Healthline Diet Score: 4 out of 5
Weight Watchers is one of the most popular weight-loss programs in the world.
Millions of people have joined it hoping to lose pounds.
In fact, Weight Watchers enrolled over 600,000 new subscribers in 2017 alone.
Even high-profile celebrities like Oprah Winfrey have found weight-loss success following the program.
You might be curious as to what makes it so popular.
This article reviews the Weight Watchers program so you can decide if it might work for you.
Rating Score Breakdown
- Overall score: 4
- Fast weight loss: 3.5
- Long-term weight Loss: 4
- Easy to follow: 4
- Nutrition quality: 4.5
BOTTOM LINE: This diet is a good choice if you're looking for slow and steady weight loss through dietary and lifestyle changes. It also has a strong support network that may help keep you on track.
How It Works
Weight Watchers was founded by Jean Nidetch in 1963 out of her Queens, New York home.
From its humble beginnings as a weekly weight-loss group for her friends, Weight Watchers quickly grew into one of the most sought-after diet plans in the world.
Initially, Weight Watchers used an exchange system where foods were counted according to servings, similar to the diabetes exchange system.
In the 90s, it introduced a points-based system that assigned values to foods and drinks based on their fiber, fat and calorie contents.
Weight Watchers has overhauled the points-based system several times over the years, most recently launching the SmartPoints system in 2015.
The SmartPoints System
SmartPoints assigns different point values to foods based on factors such as their calorie, fat, protein and sugar contents.
When beginning the program, each dieter is given a set amount of daily points based on personal data like their height, age, gender and weight-loss goals.
Although no foods are off limits, dieters must stay below their set daily points to reach their desired weight.
Healthier foods are lower in points than unhealthy foods like candy, chips and soda.
For example, a 230-calorie, glazed-yeast donut is 10 SmartPoints, while 230 calories of yogurt topped with blueberries and granola is only 2 SmartPoints.
In 2017, Weight Watchers revamped the SmartPoints program to make it more flexible and user-friendly.
The new system, called WW Freestyle, is based on the SmartPoints system but includes over 200 foods rated zero points.
According to the Weight Watchers website, WW Freestyle makes life simpler for dieters because zero-point foods do not have to be weighed, measured or tracked, allowing more freedom when planning meals and snacks.
Zero-point foods include eggs, skinless chicken, fish, beans, tofu and non-fat plain yogurt, among many other high-protein, low-calorie foods.
Before the Freestyle program, only fruits and non-starchy vegetables were rated zero points.
Now, foods that are higher in protein receive a lower point value, while foods that are higher in sugar and saturated fat receive higher point values.
Weight Watchers’ new Freestyle program encourages dieters to make healthier food choices instead of basing decisions on how many points they are allotted.
Dieters who join Weight Watchers are known as “members.”
Members can choose from several programs with varying levels of support.
A basic online program includes 24/7 online chat support, as well as apps and other tools. Members can pay more for in-person group meetings or one-on-one support from a Weight Watchers personal coach.
Members also receive access to an online database of thousands of foods and recipes, in addition to a tracking app for logging SmartPoints.
In addition, Weight Watchers encourages physical activity by assigning a fitness goal using FitPoints.
Each activity can be logged into the Weight Watchers app until the user reaches their weekly FitPoint goal.
Activities like dancing, walking and cleaning can all be counted towards your FitPoint goal.
Weight Watchers also provides fitness videos and workout routines for their members.
Along with diet and exercise counseling, Weight Watchers sells packaged food like frozen meals, oatmeal, chocolates and low-calorie ice cream.
Summary Weight Watchers assigns point values to foods. Members must stay under their allotted daily food and drink points to meet their weight-loss goals.
Can It Help You Lose Weight?
Weight Watchers uses a science-based approach to weight loss, emphasizing the importance of portion control, food choices and slow, consistent weight loss.
Unlike many fad diets that promise unrealistic results over short periods of time, Weight Watchers explains to members that they should expect to lose .5 to 2 pounds (.23 to .9 kg) per week.
