Weight Watchers. Is it really work?
Since the early 1960s, Weight Watchers has been a kind of guru for people struggling with weight problems. The Weight Watchers program got its start when a few friends began meeting weekly to discuss how to best lose weight. That group of friends grew to millions of men and women around the world, who all follow the Weight Watchers mantra.
That mantra? Dieting is just one part of long-term weight management, Weight Watchers believes. A healthy body results from a healthy lifestyle -- which means mental, emotional, and physical health.
Weight Watchers does not tell people what they can or can't eat. The goal is to help people make healthy eating decisions and encourage them to enjoy more physical activity, thereby losing weight safely and sensibly -- and keeping it off.
At local group meetings, Weight Watchers members get motivation, mutual support, and encouragement in handling the challenges encountered in the process of changing behavior. For those who can't get to the meetings, Weight Watchers has added a number of tools on its web site. Members will find:
- Information about food choices, recipes, and meals
- Exercise/calorie-burn calculator
- Online support community
- Weight loss tracker and progress chart
- What You Can Eat
The Weight Watchers' TurnAround program offers two plans to follow for healthy weight loss. One retains the original approach of keeping track of points assigned to food; the newer plan does away with points altogether.
Do you prefer to track and control the calories you eat? You'll want the Weight Watchers' Flex Plan -- which essentially is Weight Watchers' traditional program. Do you prefer to focus on eating wholesome foods without counting or tracking? The new Core Plan is for you.
Both plans are built around Weight Watchers Healthy Eating Guidelines -- recommendations about daily intake of fruits, vegetables, dairy, water, protein, multiple vitamins, sugars and alcohol, healthy oils, and whole-grain foods.
How It Works
The Weight Watchers program is based on good, old-fashioned "calories in, calories out" advice. The essentials of Weight Watchers' two TurnAround plans follow:
The Flex Plan
This plan is the cornerstone of the original Weight Watchers philosophy: "Eat the food you love and lose weight." No foods are prohibited. Instead, each food is assigned points based on the food's calorie, total fat, and dietary fiber content.
This system guides food choices by encouraging a selection of healthy foods.
Each member has a target Daily Points Range, calculated based on their body weight. For example, a 5-foot-6-inch woman who weighs 180 pounds would be allotted between 22 and 27 points each day. A "Points Finder" helps members calibrate the points value of a recipe or a packaged product using the Nutrition Facts label.
The initial Weight Watchers' goal is to reduce body weight by 5% to 10%, and the ultimate weight goal is a BMI less than 25. For those who have a lot of weight to lose, the goal is to lose in increments of 10% -- which helps people stay motivated.
The Core Plan
This is a new approach for Weight Watchers. It allows members to control calories by focusing their eating on a core list of wholesome nutritious foods, but without counting or tracking.
The list includes foods from all the food groups: fruits and vegetables; grains and starches; lean meats, fish, and poultry; eggs, and dairy products. The foods in this core list are low in fat and calories. An occasional treat outside the list is allowed.
Weight Watchers recognizes the need for people to learn flexible restraint -- the ability to put a moderate level of control on eating. The Weekly Allowance system helps members develop this skill; learning to allow for treats and indulgences without sacrificing weight loss. The key is to find the balance between control and flexibility that is not so rigid that it is impossible to stick with.
Exercise is also given its due. Once members get established in their food plan, the specifics of an exercise plan are introduced. The focus is on spending less time sitting, more time working activity into daily life -- taking the stairs, parking at the far end of a parking lot, taking a walk, and so on. All types of physical activity are assigned a points value, and points are tracked.
The Science Behind It
The Weight Watchers web site provides a Science Library of articles that detail research backing all of the plans' principles. For example:
The Weight Watchers philosophy follows recommendations from the National Weight Loss Registry, which shows that weight maintenance is achieved through a variety of life-changing steps -- not just diet-focused ones.
A systematic study of commercial weight loss programs found that group support is essential to achieving lasting weight loss. Weight Watchers cites several studies showing the benefit of learning flexible restraint. That means putting a moderate level of control on eating to achieve lasting weight loss.
What the Experts Say
"The Weight Watchers' program has changed some over the years, but it has certainly stood the test of time," says Alice Lichtenstein, a professor of nutrition at Tufts University and member of the American Heart Association's nutrition committee.
"Any diet plan is a way of helping people limit caloric intake, but it's important that it also allow for optimal nutrient intake," she tells WebMD. "This program attempts to achieve that."