Popular weight-loss program northernized for Iqaluit lifestyle

Caribou worth about three points, seal — as many as 10



Rhonda Hickey is hoping a Weight Watchers group in Iqaluit will give her the support she needs to reach her weight-loss goal.

Hickey joined the Weight Watchers program last year when she was visiting Newfoundland. Since she returned to Nunavut she’s been trying to start a group here.

No such program has existed in the eastern Arctic, and although there has been lots of interest, until now the only northern programs have been in Fort Simpson and Yellowknife, Northwest Territories.

Pam Allen, executive vice-president of Weight Watchers, said the program is about eating healthy everyday foods and about group support.

“There’s no diet pills, there’s no foods you have to eat. It’s portion control and being able to read a label and be aware of what you’re putting in your mouth and making the choice,” Allen said. All foods are worth a certain number of points calculated based on the calorie, fat and fibre content of the food.

“It’s basic enough that it doesn’t scare anyone away, but they’ll eat healthy and be aware of foods,” she said.

The group starts meeting this week at the Wellness Centre in Iqaluit — and the program will be catered to a Northern lifestyle.

“I’m hopefully going to get back to my eating properly,” Hickey said, “because right now I just don’t.”

The reason it took so long to form a Weight Watchers group in Iqaluit is because the community didn’t have a lifetime member to run the program. After a year of posting signs looking for a lifetime member and having no success, Suzanne Cross moved to town.

Weight Watchers has given Cross permission to customize a program specific to Iqaluit. That means assigning points to foods found in local grocery stores and also to country food.

“We have to utilize the food we have up here,” Cross said. “There aren’t that many of us who can fly to Ottawa once a week to do grocery shopping.”

So, yes, caribou, seal and muktuk will be given point values, based on local research and Weight Watchers International data.

“That was a big selling point up here. Everyone seems to have picked up on that,” Cross said.

She estimates that an ounce of caribou could weigh in at about three points, slightly less than beef. She’s not sure about seal, but since it’s primarily fat, she’s thinking it could register a nine or 10.

While a mouthful of seal may rack up the points, Arctic char will come in at a much lower point value, on par with salmon.

“Bannock is one that people are going to have to watch because that’s right up there with bread,” she warned. One slice of white bread is valued at two points.

The program isn’t just about what you put in your mouth. It’s also about what you do with the rest of your body. Exercise is an important part of the regime and Cross said she’s hoping to get an aquafitness class together for members as well as starting a school walking club, similar to the mall walking clubs in the South where people meet and walk inside a public building rather than braving the cold weather outdoors.

So far, 150 people have contacted Cross to register for the program and she’s been told about 300 in total are interested in joining.

For Hickey, winter is the hardest time to stay away from comfort foods and stick to an exercise regiment, but she said working toward her goal with other people in a similar situation really helps motivate her.

“I feel it’s so much easier of you’ve got a group involved,” she said. “I’m certainly going to try and be a good example.”

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