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Overview

Weight Watchers was founded in 1963 by Queens, New York City homemaker Jean Nidetch. Overweight herself, Nidetch saw the importance of having the mutual support of other dieters in order to lose weight. As a result, in 1961, she started hosting meeting with other dieters to harness mutual encouragement. Due to the popularity of the meetings, Nidetch turned the meetings into a business in 1963.

Weight Watchers now has more than 4.5 million subscribers globally as of July 2018 and dominates 45% of the commercial weight loss market share in the United States. In the United States alone, more than 25, 000 Weight Watchers workshops (previously known as meetings) are held each week in a number of locations, including over 5, 000 in workplace settings.

Weight Watchers is one of the most famous weight loss programs worldwide, having the support of celebrities such as Oprah Winfrey and Kate Hudson. Unlike many popular diets on the market, the diet is not a fad diet. Instead, it is based on a sensible approach of moderation. The premise is to eat more vegetables, fruits and lean protein and cut down on sugars and unhealthy fats.

Specifically, the diet is based on a points system. Points are assigned to foods based on their content of calories, sugars and saturated fat. You are assigned a set number of points a day.

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Location

Weight watchers has developed into a largely online process. Their roots stem from physical meetings at weight watchers locations. However, as the age of internet and the ability to reach exponentially more people via online access has emerged, you can get the full Weight Watchers experience through online applications. Below you’ll find the various subscription options and how they keep you connected.

  • OnlinePlus: Digital:

The OnlinePlus: Digital plan gets you the downloadable app with a monthly subscription. Your experience will include interaction with the App that allows you to track your food as well as access to Weight Watchers community interactions. This is the most trimmed-down version of the Weight Watchers program allowing users to take a less physically engaged approach. One can expect to take advantage of the SmartPoint system as well has gain access to community support groups.

  • Workshop + Digital:  

Sometimes there’s no replacement for face-to-face interactions and support. With 3,000+ WW Studio locations and 14,000+ Workshops offered per week, the Workshop + Digital subscription plan gets you all the digital access plus the added bonus of in-person community support at Weight Watcher locations. You can find the closest workshop to your location by searching your zip code on the WW website or using the list of studio locations. This subscription gets you unlimited meeting access making it a great option for those that live near a studio.

  • Personal Coaching + Digital:

If you’re looking for the most personalized plan option, Personal Coaching + Digital hooks you up with your own personal coach who helps tailor your plan to your needs. All of the digital applications are available to you as well as unlimited phone call or messaging access to your personal coach. Your coach can help you implement goals, customize your experience, and offer personalized support.

Premise

The program is primarily a diet plan. You can eat whatever you want as long as you keep your points below your daily allowance. However, the distinguishing feature about the program is the massive community and the concept of support.

Another distinguishing feature of Weight Watchers is that it is based on a SmartPoints System. This system is designed to help you adopt a healthier way of eating. Below are the features of this system:

  • A number is allocated to every food and drink: This is based on the content of calories, sugar, saturated fat, and protein in the food/drink.
  • You are given a daily SmartPoints Budget: The budget you get is based on your personal goals. Much like a real-life budget, you can choose to use your daily points on any food or drink you wish. You keep track of your SmartPoints whenever you use them; the WW app is a fast and convenient app that can help you keep track of your SmartPoints.
  • It is okay to exceed your daily SmartPoints Budget by a little bit: Because you also have a weekly SmartPoints budget, you can use points from other days of the week to make up for days that you go over your allocated daily budget.
  • The system is designed to fit various patterns of eating: If your weekend eating patterns tend to be different than your weekday eating patterns, the SmartPoints System allows for that. A maximum of 4 unused daily Smart Points can be rolled over to your weekend eating.
  • ZeroPoint foods: There are over 200 foods such as eggs, salmon, beans, and skinless chicken breast that you don’t need to measure or keep track of. These foods are the foundation of healthy eating, and making these foods part of your meals and snacks makes the diet simpler.
  • Caloric deficit: Like all diet plans, the program aims for a caloric deficit.  The Weight Watchers plan aims for a 500 calorie daily caloric deficit, which translates to a 0.5 (1lb) to 1kg (2lb) weight loss per week.
  • Physical activity is encouraged: Weight Watchers encourages physical activity and aims for the participants to build up to 10, 000 steps per day
  • Behaviour change strategies are used: To encourage you to change your behaviour, behaviour change strategies used include Stages of Change, using a diary to track your food and activity, setting goals, and evaluation of your progress. Members receive rewards for every 3.2 kg (7lb) of weight lost, and for 5% and 10% of body weight lost.

