Thursday, January 26, 2012

Results Not Typical

Three weeks ago, my husband and I started eating healthier and less. As you may have read here, we’re doing this by following the Weight Watchers program online. Among other features, the Weight Watchers website has a ‘Success Stories’ section which includes pictures of people who have lost a significant amount of weight on the program and how they did it. There is always a disclaimer alongside each success story:

“Results Not Typical”

Every time I see the disclaimer, I question if I have what it takes to lose the amount of weight the ‘successful’ person shown has lost. I’m afraid that when it comes to weight loss—and gain—I’m dreadfully typical. I tend to gain weight if I eat too many processed carbohydrates, if I don’t exercise, or if I’m going through some sort of transition (i.e. the ‘freshman fifteen,’ or as I demonstrated, the ‘freshman thirty.’) I tend to lose weight for impending events where I’d like to look trimmer, when I’m exercising consistently, or when I have a lifestyle that supports healthy habits (i.e. I’m not living in a dorm room.) I’m using the college scenario as an example because I think it’s generally relatable, however let me assure you that in the twenty years since I graduated college I’ve experienced far more interesting moments of transition and lavish styles of unhealthy living. In any respect, these are considered typical scenarios by which to lose or gain weight according to most of the people I know.

I reckon that the amount of time I’m able to maintain a weight loss is also typical. People who’ve lost a significant amount of weight and are able to keep it off for ten years, let’s say, can be suspected of being atypical. I find this especially true if they are able maintain their loss through the holiday season. Even during my longest maintained weight loss—which I’m proud to report ended after three years and only with becoming pregnant—I always allowed myself to seriously indulge from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day. I’d begrudgingly get back on track in January, full of pain and self-loathing. But as difficult as those first days back to eating right and exercising might have been, they were always worth the bacchanalian escape from reality that was the holiday season. Typical.

I’d guess I’m typical in how many times I’ve started and stopped Weight Watchers. In 2002, I experienced a decent weight loss on the program. I participated then by going to meetings, versus online. Aside from the weight loss inducing fear of having my weight recorded by the meeting leader each week, the best part about he meetings is receiving awards every time you reach a milestone in pounds lost or in attendance. That’s right, even by just showing up, you’re a winner. Weight Watchers is gentle with you in that regard. Thusly, after having attended meetings for sixteen weeks, I was given a small, gold-tone charm in the shape of clapping hands, engraved with the number sixteen. The charm can be attached to other award items that I would receive in the future or, if I wasn’t so darn typical, I might have already received in the past sixteen weeks on the program. Regardless, it was like earning the Girl Scout merit badge for meeting attendance. It bolstered my efforts to lose weight, attend meetings, and earn trophies. It kept me on a roll for a while. Until, as is typical, it didn’t. My weight loss stalled and I stopped going to the meetings. As the pounds crept back on, I gave up all hope of procuring more gold toned trinkets. Months later when I finally found my way back to a Weight Watchers meeting, it was strange to still have my clapping hands charm.

I thought, “I had earned it once, but should it not now be revoked? I know that they’ll give me another charm after sixteen weeks and what purpose will it serve to have two? Won’t it just remind me of the time I suddenly quit after attending for an impressive four months?”

My weight was recorded and I handed my clapping hands charm to the meeting leader, still wrapped in its plastic sheath. She was confused that I would give back such a prize. I felt a little silly and self-righteous explaining to her how it didn’t feel correct for me to keep it as clearly it was an honor for someone with less typical results.

Since that attempt, I’ve experienced several more beginnings and hiatuses and have received more awards. I earned the clapping hands again and even the coveted key chain award for having lost 10% of my weight—this is where the clapping hands charm is meant to attach. Sadly, now that I find myself heavier than I’ve ever been, these medals of valor seem aged and distant like a high school letterman’s jacket. The perfectionist in me envies the ultimate ‘Success Stories’ inductee who receives her trinkets in the reasonably allotted time frame and never looks back. She stays motivated until she has earned a key chain of triumph, laden with charms—Sixteen Weeks! Twenty Pounds Lost! Goal Weight! Maintenance Maven*! Lifetime Member! To Weight Watchers’ credit, it’s clear from their disclaimers that the individual who would earn her commendations in such an orderly fashion is not recognized as typical.

These days, I follow the Weight Watchers program online. For better or for worse, I am free of the accoutrement awarded at the meetings. The other day, however, I did notice a star emblazoned with “5!” in a small box at the bottom of my ‘weigh-in’ page on the site.

“Could this be an award?” I mused.

When I first signed up in October, I wasn’t really prepared to start in earnest (read: wasn’t prepared to change the size of my desert portion,) but I did record my weight twice that month to keep track of what my body was doing. In surprisingly atypical fashion, my weight dropped five pounds between those recordings. Though the loss had little to do with life style change—probably a gift of breastfeeding more than anything—I was awarded the “5!” badge. Those five pounds made their way back (or ‘weigh’ back?) onto the scale over the holidays. While it was shameful to record my heavier weight at the beginning of the year, the “5!” badge remained.

Since my first weigh in of 2012, I’ve lost a solid four pounds. I’m meant to record my weight again tomorrow and I’m dying to see what will happen to my “5!” if I reach that milestone again. Each time you record your weight online, a box pops up which reads something like, “You’ve lost again this week, keep up the good work,” or, “Your weight stayed the same, keep up the good work,” or, “You’ve gained this week, keep trying your best!”

What would be helpful for me to hear when I reach my five pound milestone again is, “Good for you. You’ve earned back that award we gave you. Don’t eff it up again.”

I’d also find it motivational if they wrote things like, “You do NOT want to look like this on your fortieth birthday. Dust off those running shoes, woman,”

Or, “I can’t believe you are still wearing your maternity clothes! How old is your child?”

Recently, Weight Watchers has made some changes to their program. I was just on their site browsing their ‘Success Stories’ and I’d like to report a correction. Instead of “Results not typical,” their disclaimer now reads, “People following the Weight Watchers plan can expect to lose 1-2 pounds per week.”

Let’s see, I’ve been on the plan for two weeks and I’ve lost four pounds. Award received: Feeling not typical.

*I don’t believe there is a ‘Maintenance Maven’ charm for having reached the maintenance level of weight loss but if you’ve ever encountered the plucky personality of a Weight Watchers Leader, you’d agree that there should be.

Photo: “The Triumph of Bacchus” by Diego Velázquez


  1. Brilliant piece.... resplendent with honesty, pathos and humor with moments of self-love/appreciation sprinkled throughout. Thank you.