21 November 2017Weight Watchers

What is the diet?

The Weight Watchers program has been around for more than 50 years. Jean Nidetch founded the program, which began by inviting friends to her home for a weekly discussion about the best ways to lose weight. Weight Watchers is not really a diet, but rather a program for lifestyle-change. You can eat whatever you want, however the program incentivizes you to make healthier choices using its points system.

Weight Watchers has updated its program over the years, basing its changes on the evolving science of nutrition and weight management. In 2015, Weight Watchers launched the Beyond the Scale Program. At the core is the SmartPoints value that is assigned to foods and beverages based on calories, saturated fat, sugar and protein. This updated version of Weight Watchers leads you to choose more fruits, vegetables, and lean protein because they have lower point values. The daily points allowance is based on gender, age, height and weight, and everyone gets at least 30 points a day. Another component of the new program is called Beyond the Scale. It helps you track daily physical activity and gives credit for activities from housework to jogging, tailoring the program to an individual's fitness level. It also focuses on behavioral change and overall health, rather than simply focusing on weight.

Pros

  • Weight Watchers guides you to healthier foods but is flexible and allows favorite indulgences.
  • The points system is a simple tool to select and track food and drink.
  • The points system emphasizes higher-protein, higher-fiber, lower-sugar foods that can help keep you full longer.
  • Weight Watchers emphasizes behavioral aspects of weight management that can lead to longer periods of success with weight management.
  • It can be adapted for all types of eating styles and therapeutic diets, such as kidney or allergy diets.
  • It has a mobile phone app or desktop food database with the points values for more than 290,000 foods.
  • The mobile app syncs with other activity tracker apps, including FitBit and Jawbone.
  • Pre-packaged meals and snacks are widely available in grocery stores for those seeking easy preparation and points tracking.

Cons

  • Weight Watchers can be costly if you opt for all program offerings.
  • Some of the pre-packaged Weight Watchers foods can be high in sodium. Check the label.
  • The unlimited fruit allowance (free points for fruit) could be a problem for those with diabetes or who overindulge with fruit.
  • Tracking points might not be enough for certain medical conditions. People with diabetes who need to count carbs (especially for insulin:carb ratios), people who have had weight loss surgery, and people with kidney disease will want to use a more comprehensive nutrient tracker.

Cost

Weight Watchers program costs vary according to the three plan options and available specials. There is a $20 starter fee that may be waived with specials. Rates can be paid weekly or monthly, and range from $4.61 per week for the online-only program to $10.77 for the personal phone-coaching and online program. The monthly all-inclusive package, called Total Access, costs $69.95 per month. There is no long-term contract required. If you are employed, check with Human Resources to see if your employer offers assistance with fees. Contact Weight Watchers for current prices and available specials.

Social Support

  • Unlike the original Weight Watchers program that had in-person meetings only, the new program offers three different plans for added flexibility: Online only, online with 30-minute local meetings or online with coaching.
  • The local meetings are led by a trained Weight Watchers facilitator, who has lost and maintained weight. Members discuss weekly progress and problem-solve together.
  • Weight Watchers offers a wide assortment of support, such as optional in-person meetings, personal coaching, an online community forum, a magazine, newsletter and a website with recipes, tools, tips and more. There is even an option for 24/7 online chat with a program expert.
    • Summary

      Of the many weight loss programs out there, Weight Watchers stands out as the strongest leader of the pack. US News & World Report ranks diets annually, using input from a national panel of health experts. Diets are ranked according to ease of following, nutrition, safety, effectiveness, and protection against diabetes and heart disease. In 2017, Weight Watchers was ranked #1 for Best Weight-Loss Diet, #1 for Best Fast Weight-Loss Diet, #1 for Easiest Diet to Follow, and #1 for Best Commercial Diet Plan.

      Does it work?

      Weight Watchers has a decent amount of research to back up its claims for effective weight loss. US News & World Report provides a nice summary of available studies. One review in Circulation showed that Weight Watchers was the only diet that "consistently demonstrated greater efficacy at reducing weight at 12 months". Another 2016 study published in the American Journal of Public Health, showed significant improvements in blood sugar control at 6 months, with those improvements sustained at 12 months. This is why many health care professionals, including myself, recommend Weight Watchers as a sensible option for weight loss and healthy living.

      Who would most benefit from this diet?

      Anyone seeking a weight loss program that uses an easy points system and a comprehensive package of support options could benefit from Weight Watchers.

      Is it viable long term?

      Yes, Weight Watchers is safe and effective long term.

      Do I like this diet?

      Yes, I am a fan of this time-tested, solid weight-management program that focuses on healthy lifestyle, food and exercise tracking, and positive social support.

      More Resources

      For more information on Weight Watchers: www.weightwatchers.com
      Weight Watchers at Work - tools for initiating group meetings at your workplace.

      For basic information about Weight Watchers and other diets, check out WebMD's Weight Loss & Diet Plans A - Z and U.S. News & World Report's Best Weight Loss Diets.

Brenda Braslow, MS, RD, CDE
Registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator in Indialantic, Florida
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