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The Weight Watchers Diet

Weight Watchers is the mother of all commercial diet plans and has been around for over 50 years. The primary focus of Weight Watchers is long-term weight management with a commitment to not just better eating habits, but a healthier lifestyle. There are no forbidden foods on the Weight Watchers plan. Instead, a point system ascribes values to what you eat and drink.

Until recently, the point system was based on fiber, fat, and calories. In 2011, Weight Watchers launched the PointsPlus point system, which stopped counting calories and added in measurements of carbohydrates and protein to better account for how food fuels the body. It also allowed for more flexible point allotments, based on individual needs.

Beginning in 2015, they converted to the SmartPoints system, saying that PointsPlus put too much emphasis on weight. SmartPoints use calories to set a baseline point value, which is then lowered by protein content or raised by sugar or saturated fat content. Point allowances are customized to account for each person’s age, gender, and weight loss goals, in addition to other factors.

People who use Weight Watchers are also assigned a fitness goal through their FitPoints system. Everyone receives an initial FitPoints goal that is modified every two weeks. Weight Watchers has gone back and forth on whether activity points should be swappable for extra food points — weight loss usually occurs through reduction in calorie consumption rather than increase in calories burned — but they now leave that option open to their customers. For people who use fitness trackers, they can sync their devices to the Weight Watchers mobile app.

The new points systems are part of a complete overhaul, meant to be a more holistic approach to getting healthy. Instead of focusing on how food moves the numbers on the scale, they are encouraging dieters to see smart food choices as one part of living a healthier life. Nevertheless, the basics stay the same: To achieve weight-loss goals, dieters must stay under a certain number of points for foods consumed.

Dieters who use Weight Watchers are called "members," and support and education are part of the comprehensive approach to healthier food and exercise choices. All memberships include 24/7 online chat support, use of Weight Watchers’ digital tools and apps, and access to the Weight Watchers online community. Higher level memberships have the option of live meetings at local Weight Watchers chapters or one-on-one attention from a Weight Watchers-certified coach.

The initial goal of the program is to reduce body weight by 5 to 10 percent and drop the dieter's BMI (body mass index) below 25. Weight Watchers sells food products at most supermarkets and pharmacies and, due to the popularity of the program, many recipes websites include Weight Watchers point values for their food.

The promise

The Weight Watchers diet promises weight loss and better health with supervised lifestyle changes. That means adopting healthier food choices, daily habits, and exercise. Expert support provides education, guidance, and encouragement in losing weight and keeping it off. Weight Watchers emphasizes that you can keep eating the food you love as long as you monitor your portion size. Weight Watchers offers different approaches for men and women and promises a science-based approach to weight management. They have also introduced a corporate program for people with type 2 diabetes.

Food plans and recipes are provided by Weight Watchers with the promise that you will lose weight without going hungry. Exercise and workout plans are also available, along with video demonstrations.

Pros and cons

Unlike many other branded diet plans, the Weight Watchers program is based heavily on scientific research and data and is free of gimmicks. Instead of promising a quick fix drop in weight, it focuses on steady, long-term weight loss that is practical and healthy. There are no foods that are strictly off-limits, and the point system is straightforward and easy to understand. Weight Watchers also offers plenty of support and education throughout the process and has earned high marks from nutritionists and the medical community as a safe and healthy way to lose weight.

Higher quality usually means a higher price, and Weight Watchers is no different. Online-only programs cost about $3 to $5 a week. Meetings (with online membership included) cost between $7 and $11 weekly, or about $30 to $40 a month. One-on-one coaching plans include online membership but not meetings. There is still access to the online Weight Watchers member community with these plans, which come in at about $40 to $50 a month.

One study compared Weight Watchers with several other proven weight loss programs and medications, including Jenny Craig, Vtrim, and Qsymia, and found it was the most cost-effective per pound lost. Overall, Weight Watchers cost $155 for every 2.2 pounds (1 kilogram) lost. People tended to lose the most weight using Jenny Craig, but it was more than twice as expensive as Weight Watchers for every kilogram that was dropped.

One drawback of Weight Watchers is that the points system can allow for some abuse. Each member is allowed bonus points each week that they can "spend" anytime they want. If someone uses all of their bonus points at one time or on one day, that could significantly affect weight loss. In addition, there are quite a few foods that are "free" on Weight Watchers but still have a significant amount of calories. This can also lead to abuse of the points system.

Healthline says

Healthy, practical, steady, gimmick-free — Weight Watchers is a diet plan after our own heart. Sure, it's going to take some effort and basic math skills to keep track of and add up those points, but that is the kind of accountability and commitment that breeds success. If you are serious about losing weight and living a healthy lifestyle, you probably won't mind forking over $40+ a month to take advantage of the information and support system.

Talk to your doctor first about possible complications specific to your medical history. But overall, Weight Watchers is a sensible and scientifically proven way to shed some pounds and maintain an ideal body weight. The new point system is an improvement on the old. Once you get the point system down and learn some self-discipline, you can skip the meetings and online support and try to break out on your own, minus the monthly fees.

Content licensed from:

Written by: JC Jones and Ryan Wallace
Medically reviewed on: Apr 06, 2016: Natalie Butler, RD, LD

This feature is for informational purposes only and should not be used to replace the care and information received from your health care provider. Please consult a health care professional with any health concerns you may have.
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