INTRODUCTION TO THE WEIGHT WATCHERS DIET
Weight Watchers has been helping people to lose weight for over half a century. The Weight Watchers program (now called WW) teaches members how to make healthy food choices and fit exercise into their daily schedule. But what really sets Weight Watchers apart is its system of using Points. A point value is assigned to each food based on the amount of nutrients it contains, including in the calculation things like calories, fat and fiber. Rather than counting calories, you get a daily budget of points that may range anywhere from 18 to 37. Points allow for flexibility, and you can earn extra points through exercising. No foods are forbidden, and you can eat your favorites, so long as you stay within your Points budget.
HISTORY OF THE WEIGHT WATCHERS DIET
Jean Nidetch was 40 years old in 1963 when she founded Weight Watchers. The homemaker from Brooklyn had tried several fad diets before finally losing weight by following a diet sponsored by the New York City Board of Health. When she started to struggle to stick to it, she created a support group of friends who were also trying to lose weight. While attending meetings has been proven the most effective way to lose weight and keep it off, Weight Watchers now offers a digital way to keep track of your Points and you may also attend online meetings.
Today, Weight Watchers has over a million members and there are Weight Watchers groups all over the United States and in 20 countries around the world. So even if you’re traveling, you can get support at one of the 36,000 meetings held each week.
The Points system is a relatively recent development, by the way. It only came out in 1997. In 2018, Weight Watchers rebranded itself ‘WW,’ meaning ‘Wellness Wins.’
WEIGHT WATCHERS DIET MACROS
The Weight Watchers Points system helps people develop a balanced diet. This includes healthy amounts of macronutrients (fats, proteins and carbohydrates) and micronutrients (vitamins and minerals). Weight Watchers follows the recommendations put out by the National Academy of Sciences, which currently says that proteins should comprise 10-35%, fats between 20-35% and carbohydrates should fall in the range of 45-65%. Weight Watchers says these amounts provide sufficient nutrition, and helps to reduce the risk of chronic disease.
WW is always updating their system, and it changed from SmartPoints to PointsPlus a few years ago. PointsPlus includes more information than SmartPoints, and includes calories, protein, sugar and saturated fat to calculate points, whereas SmartPoints only calculated calories, protein and fiber. The protein value will lower the point value of a particular food, and saturated fat and sugars will raise it. Protein and fiber help you to feel fuller, longer, and that is why it’s an important component of both the SmartPoints and the PointsPlus valuation.
Most non-starchy vegetables and fruit are zero Point foods. Fat-free broth, sugar-free Jello, and herbs, spices and condiments like garlic, basil, cinnamon, soy sauce, vinegar and lemon juice are also zero Points. ZeroPoint beverages include black coffee, tea, and sugar-free drinks such diet soda also cost no Points.
While whole grains are the preferred form for starches, a slice of whole wheat bread and a slice of white bread have the same Point value, 2.
Lean proteins such as fish, shrimp and chicken breast are low in Points, and fattier meats have correspondingly higher values.
Fats themselves tend to run high in points, although extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) is a notable exception. A tablespoon of EVOO is only worth 1 Point.
BENEFITS OF THE WEIGHT WATCHERS DIET
TEACHES YOU HOW TO EAT
No diet will yield long-term results if you don’t form healthy habits. WW teaches healthy eating skills, such as measuring portions and encouraging you to cook for yourself.
STEADY WEIGHT LOSS
Numerous studies show that the Weight Watchers plan can help you lose weight better than going it alone, and the average weight loss is about one or two pounds a week. A slow, steady weight loss is likely to lead to longer lasting results, and there is also the chance of a ripple effect through the family. One study found that non-participating spouses lost a significant amount of weight as well.
NO FORBIDDEN FOODS
Unlike many other diets, WW does not have a list of foods you must avoid. All that matters are keeping track of your Points. You can earn more Points through exercise, and while the system encourages healthy eating, it also allows you to indulge in your favorites from time to time.
EXTENSIVE RESOURCES & SUPPORT
WW offers a lot more backup than most other diet programs. For those who need accountability, there are regular live meetings. With premium membership, you can even get one-to-one personalized coaching. Your Fitbit, other devices and apps such as Apple Health or Garmin Vivofit can also be synced to WW.
REDUCED RISK OF DIABETES
The WW diet strongly encourages healthy options which are associated with better blood sugar levels, both reducing the risk of developing type 2 diabetes and improving the numbers for those who already have the disease.
