Friday, January 15, 2010

Vanity Led Me To It, and My Writing Made Me Stay….How Weight Watchers Changed My Life

By Margaret Carroll

As of this writing, I’ve just lost 25 pounds. I’m on the Weight Watchers maintenance plan. I feel ten years younger and pretty again.

Like many women reading this, I was a Twig my whole life. My parents cajoled me to eat as a child. Long after my siblings had been excused from the table, I had to sit there until I finished everything on my plate. I wore a Size 4 or 6 (I’m five feet, seven inches tall). Even into my thirties, shopping for bathing suits and underwear was no big deal. I was able to buy those three-in-a-tube patterned dainties from Jockey (remember those?), or sexy strings on sale at Victoria’s Secret.

I got married and then came The Baby. I’ve never known hunger like I knew when I was pregnant. If we had plans to meet friends for dinner, I’d beg to go to Outback and dream of Bloomin’ Onions all week. By the time I gave birth, I had gained 50 pounds.

I lost some of it and gained some back. Lost some and gained some back. Occasionally I would diet. My method was to skip breakfast (except for coffee loaded with heaps of sugar and cream) and put off eating as late in the day as possible. By lunch I devoured anything that wasn’t nailed down.

I began writing fiction seriously in 2003. For the first time, I was alone all day, sitting in a chair in my house. The kitchen was not far away. I wrote and sold four novels. I grew heftier with each book.

Last summer, I crossed a line in the sand. Medically, technically, I became Obese. It was not Baby Weight, technically speaking. Our Baby is now in the third grade.

The problem was, I didn’t know how to stop eating. Seriously, I had no idea. I had gotten to the point with my carbohydrate intake that I needed to eat every two hours or I got the shakes. My energy flagged. I got headaches in the afternoon. I couldn’t concentrate on my work for more than an hour or two at a time or I got sleepy. I made a Starbucks run most days after lunch (I was hooked on white chocolate mocha lattes). And I fell into the habit of taking a half-hour nap every afternoon before school let out.

I grew used to having a gut, to put it plain and simple. With every change of season, I had to go out and buy new pants. The old ones didn’t fit. I noticed I lost confidence, too.

This is middle age, I told myself. Everything gets rounder. Life slows down. I tried to think of myself as a curvy mature woman at peace with herself. But I missed wearing Lily Pulitzer shifts with mules in summer. I was not becoming voluptuous, Beautiful with More to Love. I was growing a fat butt with thunder thighs to match.

By the time I went in for my annual physical, I expected to be diagnosed with Type II Diabetes. I was not, but the news was not all good.

My cholesterol was zooming into the danger zone.

My doctor gave me a hard stare. “You need to lose weight.” Nobody had ever talked like this to me before. Well, the obstetrician had but I ignored him.

“But how?”

“Join Weight Watchers.”

This sounded dreary, like joining a 12-Step recovery program. Despite all the women I’ve known who had lost weight on the Weight Watchers plan, I winced.

“You can do this,” my doctor said cheerfully. “It’s easy. You’re going to lose weight. They’ll show you how.”

The next words out of his mouth were the ones that convinced me. “You won’t be hungry. I promise.”

He was right.

I went to my first Weight Watchers meeting determined to keep an open mind. I was scared. My need for refined carbs had progressed to the point where I needed to pop Hershey Kisses just to get through a trip to the mall or a play date in the park.

So the idea of starting my day with a protein-rich breakfast (such as an egg-white omelette – gag me) and a cup of fresh fruit scared the heck out of me. The idea of coffee flavored with just two tablespoons of fat-free creamer made me wonder if I’d even want to get out of bed each morning.

If I wanted to snack, I learned I could snack on carrots (woohoo). A tasty cup of vegetable soup (no added salt) would replace my midday mocha latte. Mustard and ketchup, I learned at the meeting, would become my condiments of choice (bye-bye, mayonnaise). Everything I ate would be measured and logged. (‘If you bite it, write it,’ my team leader advised.) I learned that you can eat a lot more halibut or tuna than grilled New York strip steak (ouch!), and that white bread is the Enemy. And I began drinking eight glasses of water each day.

I left that first meeting with my new Points Finder and Food Tracker, determined to give it a shot.

