I still remember vividly the moment I realized I needed to go on a diet. I was 22 and had moved from Boston to Minneapolis after college for my first job. Before then, I was going to college full time and working full time (I still have no idea how I managed that), and over the years I developed some pretty bad eating habits. Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner consisted of whatever I could grab from the food court and then the nights were filled with snacks and drinks.
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My Diet History
After working in my first job for a few months, I decided to go on a vacation - my first trip as an adult. I had a lot of fun on my cruise but when I got back I realized something: I had only taken 1 photo the entire time of myself. I was so embarrassed at how much weight I had gained over the years and knew that something needed to change.
So I joined the gym. Spoiler: I didn't lose a single pound the first 3 months I was working with my trainer, Josh. I'll never forget the day he sat me down and was honest with me - it was pointless what I was doing in the gym if my diet was crap. "You can't out-workout a bad diet" he said to me.
So I guess those post-gym mozzarella sticks and wine weren't the best for me (on top of that 600 calorie recovery smoothie I got every day after our bootcamp class).
That night I saw and ad for Atkins and decided to give it a shot. Spoiler: that lasted maybe 3 days - turns out it was too complicated and restrictive for 22 year old me, who barely could make anything other than freezer food.
So I went back to my search for a diet and came across Weight Watchers and decided to give that a try.
Weight Watchers (WW) Review
Initially I was a little skeptical about Weight Watchers (or WW as it's called now). This was a program I remember my neighbor's mom always doing growing up, as she'd proudly announce the point values of everything we'd consume.
I kind of thought Weight Watchers was for older people, but I was desperate and they had a great promotion and promised it would be easy to follow. Plus, they had just come out with an app and had message boards on their site for other people my age to connect.
My First Experience - The Old Points Plus Program
The first week on WW was a complete disaster - I was lucky if I had any points remaining after breakfast. I decided to view the first week as a practice week so I could get a grasp on the point system - then the Points Plus program (it was around the year 2011 or 2012).
Slowly, I got a hang of the program and the weight started to fall right off! I started to learn how to cook WW friendly meals, and this is about when I discovered the world of blogging about WW, working out and sharing my journey and experience with WW. About 3 months after I started the program I successfully lost the 40 lbs and rediscovered my love of running.
Heart rate monitors were rare back then so the program really didn't take into account working out and "eating back points" (or eating back the calories I'd worked out). There were member created hacks that estimated that for every 80 calories burned you'd earn 1 WW point, so I decided to use that methodology. It worked great and I continued to maintain my weight loss!
I was a member for WW for almost 2 years. During this time I maintained my weight loss and as I maintained, I started to wonder if I really needed to continue paying $20/month for access to the app. I had a good grasp on the program and didn't really want to pay $20 a month for the rest of my life. I was also pretty annoyed that since I was a digital only member I would always have to pay that, whereas if I had joined a workshop in person, I'd get the app for free once I hit my lifetime weight - as long as I maintained it.
So I decided to quit and try to follow the program on my own. This worked out pretty well until I met my boyfriend (now husband). Lots of date nights, partying and less time in the gym meant I ended up gaining back 10 lbs.
I ended up rejoining the program, but by this point it had completely changed. This was about a year or two after I had last been a member and they had a new program out called Freestyle. I did that for a few months but found I didn't have as much success as I did on the old Points+ program. The new program included some foods that were 0 points - I forget the exact foods, but I think this might've been the time that foods like chicken, fruits, veggies, and greek yogurt was free, with free meaning you could eat as reasonably possible and it wouldn't be any points. However, the definition of reasonably was very vague and WW never gave exact amounts or suggestions so I'm sure overeating these foods wasn't helping my diet.
When I finally got the hang of the new program, December came around and they changed the program again! Now the foods I had been eating changed point values completely and I couldn't even make them work in my diet. I also decided to start training for a marathon during this time and found that while they did have "Activity Points" - or extra points you could earn for working out, they recommended not eating them.
One day I did an experiment and tracked the calories of what I ate in a day and I was shocked to see I was barely hitting 1,000 calories and yet I was hitting my daily point values. I didn't think this was very safe, especially as I trained for a marathon, so decided to stop the program and just try to eat mindfully.
New Lifestyle Program
Life continued to happen and after having my 1st baby a few years later, I decided to give WW another try to help lose the baby weight. At this point it was the fall of 2018 and they were doing the Lifestyle program, which seemed similar to the latest program I had been on - just with different free foods and different point values.
I followed the program pretty closely, lost most of the weight and was happy.
Until December rolled around again and they did their annual program change. UGH!
This is the point where I realized WW just wasn't for me. I realized I was learning a program, and not actually learning how to eat properly. I was basically learning how to maximize my points and work the program, not lifelong habits.
When I was younger and the program would change, yes it would be annoying but I was able to do research and work around it. However now that I had a baby and less time, I just didn't have time (or energy) to try to learn this new program.
I wanted something that would be a legitimate lifelong program, not something that changed every year (which I'm convinced is to keep you subscribing forever). So once my membership was up for renewal I decided to quit.