WW is more than a diet, and daily exercise is encouraged. You earn extra FitPoints by being active, and there is guidance for those who are new to exercising.
DOWNSIDES OF THE WEIGHT WATCHERS DIET
COUNTING POINTS CAN GET OLD
Counting Points is a lot like calorie-counting and may be too complicated for some. Or it might simply get tedious.
CAN BE EXPENSIVE
The cost will depend on which options you go with and how long you continue with the program. The digital-only option is the least expensive and will run you about $4 per week. The live workshops cost a little more and the one-on-one coaching will be the highest at around $15 a week. You can get a small discount by buying several months at a time, and some insurance companies offer a Weight Watchers discount.
WEEKLY WEIGH-INS REQUIRED
Whether or not you attend a live meeting, weighing in every week is required. While this accountability might be necessary for some, others may feel uncomfortable (even though this is only done in front of the leader, not the entire group). You may also feel frustration if the scale doesn’t show improvement despite following the plan to a T.
MAY NOT BE ENOUGH DIRECTION
While flexibility and freedom of choice sound good, it might prove too tempting for some. Sometimes less is more.
CAN LEAD TO UNHEALTHY HABITS
One criticism of the Weight Watchers diet is that the focus on Points can cause an unhealthy relationship with food. Saving up and then bingeing is not the best idea, even if you are technically following the rules.
CARDIOVASCULAR BENEFITS MAY BE LIMITED
A 2016 study of the Weight Watchers diet found that it did not improve blood pressure or cholesterol levels compared to the control group. However, the study was small. If you have health goal besides weight loss, Weight Watchers may not be the best diet for you.
WEIGHT WATCHERS DIET DETAILS
When you sign up with WW, you will get a daily Points target that is based on your height, weight, age, and gender. With the Freestyle program, you have the option of carrying over some Points to the next day. In effect, ‘saving up’ for a splurge. But generally speaking, you want to eat a healthy amount, and not starve and binge.
Weekly weigh-ins are required, but you do have the option of online-only, meaning you would just send in your weight, or sync your Fitbit or other device with the WW program. If you need the accountability of live meet-ups, that is available and there are thousands of groups across the country, meaning you shouldn’t have to travel far to find one. A third option is one-to-one coaching that is done through phone calls and messages.
There are over 200 zero Point foods on the Weight Watchers diet, and those you don’t have to keep track of at all. The list includes things you would expect like leafy greens and many fruits, black coffee and tea, but also skinless chicken breast, beans, tofu, eggs, nonfat plain yogurt, and fish.
While most non-starchy vegetables don’t need to be tracked, starchy vegetables like white potatoes, sweet potatoes, peas and corn carry Points. A 1/2 cup of sweet potato is worth 2 Points and a medium-sized plain potato costs 5.
Bread, pasta, and cereals carry Points, and whole-grain is preferred. But a cup of pasta, whether regular or whole wheat, is worth 5.
As for meat, lean proteins are given the lowest Point values, and some are free as noted above. Fatty fish like salmon costs 4 Points and meat that contains saturated fat cost more. For example, 3 oz. of New York Strip steak costs 5 Points and a 3 oz. bratwurst costs 9.
Fats have higher values as well, although a tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil will only run you 1 Point. The same amount of canola oil is 4. Nuts have a high value: 4 points for 1/4 cup of almonds and 6 points for 2 tablespoons of peanut butter. A serving of butter (5) has a higher value than margarine (4) because it contains more saturated fat.
Sweets cost as well. A single fun-size chocolate bar will run you 4 Points. Want a slice of mom’s apple pie? That’ll be 12 Points. A sliced of iced cake weighs in at 23 Points, more than some people get for an entire day.
As far as fast food is concerned, it could cost all your points for a single meal. A large hamburger costs 13 Points by itself. But because WW has the Freestyle program that allows you to roll over some of your Points from one day to the next, you could ‘save up’ for a splurge.
As for acceptance into the program, Weight Watchers does not allow anyone under the age of 13 to join, and those under 18 must have written permission from a doctor. Pregnant women are also not eligible to sign up because they should be consulting with their obstetrician about optimum nutrition and managing their weight. People who have been diagnosed with an eating disorder are also not allowed to sign up because they too require medical supervision.
BEST FOODS TO EAT ON THE WEIGHT WATCHERS DIET
WW’s system of ranking foods with Points makes it very clear which foods are preferred.