*The daily allowance allows for 3 meals and 2 snacks.

Personalisation

The diet itself is quite simple. It aims to lower your sugar and saturated fat intake and increase your protein intake. However, it is quite flexible as long as you stick to your calorie allowance during the day.

  • Suits various health goals

The plan itself is also flexible enough to suit your health goals as they evolve. Whether you simply want to maintain your weight, incorporate more fitness in your life or just develop a healthier mindset toward food, Weight Watchers can be used as a tool to accomplish your goals.

For instance, if at one point, your goal was to lose weight, but you have reached your goal weight, Weight Watchers allows and adjusts to that. You can simply change your Weight Watchers app settings so that your daily SmartPoints go up and you no longer lose weight. If in the future, you would like to lose weight again, the app will lower your daily SmartPoints.

  • Gives options for less tracking of foods

In addition, if you are looking to simplify your life by not having to keep track of so many points, a program called WW Freestyle is available. This program guides you towards foods that have zero Points. These foods do not have zero calories. However, research has shown that members eating these foods reported greater weight loss even when they did not track these foods. As it turns out, Zero Points foods are harder to overeat, than say, cookies. They also help you form a good foundation for healthy eating.

What are these Zero Points foods? They include:

  1. Fish
  2. Eggs
  3. Skinless chicken breast
  4. Beans
  5. Lentils
  6. Fruits
  7. Vegetables
  8. Skinless turkey breast
  9. Shellfish
  10. Tofu
  11. Corn
  12. Peas
  • Suits eating on the run

The digital experience makes eating on the run easier as the mobile app helps you track your food and look up the SmartPoints of any food. For instance, you can scan food items at your grocery store using the barcode scanner.

  • Suits various dietary needs and preferences

Likewise, the digital experience offers personalized food options based on your preferences. For instance, the app has a database of over 4, 000 recipes classified according to:

  1. Type of meal (breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks)
  2. Dietary needs/preferences: vegetarian, dairy and gluten free, diabetic, etc.
  3. The number of SmartPoints
  4. Food preparation time
  • Helps you fit fitness into your life

The digital experience also helps you track your fitness. Just like SmartPoints helps you keep track of your eating, WW FitPoints helps you keep track of your physical activity. You earn FitPoints for various activities, whether it’s cleaning your house or puttering in your garden or more structured physical activities such as lifting weights or using an elliptical trainer.

How does FitPoints work? FitPoints 2.0 accounts for your height, age, weight, gender, type of physical activity and duration of the activity to award you a FitPoints value for your physical activity.

  • Helps you connect with other dieters in the forum of your choosing

Life has changed a lot since Weight Watchers was first formed. However, the need for connection and mutual support when on a diet still remains.  As a result, Weight Watchers offers the option of digital and/or non-digital connection. It offers:

  • Wellness Workshops: Previously known as meetings, these workshops offers you a number of physical locations where you can meet other members and receive help from a wellness coach who has lost weight using Weight Watchers. At a wellness workshop, there is one on one support for new members and when being weighed. There is also a group talk given by a leader which is followed with discussion. Material that is covered during the meetings includes the food points system, ways to overcome hunger, eating out, motivation tips, engaging in more physical activity, recipes, and health and nutrition.
  • A private social network: On this virtual network, you can share videos, successes and setbacks and receive encouragement from other Weight Watchers members.
  • Gives you the option to work one on one with a personal coach

You also have the option of working with a personal coach to create a personalized action plan. With this option, you receive the support you need through unlimited text messages and phone calls.

Pricing

Pricing

  • OnlinePlus

    Some Discounts may apply based on the length of the initial plan. However after the plan expires, you will pay the monthly $19.95. An early termination fee of $39.95 applies if you cancel at any time during the first 2 months of your 3-Month Commitment Plan or During the first 5 months of the 6 months plan.

    $ 19.95
  • Workshop + Digital

    Seems to change based on the Studio you book with. Standard Monthly $54.95 Taxes are different based on location. You are required to pay the full amount for the 1 and 3 months plans. An early termination fee of $64.95 applies if you cancel at any time during the first 5 months of your 6-Month Commitment Plan.

    $ 54.95
  • Personal Coaching + Digital

    Standard Monthly Cost $54.95. 1 Month plans, required to be paid in full.

    $ 54.95

Time Frame

WW international suggests users should expect to experience weight loss at a rate of 0.5-2 lbs per week.

