Sometimes, I would eat the soup without starch or protein, as a “free exchange” at the end of the day, when I was hungry but had no exchanges left.

Yellow crookneck and Zucchini squash. Eat all the steamed and raw vegetables you want.

Yellow crookneck and Zucchini squash. Eat all the steamed and raw vegetables you want.

The “Quick Start” part of the Weight Watchers Plan entails restricting “eligible” foods in all categories and introducing additional foods each week until week 4. These restrictions are to “kick start” weight loss. I chose not to limit my food options, which I don’t think negatively impacted my progress. Just having a plan, with limits, but with unlimited variety, was a big step for me.

The daily “exchanges” for women are 3 fruits, at least 2 vegetables, 2 dairy, 2 or 3 bread, 3 fat, and 6 to 8 protein. There’s also an “optional” exchange, which is things like condiments. For me, the basic plan was not realistic. Although I like meat, I love starch. Given that a meat exchange is about 60 to 70 calories, and a bread serving is about 80 calories, I decided these were close enough. I decided on 4 protein servings a day and 5 bread servings. Again this did not negatively impact my progress. My revised plan, which also allowed for about 100 calories a day “optional” exchange, totaled about 1400 calories a day.

I tried many, many of the Weight Watchers Quick Start Plus Program Cookbook recipes. I’ve always had a “healthy appetite”, and definitely developed my list of favorites that were more filling. Of course, I did a lot of tweaking of these recipes. I highly recommend this book, which is old, but still available. I promise to write some additional hubs, sharing my favorite Quick Start recipes with my variations.

The other major component of my plan was exercise. I started with walking, and gradually transitioned to a slow jog, religiously 3 days a week. I ate an apple on the way to the base gym, heading over right after work on Mondays and Wednesdays. Then I went to the gym on Saturday mornings. You’d be surprised how many people are “creatures of habit”. By going to the same gym on consistent days, I started to get to know some of the faces, so it was a support system of sorts.

So the bottom line? Even with all of my “cheating”, I lost 2 lbs every single week, for over 20 lbs. People definitely noticed, and often said things like “Wow, you lost weight! How did you do it?!” They were looking for a “magic” kind of answer. I would say, “I can tell you, but you’re not gonna want to hear it.” They insisted they did of course. My reply was “Sensible diet and exercise,” to which the curious, would-be loser of weight would throw up their hand, with a disgusted look on their face. I tried to tell them, didn’t I? There is no safe magic bullet.

Being a lover of food, my weight would creep back up over the years, but I returned many times to my version of the Weight Watchers Quick Start Plus Program. I have purchased several Weight Watchers cookbooks over the years, but Quick Start was and remains my favorite.

Your Experience with Weight Watchers

Spinach and Eggs With English muffin.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.

Questions & Answers

Question: Do you have any of the old pamphlets from the Quick Start book? There are some recipes I can’t find, and I don’t have my set anymore.

Answer: I never had any pamphlets. I have the Quick Start cookbook. It is a very thick book and great resource.


Eileen Brown on December 01, 2016:

I used the exchange plan back in the 90s. I was at a loss what to do about shifting the pounds as other diets didn't work.

I had bought the Weight Watchers Quick Start Exchange plan book from a book club and decided to follow their menu plan to the letter.

I lost 3 stone, 4 lbs. In fact my friend was telling me to stop because I had gone down to 7 stone 10 lbs in weight.

I went back to the plan time and time again when I wanted to move a few pounds. My husband loved it too because he maintained he always eat better when he had what I had.

I couldn't believe that I lost weight but ate so much. I never ever felt hungry.

rmcrayne (author) from San Antonio Texas on March 27, 2011:

Dr.Ope thanks for commenting. I am reducing animal protein in my diet. I've also explored raw. Donna Gates of the Body Ecology Diet suggests moving toward raw. Living Cuisine is a great resource. Do you have favorite resources?

Olive Ellis on March 08, 2011:

rmcrayne your hub is really educational. I used to have a weight problem myself, but I have found a solution - I am now eating raw food, i.e. uncooked vegetables, fruits and nuts. I have cut meat from my diet. I have lost over 70 lbs.looking younger and feeling great!.

SaraMarieJames from Louisville, Kentucky on January 31, 2011:

"The second thing that happened was that I saw my sister at Christmas. She had lost weight and looked so good, I almost felt like someone knocked the breath out of me when I saw her. I was happy for her, but I felt a little sick."

-This is almost identical to what happened to me. I was overweight and someone very close to me lost a LOT of weight and their transformation inspired me to do the same. Okay, so maybe "inspired" isn't the perfect word. Maybe "envy" :) Whatever it was, it worked!

rmcrayne (author) from San Antonio Texas on August 17, 2010:

Brian walking is not only potentially enjoyable exercise, but easy and inexpensive. In the past WW used an exchange system, and now points rather than calorie counting per se. I don't know if WW has incorporated the principles of GI.

