How Does Weight Watchers Work

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Everyone knows someone who is on Weight Watchers, or has tried it at least once in the past. Questions commonly asked are How does Weight Watchers work? Or what exactly is the Weight Watchers Diet? I’ve heard about the point system it uses and how it’s similar to an allowance, but that’s all I knew. So I did some research yesterday and today–and discovered lots of interesting stuff, which I’ll share below.

How Does Weight Watchers Work
How Does Weight Watchers Work

Weight Watchers itself has been around a little over 50 years–it was founded back in 1963. In 2010, Weight Watchers instituted a new plan called PointsPlus. The previous system was all about calories. The new modification rates food and their associated points on nutrient content. Under this system, fats and carbs earn lots of points where high protein stuff earn fewer. It was designed to improve diet flexibility, and the ability to eat whatever you wanted as long as you didn’t exceed your points balance.

Weight Watchers offers two distinct subscription options. The first is called Online Plus, which allows members to “follow the plan on their own terms”. They are currently running a promotion for new members where you can save 50% on the monthly fees and $20 enrollment cost if you sign up today. A three month subscription will cost $39.92. saving $39.93 over the three months. Signing up for a standard monthly plan costs $31.96 for the first month, but the monthly fee reduction goes away after that.  This plan will save $7.99.

The second option is personal coaching, which provides motivation and counseling from a professional. With the discount, you’ll spend $92.42 for the three month package–saving $92.43 over the three months. The standard monthly plan costs $37.47 the first month, but the regular $54.95 monthly fee kicks in after that–and this plan saves $37.48. All monthly charges will reset at the normal level after the first three months for both options.

The Good Stuff

There are some very good aspects of a Weight Watchers diet. One area where others fall short is portion control, and they do a very good job of providing a solid foundation for the next steps.  You can’t run until you can walk first, as the saying goes.

Group support–termed Weight Watchers Meetings–is an excellent concept that most other diets don’t utilize either.  To start in Weight Watchers, you need to pay an one time enrollment fee that covers registration and weekly meetings. The group support is included within the weekly meetings fee as you proceed toward your goal and is optional.

These group sessions are key to any kind of success in the Weight Watchers program.  Accountability and personal responsibility are essential to weight loss in general, and with that comes a “shared purpose” within the group sessions. Sharing frustrations and successes with each other build that accountability. This study showed that people who were utilizing the Weight Watchers meetings lost more weight than those who didn’t.

However, if people don’t want to deal with in-person group meetings or are overly shy, there’s an internet based tool that will help you track points as well as talk to fellow members. Multiple studies have shown that these online chat sessions are even more important toward goal achievement than speaking with friends or family exclusively.

The Not So Good Stuff

At first glance, the program seems to work very well–on the surface anyway. In a study conducted by US News and World Reports, 25 separate diet programs were ranked on their ability to achieve weight loss in the short and long term. Over the first month, the study indicated Weight Watchers as the best–participants averaged losing 6 pounds on average.

However, the long term track record isn’t very good. The UK medical journal Lancet published a study involving 772 overweight and obese people. Of these people, weight loss for a year averaged about 15 pounds–which is less than a pound per month after the quick start. Longer term, the figures are even worse. After five years, barely half of current members maintain more than 5% of their best weight loss numbers, according to the British Journal of Nutrition.  And that doesn’t even take into account the 40% dropout rate.

Why Does It Fail?

One word describes why Weight Watchers is generally ineffective over a long period of time–biochemistry, or lack of an understanding thereof. From what I can tell, Weight Watchers doesn’t show much, if any, comprehension of the hormonal component. This previous blog entry describes the importance of hormonal control in weight loss.

Weight Watchers says that all fruits carry no points, so you can theoretically eat as much of them as you want. If people have insulin resistance due to being overweight, eating large amounts of bananas or similar fruits as opposed to ice cream or other sweets won’t have the desired effect. It will stop weight loss efforts dead in their tracks instead.

In addition to issues on how to treat fruit, Weight Watchers doesn’t seem to grasp the concept that fat loss occurs is more likely to occur in high-protein diets. This study in The American Journal For Clinical Nutrition illustrates that adding protein to your diet helps deal with and reduce obesity.

Weight Watchers doesn’t seem to understand the importance in limiting fat in one’s diet either. It only puts a limit on the amount you should consume due to a high overall calorie count, but it doesn’t distinguish whether or not it’s good or bad.  Last time I checked, fat is fat and should generally be avoided!

Finally, Weight Watchers doesn’t call for eliminating sugars, artificial sweeteners, or trans fats. They stick with the belief that everything is ok in moderation, ignoring multiple studies that indicate artificial sweeteners are likely to cause processed sugar cravings.

All That Matters Is Weight Loss, Right?  Not Really.

Weight Watchers is only concerned with weight loss, not fat loss.  According to multiple analyses of the average Weight Watchers diet, a little over half of the calories come from carbs. Barely 20% come from protein sources, which is inadequate because insufficient protein consumption leads to muscle loss.

Instead of measuring lean muscle mass, water weight, and fat–Weight Watchers is only concerned with the final number on the scale. Losing weight on a carb based diet is possible, but fat loss will make up a minority of what you’re losing.  Most of it will be water weight and lean muscle.

In conclusion, I’d stay away from Weight Watchers. There are many other–and better–diet options out there.  The Zone diet, Alkaline diet, Vegetarian diet–all of which are more worth your time and hard-earned money. In all likelihood, you’ll see better results from these or other alternatives.