It emphasizes the importance of slow and healthy weight loss through lifestyle modifications and making healthier choices, rather than quick results promised by many fad diets. This company has remodeled themselves as being a health and wellness program that aims to assist customers with maintaining balanced lifestyles of healthy eating and exercising, and it has removed much of the content that was aimed specifically towards weight loss. Clinical data seems to suggest that users of the Weight Watchers program realized a significantly greater decrease in body weight after three months of using Weight Watchers compared to other weight loss programs or primary care provided weight loss plans, and users continued to realize benefits for a full two years of using the program1,2. Many users interested only in weight loss might find that they can quit the program after achieving their goals, but others may feel that the continued tracking of their points through this program helps them keep the weight off through improved motivation and conscientiousness of eating habits. For this reason, many people who have reached their weight loss goals continue to attend classes or participate in some way with the Weight Watchers program, just to keep them on track, accountable, and mindful of their eating choices. The new overall health and wellness approach of WW international may make the program even more suitable for long term adoption, as many of the online and in person communities now focus more on keeping fit and living life vibrantly through exercise and healthy eating rather than specifically on weight loss.

Related Studies

  • There are various testimonials attesting to the effectiveness of Weight Watchers for weight loss. However, what does the science say? A combination of studies has found that the Weight Watchers diet has great and consistent effects on weight loss in the long-term (12 months).
    A 2015 systematic review published in the Annals of Internal Medicine compared 39 randomized controlled trials entailing various commercial weight loss programs. The programs examined included Weight Watchers, Jenny Craig, Nutrisystem, Medifast, Optifast, Atkins, Slimfast, eDiets, and Biggest Loser Club. Compared to the control group, the researchers found consistent evidence regarding the efficacy of Weight Watchers and Jenny Craig on long-term weight loss. Specifically, participants on Weight Watchers had at least 2.6% more weight loss than the control group, while participants on the Jenny Craig group had at least 4.9% greater weight loss than the control group at the 12 month mark. Of note, the Atkins diet, was quite variable in its efficacy as participants achieved anywhere from 0.1% to 2.9% greater weight loss than the control group at the 12 month mark.What about the cost-effectiveness of Weight Watchers- does it give you the best bang for your money?
    A 2014 systematic review published in the Obesity Journal compared two programs that focus on lifestyle (Weight Watchers and Vtrim), one program that involves meal replacements (Jenny Craig), and three weight loss drugs (Qsymia, Lorcaserin, and Orlistat). Of the programs compared, Weight Watchers was the most cost-effective, coming out to $155 spent per kilogram of weight lost. Qsymia came second at $204, followed by Vtrim at $213, Jenny Craig at between $338 and $424, Lorcaserin at $545 and Orlistat at $546.What about the nutritional quality of Weight Watchers?
    A 2007 study published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association comparing the nutritional quality of various popular weight loss plans including Weight Watchers, Atkins, South Beach, Zone, Ornish and the 2005 Food Guide, found that the Ornish diet had the highest score for nutritional quality (64.6 out of 70), followed by the Weight Watchers high-carbohydrate diet with a score of 57.4/70. However, the Weight Watchers high-protein diet came in 7th out of a total of 10 diets compared.What about the potential for disease prevention, specifically type 2 diabetes?
    A 2016 study published in the American Journal of Public Health comparing the effectiveness of Weight Watchers versus Your Game Plan to Prevent Type 2 Diabetes, a program designed by the National Diabetes Education Program, found that prediabetic participants on Weight Watchers lost 5.5% of their body weight at the 1 year mark, compared with only 0.2% body weight on the Your Game Plan to Prevent Type 2 Diabetes. Of note, losing just 5% of your body weight goes a long way in preventing your prediabetes from developing into diabetes.Can being on Weight Watchers decrease your healthcare costs?
    A 2017 study published in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine comparing Weight Watchers and another wellness program demonstrated that participants in both programs witnessed comparable reductions in health care costs after one year. Beyond individual savings on health care costs, Weight Watchers may be able to save the healthcare system money.A 2018 study published in the Obesity Journal projected that Weight Watchers could save the Australian healthcare system over 17 million Australian dollars over 10 years.

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  • Overweight Expert
    Overweight Expert
    July 5, 2019 at 7:19 am

    Weight Watchers is not a fad diet; instead it promotes balanced, healthy eating. Also, with this program, no foods are off limits; they just have to fit into the allocated points system. The program also encourages physical activity and is one of the most cost-effective programs on the market to lose weight.

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Weight Watchers is not a fad diet; instead it promotes balanced, healthy eating. Also, with this program, no foods are off limits; they just have to fit into the allocated points system. The program also encourages physical activity and is one of the most cost-effective programs on the market to lose weight.
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