Brian Colborne from Dublin on August 15, 2010:

Hi there I love walking, and have used it successfully for weight loss many times, but you are SO right about eating the right things too, no matter how much you exercise, if you are eating wrong you wont lose any weight!

if you want to check out my hub on walking for weight loss check this out

Does Weight Watchers also use a low glycemic diet? I know they focus mostly on calorie counting, at least when my mother was doing it, but that was years ago!

rmcrayne (author) from San Antonio Texas on August 10, 2010:

Thanks for visiting laura. It's been a while since I 'dieted' as well, but good luck on your venture. Check out my Weight Watchers recipe hubs.

lauravanvleet on August 07, 2010:

rm~thanks for your wonderful information and inspiration! I so remember the WW plan in the 80's! Brings back great memories! I don't think I've dieted since! lol Anyway, I've joined a Biggest Loser contest at work, so in my search for the old WW exchange info, I came across your hub. Love it! Thanks again for the data!

Barbara Bethard from Tucson, Az on August 03, 2010:

wonderful article and I agree with your "sensible diet and exercise" but the older I get the harder it is to keep the weight off unless I really really stick to the three times a week of exercise...I ride my bike but during the summer it is not three times a week...lucky if its once a week...but I am motivated again by your hub and thank you for it!!

immab from Long Island, NY! on July 09, 2010:

my mom has lost a ton of weight using weight watchers! glad it works for you, too.

rmcrayne (author) from San Antonio Texas on June 13, 2010:

Thanks Habby.

Regarding #1: Perhaps the new WW plan has a better way of dealing with sodas, but I would probably compute something like this: A canned Coke is 140 calories. One bread serving is about 80 calories and one fruit is 60. That would be your 140 for your coke. Obviously not something you should do every day. The fruit is clearly better for you than the Coke. You could also use your “optional exchange”, which would include condiments and beverages for up to 550 calories a week, which is almost 4 Cokes a week, but no additional optional exchange.

Personally, I would tell you that caffeine depletes the immune system, and there are many experts now saying that refined sugar is one of the most detrimental components of the American diet. Sodas contribute to an acid environment in the body, which is a more inviting environment for diseases including cancer. It takes 32 glasses of alkalized water to counteract one soda. Check out hubs on Kangan Water for more info. I haven’t had a single soda since I learned this.

Regarding #2: You can allot yourself extra servings, say for example 1-2 extra milk, and 1-2 extra protein servings per day. The basic WW plan for women is about 1200 calories a day. I chose to go with 1400 a day. WW also says 2 bread servings and 6 protein. Since I was a starch-aholic at the time, I went with 4 breads and 5 protein. I consistently lost 2 lbs a week. See the beauty?!

Regarding #3: When I bought my Quick Start Cookbook, there was no internet option. And the meetings cost money and I was on 2nd lieutenant pay. I had the incentive that I didn’t want to be put out of the Air Force because of weight. Can you inspire yourself, or do you need a network?

Habby from College Station, Texas on June 12, 2010:

rmcrayne, thanks for such a great hub. Feel like I got to know you a bit better, which was lovely.

Also, I'm looking into WW because I just had my third baby and would like to slim back down. So a few quick questions

1. I am a huge Coke fan. How do sodas fit into WW?

2. I heard there were extra points given to nursing moms. Is this so?

3. Should I sign up online or just get the cookbook?


Hope Wilbanks from Virginia on May 26, 2010:

Awesome hub! I've done WW several times. I'm back on it again for about the 5th time now. I've finally come to the realization that it has to be a way of life, not a quick fix to a weight problem. I really like your realistic approach, b/c when you know your body and eating habits, you can better tailor a program to fit your needs, instead of starving yourself only to binge later. Great info here!!

tomwhite55 on March 30, 2010:

Thanks for all of the great information. I have been using a website called I am so excited about this new diet site that I can't help but share the news. This site provides free weight loss programs, weight loss tips, and much more. I have been using this site for quite some time now and I have lost over 20lbs! Head on over and try it out, I highly recommend it!

wordscribe41 on March 18, 2010:

What a great hub. I love that old picture of you, that's awesome. WW does have some GREAT recipes, I still cook quite a few of them myself. I got a kick out of your cheating... I hear you on that one. Hope you're well, excellent hub.

Cari Jean from Bismarck, ND on March 10, 2010:

Great information. I know many people who have had success with WW but I think I like your system better!

Paradise7 from Upstate New York on March 09, 2010:

That was interesting. The military made you lose weight, and you were smart enough to do it safely.

Motivation, real motivation, is the key to weight lose (or anything that is of above average difficulty and takes persistence over time).

Thanks for a good hub.

Lily Rose from A Coast on March 09, 2010:

I have yet to try weight watchers because I've always thought it would be too much work. You made it sound doable - I think I may switch to WW when I get tired of paying for Nutrisystem, which will probably be soon! Bookmarking it - thanks, Rosemary!