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It's always around this time of the year when millions of people like me make a resolution to lose weight, a resolution that usually fizzles out around Martin Luther King day. And some of you reading this have already started Googling around for weight loss programs like Nutrisystem or Weight Watchers, figuring that any problem is easier to solve if you throw some money at it. But, also like me, you probably have very low tolerance for bullshit.

So one thing you'll find out is that, for instance, Weight Watchers has a failure rate of 97 percent over the long term. After five years, only three percent can say they had reached their goal weight and kept it off.

Those stats aren't a discouragement to stubborn types like me -- they're a challenge. I suspect that around 50 percent of the population thinks they're in the smartest, cleverest three percent of the species, and they're totally going to be the ones to beat the system.

So, a while back I signed up for Weight Watchers, even though it seems like the sort of thing cynical types like me should be making fun of instead of joining. Here's what I think you should know before taking the plunge ...

5
Get Ready for Portion Shock

If you didn't realize it already, you should know that society really, really wants you to be fat. You just have to recognize that right away.

The worst thing Hollywood has ever done to fat people is portray the obese as constantly eating at every single moment. When Friends would flash back to Monica's fat days, the big joke was she always had a huge, sloppy sandwich or chicken leg in her hand. The crime here isn't that it makes fat people look like mindless gluttons, but that it sends the message that you only get fat if you eat huge comedy prop food, all day, every day.

What you find out from a program like Weight Watchers (where you are kept on a strict daily point system) is that you can get sitcom-joke fat purely by eating three meals a day of the kind of portions portrayed as normal in TV commercials and on restaurant menus.

On my first day keeping myself to the Weight Watchers system, I ate the same lunch I normally do, calculated my points, and realized I was basically done for the day. I'm not exaggerating. Under their program, the average person would get a limit of 25 or so "points" a day. A Wendy's cheeseburger is 11 points, a medium order of fries is 9. Throw in a Coke and you're done eating (and over your limit if you ate so much as a plain bagel for breakfast).

So what most Americans think of as a normal day's worth of food -- based on how we have seen people eat in movies and TV our whole lives -- is actually apparently a huge gross feeding frenzy for fatty fats.


I tried plugging this into my Weight Watchers calculator. I think it broke it.

Likewise, having eaten Chinese my whole life, I'd come to think of rice as a "filler," and that you were being good if you mixed more rice in with your stir-fry, as it was basically "free" and would fill you up without you eating too much of the "real food."


Mom would not approve of this ratio.

While it's certainly easier on your wallet, which I guess is basically what's important in Chinese culture, apparently it has calories. A lot of calories. Healthy things like juice or fruits have calories too. I still got to eat them, but that means less room for delicious chips.


And if you want a burger, the rest of the plate has to look like that.

You can't fight the math -- the calories I had been eating were getting stored instead of burned. But the kind of portions that will let me lose weight at a slow and healthy rate are so small that people always have to comment on it, and get that "anorexia concern" look on their face. Like me, they've been trained to think of way too much food as the norm.

The moment you start dieting, you're immediately at war with the entire food industry. Eating out becomes a hassle. Everything is super-sized now, and if you ask if they can make it smaller for you, they either stare at you like you don't speak English or they roll their eyes like you are one of those people trying to pay for your order in pennies. I can't stand that, so half my sandwich goes into my boyfriend after he's eaten his meal, and now he's getting fat. Somehow I don't think this is how it's supposed to work.

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4
It's Kind of a Game -- One You'll Try to Cheat

As I mentioned, the core of Weight Watchers is its patented points system. And I do mean patented, since they will sue the pants off you if you try to publish the formula publicly.


These women tried to post the points formula online.

It's just a formula that takes into account some basic nutritional stats of any food and combines them into a single-digit "points" number. So a sandwich is six points or a pizza slice is eight points, and you have a max that you can eat each day. If you keep under the max, you lose weight. It's simple, and appeals to people who are bad at math. (Quick, what's 386 calories + 151 calories? How about eight points + three points?) Even as an Asian, I found myself doing the Weight Watchers calculations slightly faster.

The problem is that it's a system other people made, and when human nature -- or at least, my human nature -- runs into other people's rules, we instinctively try to game the system. "Who are you to tell me what to do?"

For instance, my pregnant cousin recently went in for a gestational diabetes test and asked the doctor what she could do to make sure she "passed" the test -- eat candy, or fast, or exercise right beforehand -- and the doctor just stared at her and patiently explained that it wasn't in her best interest to try to fake out the test because the prize for dodging treatment would be a C-section or a baby born with diabetes, or something great like that.


"Congratulations! We're going to cut a hole in you!"

The Weight Watchers system is also easy to "game" if you forget the big picture. It only takes a few nutritional stats into account (calories, fat, fiber), so you can drink Diet Coke for fewer points than a glass of milk or orange juice, up until the day you get scurvy. It doesn't tell you when to eat or how often, so in any given day, you could eat either three balanced meals or one big chocolate cake for breakfast and nothing else. Same points.

Other programs get around this by requiring you to eat only their food, but that just brings us to ...

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3
Beware of Buying Their Food

The main way a program like Weight Watchers makes money is by membership fees that let you go to meetings and talk to other dieters and have staff guide you through the program week to week. But their other source of income is they sell you special food branded with their logo. In Weight Watchers the food itself is sort of designed to game the system -- they know the formula, so they can aim for the exact amount of calories, fat, fiber and protein to keep it just under the threshold for two points or whatever.


One-point mint brownie!

