Weight Watchers Points Plus: The Problem of 29
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Weight Watchers Points Plus - Problems with the PointsPlus Program
Is Weight Watchers' PointsPlus not working for you? The problem of so many people at 29 points
On February 9, 2011 Weight Watchers CEO David Kirchhoff took the unusual step -- unusual in that Weight Watchers finally has a CEO who is engaged in social media while the company's participation in their own online communities is virtually non-existent -- of acknowledging that perhaps not everything is working well for all members since the introduction of their newest weight loss system, PointsPlus. Kirchoff said:
"OK, here is my advice for those who lost on the old program but are having trouble getting traction on the new one... Eat exactly what you were eating on the old program and see what the new PointsPlus values come out to. Try it for a week and see what happens. Sometimes the trick is to find an eating pattern that works, and then stick with that pattern. While some people have struggled with the transition, many others are finding it to be a real boost. In any case, change is never easy, but stick with it!!! Hope that helps."
Meanwhile a group of Weight Watchers members successful on prior Points-based plans have created a SparkTeam at Sparkpeople.com where over two hundred former and current Weight Watchers participants who are finding the new PointsPlus system unhelpful have banded together for support continuing with the plans that work for them.
One common thread linking most of these participants together -- and those struggling on Weight Watchers forums as well -- is that they pretty much all have a daily target of 29 PointsPlus values and almost all are women. Given that Weight Watchers patent applications are published, we can look at the formulas and get hints to what might be going on.[FN1]
All charts and graphs on this page were created by the author, sockii. This article was originally published on Squidoo in March 2011. You may not republish this article in part or in its entirety elsewhere.
What Do You Think of Weight Watchers PointsPlus - Tell us your success or failure with Weight Watchers
What has been your experience with Weight Watchers PointsPlus?
I am not advocating any modifications to Weight Watchers' program based on this article and this article is not medical advice. It is a scientific review of Weight Watcher's approach. Given the level of confusion and frustration of many participants on PointsPlus it is useful for individuals to have the formulas underlying their diet program explained.
Weight Watchers PointsPlus Formulas
Looking closely at PointsPlus equations for women and men
The formulas for computation of the daily target are located in Equations 16-19 of the patents. In my prior article "Weight Watchers Introduces PointsPlus: A Critical Examination of the New Plan", I hand-waved at the formula as (target calories-1000)/35. But let's look more closely at the equations and specifically how a 40 year old, 5' 4" tall woman weighing between 110 to 250 pounds will have her daily target set. The image shows a graph for this woman.
PointsPlus Requirements for a 40 year old, 5'4" woman
Let's start with Equation 17, that computes the total energy expenditure (TEE) using gender (female), height (in meters), age, and weight (in kilograms):
TEE = 387 - (7.31 * age) + 1.14 * (10.9 * weight + 660.7 * height).[FN2]
Next up, the adjusted total energy expenditure (ATEE) is computed with adjustments made for conversion cost of nutrients into usable form for the body (10%) and for foods treated as having zero PointsPlus value (add 200 calories):
ATEE = TEE - (TEE * 0.10) + 200.
The real "magic", though, happens in equation 19 where the fancy sounding "predetermined whole number benchmark data" or PWNB is computed. For the sake of sanity we will refer to this as the initial daily PointsPlus target (IDP):
IDP = min(max((ATEE - 1000) / 35,29),71).[FN3]
To keep working in calories, we will look at the initial daily calorie target (IDC):
IDC min(max((ATEE-1000), 1000), 2500).
The graph now highlights the first small shift, less of a calorie deficit than you would expect. But quick checks of these formulas in point terms lead to the quick revelation that Weight Watchers was sneaky, the IDP, or PWNB, does not match the targets anyone was given.
We will leave potential issues of patent invalidity due to failure to disclose the best mode to the side and focus on how the actual daily PointsPlus target is computed. The 49-weekly PointsPlus values, or 7 a day, is one missing piece. The other is another 4 that many believe relates to the foods with calories treated as having 0 PointsPlus value, e.g. fruit. But just subtracting 11 will not give the right results either. Weight Watchers still keeps the formula bounded below by 1000 calories, or 29 daily PointsPlus values.
So appropriately modifying equation 19 in the patent for the actual daily PointsPlus target (ADP):
ADP = min(max((max(ATEE-1000,1000) / 35) - 7 - 4, 29), 71).