Vegetables — WW recommends getting at least 5 servings of veggies and fruit every day. They are low in calories, but high in fiber, vitamins, and other nutrients. Examples of vegetables that carry points are avocados, potatoes, sweet potatoes, peas, and corn. Eating a lot of fresh vegetables lowers your risk of developing heart disease, type 2 diabetes and cancer.
Fruit — WW considers fruit to be just as important and vegetables and rolls them together in their recommended 5 servings. Fruit is a healthy source of sugar that also contains fiber and micronutrients, reducing the likelihood of a blood sugar spike. Fruit makes a great WW ZeroPoint dessert. Note that fruit juice and dried fruit carry Points, and so does fruit that has been blended into a smoothie (because when it is blended, you are likely eating a lot more fruit than you would if you just sat down and had it whole).
Whole Grains — Weight Watchers recommends whole grains rather than refined. So, things like oatmeal, brown rice, whole wheat bread are preferred to refined cereals, white rice and white bread. Whole grains contain more nutrients and fiber than processed, and the extra fiber will help you feel full and eat less, and lose weight faster.
Low-Fat Dairy — Dairy foods provide calcium and vitamin D, as well as other nutrients like potassium and protein. Eating low fat or fat-free dairy products and milk can reduce your risk of developing osteoporosis. WW recommends 2-3 servings of low-fat or fat-free dairy products including yogurt, cheese and milk, each day.
Lean Proteins — The body uses protein for many different processes, including building muscle, repairing tissues, and making enzymes and hormones. We all need protein every day. Fish, seafood, skinless chicken breast, eggs, beans and soy provide lean protein. Red meats contain saturated fat and tend to be higher in calories, and are thus less desirable on the WW diet. WW recommends at least 2 servings per day of lean protein. A serving is 3-4 ounces, about the size of a deck of cards.
Healthy Fats — A little fat in your diet is needed, even when you’re trying to lose weight. Oils are preferred to solid fats on the WW diet because they contain monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. The best choices are extra virgin olive oil, safflower oil and flaxseed oil. WW’s recommendation for these healthy oils is 2 teaspoons per day.
FOODS TO AVOID ON THE WEIGHT WATCHERS DIET
While nothing is forbidden on the WW diet, Point values point the way toward healthier selections.
Soda and sugary drinks — Drinks with added sugar cost a lot of points. Excessive sugar also increases your chances of developing type 2 diabetes and heart disease. Water is the beverage of choice on WW.
Fast food — Burgers, fries, pizza and so on will run your Points up really quick.
Processed foods — Refined foods are best avoided, to be replaced with whole grain or natural options, like chicken breast rather than chicken nuggets. This includes anything with artificial ingredients, added sugars, high fructose corn syrup, hydrogenated oils and the like.
Saturated fats — Beef, pork, sausage and butter all contain unhealthy saturated fat and are high in calories — and Points. Stick to mono- and polyunsaturated fats, like extra virgin olive oil.
KEYS TO SUCCESS ON THE WEIGHT WATCHERS DIET
Making better food choices is a central tenet of the WW program. WW makes it easy for you to understand what foods are healthiest with its Points system. Foods that are high in fiber and nutrients but low in calories have the lowest Point values, and you are allowed to eat freely from a list of over 200 different foods.
TAKE CHARGE OF YOUR HEALTH
Monitoring your daily intake of food is another important component of the WW program. Tracking your food throughout the day forces you to pay attention to what you’re eating, when, and, perhaps, eventually understanding why you were overeating in the first place so you can change the behavior. WW considers the weekly weigh-ins to be an essential component of weight-loss success.
WW believes that a positive and supportive atmosphere is key to losing the weight and keeping it off. Each week, the WW meetings cover different topics related to diet, exercise, and other healthy habits. Because there are people at every stage of weight loss from beginner to sustaining, you can meet and connect with members who can provide inspirational and encouraging tips and strategies to reach your goals.
Exercise is strongly encouraged in the WW system. The PointsPlus plan allows you to earn extra Points through exercise. It uses a formula that is based on body weight, level of intensity and duration of the activity. The recommended amount of exercise will depend on your weight loss goals.
COMMON MYTHS ABOUT THE WEIGHT WATCHERS DIET
YOU’LL LOSE WEIGHT SUPER FAST WITH WW
The goal of WW is slow, steady, sustainable weight loss, not dropping 10 pounds in a week. You may lose more than that in the first few weeks due to losing extra water weight, but after than, a pound or 2 each week is what you can expect.
