Weight Watchers vs Diet Doctor – Head to Head

Lately all manners of online information channels have been marked by whispers of Weight Watcher representatives hand-wringing as they discussed what ever could be the reason for their recent downward slide. To my (very slight) surprise the reason they gave was that nasty ketogenic diet stealing their customers. They even name-dropped Diet Doctor as the David to their Goliath (my description, not theirs).

They went on to say that ketogenic diets are “just a meme” (which is, I suppose, accurate on a technical level) and further dismissed any concern over long-term impact by saying that there are “keto doughnuts”. Admittedly I’m a tad mystified as to what they were implying with this statement, as Weight Watchers has pre-packaged dessert items as well – including ice cream and, yes, doughnuts. Perhaps there was simply some context that I missed, here.

The Straggler

To be clear, I don’t have even a smidgen of ill will towards Weight Watchers. I was never a member, although I have crossed paths with a few ex-members (most notable remarks being the ever-present hunger, and self blame for long-term failure on WW programs, but I have heard in passing success stories as well), and I really do wish them the best. They have a far reach, and if they caught wind of the changing currents (even if not necessarily by encouraging ketogenic diets) they could easily supply the life rafts that people need in the face of the increasingly pressing worries over the dark clouds of worsening metabolic health and chronic disease that loom in the horizon.

It seems WW is going the opposite route of what one would expect from the advice to businesses to adapt or die. They are refusing to adapt, even to “less extreme” tactics with equal chances of success, staunchly stating that they’ll continue to do “what works” as they have for the past 57 years. But is that wise to do when leaks have begun to appear within your well-intentioned business model? I suppose the ticking of the clock will reveal that one. Perhaps Ketogenic diets, and other tactics which eliminate refined carbohydrate and seed oils, are a fanciful fad that will fade none too soon, but with more science coming out on the effectiveness of these methods, and growing search trends, I do wonder…

What’s The Difference?

I have witnessed people on social media accusing Weight Watchers of having a business model of intentional failure, placing metaphorical banana peels in the middle of their Anti-Tripping classes (The Yo-Yo Model, in other words). To be honest, I don’t know if I believe this explanation, as I tend to err on the side of people-attempting-to-be-good rather than suspicions of malice. But, if this is true, how is it that Diet Doctor – slingshot wielding foes that they’re made out to be – thrives, despite the long-term apparent effectiveness of ketogenic diets? It seems there is a major anatomical difference in the underlying structure of the two companies, identifying them as two different species entirely.

While Weight Watchers is ever identified by weight loss advice and the four letter word moderation (meaning as soon as this goal is achieved, the business has lost its usefulness to the clients) Diet Doctor labels themselves as a “health company”, focusing on lifestyle, and pinning weight loss as a side effect – not the intended goal (meaning the site remains useful for focusing on a healthy lifestyle even after weight loss has been achieved). They also function as a central hub of information, news, updated science, and guides for the layman and medical professional alike.

This means that as keto becomes more popular, not only can they capture the new people looking for meal plans, but also retain the more experienced people (and doctors) seeking science, which will only continue to expand over time as research continues. It’s a business model based around the expected expansion of the science behind ketogenic diets and low carb lifestyles.

In the Face of a Hard Decision…

I have seen companies face similarly treacherous waters in the form of tech companies attempting to decide between continuing their course with on-prem solutions (e.g. selling physical servers, and hardware supply and setup) versus moving into uncharted territory with a cloud-based approach (helping clients utilize subscription based services like Amazon Web Services, or Microsoft Azure). Any decisions are difficult, and inaction can be deadly, as the success of the company depends on choosing correctly.

Obviously, in this day and age, narrowing your scope to cloud-based approaches is the obvious one, as on-prem becomes rapidly outdated and unused. But if you had been one of the lucky ones skilled at spotting the prevailing wind early, and quickly learning as much as possible, you had the possibility of becoming one of The Few who had the upper hand during the transition, while the stragglers were forced to jump into waters they were unprepared for, and unused to.

