These carrots are an effective way of getting members to stick to carrots (metaphorical or not) in the same way game designers (and Foursquare) have discovered that bestowing even a virtual prize can be a powerful incentive to someone to keep moving forward.
What's the 16 weeks about? It is to acknowledge some conventional wisdom that if you do something for that long, it becomes a habit.
Habits can be broken, however. I broke the toughest one a quarter century ago when I finally quit smoking for good. At various times I've also been very overweight, and in excellent shape — the former far more often than the latter. So I know that I can abandon good behavior that I have grown to love, and end bad behavior that might kill me, that I thought would kill me to give up.
In 16 weeks I've lost 54 pounds, and I'm 21 from goal. Which is why now is good time to double down on transparency.
I've been pretty open about my dieting (you're welcome, internet), influenced by Brian Stelter's stunningly successful and public weight loss. Being public is more about behaving myself than showing off, as it was for Stelter, who on the one occasion I saw talk about it responded to a question about how he had done it as laconically as was humanly possible.
I've Tweeted out my current weight and weekly and total loss after every Saturday official weigh-in, and built a spreadsheet tracking my progress that I also decided to share -- all to make it hard to face the prospect of ever having to explain "What happened?"
So this is part confessional and part due diligence and part some observations about what has worked for me. I hope none of it sounds preachy even though it is all about me.
Here are a few simple rules I have found very helpful:
1) Travel to the dangerous food. Stay home to go to the gym.
I have to admit, I have an advantage over most dieters because I've been a vegan for six years, so I already don't eat a lot of the things that are classic temptations. But the things I can eat without taking a breath include some pretty fatty things: chips, peanuts, pasta, beer. One of the great things about Weight Watchers is that every food has a computed value, so every food is "legal." That means you can indulge -- and are encouraged to as a way of making the diet easier to stick with long term. But one of the great strategies is going out to indulge, so you never have a reason to keep "bad" food in the house. With exercise, it is the same principal in reverse: I do all my formal workout stuff at home, with minimal equipment (a $150 bike trainer I've owned for years is the most expensive item I use) because traveling to a gym means that I won't.
2) It's not how you binge. It's how you recover.
Many diets are focused only on effective but short-term strategies to lose weight, which you are then on your own to keep off. About 10 years ago when I was as overweight as I was a 16 weeks ago my doctor (who was the definition of rotund) advised to get on the Atkins diet. It worked fabulously, and I eventually developed a very active lifestyle. I abandoned the diet in 2005 when it stopped working for me (completely changing course from eating meat and dairy to going vegan) and shortly thereafter gave up on the exercise thing. But with any dieting there is something to be learned from cardio training: It isn't that you get tired, it's how quickly you recover. The eating analogy is starting right over when you have overdone it -- not next Monday, or next month or next year.
3) Do what you can, but don't mistake discomfort for pain.
The U.S. Marines say that pain is weakness leaving the body. Trainers have drilled into me that you need to work as hard as you can without being in pain — and that discomfort isn't pain. Effortlessly fit friends have taught me that if you can't run as far as you want, walking part of the way is the thing do to. The point is to always move forward, and not to let two polar opposite excuses -- doing too little isn't worth it, and doing too much hurts -- get in the way.
4) Obsessively weigh yourself, unless you shouldn't.
The best advice you will usually get is that you shouldn't weigh yourself every day. One of the core rituals of Weight Watchers is a weekly weigh-in, which can be at any meeting you choose to attend but for most people is the same one at the same place. Many people consider this non-public (only you and the person weighing you know the number) though public spectacle the single most motivating aspect of the program. But one's weight fluctuates due to forces not always in one's control, especially for women. Some people would find it discouraging to see evidence of little or no progress on a daily basis — like most sanctioned diets, WW is designed to lose around a pound a week. Watching yourself lose one pound over seven days as you're "depriving" yourself can be like watching paint dry, and discouraging. But weighing yourself several times a day is a good way to understand how your body reacts to things -- how much you put on after having a big salad, how much you loose after spinning for 30 minutes, how much you lose from when you go to bed to the moment you wake up. Like any data, it's indifferent. If you can be as indifferent, getting that data is a huge motivator. If you can't, then keep it to regular intervals — which might as well be on the morning of that day every week you'd like to take a little break from the regimen.
5) Everything is a game
WW gives you trinkets, and makes you check in. Get it? Exercise is boring, but anything can be made into a game. This works for me, and it's minimalist: I have a playlist of songs, some fast, some slow. It doesn't matter. On my bike+trainer, I spin for one song, sit up and do reps with a curling bar for another — various curls, crunches, presses; anything, mixed up, so different parts of the upper body are working while you are still pedaling -- and for the third mountain climb on a low gear standing up. I rarely look at the clock, but check my HRM frequently. Before I know it I've done 32-35 minutes, most in the 150-164 range (optimal cardio rate [220-54] for me is 166).
At my current pace I should be a weight I haven't been in I-don't-know-how-long sometimes this summer, which is a great time to be in good shape. Why don't I know when I weighed 160 pounds? Because most of my life I have obsessively not weighed myself. So for extremely long periods of my life there are no pictures, or any weight data — and for exactly the same reason.