Or keeping with calories, actual daily calorie target (ADC):
ADC = min(max(max(ATEE-1000,1000) - 245 - 140, 1000),2500).
Interlude - An Analogy
Comparing Losing Weight on Weight Watchers PointsPlus to a Game Show
A friend came up with this analogy to explain where things came off the rails. Pretend you are going on an odd game show where the producers are giving you money each day based on a complex formula. You will be given between $1,000 and $2,500 a day. If the formula says you will get less than $1,000, the producers give you $1,000 anyhow. That's a smaller calorie deficit than expected, number one.
Now, the producers want you to be able to splurge now and again and also not have to worry about using the money for certain daily necessities. So they decide to put some of your daily money into a "weekly splurge and necessities fund" to the tune of about $400. However, these producers really do not want to hand out less than $1,000 a day to anyone, so the people who would go under $1,000 get that and the $400 also. Smaller calorie deficit than expected, number two.
Quick Comparison - Male Participants on Weight Watchers PointsPlus
For quick comparison, similar graphs have been generated for a 40 year old, 5' 10" tall male at weights from 130 lbs to 260.[FN4]
Using the game show analogy, the man is never getting extra money at stage one, lower limit of $1000 and all of the "weekly splurge and necessities fund" is removed from his calorie target, ADC.
Conclusion on Weight Watchers PointsPlus and the 29 Point Daily Target
So let's go back to the 40 year old, 5' 4" woman and stop double-limiting her targets at 1000 calories. What would her targets look like?That's right, smaller women would get targets based around roughly 600-800 calories (before weeklies and 0 PointsPlus value foods) or more like 17-23.
Remember: I do not advocate that anyone modify their Weight Watchers daily PointsPlus target to hit such a calorie range.
Some Thoughts in Weight Watchers' Defense: - Losing Weight on PointsPlus versus Points
- If Weight Watchers actually recommended a sub-1000 calorie a day diet they would likely be called out as irresponsible in the press for the decision. The lowest level generally considered safe/acceptable is 1200 calories a day. However, previously daily targets were as low as 18 points a day, roughly 900 calories. But if a person consumed 1/7th of their 35 weekly Flex Points per day, that would bring the bottom daily consumption close to 1,150 calories.
- On paper, the calorie target at the bottom of the new system and old systems are within 100 calories of each other: New = (29+7)*35 = 1260 versus Old = (18+5)*50 = 1,150. If you add in 0 PointPlus fruit, the New system is at 1260 + calories for the fruit.
- Theoretically anyone consuming below the ATEE line should lose weight. Even for the women whose actual daily target is adjusted, they should lose weight as long as they are below the ATEE and they are unequivocally below the theoretical ATEE.
- [FN1] Mathematical formulas are not, in and of themselves, patentable. See the US Supreme Court case of Gottschalk v. Benson, 409 U.S. 63 (1972). The terms Points and PointsPlus are trademarks of Weight Watchers; their use in discussing the patents is a nominative use to provide clarity to the article and to link the discussion to the patents. These calculations have not been verified or endorsed by Weight Watchers.
- [FN2] Equation 16 is fairly similar and should be used for men.
- [FN3] The actual boundaries in the patents are 1000 at the low end and 2500 at the high end, those line up with 29 and 71 PointsPlus values respectively.
- [FN4] Weights under 130 would put the male at an underweight BMI and thus make the male ineligible for participation in Weight Watchers.
Sources for "Weight Watchers PointsPlus: The Problem of 29" - References utilized for this article
- David Kirchhoff. "2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans now out in the wild. The recommendations look curiously familiar... " Man Meets Scale, February 6, 2011.
- US Patent Publication 2010/0080875A1, assigned to Weight Watchers International, Priority Date August 29, 2008.
- Weight Watchers - Wikipedia entry.
- Nicole Pellegrini. "Weight Watchers Introduces PointsPlus: A Critical Examination of the New Plan." January 23, 2011.
- "Classic WW/Tuning the New Plan to Our Needs!" - SparkPeople Team.
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Are you a veteran Weight Watchers member or someone new to the plan on PointsPlus? Is it working for you, or are you having a hard time reaching goal on the new system? Leave your comments here and let me know what you think. Thank you for reading!
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© 2011 Nicole Pellegrini