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Weight Watchers "Core" vs. "Points" Plans

Sueeatmo asked me in this thread http://www.chowhound.com/topics/47339... why I chose Weight Watchers "core" plan vs. their "points" plan. I don't expect the weight loss to be any better or worse on core; I'm aiming to lose a pound or two a week and that's perfectly doable under either plan.

I chose the core plan because I don't like to weigh and measure and write down everything I eat (like you have to on the points plan). Instead, under core, I just know I'm allowed to eat lean meats, fruits, vegetables, nonfat milk products and whole grains more or less to my heart's content (basically, until I'm satisfied, but not "stuffed"). That's how I like to eat when I'm eating "healthy" anyway, so, it doesn't seem like that restrictive or that much of a "diet". The only thing I have to "track" is I have to make sure I eat the minimum number of servings (2) of dairy a day, the minimum serving (1 tsp) of fats per day, and my "discretionary" points for my splurges (more on that below).

What I find difficult about following the core plan is that refined starches--basically, all breads even whole grain breads--are pretty much off limits. If you follow the core plan you do get 35 "discretionary" points a week to cover your "splurges" if you want a slice of bread, upgrade your "nonfat" daily to low fat or you want some other food that isn't a "core food." But, especially this time of year (around the holidays) I've preferred to save my 35 points for those social occasions where I don't have control over the menu or for a glass of wine or small piece of dessert or something. Oh, and you get extra "points" on any day that you exercise (the more you exercise, the more points...)

Also, although it is possible to dine out under the core plan, as a practical matter, it is really difficult to find "core" dishes on most restaurant menus. Steakhouses aren't bad...you just get a 4 oz fillet, baked potato and a side of veggies (usually, you'll have to count some extra points for the butter you know they've added to the veggies...) Any place with a salad bar is fine... The rare restaurant that offers brown rice or whole wheat pasta isn't bad... But, mom and pop type ethnic restaurants seldom have "core" friendly foods on their menus, in my experience. I miss that a lot.

Anyway, that's it. The key is, chose the plan that fits best for you. In fact, you can even switch back and forth between the plans as often as weekly. (You can't switch daily--you have to stick with it for at least a week) and a lot of people do that to stave off boredom or when they think they've reached a plateau and need something new. I think the "points" plan appeals to people who want a lot more variety and freedom in their diets and who don't mind keeping a food diary.

My secondary goal for 2008 (losing the weight and getting fit) being the primary goal(s), is to come away from this with an expanded repertoire of healthy recipes I know how to cook. I have a zillion cookbooks, many of them "healthy" but seldom cook from them and, when I do, I later can't remember which cookbook they came from and can't replicate it. So, I'm also keeping a "recipe" log this year.

~TDQ

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  1. I've been following the Flex plan on WW since 2004, before Core was even introduced, I think. I have a few reasons for continuing on Flex:

    1. I'd always eaten relatively healthy food... just too much of it. Flex has taught me a lot about portion control, and that's the lesson I really needed to learn.

    2. I do not eat any sugar substitutes or fat substitutes, and I dislike that the Core plan allows SF/FF to be "free", but that I'd have to count against my extra points for 1 oz of regular cheese. I think if you do Core by concentrating on "real" food instead of "diet" food, it's a healthy choice, but not otherwise.

    Good luck with the Core plan and WW in 2008!

    3 Replies
    1. re: dustchick

      Hi dustchick--Thank you for "weighing in" (hehe) on the "points" side of the equation. You make some very excellent points, especially about portion control.

      As far as sugar free/fat free foods, well, that's not even food, is it. ;-) Seriously, though, except for an occasional diet pop, I steer away from that stuff altogether. I tried a recipe for "eggnog" pudding parfait that called for sugar free fat free pudding mix (to see if it would satisfy an eggnog craving)--it was so chemically-tasting, I couldn't even eat it, though it was lovely (layered with raspberries and with pears I'd sauteed in cinnamon.) Personally, I stick with only real foods and use my 35 discretionary points per week (plus my exercise points) when I want to add a little sugar, for instance. I don't even like sugar free/fat free yogurt--I like Fage so much I can eat it plain, or, just mixed in with some berries. The other thing that is a real mistake is fat free cheese--yuck. It doesn't really satisfy a cheese craving. As you say, better to use just a tiny bit of real cheese and count it against the 35 discretionary points you're allowed per week on core.

