All About Weight Watchers

Article By: Sidharth Shourie

What is Weight Watchers?

Weight Watchers is an international American company that offers various products and services to assist weight loss and maintenance. Founded in 1963 by Queens, New York, homemaker Jean Nidetch, it now operates in about 30 countries around the world, generally under names that are local translations of “Weight Watchers”. The core philosophy behind Weight Watchers programs is to use a science-driven approach to help participants lose weight by forming helpful habits, eating smarter, getting more exercise and providing support. (Kirchhoff, 2010)

What is it about?

According to Claire, a Weight Watchers leader and former member since 1996, is about food, fitness and fulfillment. It’s about wanting to eat healthy, learning how to get some activity in your life and wanting to be happy with the overall outcome.

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History

From 1978 until 1999, Weight Watchers was owned by the H. J. Heinz Company, which continues to produce packaged foods bearing the Weight Watchers brand. In October 2015 Oprah Winfrey purchased a 10% stake in Weight Watchers.

How does it work?

To answer this question, we have to take a look at Weight Watchers belief system built upon 4 components which they call the 4 pillars.

  • Food
  • Exercise
  • Behaviour
  • Support


Weight Watchers is based on the philosophy of making changes that can be incorporated into any lifestyle. Not a quick fix, but long term changes that change the way we think and feel. Changing the way we think and feel is not easy. Even when we are equipped with the knowledge, the theory is not always so easy to put into practice and this is where Weight Watchers truly excels.

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The Points System

The new SmartPoints food plan guides members toward an overall eating pattern of foods that are lower in calories, saturated fat and sugar, and higher in protein. However, you can eat whatever you want – provided you stick to your daily SmartPoints target, a number based on your gender, weight, height and age. (U.S. News, 2016)


FitPoints, a new metric to help you track activity, was also introduced in late 2015. Every member has a personalized FitPoints goal based on an initial assessment, and FitPoints can be earned anytime, anywhere – from cleaning the house to walking the dog. Whether you want to get active and don’t know where to start or are ready to take it to the next level and run a 5K, the program helps members uncover fun and easy ways to move more. Plus, Weight Watchers syncs with popular activity monitors, including FitBit, Apple Health, Jawbone, Withings and Misfit. (U.S. News, 2016)

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Pros

  • No foods are forbidden. There is no lists of foods to avoid on Weight Watchers like you'll find on other diets. Instead, you count SmartPoints and earn FitPoints. The point system encourages you to eat healthy food but also allows you to indulge with sweet treats or snacks once in a while
  • Nutritional tips, cooking advice, and lifestyle education are offered. If you attend Weight Watchers meetings, your leader will share good nutritional advice with the group, such as the importance of eating plenty of vegetables, healthy fats, low-fat dairy and drinking enough water
  • You may be able to bring your kids. Some Weight Watchers locations offer special meetings to which parents can bring their children
  • Slow and steady weight loss is achieved. You can expect to lose one to two pounds a week on the program. You may even lose more when you first start. This is a very healthy rate at which to lose weight. Weight lost at this steady rate is more likely to be maintained
  • Encourages portion control. To accurately track and record your SmartPoints, you will need to measure your portions and serving sizes. This skill is valuable and will serve you well even if you go off the plan
  • Exercise is promoted. The Weight Watchers system encourages plenty of daily movement and exercise. Guidance is provided for new exercisers and for those who can work out harder and burn more calories
  • Cooking at home is encouraged. You're more likely to eat healthy foods if you cook them yourself. Weight Watchers offers recipes and cooking tools to help you learn how to prepare meals that will keep you lean and fit

(Scott, 2016)

Cons

  • The expensive cost. The monthly cost for your Weight Watchers membership will vary depending on the level that you choose, but if you have a lot of weight to lose, the investment may be significant. Be sure you consider the total cost for the entire time you need to be on the plan to make sure that you can afford it
  • Group meetings don't work for everyone. Some people don't like to share personal health and weight loss information in a group. Of course, you are not required to talk at a Weight Watchers meeting. But the meetings are what make this weight loss program unique. If you prefer not to do meetings, other options are available
  • Weekly weigh-ins are necessary. You need to weigh in once a week to track your progress on Weight Watchers. For some dieters, this requirement is uncomfortable. For others, it helps keep them on track. Keep in mind, however, that at meetings the only person who sees your weight is the person weighing you
  • Weekly progress may discourage you. Some people prefer to measure weight-loss success on a monthly basis rather than weekly. On Weight Watchers be prepared for weekly progress checks. Some weeks you will lose little or no weight, even if you're doing everything right
  • SmartPoints counting can be tedious. If you don't like counting calories, you may not like counting SmartPoints either. The process can be time-consuming and may be too complicated for dieters who want a quick and simple approach to eating
  • Too much freedom to eat. The ability to choose anything you want to eat may prove too tempting for some. It is completely possible to use all your SmartPoints on less-than-nutritious foods. For those dieters, weight loss plans that offer strict eating guidelines may work better