The program highlights lifestyle modification and counsels members on how to make better decisions by using the SmartPoints system, which prioritizes healthy foods.
Many studies have shown that Weight Watchers can help with weight loss.
In fact, Weight Watchers devotes an entire page of their website to scientific studies supporting their program.
One study found that overweight people who were told to lose weight by their doctors lost twice as much weight on the Weight Watchers program than those who received standard weight loss counseling from a primary care professional (1).
Though this study was funded by Weight Watchers, data collection and analysis were coordinated by an independent research team.
Furthermore, a review of 39 controlled studies found that participants following the Weight Watchers program lost 2.6% more weight than participants who received other types of counseling (2).
Another controlled study in over 1,200 obese adults found that participants who followed the Weight Watchers program for one year lost significantly more weight than those who received self-help materials or brief weight-loss advice (3).
What’s more, participants following Weight Watchers for one year were more successful at maintaining their weight loss over two years, compared to other groups.
Weight Watchers is one of the few weight-loss programs with proven results from randomized controlled trials, which are considered the “gold standard” of medical research.
Summary Many studies have proven that Weight Watchers is an effective way to lose weight and keep it off.
Weight Watchers prides itself on being an adaptable and flexible way to lose weight.
The SmartPoints system encourages members to make smart, healthy choices.
It also allows members to enjoy their favorite foods, as long as they fit into their allotted daily points.
Unlike diets that forbid certain foods, Weight Watchers allows users to indulge within reason.
This means members can go out to dinner or attend a party without worrying if the food served will fit into their diet plan.
Plus, Weight Watchers is a good choice for people with dietary restrictions, like vegans or those with food allergies, since members choose how they spend their SmartPoints.
Weight Watchers stresses portion control and the importance of physical activity, which are vital to weight-loss success.
Another benefit of the program is that it provides members with a large support system.
Online members benefit from 24/7 chat support and an online community, while those who attend weekly meetings stay motivated by engaging with fellow members.
What’s more, Weight Watchers offers magazines and newsletters for members.
Summary Weight Watchers allows dieters to be flexible with their food choices and has many benefits, including a large support system.
While Weight Watchers has many benefits, there are several reasons why it may not be the best plan for everyone.
For example, to follow the program, you must be willing keep track of the foods — and their associated SmartPoints — that you consume each day.
This tedious and time-consuming task may be a turnoff for some.
Another potential downfall is that it may be too expensive for some people.
Like many other weight-loss programs, joining Weight Watchers comes with a cost.
Though monthly costs vary depending on the subscription plan, the total investment might be out of reach for those on a budget.
Furthermore, the Weight Watchers program may be too lenient for those who struggle with self-control.
Theoretically, members can choose to eat foods high in sugar and low in nutrients and still stay under their set amount of SmartPoints.
Though some find the freedom to choose their own foods liberating and thrive under the points system, those who have a hard time sticking to healthy choices may benefit from a stricter program.
Summary The Weight Watchers program has several potential downfalls, including the cost of the program, the need to count SmartPoints and the freedom to choose unhealthy foods.
Foods to Eat
Although the Weight Watchers point system emphasizes whole, unprocessed foods including vegetables, fruits and lean proteins, no foods are off limits.
While healthy choices are encouraged, members can choose any foods they want, as long as they stay under their daily SmartPoints allotment.
Weight Watchers makes healthy food more tempting to members by assigning zero SmartPoints to a list of over 200 healthy foods.
Foods encouraged on the Weight Watchers plan include:
- Lean proteins like skinless chicken, eggs, tofu, fish, shellfish and non-fat yogurt.
- Non-starchy vegetables like broccoli, asparagus, greens, cauliflower and peppers.
- Fresh, frozen and unsweetened canned fruit.
- Healthy carbohydrates such as sweet potatoes, brown rice, oatmeal, beans and whole-grain products.
- Healthy fats like avocado, olive oil and nuts.
Summary The Weight Watchers program encourages members to make healthy choices and emphasizes whole foods.
