I have struggled with my weight most of my childhood and all of my adult life so far. I’ve always been on the heavier side, being known as the heaviest member of my immediate family and usually among the heaviest in my group of friends.

I have the type of body that gains weight everywhere, not necessarily in target trouble zones. If you’ve seen me out and about in the world, you’d probably notice I’m overweight, but you might say my weight is proportioned throughout my body. You can see it in my face, my chest, my stomach, my thighs, and arms. You’d notice I have a slight double chin, especially when I smile, and that I wear baggy tops and dress in black almost everyday to slim my figure. If you sat down with me, you’d realize I tend to sit with a pillow over my stomach to hide my midsection, and that when I speak I lack confidence when it comes to my appearance.

To a point, everyone battles with their body. Some people struggle with putting weight on. Others can’t seem to bulk their muscles up. Many people have a difficult time losing weight. Others struggle maintaining their weight. We all have physical imperfections and goals we hope to reach to better our bodies, whether it’s reaching a goal weight, setting a fitness record, or perhaps coming to terms with acceptance. Personally, losing weight is my goal, but I haven’t achieved it yet.

This mentality prompted me to join the Weight Watchers OnlinePlus program in my mid-twenties. Weight Watchers is a program I have heard about for years and considered joining time and time again. For me, counting calories has never worked. Cutting food groups or refusing specific types of foods (e.g. sweets and carbs) in the past has led me to quit dieting altogether. Every program I researched felt too limiting and too difficult to stick to without losing my sanity and happiness. However, when the new Weight Watchers Freestyle program launched, I felt optimistic for the first time.

The Freestyle program is a game-changer. I follow a list of 200 foods that are zero points. What does this mean? It means I can consume any food on the list without tracking. Eggs, fruit, veggies, and skinless, boneless chicken breast are examples of foods I can eat without tracking.

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Of course, it is critical to maintain moderate portions and not overeat, but these are foods that are for all intents and purposes “free” to eat. I don’t have to dip into my allotted points per day to eat these types of food. This gives me so much more freedom to enjoy food without feeling hungry or limited when reaching a calorie goal per day. Instead of telling myself I can only eat 1,400 calories, I instead can use my allotted points on things like salad dressing, milk, yogurt, seasonings, potatoes, etc. and eat as much of the “free” foods as I want. The Freestyle plan is the first plan that felt like a lifestyle change, not a diet.

Here are five things Weight Watchers taught me since I joined the program:

1. I learned how to track my food intake. 

With the smartphone app, I use the Weight Watchers barcode system to track food items that are not zero points. Things like cheese, protein shakes, salad dressing, potatoes, rice, red meat, and bread are examples of foods I track. Tracking my food has helped me make smarter food choices throughout each day.

For example, I know that my favorite Special K protein shake is seven points. I only get thirty points per day, but budgeting my points out allows me to enjoy my favorite mid-day shake and still have points for snacks and dinner later in the day. This system has helped me control my portions and stick to budgeting my points, which ultimately holds me accountable to the program.

2. I learned to love zero point foods. 

Scanning the barcode of a granola bar wrapper only to discover it’s eight points was a huge wake up call. Discovering that some of the food I normally ate would take up so much of my daily allowance made me realize how much I needed to change my eating habits.

I’ve ditched drive-thrus and packaged meals. Instead, I like to start my day now with two poached eggs (zero points) and once slice of whole wheat toast (one point) which is so much better than the morning coffee and bagel routine I was stuck in prior to joining Weight Watchers. I love that eggs (among other foods) are free because it’s a healthy dose of protein and I find that I am full for so much longer in the morning. The zero point foods really keep me going and I love that I am now subconsciously seeking out apples, grapes, bananas, green beans, carrots, and more each day.

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3. I discovered new recipes and foods. 

By joining Weight Watchers, I have been living and breathing their program to get the most out of this monthly expense. I have been receiving their magazine and researching Weight Watchers approved recipes on Pinterest to keep me on track.

My diet has already changed so much in such a short amount of time. Since joining, I’ve discovered new meal ideas like sweet potato toast and recipes involving PB2. PB2 (powdered peanut butter) is especially wonderful because It tastes very similar to traditional peanut butter. Yet it’s only a fraction of the calories, fat, etc. In fact, two tablespoons of PB2 (standard serving size) is one smartpoint whereas two tablespoons of traditional peanut butter is around six smartpoints. That really is quite the difference, for a very similar taste. PB2 is awesome to spread on toast, add to a smoothie/shake, or even for protein balls.

4. I connected with like-minded people. 

Following other Weight Watchers users has been the biggest source of motivation for me to keep going. I have a very long journey ahead of me and a lot of weight to lose. Seeing people’s success stories where Weight Watchers users have lost 60-100 pounds and kept it off is the best inspiration for me to stick to this lifestyle change.

One of my very favorite Weight Watchers users is Arielle who works at Buzzfeed and is the brain behind Goodful. Her blog has recipes and her Instagram is full of beautiful photos of the healthy dishes she creates. Arielle has lost over 100lbs and has managed to maintain her extreme weight loss by continuing her Weight Watchers program and sticking to her active lifestyle. What I admire most about Arielle is her honesty. She posts about setbacks, failures, and self-pity, just as she posts about crushed goals, fitness records, and healthy habits. She keeps it real and honest, which I find incredibly authentic as a loyal follower of hers. I really owe Arielle, as she is the reason I joined Weight Watchers Freestyle. I can only hope to be as successful as she has been!

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[click_to_tweet tweet=”5 Things Joining Weight Watchers Taught Me In My 20s” quote=”5 Things Joining Weight Watchers Taught Me In My 20s”]

5. I started logging my weekly weight. 

It’s all too easy to ignore weight gain if you never look at the scale. For years, I would only see my weight when I went to my primary care physician for my physical. Now, my doctor never full out told me I need to lose weight or else, but I could see the numbers for myself. I know that at my height and age, my weight is unhealthy. I know that if I control it now, I will be saving myself later on in the future. A program like this may not fit everyone’s lifestyle. For me it really made me realize just how much weight I’ve put on over the years.

Checking my weight each week has been and will continue to be a real way of keeping myself in check. It takes months, sometimes years, to lose a solid amount of weight. I know my weekly weigh-ins may not look like much success now, but six months from now I hope to gawk at how much “I used to weigh” compared to my future weight.

Joining Weight Watchers or any other fitness/diet program is an action based on commitment. This program is only going to work for me if I put in the effort to track my food, make healthy food choices, and stick to my smartpoints allowance. I know that unless I eat healthier and keep physically active, my body is not going to change for the better.

Being at my heaviest weight in my mid-twenties is an awful feeling. It’s disappointing, discouraging, and truly makes me lack confidence. Now is as good a time as any to take control and make a positive change. Weight Watchers, along with a commitment to exercise regularly, is the path that has worked for me. I can only hope that a year from now I am looking better and feeling better. I’m working towards being my best self, and I’m in it for the long haul.

Have you struggled with weight? Share programs and tips that helped you lose, gain, or manage your weight in the comments.