So they're in the best position to design the maximum amount of snack for any set amount of points, and the points are right on the box so you don't even have to run any numbers through their calculator or look anything up, which is awesome if you're very lazy. The cost for this remarkable service is twofold: 1) actual money, as the food is fairly expensive, and 2) you have to go to meetings, since most of the food is only sold there.

The thing is, though, with the points system you can at least go out and find other alternative snacks at the supermarket with the same point values. With their food you're basically just paying them to do the math for you, they have no patent on zero-calorie fried chicken. On the opposite end of that spectrum is Nutrisystem, where you lose weight by eating their terrible meals every morning, noon and night for the rest of your life. Same with Jenny Craig, where you lose weight by eating their terrible and even more expensive meals for the rest of your life.


Mmmmmmmmmmmm.

That link up there mentions a lady who spent $9,000 on losing weight she just kept gaining back. Because they don't teach you to evaluate foods outside the system, once you stop buying their food you have no idea what to eat, and you just get fat again.

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2
Group Support isn't for Everybody

And about those meetings ...

If you're the average Cracked reader, I'm guessing you have an aversion to all things corny, like motivational speakers, team-building activities and getting gold star stickers for doing something good.

Maybe it's my fault for taking these kinds of well-intentioned "attaboys" as condescending insults, but what am I going to do? I can only work on one personality problem at a time.

At Weight Watchers meetings, you actually will get stickers for telling a success story, like how you resisted the temptation to eat a second piece of birthday cake. But the problem is, these people don't know me. Maybe it was a colossal struggle not to eat that cake. Maybe I hate cake. Maybe there was no cake and I'm just making it up to get attention. Either way I get a "Good job!" and a sticker.


Maybe the cake looked like this.

Considering you can get a reward for any old crap, if I actually did accomplish something hard and I get a sticker, it just seems like a mockery of my accomplishment. I'm not a total asshole so I say thanks and smile, but it makes me a little less impressed with myself if anything.


Do you remember these? Did they make you feel good? Did they ever make anyone feel good?

It's sort of the same thing with any encouragement you get from the group. They might mean well, but they weren't there. There's only so much solid info they have to congratulate you on. So it can come across as a bit insincere, or if they pry deeper, too nosy.

The problem is, this isn't AA. You haven't all had the same rock-bottom pits of hell experience where you were forced to face yourself at your worst; an experience that creates a common bond between strangers. You just eat too much. Maybe even not that much too much.


"I used to weigh 140 pounds. Now I weigh 135."

Anyway, that plus the quiz games and skits makes me feel like I'm in Sunday school again, which I did enjoy. When I was 10. Now that I'm thir- uh, 27, it just makes me cringe.

Especially in light of the fact that ...

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1
You Never Leave The Nest

As the old saying goes, if you teach a man to fish, you don't make any money off of selling him fish anymore. Weight Watchers isn't as blatant as Nutrisystem or Jenny Craig about it and actually teaches you some skills you can use on your own, but they still stand to lose money if you stop attending.

To keep you around, they point you toward those exact dismal statistics I quoted earlier, about how so few people manage to keep the weight off, and insist that you need group support to avoid falling into that trap. If group support kind of freaks you out, fortunately this kind of goes in one ear and out the other.


I mean, what if they make me hold someone's hand?

The other strategy they have is the Lifetime Members program. If someone reaches their goal weight and keeps it there for three weeks, they become a Lifetime Member and get to participate in meetings for free forever. While Weight Watchers doesn't get any membership money from that person, that person does get to shop the food selection every week, as well as stand before struggling members as a shining example of how "Weight Watchers works."

I see Weight Watchers as one of those animal rescues that rehabilitates orphaned condors. Those centers care for the birds' injuries and train them to fly and look for corpses or whatever, all for the purpose of eventually releasing them into the wild where they can do it on their own.


Teach a bird to find a corpse ...

Weight Watchers can help cure people of crazy ideas about portion size, train them in counting nutritional stats and then should get them ready to do it on their own, wherever they live their lives. Trying to keep the condors around forever is no good. It's kind of sad to keep a wild bird tied down like that, and besides, if they ever escape, they're fucked.


I think condors are a good analogy because they kind of look like someone who's lost too much weight.

This comes back to the main point: Society wants you to be fat, and the weight-loss industry is part of that system. So while restaurants and grocery stores want to sell you food, remember that exercise equipment manufacturers want you constantly buying new machines to replace the old ones that didn't make you thin, and weight-loss programs want you hanging around forever. That won't happen if you join for a couple of weeks, learn portion control, then spend the rest of their life a healthier and happier person. They lose money if you quickly defeat the problem -- they make the most when you stay in a win/lose cycle that keeps you buying their product until the day you die.

Which is not to say it can't work. I lost about 15 pounds over 12 weeks since I joined ... but I bailed on Weight Watchers after Week 3. That was as much as I could tolerate, but the key was that I didn't use that as a reason to stop watching what I ate. I took what they taught me and ran with it, and just getting in the habit of tracking calories in and calories out helped me think about the consequences of my decisions instead of making imaginary bargains with God every time I wanted a snack, or making excuses about exercise.

I might gain that weight back -- almost everyone does. But at least nobody's holding a sticker over my head about it.

How can you lose weight? Spend all your money on our book and you'll have no cash for food. Simple!

For more from Christina, check out 'Plus Sized' Clothes: Translating the Baffling Euphemisms and 5 Reasons Women Are As Shallow As Men (According to Science).

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