YOU ONLY HAVE TO FOLLOW THE DIET UNTIL YOU REACH YOUR GOAL
WW is all about learning how to eat healthfully for life. Going off the program often leads to weight gain, with this and every diet. If you’re overweight, certain changes to your diet and/or exercise regimen must be permanent.
YOU HAVE TO ATTEND LIVE MEETINGS
The live meetings are a long-standing feature of WW, but online-only is now an option. You are still required to do your weekly weigh-in and send in the info, but you can do it from home.
THE WEIGH-INS ARE PUBLIC
The weigh-ins are not meant to shame or humiliate anyone. If you attend a live meeting, the weigh-in happens in private with only a trained group leader as witness. Discussion about how to stick with the plan and meet your goals are conducted with the group.
YOU HAVE TO BUY THEIR FOOD
While you can find frozen dishes labeled with SmartPoints, you are not required to buy them. You can eat anything at all from the store, at a restaurant and anywhere else, so long as you track your Points.
WEIGHT WATCHERS IS FOR WOMEN
COMMON MISTAKES ON THE WEIGHT WATCHERS DIET
Guessing at Point values will almost certainly lead to mistakes. Weight Watchers’ Points count more than calories. Even though two different items may have the same number of calories, they may contain vastly different amounts of protein, fiber and other nutrients. With time and practice, you’ll learn the values of your favorites by heart, but until then, be sure to carefully track all your Points.
Guessing about portion size is as bad as guessing about Points. A little extra of each food item can add a significant amount of Points throughout the day. Also, serving sizes are not always a straight one-to-one ratio, and a double serving of some items may be worth more points than simply doubling the Points for a single serving. For best results and to reach your goals, you need to properly measure your portions.
CUTTING OUT ENTIRE FOOD GROUPS
The WW system is based on the idea that you will eat a healthy amount of zero Point foods each day, especially vegetables, fruits and lean proteins. It also allows for healthy fats, low-fat dairy and wholesome whole grains.
By eating from all the food groups, your nutritional needs will be met, you’ll be less likely to suffer from cravings or feel deprived.
The plan is not meant to make you suffer. By denying yourself the things you need and/or not allowing yourself the occasional indulgence, it’s more likely you’ll quit without reaching your weight loss goals.
DON’T OVERDO THE FRUIT
Fruit has a zero Point value because it’s satisfying and nutritious. WW wants its members to eat to satiated, but not to the point of feeling stuffed. Where you need to be more vigilant is to not graze all day long. If you’re faithfully following the plan but not losing weight, take a look at how much fruit you’re eating.
FORGETTING THE BASICS
Even if you’ve been doing WW for a while, it never hurts to reread the starter materials. Maybe you’ve gotten a little complacent with measuring, or think you know all the Point values. You may not lose weight every week, but if the trend continues, it might be time to revisit the basics.
COMMON QUESTIONS ABOUT THE WEIGHT WATCHERS DIET
WHAT KIND OF FOODS DO YOU EAT ON WW?
No foods are forbidden, so pretty much whatever you like as long as you keep within your daily Points. The system steers you toward healthier options, such as vegetables, fruits, and lean protein, but so long as you make healthy choices most of the time, there should be room to enjoy the things you love.
IS THE WW DIET HEALTHY?
Using the program the way it is designed offers complete nutrition. However, since WW allows for great flexibility in what you eat and no food is forbidden, there are certainly ways to skew the system and fill up on unhealthy junk while still technically adhering to the plan.
HOW DO YOU LOSE WEIGHT WITHOUT RESTRICTING FOODS OR COUNTING CALORIES?
Your daily Points will be calculated based on your height, weight, age and gender. Healthy foods will fill you up, meet your nutritional needs and leave you satisfied while also cutting down on cravings. The Points system is more sophisticated than counting calories, and designed to make things simple for you. Stay within your Points and you’ll lose weight. Couldn’t be easier.
ARE THERE ANY STUDIES THAT PROVE THE WW DIET WORKS?
Yes. The Weight Watchers diet has been studied numerous times and proven to be healthy and effective at weight loss. You can also read many, many testimonials of successful members online.
DO YOU HAVE TO EXERCISE WITH THE WW DIET?
While exercise is not required, it is certainly recommended as part of a healthy lifestyle. One of the pluses of exercising is that you can earn extra Points.
WHAT AM I ALLOWED TO DRINK ON WW?