      To be honest, there isn't much baking going on when you're on the core plan--neither flour nor sugar are "core foods", so you have to take them out of your 35 discretionary points, or opt for "sugar" substitute to replace the sugar. So, if you're a person who likes to bake, the core plan is probably not for you. Really, fruit + dairy becomes your dessert when you're on core.

      I forgot --I do on occasion use butter substitute, like Molly McButter and that's been working for okay for me. It's really the only "articifial" food product I am happy to use. On a rare occasion, I'll use fat free salad dressing, but I don't prefer it. Instead, I use my two tsp of oils I'm allowed per day or my discretionary points for a little bit of the real stuff. I only use the fat free stuff if I'm out of points, which is not very often.

      One of the key components of the core plan is that to be successful, you have to learn to recognize your body's signals for "hunger" and "feeling full." So far, it's worked for me and, when I'm done losing the weight, I hope that it's a skill I keep, much like, hopefully, you keep your portion control skill.

      Good luck to you also!

      ~TDQ

      1. re: The Dairy Queen

        Hey TDQ, my support to you on your goals.

        My wife has used WeightWatchers after her pregnancies to get back to her desired weight. Originally, she was on the "tracking and counting everything" plan (is that the "Flex" or is it even more rudimentary?) and I played along just for fun. Because of my exercise routine and weight, I was alloted something like 50 points a day though. But, I stayed under and I was losing weight.

        Later on, when the core plan came out she started that. Again, I played along. For me personally, the core plan would not work. The minute I am able to not log some foods, it opens the door to cheating and/or getting lazy about paying attention to the minute details of my consumption. For me, the effort (inconvenience) of very closely accounting for every single food item consumed is what would keep me honest. I'm either in or I'm out. Every glass of water, every teaspoon of peanut butter, whatever. Again, that's just my personal style. If I'm not vigilant, I tend to let myself fall into the bad habits that several years ago had me creeping towards 280 pounds.

        By the way, since you mentioned it, Fage is just a wonderful product. A container of the zero with a teaspoon of honey to dip the spoon in -- I keep looking at the container in disbelief that the whole thing is 80 calories and 0g of fat (plus whatever the honey adds).

        1. re: MSPD

          Funny how different things work for different people, eh? Really, though, it's nice to have choices in case one plan suits your style better than another plan. And, you can always change to the other plan if whichever one you're on stops working for you or if you get bored or whatever.

          Thanks for sharing your (and your wife's) success stories. Very encouraging!

          ~TDQ

    2. You can still "journal" your daily food intake on the core plan- you just don't need to weigh/measure all the core foods you eat. It is good practice to write down all your foods regardless of the plan just to keep track of those additional 35 points...

      6 Replies
      1. re: MeffaBabe

        You're absolutely right--you certainly can keep a food diary while following core if you think that provides some extra discipline. Also, it can be a good way to look back over past week to see what works and doesn't work in case you reach a plateau or something.

        Personally, I don't write anything down but the non-core foods I eat so I can make sure I don't go over my 35 discretionary points per week (plus whichever points I earn daily from exercising.) And, to be honest, I hate the journaling so much that I will avoid eating a non-core food just so I don't have to write it down.

        I should also mention that WW has an online tool that helps you track your "activity/exercise" points, your "points" for those following the "points plan" and your "discretionary" points if you are following the core plan. If you find a WW recipe on their site, you can basically just add it to your food diary for the day and it will calculate the points for you (if you're following "points") and identify the non-core foods and calculate the points for those for you (for those following the core.) You can also type in a recipe of your own and it will, again, calc all the points. You can save any recipes, either a WW one or one you've put in yourself, to your "profile" for future use, too.

        To be honest, I find their website ridiculously overengineering and frustratingly slow, so I mostly use it to search for recipes. It's worth the price to me just for that. Just one more tool that's available for people who are interested.

        ~TDQ

        1. re: The Dairy Queen

          I do WW Online only, no meetings, and it's been great. The website is slower than it used to be, but takes me less time than going to a meeting would.

          You are right about needing to learn to eat until satisfied. I still struggle with that sometimes, especially during the holidays! And I'm a geek, so counting points and journaling is fun for me. I'm glad that WW is flexible enough for us all to find the method that best fits our needs.

