Thursday, July 31, 2014

Weight Watchers....1970's Style

Back in 1963, a woman named Jean Nidetch founded a group where women went to weekly meetings to help each other lose weight and to stay on track during and after the weight loss. Of course I am talking about Weight Watchers. The diet itself came from a diet clinic in New York state, but the comradery and team work were all Nidetch's idea. After losing 20 lbs, she needed that group effort and support to keep off the weight. Little did she know her efforts would lay the groundwork for the futures of Nutrisystem, Jenny Craig and other diet programs.

In the early 1970's, I had a very dear aunt who had a heart condition caused by childhood rheumatic fever.  After having her children, she had never taken off the weight and by the weight standards of those days, she was overweight. I remember going to her house one time and seeing her. She was obviously uncomfortable with herself and her size and in a day and time when women still wore house dresses, hers was large and loose fitting. I remember my mother and my other aunt talking about her on the way home and being upset because they were worried about her and her heart.

It was a year or two later and we made another trip to see family. There was my beloved aunt. No longer was she wearing a loose fitting dress. She was wearing slacks and a top and she looked like a million bucks. She was the talk of the trip and if I remember correctly, she had lost somewhere between 30-50 lbs. This was the first time I ever heard the words....Weight Watchers(WW). At the time it was still a young program, but success stories like my aunts were popping up all over the place. My aunt was an avid devotee to the program. It literally changed not only her life but the quality of her life. For the rest of her life (almost 30 years)she was on the maintenance program and never did she put the weight on again.

Later in the 70's, my pencil thin mother began putting on weight. I guess divorcing and being uprooted will do that to you. First there was 5 pounds, then 10 and when the 20 lb mark was hit, my aunt gently persuaded my mom to find a local WW chapter and go to a meeting. I still remember her first day. She took my brother and I with her to the meeting and she got all of her stuff. We left the meeting and drove promptly to a Mr. Swiss which had awesome slushies. My mom went in, got a grape slushie and said...."This is my last treat until this weight is gone," and she stuck to that. Once that slushie was gone...she never looked back.

The WW program of the 1970's was nothing like the program of today. They were given a scale to weigh their food on, right down to the very ounce. They got the program which was a little pink brochure like pamphlet with maybe six pages and they got their weekly sheet in which they wrote down every mouthful of food that passed their lips. The foods were pretty basic with a lot of chicken, fish and liver (good for elasticity in the skin), fruits, veggies, milk and they were pretty stringent on three meals a day with a couple of small snacks in between.

It was at this time that my brother and I learned to, if not like vegetables, then to at least eat them. We also ate tons of tuna. Mom wasn't big on chicken or many types of fish, but tuna she would eat. This was also where I learned that not all milk was created equal. The first time I tasted skim milk I thought I might actually die. Obviously I didn't but it sure took some time to get used to that watery substance they were laughingly calling milk.

After six weeks and not one "illegal" food (back then on the program you had legal foods and illegal
foods) my mother had shed 25 lbs. She looked phenomenal and for many years, she too was on maintenance. Not until she shattered her leg and ankle in the 1980's did she ever start to put it on again. The fact is though, people really lost weight on the old school program and you could find a WW meeting in almost any town you went to. I think the reason for this was that their were very few "diet" foods back then. Diet pop had only in recent years made its debut, but other than that, "diet," "lowfat" and "fat free" were not common words nor were they common foods. The foods eaten on the old program were "real" foods. The program was about eating real life foods and portion control. Portion control in turn taught self control. It really was both a healthier time and a healthier program.

Today Nidetch is still alive at 90. Perhaps that might not be the case without WW. In 1978 she sold WW to the H. J. Heinz company for a very tidy profit I'm sure. Since then, WW has taken on a very different face. What started as a program book, a weekly planner and a scale has turned into a billion dollar enterprise. The program has changed to the point that I doubt Nidetch even recognizes it. WW now has a line of foods, books, multiple programs, workout equipment and all sorts of weight loss bells and whistles to help you lose and manage your weight loss. They even came out with an online program in 2001 for those who don't want to go to the meetings but still want the support. Instead of a few women sitting in a circle supporting each others goals, you now have people from all over the world to cheer you on. My question though.....have all these changes really made it a better program?  

In my book, WW is the only "real" program out there. With all of the weight loss program competition today, WW is the only one that in my opinion teaches you how to eat and lose weight in the real world. While it can get pretty pricey if you buy all the books, equipment and extra's that they pull out at every meeting, if you stick to the basics and just go to the meetings, it is one of the most reasonable programs available. The program consists of real foods that you can make and manage yourself which means you aren't paying for prepackaged food and you are eating things you actually like, know where they came from and how they were prepared. Of course for those who like prepackaged, WW has those too. The key to the program though is two fold. First the meetings. They keep you accountable and give you support for both the good and the not so good weeks, and second and possibly more important, you must still write down every mouthful of food you eat. This makes you aware of what you are eating, when you are eating and sometimes even....why you are eating. It is simply another way to hold yourself accountable and keep yourself aware of what you are putting into your body. As Dr. Phil always says...."You can't change what you don't acknowledge," and with WW you have no choice but to acknowledge.

So why all the talk about WW? Because I am thinking I might just go old school.....1970's style. Stay tuned!

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