Weight Watchers

What It Is

Weight Watchers believes that dieting is just one part of long-term weight management. 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. At local group meetings, Weight Watchers members get motivation, mutual support, and encouragement in handling the challenges encountered in the process of changing behavior.

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.

What You Can Eat

"Eat the food you love and lose weight" is the Weight Watchers philosophy. No foods are prohibited. Instead, each food is assigned points, and you are allotted a certain number of points each day. You can earn more points with exercise, which is key to the Weight Watchers' program.

Points are assigned based on the food's calorie, total fat, and dietary fiber content. Here are some examples:

  • 1 cup broccoli = 0 points
  • 1/2 cantaloupe = 2 points
  • 1 small bean burrito = 5 points
  • 1 cup spaghetti with 1/2 cup marinara sauce = 6 points
  • 1 6-ounce steak = 8 points
  • 3-ounce grilled chicken breast = 3 points
  • 1/4 cup regular creamy salad dressing = 8 points
  • 1 slice bread = 2 points
  • 1 ounce chocolate = 4 points
  • 1 scoop vanilla ice cream = 4 points

Each member has a Daily Points Range, calculated based on their body weight. For example, a 5'6" woman who weights 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.

Members can earn extra points with exercise. Based on a formula that factors in body weight, time, and intensity, all types of physical activity can be assigned a points value. For example, if a woman walks or cycles at moderate intensity for 30 minutes, she would earn 2 points for it.

Group support has been the cornerstone of the Weight Watchers program since its inception. Through weekly meetings, members get support in making lifestyle changes, which helps them lose weight and keep it off. "No one has to go it alone," says Weight Watchers.

How It Works

The Weight Watchers program is based on good, old-fashioned "calories in, calories out" advice. Members keep track of the calories/fat they eat (in the form of points) and burn enough calories/fat to lose weight. It's just that simple.

What the Experts Say

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 -- not just diet-focused -- steps.

Research suggests that people who lose weight and keep it off:

  • Eat a low-fat, carbohydrate-rich diet.
  • Spend a considerable amount of time each day exercising. Walking is a favorite form and is often supplemented with other activities such as aerobics, weight training, and swimming.
  • Weigh themselves regularly -- two or three times a week.
  • Continue to keep contact with those who helped them lose weight.

Research also shows that checking the scales regularly helps ensure dieters are holding steady and prevents the scale from slipping upward to a point that may foil their efforts, says Weight Watchers. Action taken when (or before) weight reaches five pounds above weight goal helps keep weight off. By increasing activity and cutting back on calories at that point, the dieter can keep his/her weight from increasing even more.

Recently, Weight Watchers sponsored a two-year clinical trial in which researchers followed participants randomly assigned one of two weight loss methods -- Weight Watchers or self-help. Those assigned to Weight Watchers consistently averaged weight losses that were about three times greater than the self-helpers. They also kept if off more successfully. The typical self-helper was back to his/her original weight after two years. However, those in the Weight Watchers group who continued to regularly attend meetings kept an average 11-pound weight loss.

Food for Thought

"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."

Nutritionists like Lichtenstein agree that exercise is critical in dieting. However, while support groups helps many people stay on the straight and narrow, not everyone likes the group approach, she says. "Weight Watchers probably works very well for some people. Others will need a different approach."

Reviewed By Charlotte E. Grayson, MD February 2004.

SOURCES: WeightWatchers.com. Weight Watchers International. Alice Lichtenstein, professor of nutrition, Tufts University, Boston.

© 1996-2004 WebMD Inc. All rights reserved.


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Last Editorial Review: 5/25/2005