          As an aside, FF cheese should be abolished. My childhood pet dog picked up a piece of FF cheese off the ground and immediately spit it out. I took that as a sign. ;)

          1. re: dustchick

            Good for you for doing it all online! I like the added (peer) pressure of having to weigh in in front of someone every week. It seems strange that I would care whether a stranger notices I've lost a pound or not, but, nevertheless, it is a motivator for me.

            ~TDQ

            1. re: The Dairy Queen

              Thanks! With WW Online, the excuse "I don't have time for meetings" slips away and all that's left is just following the plan. And being a Chowhound, of course.

              1. re: dustchick

                I do both - online and meetings. I get the sense a lot that people feel it's either/or. Online tools are great for figuring out recipes, too.

                1. re: krissywats

                  I do that, too. I go to meetings, but I use the online tools. I like the recipe builder, since almost everything I cook is from my own head, so I just plug the ingrediants in to the the points.

      2. This is a very interesting discussion. I've been wondering what would work the best for me...

        16 Replies
        1. re: baltoellen

          It's nice to have options! Whichever path you choose, good luck! And, remember, each week you have the option to continue with whichever you choose (core or points)--the goods news is that all of the cookbooks and other materials offer both core and points options. So, if you buy a WW cookbook and follow it for weeks or months "on core" and suddenly decide you want to switch to "points"--you can use your same cookbooks and other materials...

          ~TDQ

          1. re: The Dairy Queen

            Just curious: how many points does Fage have? The fat free and the low fat? (I never eat the full-fat stuff.)
            I could live on it, and I'm about to re-enroll in Flex points WW, and I don't want to find out it's got like, 20 points or something! :)

            1. re: ctscorp

              Well, if you're on Core (and it sounds like you're planning to do points instead of core) FF Fage is considered a core food and therefore, "free" or something that doesn't need to be tracked, except that you need to eat a minimum of

              Otherwise, for those following "points", a cup of FF, plain yogurt is 2 points and a cup of low-fat plain yogurt is 3 points. A person following "core" could upgrade from the FF plain yogurt (which is core, which means you don't have to count the 2 points) to LF and count it as one point. At least, that's how I do it.

              Just FYI, you can always exercise for about a half hour a day, which should earn you a couple of points depending on intensity etc. and earn yourself a FF Fage if you're out of points. :).

              Good luck to you!

              ~TDQ

              1. re: The Dairy Queen

                Woohoo!

                My wife proclaimed our soup tonight as "core". I guess she dug out her old WW materials. Plus, I just finished 32 minutes on the bike at high intensity!!! (Was supposed to be 60 but I got kicked out of the gym because my youngest had a "diaper issue" and I forgot to refill my gym bag with fresh ones...gah).

                Full fat tub o' Fage, here I come!

                By the way, I don't know if they're still around, but the little slide-y points calculator (for the points plan) was really handy. Just read the label, line up the fat with the calories and the dietary fiber and you have your points. Maybe it's a given but if not, I recommend it.

                1. re: MSPD

                  Those slidey things are still around--I love those, too.

                  What kind of soup was it?

                  ~TDQ

                  1. re: The Dairy Queen

                    It was a bunch of leftover ingredients from the past weekend's Christmas "blowout" at our place -- turkey breast shreds, tomatoes, barley, carrots, celery...I can't remember what else. Just some thrown-together turkey barley soup.

                    By the way TDQ, on the Core plan, do they account for things that don't contribute to fat weight, but are key in other health/diet considerations? My soup got me thinking -- it's core, but it had some salt in it. Store-bought soups may be core but have a very high sodium content. I suspect you could retain a great deal of water weight (not to mention get high blood pressure) if you eat high-sodium core foods to your heart's content. Maybe I'm not thinking this through enough.

                    1. re: MSPD

                      That soups sounds great--what a fantastic way to use leftovers, eh?

                      You know, they don't get much into issues of salt, that I recall, but they do have the "good health" guidelines, which require (daily) taking a multivitamin daily, a minimum of 2 servings of dairy, a minimum of 5 servings of produce, choosing whole grains over refined grains, drinking 6 glasses of water, 2 tsp of "healthy" fats, a minimum of 2 servings of protein, and limiting added sugar and alcohol (2 drinks).