I lost three pounds the first week and felt as though I had won the lottery.

I continued to lose, for a total of 25 pounds in six months.

It was simple. I’ve never been hungry, ever. I’ve had a small dessert every day. I’ve dropped down close to my wedding day weight.

But the big surprise is how great I feel. My mind feels sharp as a tack. The fuzziness (which I now call my Carb Cloud) has lifted. My energy level is high, and remains steady throughout each day. No more peaks and troughs. No more shakes. No more naps. I’m down to a single cup of coffee in the morning. I eat four small meals each day, with low-fat protein at each. I eat grains and really do get six servings of fruit and vegetables every day.

My stomach is flat. My concentration level is high. I end my writing sessions each afternoon feeling pretty good, with plenty of energy left for after-school activities, errands, homework, play dates, housework, dinner prep and cleanup.

No more naps! I’m still a Walking Zombie by Light’s Out but at least now I can read a few pages (more if I like the book) or catch a minute or two of Jay Leno’s monologue before the curtain comes down.

To be honest, I would have been happy just to stop gaining. Or even with losing two or three pounds. I did not dream of looking good in Calvin Klein jeans again, or feeling so peppy and alive.

I had no idea food could have this big an impact. For me, a low-fat, low-carb diet is the key to a better life.


Margaret Carroll’s debut thriller, A Dark Love (Avon) was named one of the top five mass-fiction titles of 2009 by Publishers Weekly. She has three other books in print: Riptide, a Hamptons murder (Avon); and two chick-lit style romantic comedies set in NYC, The Write Match and The True Match (both from Avalon). She is currently at work on her fifth novel, another thriller set in New York.


Michelle Butler on January 15, 2010 at 10:30 AM said...


Thanks for sharing your experiences with Weight Watchers. It's very inspiring, and I'm glad it has worked so well for you. Do you have any favorite WW-friendly meals or snacks you'd like to share? I'm always looking for more since I follow the WW program as well.

Margaret Carroll on January 15, 2010 at 10:51 AM said...

Hi Michelle, Glad to meet a sister WW! One of the members of the Detroit chapter of RWA has started going to my meeting, so we have lots to discuss. I really truly don't have any favorite recipes to share. I 'went Commando' with this thing.....which means there are so few points in my meals that there isn't much finesse involved. Dinner for me now is one-third cup brown rice, fish with lemon and veggies with a tiny bit of butter or olive oil. I'll do chicken some nights, maybe beef tenderloin (3 ozs) for a splurge. Or Boca burgers on Arnold lite rolls (those are 1 point). I keep any leftover protein to serve on my lunch salad the next day with some garbanzo beans for protein and lo-fat dressing (I love the Paul Newman lo-fat balsamic). Or maybe one-third cup refried beans with sprouts, veggies and salsa on a multi-grain tostada under the broiler (it burns really easily so keep it on the middle rack at most). Breakfast is one-quarter cup egg whites mixed with eggbeater, veggies and some salsa, maybe if I'm hungry I add one-sixth cup of fat-free WW cheese. An hour later I'll have one cup of mixed fruit topped with a WW fat-free yogurt. Which gives me a milk serving. Which reminds me, I'm really working hard to get those milk servings in! I hate to use the points (got yelled at for that in my meeting) but I do drink 8 oz every day. I love the WW smoothie shake - - one of those is both servings and only 3 points.

All best, Margaret/

Michelle Butler on January 15, 2010 at 10:59 AM said...

Those Arnold's lite rolls are great, aren't they? I think I'll try your tostada meal. Out of curiosity, how many points do you tend to eat a day - if you're willing to share? I like to cook a lot and do a lot of cooking from WW cook books, cooking light and other WW-friendly recipes.

I struggle with the dairy too. It's always a decent amount of points (even non-fat), but I do think it's so important for me to include in my diet. I've not tried the WW smoothie shake bc I'm trying really hard to avoid processed food, but I might give it a shot. I didn't know it was two dairy servings. My dairy mainly comes from skim milk w/ cereal, non-fat yogurt and occasionally Lucerne calcium fortified low-fat cottage cheese.

Margaret Carroll on January 15, 2010 at 11:38 AM said...

