Go on a Carbon Diet: What the World Can Learn from Weight Watchers

Whatever else it is, Weight Watchers is fundamentally in the behaviour change business. It is a business that has been working for 40 years and they say they have changed the lifestyles of millions of people around the world. Now there are Weight Watchers meetings from Brazil to South Africa. And even where there are not formal meetings, there are Weight Watcher Meet-ups, like all over Mexico. This is becoming a global phenomenon all about reducing consumption and adopting a healthy lifestyle which is about more fun (activities) and less stuff (fuel).

Weight Watchers has come a long way in how it tries to get people to change their lifestyles, and how it supports them on this journey (and support is the operative word). They don’t say “You need to stop consuming so much -It’s really bad for you. Here are a few tips, now get on with it.” They promote a programme that is individualised and incremental. But it wasn’t always that way.

In the 1970s being on Weight Watchers was a hardship. There were very strictly regulated menus, few options (either on the programme or on the market), you had to weigh out everything on scales and keep strict track of sizes, portions, etc. Much of the time (although they said this should not be the case) the dieter was hungry. Dieting was equated with deprivation. It was all you could do to stick to the programme. And although the social incentive system was already in place – you got rewards for increments, group meeting were lively and supportive, there was weekly monitoring and evaluation – the effort it took to keep track of your consumption patterns would not easily translate over into a lifestyle change. To make matters worse, everyone’s goal was standardised -your goal weight was calculated as though every person of the same height and gender should ultimately weigh the same thing. There was not much flexibility for the diversity (like metabolism, age, build, genetics) that exists in our human population.

Today, Weight Watchers has learned a lot about what it takes to help people make these changes more permanently, to have fun and feel good in the process, without the feeling of deprivation and hardship. The new programme is much more participant driven. There are lots of well-developed options throughout the programme (one option is a No Count option, that helps educate people to accurately estimate consumption – and it still works) and more fundamentally each person’s goal is calculated individually. The support side of Weight Watchers is still excellent and has been further enhanced through various Web 2.0 social networking tools. Here are some features of Weight Watchers today that reflects their learning about what works :

  • People who are trying to reduce their consumption commit themselves to go to weekly meetings to join a community of others who are doing the same, there is a leader who gives ideas, tips and new information, and people share in conversation what they are learning in their effort to change their lifestyle. People help each other to achieve their goals. (Today there is also an online option, with vast internet interactive capabilities and communities.) Weight Watchers research shows that people who go to the meetings and interact with others are much more likely to succede than those who try to go it alone;
  • Each person has their own goal which is calculated by WW, and based on the results of a self-assessment. There is a weekly check-in and monitoring of progress to reach this goal. The goal and actual number is confidential to the member and the leader, but the rate of change is shared and celebrated, or advice given on how to do better next time;
  • Reaching the goal is not presented as something you do must achieve quickly through heroic effort. In fact, slow and steady is the recommendation, with just a small reduction per week considered to be optimal. The premise is when change is made slowly then it is more likely to stick. Once you reach it, there is another whole programme devoted to maintenance.
  • There is a culture of “You can do it” and the literature and language is all about Success Stories; the leaders are former WW participants, and everyone administering the programme is someone who has successfully gone through the experience and changed their behaviour permanently.
  • No one speaks of deprivation, as that is not thought to be motivational. And there is nothing anymore that you cannot consume; however it is about quantities, and trade-offs. If you want your chocolate cake, be prepared to make a choice about other things for the rest of the day/week. People are in control of their experience, and they still have an overall end-goal in mind, and a set amount of caloric energy that they know they can consume each week that will help them reach it. Weight Watchers insists that people consume their allowance each week, if people try to speed up the process then the feeling of deprivation might result in quitting or splurge.

Now if you thought of people’s carbon diet, how would this translate? Aren’t we trying to do the same thing? Help people who overconsume energy calories to reduce and maintain this? And to want to do it and potentially have some fun doing it? What can we learn from Weight Watchers? So many of our communications about reducing energy consumption is about Save the Planet, and guilt for overconsuming, and giving up luxuries that we cannot always imagine giving up. I think that messaging works for some people. At the same time there can be more than one way to engage what is an incredibly diverse global community, with different goals, aspirations, needs, motivations, abilities. Might such a programme, a Carbon Diet, be another way to help change behaviours permanently? I took a paragraph off the Weight Watchers website and adapted it – I think it just about works for me…

Who We Are- Our Philosophy

Energy Watchers has always believed that energy reduction is just one part of long-term sustainable management. A healthy body and earth results from a healthy lifestyle – which means mental, emotional and physical health. Energy Watchers does not tell you what you can or can’t consume. We provide information, knowledge, tools and motivation to help you make the decisions that are right for you about energy needs and use. We help you to make healthy energy consumption decisions, and we encourage you to enjoy yourself by becoming more active.

To provide motivation, mutual support, encouragement and instruction from our leaders, Energy Watchers organizes group meetings around the world. Meetings members often become meetings leaders and receptionists, sharing the story of their personal success on our Carbon Diet with others. At Energy Watchers, carbon management is a partnership that combines our knowledge with your efforts. And trust us, your efforts will pay off! We help you on your journey by:

1) Helping you make the positive changes required to reduce energy;
2) Guiding you to make positive behavioral changes in your life;
3) Inspiring you with our belief in your power to succeed; and
4) Motivating you every step of the way.

Anyone want to join me on a Carbon Diet?

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