Stormy Clouds Overhead…

Whether Ketogenic diets (or some iteration of such) will be defined as the Azure of lifestyle approaches is currently unknown, it is nonetheless worth pointing out that some companies considered cloud-based solutions “a passing fad” before it took hold and overran the market. Regardless of which direction other companies decide on, it seems Weight Watchers has chosen their course for the near future, at least. Only time will tell what these uncharted territories hold, and which ships will sink – only identifiable in the future by their abandoned remains. I for one, will enjoy the ride, choppy as it may be, with the knowledge that I can easily course correct as necessary without much disruption. My only hope is that whoever goes down from the stormy weather has enough lifeboats for all involved when they inevitably need them.

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I Am Not You

This may come as a surprise to some, but I am not You, although like Me I would be delighted if You were able to find a way of eating that nourishes you, and delights you at every meal, as I have.

However, because You are not Me, in the same way that I am not You, we may not reach this goal by taking the same road, nor even by traveling in the same direction, or using the same tools to make sure we stay the course. Perhaps you decide to take detours, because reaching the goal is not your top priority, or you had to pull over to deal with other Stuff that has interfered with your travel plans.

This is, of course, perfectly delightful, in the same way that we may seek different ways of expunging stress – perhaps this is knitting and blogging for Me, and watching movies with a glass of wine for You. So long as we both find something we can do well, and do often, the method is inconsequential, in my eyes. I wish You the best, however You find it.

Door-To-Door Dietary Dictators

Strangely, I have been accused of “promoting” the way I eat, on a few occasions (I say this mostly with confusion, not with irritation) a dietary Zealot hellbent on converting others, using statements like “I hope you find what works for you” and “Not everyone needs or wants a ketogenic diet” to trick people into eating as I do. This is paired with a curious assumption that when someone asks me for help, that I must give them a copy of my weekly menu as if handing over a pamphlet on The One Way To Health and skittering off elsewhere to convert another.

I don’t really mind this altogether too much, and I certainly don’t blame anyone. Perhaps it does come off as advocacy when I share freely with anyone who asks how I have freed myself from depression, joint pain, and raging appetite by kicking certain things from my diet (and including others). Indeed, I do enjoy discussing it, and it comes up often, but take it to heart that this is not to imply that I recommend it, though I do apologize if I unintentionally gave the impression.

Free From, Free to…

Here is something I believe: Not everyone needs the same thing. This is not the same as saying Everyone Is Different, or The Diet That Works Is The One You Can Do (I don’t think this is necessarily true), but rather that manna to one person is poison to another – even if I mean this in the sense of their ability to enjoy their lifestyle. Some people value variety, the freedom of choice, and are willing to sacrifice some benefits to retain them. Others value simplicity, the freedom from having to choose, or something else entirely.

Recommending a tactic that would delight someone who is soothed by simplicity, to someone who delights in complexity and chaos would be disastrous, not to mention disappointing for all involved, and the same goes for the reverse. I avoid this hectic minefield of Personal Desires and Preference and Actually Enjoying Vegetables quite simply: I give people information, I don’t tell them what to do.

Tapestry Weaving

To be clear, I am not implying that certain dietary options aren’t useful tools for people, but rather this has to be coupled with the act of making a decision and deciding for yourself what to do. Just as doctors or accountants or priests can recommend strategies to attain a health, financial, or spiritual goal the same is applicable to information regarding diet that can be used to build a strategy.

It does nothing for me to try and force someone to do something that may, in fact, help but that they have no desire to attempt just as it is equally useless for a doctor to force a patient to try and take medication they want nothing to do with. It will result in failure, or resentment, or termination of the relationship.

Instead I give people threads of information that they can decide to weave into whatever tapestry they so desire – or that they can give to the birds to use for nest materials. It’s all the same to me. They are the one who has to live with the tapestry taking up residence in their home. Not me, not their doctor, not anyone else. What they make is what they live with.

I Am Me

Have no fear, I will certainly not be cowed by fear of stating a position – I am me and will remain so and that is not what this is about. I will discuss what I know, and what I find interesting, and be honest about what I don’t know, and avoid what I have no interest in. This will inevitably lead to me discussing ketogenic and carnivorous diets more, but I do this with the knowledge that if you are seeking something else you will no doubt find it elsewhere.

