Healthy Feature: Weight Watchers

Meet Margaret: Mother, home chef and talented food photographer. She shares her favorite Weight Watchers recipes on, and documents her diet-friendly dishes on Flickr.

What made you decide to follow the Weight Watchers plan? How long have you been following it for?
In early 2008, my doctor told me that after several years of back issues I was going to need surgery in the summer. I knew that recovery would be easier if I was thinner. My sister-in-law had successfully lost weight with Weight Watchers a few years earlier, and had kept it off. I lost 50 lbs. in 10 months. I no longer needed back surgery and wasn’t living in constant pain anymore. I honestly felt 10 years younger.

What are the challenges to maintaining the diet?
I faced a few challenges when I began Weight Watchers. I ate very few vegetables when I first joined. I quickly learned that since those were low in "point values" that if I wanted to stay full, I needed to eat them. It turned out, I actually loved some of the foods I had refused before, especially black beans, sweet potatoes and chickpeas. I had to learn a new way of choosing and preparing food. I had been used to the idea of cutting out certain groups of foods as a way to lose weight in the past. Of course, once I started eating them again, I also regained the weight. It was so refreshing to not have to give up any foods that I loved to lose weight. But, I did have to learn to be more selective as to what I indulged in. Because my family wasn’t following the WW plan, I sometimes had to cook myself a separate meal.

What are your favorite recipes?
I have discovered a number of new favorite recipes that are either from Weight Watchers or are WW friendly! Some of my favorite main dish recipes are Red Curry Key Lime Shrimp, Kielbasa & Bean Slow-Cooker Soup, Oven-Roasted Vegetables (which are excellent with couscous and broiled fish), and Tilapia with White Wine & Capers.

What are the health benefits of your diet?
I haven’t herniated a disk since 2008 and no longer need back surgery. I’ve also regained almost an inch in height that I had lost due to my back problems. I have a lot more energy and am more active in my late 40’s than I was in my 30’s. I also have a lot less joint pain in my entire body.

What are the most popular substitutes you use? Any dishes you have transformed?
When baking, I regularly use applesauce and/or light butter in place of oil and regular butter. In muffins, cakes and quick breads, no one can tell the difference. I constantly use the Recipe Builder feature on the WW e-tool to tweak recipes. As you put the ingredients in, it tells you how many Points Plus values it has per serving. I have learned to cut back on added fats, use leaner cuts of meat, low-fat cheeses and other substitutes to reduce the Points Plus values. I make homemade pizza every Friday night. Using the Recipe Builder to try various tweaks, I was able to cut 2 Points Plus off each slice of pizza, which I then ‘spend’ on wine or chocolate.

Has your diet rubbed off on any of your friends or family members?
Yes! In 2008, I had two girlfriends join WW because of my success, and they both lost 60+ lbs. In 2014, my husband’s blood pressure and cholesterol were getting dangerously high. He joined Weight Watchers to try and lower his numbers naturally rather than depending on medicine. He’s lost over 50 lbs., lowered his cholesterol by 40 points and has been able to cut his blood pressure medicine dosage by half. My 20 year old son has also lost about 20 lbs. just by eating the WW suppers I fix and making healthier choices throughout the day.

What are your tips for grocery shopping? Do you have to go to multiple shops?
Check the labels! Not all products are created equally. Our old hamburger buns were 5 Points Plus each. I then found a full-sized, name brand bun that was only 3 Points Plus. None of us could tell a difference in taste or texture. I think one of the best parts of WW is that you don’t have to purchase anything special to use the program. Normal, easy-to-find ingredients are all you need to succeed!

What advice can you provide for anyone who would like to try the Weight Watchers diet?
Understand this program is about learning better eating habits, not a diet you will follow and then give up. I still enjoy chocolate, desserts, wine and other items that are usually restricted on diets. My husband still goes out for beer and wings with the guys when he’s craving it. We’ve just learned to balance out what we use our Points on each day. It’s just like spending money. If you want to splurge on a vacation, you trim expenses in other areas to make it happen. I’d also suggest investing in the WW scale and measuring cups. The keys to success are “weighing, measuring and tracking.” If you fix a healthy meal, but then eat twice as much as you should because you didn’t weigh or measure it, you won’t lose the weight. Go to meetings! Yes, I lost 50 lbs. in 2008 without meetings. However, I’ve been attending meetings with my husband for the past 8 months, and I can really see how important that support network can be while losing the weight AND while maintaining your healthy weight afterwards. Keep tracking! When you reach your goal weight online, there is no way to verify it with WW, so you have to keep paying to keep your online tools. Because of this, after a couple years, I stopped tracking. I slowly gained some of my weight back. Now that I’ve reached goal weight again, I am able to attend meetings and use the online tools for free as long as I stay within 2 lbs. of my goal weight. I think being able to keep my tracking up without having to pay will encourage me to keep tracking and keep the weight off for good.

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