Weight Watchers stands apart from most other diet programs, in that it does not restrict exactly what you can or cannot eat. It is based on a points system, with the target number of points for each person being calculated based on age, weight, height, gender, and activity level. The points assigned to each food is calculated with a proprietary formula that takes into account that food’s protein, carbohydrate, fat, and fiber content. The WW member doesn’t have to do any of the calculations; a list of foods with their point assignment is readily available. Calculators are also available where you can enter a food’s nutritional info to generate a point value.
A landmark clinical trial, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, showed that Weight Watchers resulted in superior weight loss at 2 years (-4.3kg) compared to a self-help control group (-1.3kg).
However, as blogged previously, another study showed that when compared to Atkins, Ornish, and Zone, Weight Watchers wasn’t any different in terms of weight loss success – the participants with the greater weight loss were those that adhered to the diet program, regardless of which diet they were assigned to.
As for Weight Watchers Online, a clinical trial is currently underway.
Of all of the commercial plans out there, Weight Watchers is the only one that I often recommend to my patients. Why? Because it allows a person to eat what they enjoy, allows flexibility to eat within cultural preferences, with the foundation of the whole system really being portion control, while encouraging healthy food choices (because healthier foods, by their nature, have lower points assigned).
Down sides to Weight Watchers:
- Fruit is assigned zero points. I don’t agree with this, as fruit has around 80-100 calories per cup, which is not insignificant. (The full WW zero point list is available here.)
- Cost. The in person WW program is around $25 to sign up, with monthly cost coming in around $15 (discounts are available). For WW online, sign up is about $40 with a monthly fee of about $22.
If there is one thing that we know about weight loss programs, it is that a ‘diet’ is not going to be a success longterm if it is not a permanent lifestyle change. Weight Watchers is one of the rare programs that actually fits the bill for a change that can be made and adhered to for the long term.