But, likewise, I will share my thoughts with people who are vegetarian, paleo, high carb low fat, and so on, on what may help to untwist the knots, and pluck out the brambles they may come across that so rudely interrupted their weaving that they had been finding so much pleasure in.

But all of this with the knowledge that the rest is up to them, and there is no right choice, only choices that they make with their own goals in mind, with my goal being to hand off information as I come across it. No more, no less.

I am Me. You are You. They are They. And I quite like it that way.

The Sinful Pleasures of Food

Carnal pleasures…

A Secret

Here’s a secret. I don’t talk about it much because even for me I consider it weird. I’ve never heard anyone else with this issue, past or present, so I mostly keep it to myself – for fear of people shrieking “Freak!” and grabbing their pitchforks.

The secret is, for a long time, I didn’t enjoy food. Could I taste food? Certainly. Did certain tastes disgust me? For sure. Could I tell when a food objectively tasted pleasant? Yes. But I wasn’t excited about food. When I heard people describing food they were eating as delicious, amazing, and talking about getting goosebumps from eating I was mostly just confused. I thought they were exaggerating, because I had never experienced any such thing. Food was fine. Sometimes it was good. But it was never the moaning-in-delight event that I saw it described.

Is Obesity Merely a Gluttonous Love for Food?

This might seem odd, if you know my history. For quite a long time, I was obese – with my highest weight at 240 lbs paired with a height of 5’1″. You could obviously say – how is it possible to get to that weight without enjoying food? Obviously you were eating too much. Probably true. But I didn’t eat because I enjoyed it – I ate compulsively, to quell the raging hunger. Sometimes I ate out of boredom (or so I thought, as soon as I changed my diet this went away). I would eat the same size meal as other people, but soon would be hungry again. (Apparently this isn’t actually unusual among the obese – who knew!)

I’ve seen some people blame obesity on food tasting too good. Or, hyper-palatable if you like big words. Sugar, salt, and fat: a sinful cocktail of hedonistic delight bent on making us consume more and more. Maybe that’s partially true – but it wasn’t so for me.

Is Blandness the Answer?

I’ve seen some respond that the “cure” to obesity is to only eat bland things, so you’re not tempted down the path of actually enjoying the food you eat. Obesity is obviously a disorder of gluttony (and sloth, can’t forget that one) so to cure it you must do as all animals do and only ingest boring things, lest you tickle your fancy a little too much, resulting in a binge that negates all your previous restriction. Perhaps a tasty bite here and there – but only in moderation! Whatever that means.

I think this argument is a bit odd. All you have to do is watch an animal about to eat – try it with your dog. Make as if you’re about to feed them some meat, some raw steak perhaps. Allow them to sniff it, let them know what they’re in store for, and then look at them. Do they seem bored? Uninterested? On the contrary, I’d say they look pretty excited, ready to chow down, salivating at the idea of getting their teeth in some nourishing food. (Granted you could argue that our pets are becoming obese, but I highly doubt that’s due to feeding them steak – that’s a topic for another day, however)

You can do this with sheep, too. My mom has a farm, plenty of sheep, and she’s pointed out that lambs wag their tails when they’re nursing. Not only that, but older sheep do it too, if they find a particular plant that they like (clover for example, although apparently it varies by sheep) they’ll wag their tails like the happiest little ruminants in the prairie.

She’s also noted that the chickens express great joy when they come upon a tasty frog, or a mouse-y morsel ripe for the picking. Shrieking in triumph, before quickly trying to snatch up and hide their find from the rest of the flock. Are they suffering from gluttony as well then? Where is their obesity, when faced with an abundance of clearly hyper-palatable food?

