Weight Watchers Quick-Start: My “Old Faithful” for Weight Loss
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.
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.
How Could I Not Indulge in my Traditional Southern Family Feast!?
My favorite Weight Watchers Cookbook
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 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.
Another favorite Weight Watchers recipe
It’s easier to learn what a serving of starch, or dairy, or protein is, rather than learning 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.
Fats are about 45 calories per serving, or “exchange”. One teaspoon of butter, margarine, or oil is one exchange.
There is a huge variety with 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 any 6 to 8 ounce low fat or no fat yogurt would 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, and ½ cup. Weight Watchers Quick Start recommends a minimum of 2 servings of vegetables a day. My strategy on vegetables was eat as many as I wanted to, or as many as I needed to, 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.
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 fruit, at least 2 vegetable, 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.