10 January 2012

Nuggets for Dollars

Read all about it here:  in 2010, Weight Watchers and McDonald's partnered up in New Zealand to market several McDonald's products, including Chicken McNuggets and Filet-O-Fish sandwiches, to dieters, as a healthy choice.

It's a smart marketing move.  If you're paying attention, you know that I have been donating my hard-earned money to Weight Watchers for years now.  In return, I have the privilege of tallying up my bad eating habits each day in a diary.  Everything I eat is assigned a "Points Plus" value, and I'm allowed to have a certain number of Points Plus each day.  If I stay within that range, I am supposed to lose weight.  (I almost never stay in my range, and as a result, I haven't lost an ounce.  But that's a story for another post, I guess.)

Weight Watchers products, and products endorsed by Weight Watchers, sell to dieters - whether or not they are paying members of the program - like, well, hotcakes.  They are perceived to be healthy, pre-portion-controlled, and conducive to weight loss.  When I shop in the supermarket, and cook from scratch, I have to go through a relatively complicated calculation process to figure out how many Points Plus there are in whatever I am buying and eating.  But on Weight Watchers-endorsed foods, the "Points Plus" value of each portion is predetermined, which cuts back on the mental math.  (Believe me, if I were any good at mental math, I'd be stick-thin by now.)

So if the company pre-assigns an official value to a convenience food, I am more likely to grab that food on the run, since I already know how to fit it into my plan.  But the food doesn't have to be healthy for me to choose it.  If I know, for example, that a Wendy's hamburger is going to set me back nine points exactly, I am more likely to choose that option than a supermarket salad with some undetermined amount of cheese in it.  I don't know what kind of cheese it is, or exactly how much is in there, so I'll need to pull out my Weight Watchers calculator and make a guess.  This is a pain, and I am impatient and hungry.  So I opt for the easier - and obviously less healthy - choice.

In this way, the endorsement of convenience foods actually achieves the opposite of what Weight Watchers purports to be trying to teach me:  how to change my lifestyle habits and make smarter choices each and every time, to promote lasting weight loss and maintenance.  Sure, a 10-piece serving of McNuggets might be 6.5 Points Plus, and maybe it's even a reasonable amount for a woman of my size and age to consume for lunch.  But is it the best thing I could eat for lunch?  For the same number of Points Plus, I could have a huge heaping plate of salad, along with an individual can of tuna and some fresh fruit for dessert.  But that would require work - the not-insignificant effort and time necessary to assemble such a lunch.

By endorsing fast food, Weight Watchers is waving a red flag in the face of an angry bull.  Okay, I'm not an angry bull - just a hungry working mom.  But when you tempt me with an easy, tasty option that's simply not the best choice, you are teaching me something you don't want me to learn.

Unless - and I can't imagine this is true - Weight Watchers is trying to encourage me to eat the McNuggets. The less successful I am on their program, the more my money will go into their pockets.

There was a time - a brief, shining moment of time in my childhood - when I loved Filet-O-Fish sandwiches and consumed them every chance I got.  But then I learned that a big chunk of batter-dipped, fried fish, coated in mayonnaise and ketchup and slapped onto a corn-syrupy bun, was not the kind of food that would help me live to be a great-grandma.  So I gave those delicious things up, figuring it was a fair trade.

I won't let myself now be convinced that they are actually okay for me to eat on a weight-loss diet.  How about you?

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