                      Nevertheless, the way we're following the core plan (and I think this has a lot to do with being chowhounds, and, also, because we have gorgeous produce and chicken from our CSA), we're doing a lot of "from scratch" cooking rather than buying "WW" products or other kinds of "diet" products. I do fall back on a couple of cheats on occasion:

                      ~"Nile Spice" dehydrated split pea and lentil soups that I buy at the co-ops
                      ~premade polenta (you know, the "logs" you can buy at the co-op and most groceries)
                      ~packets of Uncle Ben's brown rice that you can microwave and have done in 90 seconds
                      ~"lite" microwave popcorn.

                      Aside from those items, which we fall back on in "emergencies" once, maybe twice a week, we are really cooking everything from scratch. It's also my "secondary" goal (my primary twin goals being to lose the weight and get fit/healthy) to expand my repertoire of healthy from-scratch recipes that I'll be able to draw on in the future after the weight is gone. I find so many of my issues around healthy eating have to do with bad habits. My hope is to not just lose weight, but to develop some really good habits, particularly around regular exercise and cooking more from scratch using healthful ingredients, even when crunched for time.

                      ~TDQ

                      1. re: The Dairy Queen

                        Yeah...those leftovers got a lot of use. I think turkey has to be one of the most economical foods out there -- $20 and you can eat for weeks.

                        I'm with you on the "from scratch". Next spring, I'm going to study up on canning. A few odds and ends out of our valuable CSA stuff went to waste -- it was a shame. I could have canned a lot of it for use at this time of year.

                        I also appreciate your mentions on specific products you've been buying. With the kids and hectic schedule, I don't have as much time to browse over at the co-op. But I notice good things like Fage creeping into Super Target and if I have specific items in mind, I can do a 5-minute blitz of the co-op on my way home from work.

                        1. re: MSPD

                          In addition to the Uncle Ben's brown rice packets, soups, ready made polenta, and microwave popcorn, here are some other products I always make sure I have on hand:

                          Fage 0% yogurt

                          Canadian bacon

                          Frozen shrimp

                          100% buckwheat soba noodles (it's core, fast and not "limited" to one meal a day the way whole wheat pasta is)

                          Takaokaya's "Teriyaki Nori Seasoned Seaweed"--I buy it in snack packs at my Asian grocery or a "jar" of 80 on Amazon.

                          Also, those "seasoned" packages of tofu from the fridge section of the co-op or whole foods (the "thai style" the italian style, etc.) --we through those into stir fries, sometimes as a "supplement" to shrimp etc.

                          Another couple of things for your freezer--veggies for stir fry, edamame, and blueberries.

                          ~TDQ

                          1. re: The Dairy Queen

                            Where do Canadian bacon and shrimp fall on the core plan? And, does that mean you can eat as much soba as you want? For real? That's awesome.

                            1. re: ctscorp

                              Basically, if you follow the core plan, they provide you with a list of foods (basically, lean meats/poultry/seafood, nonfat dairy, tofu+eggs, fresh (not dried or concentrated) fruits & veggies, and most whole grains) that you can eat "until satisfied" without having to count or measure them. In addition, you get 35 "discretionary" points per week to eat any "non core" foods, that is, foods that aren't on the list.

                              So, most of the things I mentioned above, 0% Fage, shrimp, Canadian bacon, jerky, hard boiled eggs, edamame, tofu, 100% soba noodles, polenta are "core" foods, which means, if you're following the core plan, you don't have to track or count them.

                              You can each as much of them as you want, as long as you still follow the good health guidelines (ie. minimum servings of produce and dairy a day, etc.) and as long as you don't "stuff" yourself with them. That is, you can eat enough until you feel "satisfied." If you feel stuffed, you've eaten too much, if you feel very hungry, not enough.

                              There are a few "limited" foods that are "core" (whole wheat pasta, brown rice, potatoes), meaning, you don't have to "count" them against your 35 discretionary points a week, but, you're limited to eating those to one meal per day.

                              Also, olive oil, canola oil, flax seed oil (and a couple of other oils that I can't remember off the top of my head), don't have to be counted against your discretionary points as long as you don't use more than 2 2 tsp per day of oil. Any more than that and you have to count it against your points. The "good health guidelines" require that you eat 2 tsp of those "healthy oils" a day, though...

                              Make sense?

                              ~TDQ

                              1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                That sounds great. I always had a problem with points because I'm just not that kind of person... but it sounds like I already eat along the core guidelines, just not with as much control. I think I'm going to have to suck it up and go re-join WW. Core sounds much more manageable.