Besides water, unsweetened tea, coffee or other zero-calorie beverages including diet soda are all Point-free. Soft drinks sweetened with sugar aren’t recommended because they can slow weight loss by causing water retention. But, if a sweetened beverage is your treat, fine. Just enjoy it in moderation and stay within your Points.
CAN I EAT OUT ON WW?
The WW plan is designed to be used anywhere. But you still need to track your points. But WW is nothing if not supportive. It has an Eating Out Guide and an online PointsPlus Calculator tool to help you, and they also offer a Pocket Guide and the Complete Food Companion and the Dining Out Companion.
WEIGHT WATCHERS VS PALEO
WW and Paleo have certain commonalities, but there are also several differences. Low-starch vegetables are an important component of both, and so are proteins such as fish, chicken and eggs. But other than staying within your Points for WW, you are allowed to eat any food at all. This is not true for Paleo, where you must only eat whole foods that our pre-Agricultural Revolution ancestors would have had access to. That means no grains or legumes, almost no dairy (with the possible exception of butter and whey protein) and no processed or refined foods, ever. WW also doesn’t care if you eat fresh, frozen or canned. Paleo definitely prefers fresh and organic, although frozen is still acceptable.
Fruit is another place where the two diverge. While Paleo eaters will eat small amounts of in-season fruits such as berries, WW has no such restriction. Paleo eaters also do not avoid saturated fats so long as they come from natural, organic sources like grass-fed beef, whereas with WW, saturated fats are discouraged.
WEIGHT WATCHERS VS SLOW CARB
With the exception of fruit, WW zero Point foods are mostly low-carb. WW has perhaps a little more in common with Slow Carb than with Paleo because of the addition of legumes, but the only carbs in Slow Carb come from legumes and vegetables. Fruit and grains are not part of Slow Carb, whereas WW has no such restriction. Slow Carb also has a heavy emphasis on protein which is very different from WW. Slow Carb expects you to eat a minimum of 30 grams of protein at breakfast to help keep you feeling full and give you a steady supply of energy. While it wouldn’t be wrong to load up on egg whites for breakfast on WW plan and it would keep your Points minimal, WW does not expect you to do this.
Slow Carb is also based on the idea of eating the same things over and over, because novel flavors make you want to eat more. WW has no such expectation. And finally, Slow Carb allows for a cheat day every week. With WW Freestyle, you are allowed to save some Points from a previous day to use on a special treat, but this is not meant to be done on any kind of regular basis and bingeing on unhealthy foods is not encouraged.
WEIGHT WATCHERS VS MEDITERRANEAN
WW is probably most similar to the Mediterranean diet. There are no forbidden foods in either, and both emphasize moderation and filling up your plate with vegetables and lean proteins, and avoiding saturated fat. With Mediterranean, there are no Points to count, which can be a plus or a minus, depending on how much guidance you need in selecting your food and portion size. Weight loss on both will likely be slow and gradual, and because of that and the fact that you aren’t expected to give up your favorites forever, you may be more likely to lose the weight and keep it off.
BEST WEIGHT WATCHERS DIET SUPPLEMENTS
WW recommends taking a multivitamin every day to be sure to cover all your nutritional bases, in particular calcium, zinc, vitamin B-12, iron, and magnesium.
Calcium — Calcium build strong bones and teeth, but it is also needed for a healthy heart, muscles and nerves.
Vitamin B-12 —This vitamin is essential for a healthy nervous system, to make red blood cells and synthesize DNA. B-12 is difficult to get from plant sources and it is recommended all vegetarians and vegans take a supplement.
Vitamin D — While we can manufacture this vitamin through our skin, most people still don’t get enough. Vitamin D is part of many processes in the body, from making strong bones to protecting us against diseases including cancer, and it is also needed to process other vitamins, meaning that a vitamin D deficiency can cause other nutritional deficits.
Zinc — Zinc is difficult to get from plant-only sources. The body uses zinc to build DNA, make proteins and enzymes, keep our immune system strong and ensures proper growth.
Iron — While many plants do contain iron, it is not the kind that is easily assimilated by our body. Anemia results from an iron deficiency. Vegetarians and vegans should be sure to have a piece of fruit or vegetables that contain vitamin C with every meal to help increase iron absorption from plants, and consider supplementing.
Magnesium — Research shows that most people do not get enough magnesium through diet alone. However, this mineral is crucial for a healthy heart rhythm, to maintain normal blood pressure and keep your bones strong. A magnesium deficiency can also cause inflammation, which can cause or worsen many diseases, including diabetes, heart disease, and some forms of cancer.