Should Fruit Be Free?

My weight loss has stalled over the past few weeks. A major cause, I believe, was the 10-day detox (that I shortened, somewhat impulsively, to 8 days) that radically shifted the distribution of fat/protein/carbs in my diet. Another issue was my decreased exercise during that experience. And, part is just the way weight loss works.

I’ve been back on the plan that was working for me for the past couple of weeks, struggling to lose just one pound. I’m not terribly concerned at a macro level, because I know that weight loss doesn’t progress in a linear fashion. On a day-to-day basis, however, and when I hit low points, it bums me out, even if rationally, I know that I’m still on a downward trend.

This morning, then, I read with interest this story in the New York Times about the recent adjustments to the Weight Watchers Points Plus system. Since the new system was implemented, some participants have complained their weight loss has slowed. The system:

assigns specific values to different foods and permits each member a daily allotment … The latest iteration … was intended to steer people toward more healthy food choices, encouraging people to eat more fresh fruits by giving them zero points, as most vegetables already were.

The most radical change in my eating over the past month is the addition of a second serving of fruit on many days. It has coincided with that slow-down in weight loss.

Fruit has been a particular conundrum for dieters on the new plan. As fresh fruit “costs” zero points, dieters can have as much as they’d like, “within reason,” Ms. Miller-Kovach said. Many members dislike the vagueness of this recommendation, since they tend to overeat when left to their own devices. But people who are overweight did not become fat because they binged on fresh fruit, said Elizabeth Josefsberg, who leads meetings in New York City.

“You know how it is with a cookie — you want six cookies,” she said. “When you finish a banana, you don’t say, ‘Gosh, I want another banana.’ ”

Other experts are less sanguine. “No single dietitian I know would count fruit as a ‘free’ food if someone is on a diet and trying to lose weight. You have to account for it,” said Marjorie Nolan, a New York City dietitian who speaks on behalf of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. She expressed surprise that even bananas (which used to cost two points under the previous Weight Watchers plan) are zero points.

I know WW works for many people, so I don’t want to set myself up as a critic, especially as I’ve never actually done the program. But I’m with Marjorie Nolan on this. Fruits are not the same as vegetables. (Furthermore, some vegetables are more equal than others!)

I appreciate the fact that my nutritionist has taught me the nutritional information about specific foods. Translating nutritional information to points seems like the best way for WW to keep people dependent upon them for guidance. It seems like coming up with an increment of measure that equals 3 inches in order to tell someone who is five feet tall that they are 20 increments of that measure instead of just telling them they are 60 inches tall. Does that make sense? Points just seem like an extra layer of information to get through in order to understand what you are eating.

If you are carbohydrate-sensitive, as I believe I am, the difference between fruits and vegetables is rather stark. Assigning an equal point value to celery and a banana doesn’t make a ton of sense to me, because if I ate bananas like I eat celery, that would ultimately begin to weigh on my results.

I don’t want to become someone who is afraid of fruit, but I think I’m going to have to be careful to balance fruit intake with exercise so I maintain a balance that keeps me on track to get to my goal.

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8 Responses to Should Fruit Be Free?

  1. Laina says:

    I feel exactly the same way about the WW points system. Why would you follow their points plan if you’re going to count units? Food already comes in measurement units called calories. Why follow their system when you can get under the hood and get the real measurement yourself?!

    • Andie says:

      Exactly – I hate to be cynical, but if you show them how to get under the hood, they’ll start to change the oil on their own. Guess that doesn’t work as a business model.

  2. I can easily overeat fruit. The calories add up much faster than veggies! Last year I went back to WW for the first time in years to learn about the new program. After the meeting, I asked about the fruit because I thought it would be a downfall for me. The leader told me that, yes, it is free, but you are only supposed to eat it if you are hungry. Ah, so simple.

    • Andie says:

      That would be funny if the leader weren’t a person who you’d expect would have a more nuanced understanding! The ‘only eat if you are hungry’ program, also known as the well, duh, program. I’ve never had much success with the well, duh program . . .

  3. J. says:

    I sense a lawsuit – I ate 500 lbs of fruit a day because WW told me I could if I was hungry and I gained weight!

    • Andie says:

      LOL!

      I have to hope the lawsuit would get thrown out, but I can see how someone could feel misled. I used to order the Light & Fluffy smoothies at Smoothie King without honey & turbinado to, as they say, “keep it light.” Even a 20 oz. banana, strawberry, and OJ-only smoothie has 395 calories and 99 grams of carbs. The store brands it as “light,” and it is “only” fruit, which is point-free (most people don’t make the distinction between OJ and an actual orange), but 99 grams of carbs from one drink, WOW. 12 oz. of regular, full-sugar Coke only has 39 grams of carbs. The point system just doesn’t seem like it gives you the full picture.

  4. Andie,
    I completely agree with your view on WW. Their point system seems intentionally confusing…so that all those folks are roped in for a lifetime. If they did teach them using calorie measurements, the people would not *have* to keep coming back to WW.

    Also, I do not think majority of people realize that bananas (while extremely healthy) are also full of things that you would not want to eat in mass quantity. Fruits and vegetables are certainly *not* created equal in the calorie arena.

    -Erica

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