                          2. re: MSPD

                            Oh, and I know this probably sounds ultra-lazy, but nevertheless, I’ve noticed Whole Foods carries hardboiled eggs, already peeled. I’ll bet other places sell them, too. I have a little machine that hard-boils eggs on a timer and turns itself off when it’s done, so I’ve never bought those bags of HB eggs…but, if you’re swamped for time…

                            Jars of pasta sauce are a staple. Cans of beans. Wild-rice (I noticed Von Hanson’s carries it pre-cooked I think in their freezers. Would

                            Various kinds of jerky are good to have on hand for snacks (sparingly, I think. Really, fruits and yogurts make the best snacks for me.)

                            On the topic of CSA’s and canning—I so much admire your plan to can. I’ve personally always been intimidated by canning, but we froze a lot of CSA stuff this year and next year, I plan to do even more. This was our first year (in the Twin Cities, I’ve done it elsewhere) and we just really had no idea how much of what we would get when. Now I realize that we should focus on gobbling up the stuff that can’t keep at all and putting up the things that will keep.

                            I now realize there is no point in eating A LOT (dare I say ANY?) zucchini in summer aside from what we get the first week or two to satisfy our zucchini craving. Instead, we shredded and drained it all and froze it in 2 cup increments. After overcoming an initial resistance to what may have seemed like a sneaky Jessica Seinfeld-like approach, we have been SO HAPPY to see our zucchini for our pasta sauces and chilies and soups…

                            We chopped and froze lots of onions in ½ cup increments.

                            We froze basil+ olive oil in 2 TBSP increments. (To be honest, we haven’t used as much of the frozen basil as we thought, but there’s still a few months of winter left…)

                            We froze bags of chopped chives…

                            Had I realized we were going to get a bag of carrots every week for the duration of the CSA, I would have shredded and froze those like I did with the zucchini. We couldn’t use all the pea shoots we got—had I known, I’d have frozen them the same way we did the basil.

                            Then, there were some vegetables we just didn’t know what to do with ended up throwing out until we could figure out what to do with them. We dumped out (SOB) a lot of fennel before discovering we LOVED it on the grill. We thought we hated rutabagas until we made a few soups with it… And so on. Next year, we are so psyched for our CSA to resume because we think we’ll feel like pros. J.

                            Good luck with your canning project. Let us know how it goes.

                            ~TDQ

                            1. re: The Dairy Queen

                              The one that perpetually stumps me is when the burdock root shows up. I know they offer suggestions, but still...

                              You mentioned the edamame -- my kids slayed the whole bag as soon as they came in the CSA box. I'd boil them up and they were gone. Even the now-one-year-old was in on it.

                              I'm also a big fan of Von Hanson's turkey jerky.

                              Thanks for typing all of that up. Great ideas!

                  2. re: The Dairy Queen

                    On the Fage points issue: According to the online points tracker (and I only do online if that makes a difference), there's not really an "upgrade allowance" from FF to LF. So, FF is free on core/2 points on flex, and LF is 3 points on both. In other words, if it's not a core ingredient, you count the entire points value.

                    1. re: porceluna

                      Thanks for that, porceluna. I wouldn't want to sabotage anyone's efforts with the occasional cheats I allow myself. :).

                      ~TDQ

            2. I got used to counting points from I don't know how many years ago, so it's not much of a burden for me. Sometimes I wonder how my planner would look if I did Core. My diet is sort of a hybrid - I weigh & measure everything, but almost all my starches are whole grain or stuff like potato & winter squash. I do "cheat" - and count everything.

              1 Reply
              1. re: amymsmom

                Do you think you cheat less because you hold yourself accountable by writing it down? Or, nah.

                ~TDQ

              2. For me the flex plan was easier. I can eat anything and just keep track of points. Once you memorize the slide calculator you can determine how many points anything is by looking at it. I stuffed myself and still was under 25 pts a day. I just ate more fruits, salads, and nuts.
                I did WW mainly to lower my cholesterol and was successful and have now stopped WW as I lost too much weight.

                1 Reply
                1. re: tom porc

                  That is fantastic (not the losing too much weight part, but the rest.) Congrats to you for taking charge of your health and adopting some good habits with the produce and nuts, etc.

                  ~TDQ