What is it?

Weight Watchers is the mother of all commercial diet plans and has been around for 45 years. The primary focus of Weight Watchers is long-term weight management with a commitment to not just better eating habits, but a healthier lifestyle. There are no forbidden foods on the Weight Watchers plan. Instead, a point system ascribes values to foods. Until recently, the point system was based on fiber, fat, and calories. In 2010, Weight Watchers announced that it would be changing it's point system. The new system will assign points based on a complex algorithm that takes into account the specific proportions of protein, fiber, carbs, and fat in a food item or dish. The new system is a complete overhaul, meant to remove the focus on fat and calories, and to recognize that not all calories are equal; your body works more or less hard to turn certain sources of calorie into energy that you can use.

Nevertheless, the basics stay the same: To achieve weight-loss goals, dieters must stay under a certain number of points for foods consumed. 

Dieters are called "members," and support and education are part of the comprehensive approach to healthier food and exercise choices. Members have the option of live meetings at local Weight Watchers chapter, and there is also support available online. The initial goal of the program is to reduce body weight by 5% to 10% and drop the dieter's BMI (body mass index) below 25. The plan also assigns a point value to various types of physical activity and encourages members to become more active in their daily lives. Weight Watchers sells food products at most supermarkets and pharmacies and has partnered with Applebee's restaurant to offer healthy menu items using the Weight Watchers point system.

The Promise

The Weight Watchers Diet promises weight loss and better health with supervised lifestyle changes. That means adopting healthier food choices, daily habits, and exercise. Weekly meetings provide education, guidance, and support in losing weight and keeping it off. The Weight Watchers promise is that you can eat the food you love as long as you monitor your portion size. Weight Watchers offers different approaches for men and women and promises a science-based approach to weight management. Food plans and recipes are provided with the promise that you will lose weight without going hungry. Exercise and workout plans are provided, along with video demonstrations of strength training exercises.

Pros & Cons

Unlike many other branded diet plans, the Weight Watchers program is based heavily on scientific research and data and is free of gimmicks. Instead of promising a quick-fix drop in weight, it instead focuses on steady, long-term weight loss that is practical and healthy. There are no foods that are strictly off limits, and the point system is straightforward and easy to understand. Weight Watchers also offers plenty of support and education throughout the process and has earned high marks from nutritionists and the medical community as a safe and healthy way to lose weight.

Higher quality usually means a higher price, and Weight Watchers is no different. Classes cost between $10 and $15 each, or for about $40 a month, members can attend as many sessions as they want. There is also an online subscription fee that comes out to about $5 per week.

One drawback is that the points system can allow for some abuse.  Each member is allowed bonus points each week that they can "spend" anytime they want. If someone uses all of their bonus points at one time or on one day, that could significantly affect weight loss. In addition, there are quite a few foods that are "free" on Weight Watchers but still have a significant amount of calories. This can also lead to abuse of the points system.

Healthline Says

Healthy, practical, steady, gimmick-free—Weight Watchers is a diet plan after our own heart. We love the fact that there is no "Do Not Eat" list, which means that balanced nutrition can be achieved. Sure, it's going to take some effort and basic math skills to keep track of and add up those points, but that is the kind of accountability and commitment that breeds success. If you are serious about losing weight and living a healthy lifestyle, you probably won't mind forking over $40+ a month to take advantage of the information and support system. Talk to your doctor first about possible complications specific to your medical history. But overall, Weight Watchers is a sensible and scientifically proven way to shed some pounds and maintain ideal body weight. The new point system is an improvement on the old. And once you get the point system down and learn some self-discipline, you can buck the meetings and online support and try to break out on your own, minus the monthly fees.

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