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Overview

Weight Watchers is a commercial weight loss plan that focuses on making good food choices and being physically active. With the PointsPlus system, values are assigned to food, drinks, and Weight Watcher recipes. You receive a daily point allowance (PointsPlus Target) based on personal factors.

The goal is to lose 1-2 pounds (lb) (0.5-0.9 kilogram [kg]) per week.

How Is This Diet Supposed to Work?

Dieters learn how to make more nutritious food choices by following PointsPlus, a program to monitor your food intake. To determine the PointsPlus value of foods, Weight Watchers has a special formula that takes into account the amounts of protein , carbohydrate, fat , and fiber that a food contains. The program focuses on foods that:

  • Make your body work harder to process (results in consuming fewer calories)
  • Are "Power Foods" (high in nutrients, leading you to feel fuller and more satisfied)
  • Are natural (rather than foods with added sugar and fats)

PointsPlus is also designed to be flexible so you can have an occasional indulgence, attend a special event, or go out to dinner.

The daily PointsPlus Target reflects the amount of energy your body needs to lose weight based on factors like your gender, age, height, and weight. If your daily PointsPlus Target, for instance, is 39, then you may want to break that down to use 8 points at breakfast, 10 at lunch, 15 at dinner, and two snacks (each worth 3 points). Weight Watchers offers lots of meal ideas with the points already calculated, like a serving of lasagna (worth 6 points) or grilled chicken salad (8 points).

While counting points is a big part of the program, Weight Watchers also encourages participants to be more physically active.

What’s Involved?

The first step is to decide whether to attend the meetings in-person or do the program online.

Someone who has had success with Weight Watchers leads the weekly meetings. At the first meeting, you will be weighed (in private), create weight-loss goals with the leader, and learn the basics. The leader introduces new topics each week and offers tips. Group members encourage each other by offering strategies and sharing recipes.

Like the in-person meetings, the online program creates individualized weight-loss goals. But, by joining Weight Watchers Online, you can access the program from your computer or mobile phone. There are online tools to track food choices, activities, and weight. You also have access to Weight Watchers’ nutritional database, recipes, restaurant guides, exercise routines, and fitness demos.

If you do choose to attend the meetings, you can sign up to use these online (eTools) and mobile tools. You can also have access to the nutritional database, recipes, and other features that are available online.

Additional Features of This Diet

Since men and women may have different issues and approaches to tackling weight loss, Weight Watchers designed eTools for men who would like to attend the weekly meetings. There is also an online program that features guides, meal ideas, and workout routines customized for men.

What Does the Research Say?

Some studies support Weight Watchers. For example, a randomized trial with 423 adults found that dieters who followed the Weight Watchers program lost more weight than the group who tried to slim down on their own. Another large randomized trial involving 772 overweight and obese adults found that the dieters who followed the Weight Watchers program lost twice as much weight at the 12-month follow-up as the group who received standard care from their doctors.

How does Weight Watchers compare to other popular diets? Researchers gathered data on the Atkins, Ornish, Weight Watchers, and Zone diets. They found that, overall, these four diets were effective in helping people lose weight after one year. Weight loss ranged from 4.6 lb (2.1 kg) to 7.3 lb (3.3 kg), with Weight Watchers participants losing an average 6.6 lb (3 kg).

A large observational study done by the United Kingdom’s National Health Service (NHS) found similar results—people that were referred to Weight Watchers lost an average of 6.2 lb (2.8 kg).

Are There Any Concerns With This Diet?

Being successful in Weight Watchers requires that you track your PointsPlus values, activities, and weight. If you enjoy using the computer or your smart phone, you may not mind logging in to update your data. But, for others, it may become problematic to track this every day. Weight Watchers does offer another option called Simply Filling, which focuses on eating nutritious and filling foods without tracking points.

The monthly cost may also be a challenge, especially considering that you must buy all of the groceries. While there are ongoing specials, it may cost about $18 monthly for the in-person meetings or the online program. (Note: There may also be a one-time sign-up fee.)

Bottom Line

Overall, Weight Watchers provides a healthy, long-term approach to losing weight. The emphasis is on getting support (through in-person meetings or online communities), learning how to make better food choices, and being physically active. The goal is to lose weight gradually by making positive lifestyle changes.

RESOURCES:

American Dietetic Association
http://www.eatright.org/

Choose MyPlate.gov
http://www.choosemyplate.gov/

CANADIAN RESOURCES:

Canada's Food Guide
http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/fn-an/food-guide-aliment/index-eng.php

Dietitians of Canada
http://www.dietitians.ca/

References:

Ahern AL, Olson AD, Aston LM, Jebb SA. Weight Watchers on prescription: an observational study of weight change among adults referred to Weight Watchers by the NHS. BMC Public Health. 2011;11(1):434.

Dansinger M, Gleason J, Griffith J, Selker H, Schaefer E. Comparison of the Atkins, Ornish, Weight Watchers, and Zone Diets for weight loss and heart disease risk reduction. Journal of the American Medical Association website. Available at: http://jama.ama-assn.org/content/293/1/43.full . Published 2005. Accessed July 26, 2011

Diets for weight loss. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed/ . Updated July 21, 2011. Accessed July 26, 2011.

Follow the plan step-by-step online. Weight Watchers website. Available at: http://www.weightwatchers.com/plan/www/tools.aspx . Accessed July 26, 2011.

Heshka S, Anderson JW, Atkinson RL, et al. Weight loss with self-help compared with a structured commercial program: a randomized trial. JAMA. 2003;289(14):1792-1798.

How we’re unique. Weight Watchers website. Available at: http://www.weightwatchers.com/plan/apr/unique.aspx . Accessed July 26, 2011.

Jebb S, Ahern A, Aston L. Primary care referral to a commercial provider for weight loss treatment versus standard care: a randomised controlled trial. The Lancet website. Available at: http://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(11)61344-5/abstract . Published September 8, 2011. Accessed September 23, 2011.

Make smarter choices second nature. Weight Watchers website. Available at: http://www.weightwatchers.com/plan/eat/plan.aspx . Accessed July 26, 2011.

Our new program: the next level. Weight Watchers website. Available at: http://www.weightwatchers.com/util/art/index_art.aspx?tabnum=1&art_id=105421 . Accessed July 26, 2011.

Ten things to know about meetings. Weight Watchers website. Available at: http://www.weightwatchers.com/plan/mtg/index.aspx . Accessed July 26, 2011.

Weight Watchers website. Available at: http://www.weightwatchers.com . Accessed January 31, 2012.

What's included in the Simply Filling technique? Weight Watchers website. Available at: http://www3.weightwatchers.com/util/art/index_art.aspx?tabnum=1&art_id=65271&sc=3002 . Accessed September 23, 2011.

What is Weight Watchers online for men? Weight Watchers website. Available at: http://www.weightwatchers.com/men/ . Accessed July 26, 2011.



Last reviewed March 2013 by Dianne Scheinberg Rishikof MS, RD, LDN

Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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