Food is Supposed to Be Pleasurable

We’re programmed for it. If food weren’t exciting, enjoyable to experience, we wouldn’t seek it out with quite so much fervor. Certainly if we were starving, but what other way do we have to tell good food apart from excellent? Fresh from slightly off? Nutritious from something not worth the energy spent to chew it? A mix of pleasure and disgust helps us distinguish this. So where’s the problem? I’ve seen one possibility aimed at the food companies engineering frankenstein monsters of MSG, corn syrup, and flavoring for making nutrient void foods that taste like foods we’d naturally find pleasurable. Or engineering fruits to be bursting with sugar beyond what is natural. Maybe. But, I think blaming food addiction, or obesity, on gluttony, lack of willpower, and food that is too pleasurable is akin to blaming sex addiction on sex being too pleasurable. Can it possibly be so simple? I don’t think so, not much is.

If this were the case, then why do many lose weight – dropping from obese to normal weight – by switching to food laden with fat, and red meat, and hedonistic pleasures? Many find ketogenic (high fat low carb) foods to be the most delicious food they’ve ever eaten, and some even use sweeteners, with great success. I’ll admit though, I still wasn’t deriving noticeable pleasure from ketogenic food either. I could tell it was better quality than what I had been eating before, but despite no significant change in enjoyment I lost weight. A lot of it. Even stranger than that – my compulsive eating stopped, I no longer felt the urge to eat when I was bored, one or two meals a day sufficed without need for snacks (although I still did occasionally). It was like my hunger had turned from a constant 11 down to a more reasonable 5, no willpower needed.

Why Did I Say Used To?

At the beginning I said I didn’t used to enjoy food. Following the logic or proper grammar, this must mean I currently do. So what changed? Did I finally force myself into realizing that healthy green leafies are delicious, or undergo some sort of radical treatment to fix myself? I guess you could claim the latter. The fix?

I stopped eating plants.

That’s right. Soon after starting a carnivorous diet, I noticed that I started to become excited about my meals. I looked forward to them! Unheard of. Moreso than that, I found myself experiencing the delight in eating that I had assumed was exaggerated. I got goosebumps eating pork. I shivered eating a tasty bit of animal fat. I danced in place while indulging in dairy. Not only that but not only did I not gain weight from this sudden hyper-palatibility I lost weight. My appetite was the clearest it had ever been – making it unmistakable when I needed food, crystal clear when I was done (even in the middle of a plate of food!), and blissfully silent inbetween meals.

So what changed? To be honest, I have no idea. Could it have been that the hyper-palatable foods of the prior ages fried the pleasure center of my brain somehow, resulting in a need to “detox” with less pleasurable (ha!) meat and dairy? If this were the case, if I went back to omnivorous fare would I enjoy it? As it turns out, I’ve tried this, and I’m immediately sent back to a place of lack of excitement, lack of pleasure, and so-so feelings towards food.

So what’s the conclusion? Am I freak? A one-off case? Perhaps some sort of demon who can only delight in the pleasures of animal flesh?

All I know is I’m happy to be able to delight in food, exactly as I’m meant to.

The Who – The What – The Why

The Who

My name is Siobhan Huggins. You can usually find me at ketogenic conferences, as a guest on certain podcasts, on twitter, or skulking around various facebook groups. I have a fondness for learning about the immune system, nutrition, metabolism, and disease, and all the mechanisms and pathways involved in integrating them all together. I also like to knit.

I’ve been following a ketogenic diet since August of 2016, and a carnivorous diet since October of 2017. I follow these primarily for health reasons – physical and mental. I don’t think everyone needs to, or should do, what I do. I experiment with diet quite frequently, either to see how it impacts how I feel, or how it impacts certain blood markers. Sometimes just for fun.

The What

I study cholesterol metabolism and the immune system for my job (informally, I’m not a doctor nor do I work at a lab, so don’t take this to mean I have any sort of authority), so anything that doesn’t belong on the website I usually write for will probably go here. This will include things like book reviews (usually related to health or nutrition in some capacity), thoughts on studies I see floating around, speculation on disease, and anything else I need to put down somewhere. I may also write about conferences I attend, and anything else that catches my fancy.

The Why

Why not?

A longer answer would be: I occasionally find myself repeating my thoughts multiple times over and my general motto is:

if you write a script multiple times, write a function; if you write the same thought multiple times, write a blogpost.

– some person on the internet probably

So I decided to actually follow it.