As soon as I quit, ads started showing up on my Facebook feed for a new app called Noom. It promised a different approach to weight loss with a touch of psychology, and I have to admit it reminded me of the old WW app I had fallen in love with years ago.
Related Post: Why I Left WW
I went to sign up for Noom and quickly realized this program was expensive. I think at that time it was $90 a month, but they offered 2 weeks free so you could get a feel for it.
I decided to give it a shot to get a feel for the program before making that pricey investment.
My Noom experience began with my filling out the questionnaire. I really liked how personable the quiz was - it felt like I was doing one of those fun quizzes from my old CosmoGirl magazines.
After I filled out the quiz it gave me a personalized calorie goal and explained the program. There were lists of green foods, yellow foods and red foods each indicating if a food was good or bad - looking back, this should've been a huge red flag for me, but I'll get into that later.
The app then walked through that I'd have a dedicated assigned coach to me, a 10-15 minute nutrition lesson every day I'd have to complete, and at the end of 2 weeks I'd be assigned into a community group for support.
Ok, cool - lets get this thing started!
Day 1 started and when I logged instantly I was met with a screen to start my first nutrition lesson. I forget exactly what the lesson was but it was something like an explanation of green food (good food) vs red foods (bad foods). The content was presented in a way that was easy to understand and the tone of the app was like it was a friend talking to me. Nothing that was taught that first day was really eye opening, but I figured it was more geared towards first time dieters so maybe it was educational.
After the lesson - which did end up taking the whole 10 minutes because it was a mix of videos and text (and unlike that eLearning at work, you couldn't just skip through it) - I was brought to a screen where I could see how many calories I had for the day (mine was set a 1200, another red flag) and a log so I could log my food.
The food logging on the Noom app was alright. It had most of the generic items that you'd find in MFP, but unlike MFP it would have a color assigned to it: Green, Yellow or Red. Green meant it was a healthy food and a good choice, like fruits, veggies, egg whites, quinoa, etc. Yellow meant these foods were good in moderation, and were foods like salmon, turkey, whole eggs, beans, chicken. Red foods were not healthy foods and foods that should be minimally consumed - which included foods like olive oil, beef, pork, cake, pizza, etc.
The goal on Noom was to try to eat the most green foods every day, moderate yellow, and limited foods on the red list - all while keeping under your daily calorie goal. The first day on the plan I went over a bit but not too crazy.
The next few days were similar to the first. As soon as I'd log in, I'd have a lesson to do before I could get into the app to log my food. As the days went on, I started to not like the lessons. The tone of the lessons turned into feeling like they were talking down to me and the information started repeating. I began to dread the 10 minutes and started to look for ways to just skip through the lessons. Nothing I was being "taught" was unique and it felt like such a waste of time. Ugh.
Noom Coaches...or Chat Bots?
A few days in I was assigned to a coach which seemed like a really cool feature to help me stay on track and keep accountable.
I had a question come up so I sent a message to my assigned coach. After sending my coach a question - I forget the exact one I asked - I noticed I received a pretty generic response. I responded in a casual way, and then I got a response back that made me realize the coach was nothing more than a chat bot.
I had a few more exchanges over the trial like that, which made me wonder if Noom actually had any real coaches or if it was all chat bots. I recently was talking to some other friends about Noom and they mentioned they had very similar responses so I'm thinking Noom might not actually have real coaches like they advertise.
I was assigned 1 group during my trial, but it wasn't very active. I heard there were more groups available after my trial was up but I decided not to continue with Noom. After my 2 week trial I was offered a full membership for like $90 a month and that was just way too expensive for me for something that was basically color coded calorie tracking.
For basically a ⅓ of the price I could sign up for an annual membership with MFP and do the same thing, just without the annoying lessons and chat bot coaches.
I also really didn't like how low Noom had set my calories too. The first few days were ok, but over the week I started to get super hungry (especially on days I would workout). I also would end up feeling like a complete failure when the weekend would roll around and I'd blow through my 1200 calories with food and drinks.
I did start receiving crazy promotional offers from Noom after I didn't sign up for a membership - like up to 90% off for life. This also struck me as odd that they were able to do this high of a discount, and made me think my brief experience with Noom wasn't unique.
In the end I decided to just try to track on my own with MFP and ultimately I just maintained that 10lbs I had gained. That's when a Facebook friend told me about Beachbody and 21 Day Fix.
21 Day Fix
I'll be honest - I have mixed feelings about this time in my diet timeline. I'm the type of person who always tries to avoid MultiLevel Marketing companies (MLM) but this was a time in my life where 1. I couldn't make time to get to the gym so the at home workouts were appealing and 2. I liked how simple the program seemed.
I signed up when Beachbody on Demand had rolled out, which was like $100 for a year of unlimited access to every single program ever released (with the exception of new programs, those you had to pay extra for early access). This was before the days of Peloton and fitness apps so in my mind this was an incredible deal.