(Scott, 2016)

Typical Meals in the Week

Are there any long-term consequences?

Overview


Weight Watchers does not consider itself to be a diet. According to its website, Weight Watchers is a plan or approach designed to help you live a healthier life while continuing to eat whatever you like. It may sound too good to be true, but it can work. The problem with Weight Watchers is that maintaining proper nutrition is a distant second to shedding pounds. Thinner does not necessarily mean healthier. (Aufiero, 2015)


Vitamin Deficiency


Weight Watchers is based on a points system. This system assigns a certain point value to different types of food. The number of points assigned to each food item depends on the amount of fat, protein, carbohydrates and fiber it contains. Vitamin and mineral content are not considered. Although Weight Watchers contends that you can get all the vitamins and minerals you need from eating enough fruits and vegetables, that would require most people to triple the amount of fruit and vegetables eaten every day. According to Harvard School of Public Health, the average American has three servings of fruits and vegetables per day but requires nine servings to maintain weight based on a 2000 calorie-per-day intake. In addition, the point system does not require you to eat any fruits or vegetables every day, which could lead to vitamin deficiency. (Aufiero, 2015)


Undernourishment


Weight Watchers focuses on counting points, not calories. However, counting calories is also important. If you consume calories significantly below the average intake of 2000 calories per day, you are at risk for undernourishment. For example, Weight Watchers frozen meals contain an average of 250 to 300 calories each. So if you ate one for breakfast, lunch and dinner, your total caloric intake for the day would be under 1000, which is less than half of the average recommended intake. Undernourishment slows down your metabolism, making it harder to lose weight. It may also make you feel too tired or too weak to engage in exercise, an essential component of weight loss. (Aufiero, 2015)


Sodium


According to the FitDay website, the average daily recommended maximum amount of sodium is 2300 mg. Let's say you are on Weight Watchers and have the following Smart Ones frozen foods in one day: breakfast quesadilla has 730 mg of sodium, pepperoni pizza for lunch has 840 mg, a Salisbury steak entree for dinner has 820 mg and strawberry shortcake for dessert has 280 mg. Your total sodium intake for the day would be 2660 mg. Therefore, you would have exceeded the daily recommended amount without yet factoring in drinks or any other snacks you may have during the day. A high-sodium diet is especially risky if you have high blood pressure. (Aufiero, 2015)

Personal Opinion

Weight Watchers is one of the most well-researched weight loss programs available and it works too. Many studies have shown that the plan can help you lose weight and keep it off. For instance, a study from The American Journal of Medicine showed that people doing Weight Watchers lost more weight than those trying to drop pounds on their own. The only major concern of this diet program is the cost which can range from $10-$70 depending on what people need. Weight Watchers isn’t so much a diet as a lifestyle-change program. It can help you learn how to eat healthier and get more physical activity, so you lose the weight for good. Overall, it's an excellent and easy-to-follow program.

Work Cited

Aufiero, B. (2015, September 9). The Dangers of Weight Watchers. In Livestrong.com. Retrieved May 26, 2016, from http://www.livestrong.com/article/337442-the-dangers-of-weight-watchers/


Kirchhoff, D. (2010, December 2). Our New Program the Next Level. In the original. Retrieved May 26, 2016, from https://web.archive.org/web/20101202030004/http://www.weightwatchers.com:80/util/art/index_art.aspx?tabnum=1&art_id=105421


Scott, J. R. (2016, January 11). Weight Watchers Pros and Cons. In verywell. Retrieved May 26, 2016, from https://www.verywell.com/pros-and-cons-of-weight-watchers-3496212


U.S. News & World Report Wellness. (2016). Weight Watchers Diet. In . (Ed.). : Author. Retrieved from http://health.usnews.com/best-diet/weight-watchers-diet/reviews