The WW smoothie is just one point. So if you add it to 8 ozs fat-free milk it takes up 3 points. But it completes your milk requirements of two servings a day in my age group. I was at 19 points per day. I don't exercise, so this should give anyone reading this hope!!! If you DO make time to exercise, you can have more points than I do! Now I'm in maintenance mode so I'm up to 23 points per day. Honestly I don't have days with 23 points, ever. I'm either at 19 or 20 points per day, or partying down on the weekends, enjoying soup and a multi-grain baguette at Panera or REALLY going nuts - - out to dinner with friends at Salvatore Scallopini, a chain restaurant that is fun for kids and grownups, loaded with garlic. I skip the bread, get a salad and salmon on top of pasta and try not to steal anyone's ice cream at dessert. I'm a total sweets hound, that's how I gained the weight (two of my great-aunts had their legs amputated from diabetes, so I have that to inspire me). Now that I'm not in active weight-loss mode, I'm hoping I can keep a lot of it off just by limiting myself to a 1, 2 or 3-point per day dessert (I love any and all of the Weight Watchers and Skinny Cow desserts). My little girl, age 8, has trimmed down since I started this diet. She was never fat and didn't need a diet! But I think just limiting her to Skinny Cow desserts has done so much for portion control. Nobody in the Carroll house skips dessert ;-)) so just going low-fat has made a huge difference in everyone. Even the dog has lost a pound!

Tawny on January 15, 2010 at 1:29 PM said...

Margaret, what a great post. Thanks so much for sharing your journey with us! I just recently rejoined WW (after never seeing much success with it) and am hoping hard I can make it work this time. I know from experience that the only way I'll lose is through eating enough protein and focusing heavily on the fruits/veggies (I'm a carb addict, so its a major challenge) and major exercise. I love the changes WW made in the new program, which I think will definitely help.

And I'm loving your tips here - its so easy to get into the "I don't know what to eat" mode, but you've listed some fabulous ideas that I can't wait to try.

Michelle Butler on January 15, 2010 at 1:39 PM said...

Thanks, Margaret, for sharing your experience with maintenance. I'm very slowly getting my mind wrapped around the idea that this journey won't end, and maintenance at some point will become a big part of it.

I've been doing WW for a year, but I suspect I started bigger than you. I'm down 30 pounds and have 24 points a day in diet mode. I've got about that much to lose just to be eligible for lifetime and want to give myself at least 10-15 pounds wiggle room. Focusing on "filling foods" makes such a difference for me in staying in my points.

I do work out a lot/walk a decent amount in my day-to-day life, and it's been very interesting figuring out how to balance the calories in and calories out. I do think the working out made me plateau for a few months, but overall it is helping more. I'm mostly a size 12 but just spent my lunch hour trying on size 10s at Ann Taylor for motivation, fun, etc. I love that part.

Anyway, thanks again for sharing your story. I get so much from hearing how other people do this and manage to pull it off. I don't find it easy.

Trish Milburn (Tricia Mills) on January 15, 2010 at 3:37 PM said...

Great post, Margaret. And congratulations on your success. So many people have seen great results with Weight Watchers. Whether it's WW, another program, or something self-guided, I think the key is being very aware of and accountable for what we consume.

Malea on January 16, 2010 at 10:00 AM said...


I, too, am a WW fan. I was diagnosed with Type II diabetes in June 2009 and I've lost 50 pounds on WW (self-modified for diabetes, which means I have to keep my carb intake level and lower) since then. It's the only eating plan that my doctor, and my diabetes educators, endorsed. It works!

Margaret Carroll on January 17, 2010 at 8:10 PM said...

Hi All, Thanks for making me feel so welcome and it's so great to hear other writers' stories of success. What a great group! I felt like I was struggling alone with this and didn't know till Trish reached out to me that this blog existed. Thanks Trish! And special thanks to Malea for posting. What a fantastic achievement. I will tell you I was quaking in my boots at the prospect of being diagnosed with Type II Diabetes. That's probably always a possibility, given my family history, but I feel really good knowing I'm doing all I can to avoid it. And I love hearing stories from other people willing to share. Isn't it great to know you can have some control over this?! I wish everyone a happy healthy wonderful and prolific New Year! Margaret

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