I once had a member so angry at me for making her blow her diet, that she sent a letter to the owner of the franchise. It was handwritten in heavy, black pencil – all caps. It read:
Yup, I gave not-so-perfect advice to a member who was miserably unhappy with everything that related to her weight, her weight loss, her food, her physical activity and ultimately, because of me, Weight Watchers.
She wasn’t my member. I never met her until I subbed an At Work meeting in her company. It was around Easter and she feared what would happen when the little chocolate eggs were in dishes all over the office.
She had a lot to say about how badly she was doing on the program, how physically challenged she was when it came to getting any exercise, however slight, and how she identified, but was failing at not eating her red light foods.
In the course of our focused group discussion members were celebrating and sharing their strategies to change their relationship with food. She often broke into the conversation to say that there were foods she would never be able to eat again. One of them was chocolate.
She admitted to loving it and that was the problem. If she allowed herself so much as a nibble she would lose control. The loss of control, she explained, went beyond a urge to eat too much chocolate. She just simply would lose all control and find it hard to stop eating anything and everything.
I thought I understood what she said. I was hearing her say that “if I want to lose weight and maintain my goal I can never, ever eat anything chocolate again.”
In my personal and professional experience, there is no food anybody can love and successfully give up forever. Trying to escape from the foods you love to lose weight or maintain your goal never works. When your entire weight-related success hinges on never eating the food you love the most, your success is doomed.
That’s what she was saying. Her success was to be achieved only if she were to never eat chocolate. I heard her say she wasn’t having success. She weighed more that day than she weighed the day she joined.
I thought she needed to learn the facts about chocolate and make it part of her successful weight loss plan. Her comments suggested she didn’t really follow the Weight Watchers food plan at all. She seemed to have created her own, “if it’s fat free I can have as much as I want” diet.
I asked her if she ever ate any candy at all. She said she ate Twizzlers (red licorice) because it was fat-free. I asked her if she ever read the nutrition facts on the label. She hadn’t, so she wasn’t aware that it had about the same calories as a Hershey’s milk chocolate with almonds candy bar.
She was amazed. “All that fat? How can that be?”
Maybe a chocolate bar is no health food but for your 210 calories you get 4 grams of protein, 2 grams of dietary fiber, and 8% each of your daily recommended amount of iron and calcium. Not too shabby for something that tastes so good.
“There is less fat in a single milk chocolate candy bar than you think. As far as calories, they’re similar although the chocolate has slightly more, but you get more nutrition for those extra calories. The chocolate bar with almonds has more protein and iron. It also has calcium and dietary fiber which are not in the Twizzlers.”
Thanks to my not-so-perfect advice, she went right out that afternoon to get herself a chocolate bar. I don’t know how long it had been since the last time she ate chocolate. I wasn’t with her so I don’t know what happened after she chewed and swallowed the object of her desire. All I know is in less than a week from the time I have subbed at her meeting, the “fire Jackie Conn” letter arrived in the office.
I’ll take the blame for her binge, but sadly my taking the responsibility does nothing to help her. I told her she could eat chocolate and lose weight. She told me she couldn’t eat chocolate without binging as a result. It doesn’t matter what I think; it’s important that she thinks she can do it. If she doesn’t, then she’s going to find out that what she thinks is right.
I would have liked to help her make a plan to eat chocolate without triggering a binge. I would have liked to have the chance to help her discover that losing weight isn’t about giving up favorite food. I would like to have helped her learn how to enjoy the foods she loves in moderation and balance, as I have helped thousands of people during the course of my 26 years with Weight Watchers.
Clearly, I wasn’t fired because of my not-so-perfect weight loss advice. I’m still here at Weight Watchers. I learned something from the experience. I never tell somebody, “you can do it,” unless I hear them say, “I can and I will.”