The Weight Watchers program started in the 1960’s when a group of friends had meetings once a week to discuss and innovate new sustainable methods in which they could all successfully lose weight. Weight Watchers has since evolved into a worldwide weight loss plan with an estimated one million members, and has the highest member subscription rate of any similar diet tracker.

The Weight Watchers philosophy is about making better lifestyle choices, supporting and helping each member along their journey, and focusing on moderation without need for drastic changes. The plan helps you by providing different recipes for various meals, as well as guidance on meal planning and food choices. In addition, Weight Watchers meetings are held in many cities around the world, where presentations are held and questions can be answered, as well as allowing people to meet and support others following the program.

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The basic tenet of the Weight Watchers program involves point values for foods. These are calculated based on nutritional value and calorie content. Foods that are high in nutrients and low in calories are typically lower in points than those that are high of calories and lacking in vitamins and minerals. From the beginning of the program you are assigned a daily point limit (based off gender, height and body weight), giving users the flexibility when deciding how they will spend points each day.

The Benefits

 

Sustainable, flexible lifestyle

Weight Watchers is essentially an altered, user-friendly and more ‘fun’ version of If It Fits Your Macro’s (IIFYM) or calorie counting. In a sense, the points system you use to make better food choices makes it seems as if you are not tracking calories, even though in reality you are doing so through an indirect method.

Many will see this as a pointless task when calorie counting is perfectly sufficient, however some people simply do not like the idea of visibly restricting energy intake, so tricks like this can make it seem less like they are on a diet.

It really can be the difference between success and failure. Weight Watchers also does a successful job at creating a system in which to provide long-term success by focusing on minor individual changes that are easy to implement, but in totality equate to a major change.

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For example, less points will be used when eating a low-fat yoghurt compared to regular yoghurt, or when eating granola compared to coco pops cereal. Users can still enjoy their favourite foods and meals, but either eat them in moderation or simply opt for healthier foods within that meal (low fat/sugar/salt, high fiber).

 

Supportive network (More than just a diet)

Many people need an extra push when it comes to health and fitness, struggling to implement change unless motivated to do so.

A classic example of this is the person in the gym that has had a weekly personal training session year after year. They know what they are doing in the gym by this point, but they still pay the trainer for the motivational push and to ensure they are made to work harder than they would otherwise would do so without someone overlooking them.

In the same respect, attending meetings once a week and knowing that people are motivating you and overlooking your progress may be what some people need to get through the mental fragility that they cannot sustain the commitment on their own.

The opportunity to meet new friends going through the same experience as you, alongside getting educated on basic nutritional concepts by leaders of Weight Watchers, also makes the meetings a worthwhile and unique addition to a diet program.

 

Tracks activity levels

Although you can exercise alongside any diet, it is rare for a diet to actively promote and include the tracking of daily exercise.

Although meta-analyses and the current literature suggests diet and energy intake is a more important factor for weight loss [1], the combination of diet and exercise is the key to the best improvements in fat loss and general health.

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Weight Watchers uses Activity Points to reward users with some additional points that they can spend on food after they do a certain amount of activity. The amount of points you earn for activity depends on weight, exercise duration and level of intensity.

Activity points are a great addition, especially when you know an event is coming up like Christmas or Thanksgiving and overindulging may be a possibility.

The Cons

 

Cost

 Weight Watchers comes with a price, unique to any other type of diet. Those who are significantly overweight and need the program for over a year are likely to end up spending a good sum of money.

The program is £2.84/week for the online aspect of the program, or £4.29/week if you want to also attend the meetings and group sessions.

This could come to ~£225 a year if you want access to everything Weight Watchers offers, and may be an obstacle for those interested in starting.

However, this might not necessarily be a bad thing depending on the type of person you are. Spending money on something is like making a commitment to yourself that you will follow through with your initial intentions, and may be a psychological benefit for sustainability.

Most diets fail because their initial commitment is based on a rise in motivation, which will fluctuate and taper off as time goes on, rather than a true commitment in their mind. As long as the commitment is real, the cost of the program is only an investment in yourself.

 

Not catered towards everyone, especially fitness enthusiasts or athletes

Weight Watchers is not ideal for someone with athletic or serious body composition goals, as opposed to those who are just looking to lose weight and be healthier.

The diet does not include any specifics regarding nutrition such as meal timing, protein intake, supplementation, refeed days, carbohydrate loading etc.

Instead the diet focuses on the fundamentals of food choices to satisfy the general population. Those looking to reach extreme body composition (below 10% bodyfat) or performance goals would benefit from putting some focus into the details of nutrition and should follow a diet that caters towards this audience.

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Who should run this diet?

Weight Watchers is great for the average person looking to lose a few pounds, for those who are severely overweight, or for anyone looking to transition to a more positive and healthy lifestyle. The sustainability, flexibility, and appealing points structure of the diet is something most users would feel satisfied with.

As opposed to many other diets, there is no reason why this diet would put users at risk of nutrient deficiencies or health issues whilst losing weight, and is set out adequately to improve the health status of those currently on a typical Western diet.

The diet is not ideal for athletes or those with extreme body composition goals. These types of people require more of a complex diet that accounts for minor details as basic principles may not completely satisfy their needs.


References

  • Wilks DC, Sharp SJ, Ekelund U, Thompson SG, Mander AP, Turner RM, Jebb SA, Lindroos AK. (2011). Objectively Measured Physical Activity and Fat Mass in Children: A Bias-Adjusted Meta-Analysis of Prospective Studies. PLoS One.