Foods to Avoid
While the SmartPoints system allows members to choose any food they like, Weight Watchers discourages eating unhealthy foods.
The Weight Watchers website suggests that members “stick to foods that are higher in protein and lower in sugar and saturated fat.”
- Sugary drinks
- Potato chips
- Processed meats
- Cakes and cookies
However, Weight Watchers makes it clear that no foods are off limits and members can eat their favorite snacks and desserts as long as they stay within their designated SmartPoints.
This can be challenging for dieters that struggle with self-control and should be considered when deciding if Weight Watchers is a good fit for you.
Summary Weight Watchers encourages members to limits foods high in sugar and saturated fats, though no food is off limits when following the program.
Weight Watchers provides members with a database of over 4,000 healthy recipes.
These recipes keep users motivated and prevent boredom in the kitchen.
Most meal ideas provided by Weight Watchers focus on fresh, whole foods, although dessert recipes are available as well.
Here’s a three-day sample menu using recipes from the Weight Watchers’ website:
- Breakfast: Goat cheese, spinach and tomato omelet
- Lunch: Barley and mushroom soup
- Snack: Guacamole with carrot crackers
- Dinner: Super-easy spaghetti and meatballs with Italian arugula salad
- Dessert: Chocolate-dipped macaroons
- Breakfast: Cranberry-walnut oatmeal
- Lunch: Egg, veggie and avocado salad with tarragon
- Dinner: Ginger and scallion stir-fried brown rice with ginger shrimp
- Snack: Swiss cheese and grapes
- Dessert: Baked apples with vanilla drizzle
- Breakfast: Mashed avocado tortilla with tomato
- Lunch: Turkey, apple and blue cheese wrap
- Dinner: No-noodle vegetable lasagna
- Snack: Black bean dip with crudités
- Dessert: Mini-brownie cupcake
Members can choose home-cooked recipes provided by Weight Watchers, or eat any food they desire, as long as it fits within their SmartPoints limit.
Summary Weight Watchers provides over 4,000 breakfast, lunch, dinner, snack and dessert recipes for members to choose from.
Weight Watchers encourages members to keep weight-loss friendly foods on hand.
Purchasing healthy foods minimizes temptation and ensures that members have the ingredients necessary to prepare fresh, tasty meals at home.
Here is a sample grocery list of Weight Watchers-approved foods.
- Produce: Fresh and frozen fruits and vegetables, fresh herbs.
- Protein: Lean meats, poultry, eggs, tofu, shellfish, frozen veggie burgers and fish.
- Dairy: Low-fat milk or nondairy milk substitutes like almond milk, low-fat or fat-free unsweetened yogurt, fat-free cottage cheese, regular or low-fat cheeses.
- Grains, breads and pastas: Brown rice, barley, quinoa, corn tortillas, whole-grain or reduced-calorie bread, oatmeal and whole-grain pasta, waffles or shredded cereal.
- Canned and prepared foods: Tomato sauce, hummus, black bean dip, Weight Watchers frozen entrees, salsa, canned beans, canned unsweetened fruits and canned low-salt vegetables.
- Healthy fats: Olive oil, avocados, peanut butter, nuts and seeds.
- Seasoning and condiments: Vinegar, hot sauce, mustard, dried herbs, fat-free mayonnaise, reduced-sodium soy sauce, fat-free or low-fat salad dressing.
- Snacks: Fat-free popcorn, baked tortilla chips, sugar-free gelatin, Weight Watchers ice cream bars and sorbet.
Summary Weight Watchers encourages members to choose healthy options when grocery shopping, including lean proteins, plenty of fresh and frozen fruits, vegetables and whole grains.
The Bottom Line
Weight Watchers is a popular weight-loss program that attracts hundreds of thousands of new members every year.
Its flexible, points-based system appeals to many dieters and stresses the importance of living a healthy lifestyle.
Studies have found that Weight Watchers is an effective way to lose weight and keep it off.
If you’re looking for an evidence-based weight-loss program that lets you indulge in your favorite foods once in a while, Weight Watchers might help you reach your health and wellness goals.