I did programs like 21 Day Fix, 80 Day Obsession, Transform:20 and more. Some programs were harder than others but overall they were pretty good. However, I did end up getting a little bored after a while watching the same videos (how many times can I hear the same joke?).
As part of the workout programs there would also be ads for the nutrition side - both the 21 Day Fix container program and Shakeology. After hearing about it so much (and some of the programs, like 21 Day Fix and 80 Day Obsession, were actually created with nutrition support) I decided to give it a try.
21 Day Fix is basically like simplified macro counting. Instead of counting macronutrients (protein, carbs and fat) you count portion control containers. I started by filling out a worksheet where it would figure out my calorie goals and how many containers to get to each day to help me reach my goal.
The containers are broken down into 6 portion sized containers - Green for veggies, purple for fruits, red for protein, yellow for carbs, blue for healthy fats and orange for seeds and dressings. Based on your goals you got assigned a number of each color container to eat every day. For me, based on my weight and goal, I'd get 3 green containers (veggies) , 2 purple (fruit) , 4 red (protein), 2 yellow (carbs), 1 blue (healthy fats) and 1 orange (seeds and dressing).
The program also came with an info sheet so you knew what foods fell into each group, and around this time they also came out with the Beachbody Nutrition App so you could log the containers into the app.
Starting out on the program I decided to use the recipes that came in one of the books I had received. The recipes were pretty good, a little basic, but I did appreciate that they did focus on having whole foods.
I did 21 Day Fix for a few months before I started to get bored with the food. I would try to guesstimate my containers for when I'd cook a non-21 Day Fix recipe or go out to eat, but it was nearly impossible and I never ended up really losing weight.
Looking back, I do think that the 21 Day Fix program is good for teaching portion control and getting you to eat a more whole foods diet, but it was hard to follow and apply to every day life. There also wasn't a ton of support outside of the few documents you received when you order the portion containers so I ended up having to wing a lot of things.
However, this experience did get me more curious about trying macro counting. I was a member at this time of a few Reddit workout groups and I had noticed a program called Stronger U always being mentioned and loved by almost everyone.
When I started looking into Stronger U I liked how personalized it seemed. The program promised to pair you with a coach that you could message whenever you needed anything. However the first thing I noticed was how expensive it was - Stronger U was $149/month, with a 3 month commitment. To me the WW program was already expensive enough at $20 a month for the app, $149 seemed insane.
I kept thinking about it and over time I eventually convinced myself to give it a try (and in all transparency, I ended up signing up so I could write a first hand review on my blog). I also signed up when I was pregnant because this second time around I was gaining weight a lot faster and wanted to nip that in the bud.
I signed up for a 3 month plan to give it a try - you can read my full review here, but overall I was really impressed. The plan was totally customized and I had a real, live dietician available to me to answer any questions and chat with weekly. Over the 3 months I signed up I slowly gained weight in a healthy way for my pregnancy, and I felt amazing with my energy levels.
Related Post: Why I'm Doing Stronger U While Pregnant
After the 3 months I decided to pause my membership to save a little money, and almost as soon as I did that I started to gain weight at a crazy rate (thanks to all the pop tart and Acai bowl cravings!). My plan was to return to Stronger U postpartum and work with my same dietician to lose the baby weight - which has been what I've been working on for the past year.
Stronger U isn't a miracle fix or diet, but instead their their focus is teaching you healthy habits that last long term and are sustainable. There aren't crazy point systems like WW that change every year and they don't have "good" and "bad" foods. It's macro nutrient counting (or "macros") that's lead by registered dietitians and certified coaches. I've been amazed at the support that my coach has given me, and how I've been able to adapt macro counting into my every day life.
I feel like I've learned so much with my coach that I could probably do my own macro counting on my own, but I do like the weekly checkins to keep me accountable. I plan to continue to do Stronger U until I get into maintenance mode, and then I'll start counting macros on my own. The nice thing is that once you join Stronger U you get access to the community for life through their Facebook group. I've found the group is amazing and so supportive! There's over 25K members in the group and it's super active.
So Which is Best?
In my opinion, the best long term solution for me has been Stronger U. While it is more expensive up front than the others, it really is the only long term program. I feel like Stronger U is the only program that actually teaches long term strategies that are sustainable.
WW is somewhat similar, however their model is to keep you on their subscription and in order to do that, they have to change the algorithm every year to keep the program fresh. I simply don't have the time anymore to keep figuring out programs every year so this really doesn't appeal to me. Plus when I look at what WW uses to create their points - usually a mix of macronutrients, like Protein, Fat, Carbs and Fiber - I've realized to some extent that it's overly simplified macro counting in a way (their program tends to be a little lower carb and/or fat depending on the year).
I am happy that I did start with WW and do feel like I learned a good base with it, but ultimately I grew to need something a little more simple and that's where Stronger U has fit in perfectly.
If you want to try Stronger U, you can use my referral link and save $25 off your first month!
Ultimately, the best nutrition program is one that works for you. As you see, it took me a while to figure out what was best for me and over the years I've realized it's Stronger U. I'm so grateful that I finally found something that works for me and my lifestyle.