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Weight Watchers is a popular weight loss program that has been around since 1963.
Compared with many other diet programs, Weight Watchers is known for its effective yet flexible plan in which no foods are off-limits.
While many subscribe to Weight Watchers to lose weight and adopt healthier habits overall, individuals with diabetes may wonder whether Weight Watchers is a good option to help manage their condition.
In fact, Weight Watchers does have a diabetes-tailored program designed to help individuals with prediabetes, type 1 and type 2 diabetes lose weight, lower their blood sugar, and stress less.
This article reviews Weight Watcher’s diabetes-tailored plan, its effectiveness, and any potential downsides.
Weight Watchers, known today simply as WW, is a weight loss program in which members track PersonalPoints — a number allotted to foods and beverages based on their nutritional value.
Members log both their food intake and exercise using the WW app or website. The core program includes an individualized, scientifically-proven nutrition plan, on-demand workouts, and 24/7 live coaching.
For those who need additional support, a premium memberships offers additional resources, including virtual and in-person workshops.
Is there a specific diabetes program?
WW’s diabetes-tailored program was created by nutrition and behavioral science experts to help those with diabetes form new habits for lasting change, and lose weight that doesn’t come back.
It has the same goals as a typical WW program, but takes recommendations from the American Diabetes Association and International Diabetes Federation when forming your personalized nutrition plan.
The program is designed to guide you away from foods with added sugar and starchy foods such as potatoes, bread, rice, or pasta, and toward foods high in fiber, protein, and healthy fats.
WW’s diabetes-tailored program has the same goals as a typical WW program, but also includes specific recommendations for individuals with diabetes.
WW encourages adopting healthy habits and weight loss through its PersonalPoints system, which emphasizes weight loss without having to give up your favorite foods.
PersonalPoints assigns food items with a single number determined by its nutritional information including calories, saturated fat, sugar, fiber, and protein content.
Less nutritious high calorie foods are assigned a higher number compared to foods compared to foods that are higher in fiber, unsaturated fats and protein.
For example, foods with a higher amount of points include fatty meats, sugary cereals, and potato chips. Foods that are lower in points include lean meats like chicken or turkey, oatmeal, pretzels, and avocados.
WW members are allotted a certain number of points per day, determined by your answers to a series of questions via WW’s PersonalPoints Engine about current habits, favorite foods, and goals.
WW’s survey also asks for information about your diabetes, so it can factor your personal diagnosis into account.
By combining this data with other factors like your age, height, and weight, WW’s PersonalPoints Engine builds a unique PersonalPoints budget just for you, so you know exactly how many points you can consume throughout the day to meet your goals.
WW’s PersonalPoints Engine will also build your ZeroPoint foods list, which includes foods that don’t count toward your daily PersonalPoints budget.
Additionally, you can earn extra PersonalPoints on a weekly basis by adopting healthy habits like eating extra non-starchy vegetables, logging frequent exercise, and drinking more water.
To keep track of your points and ensure you don’t exceed your daily allowance, you can log your food intake and exercise using the WW app or website.
WW’s diabetes-tailored program has the same goals and framework as a typical WW program, but caters to users living with type 1 or type 2 diabetes by adhering to nutritional guidelines set forth by organizations like the American Diabetes Association, and prioritizing foods that help maintain blood sugar levels throughout the day.
Individuals on the diabetes-tailored plan will have a ZeroPoint foods list that takes their diagnosis into account.
Since ZeroPoint foods are foods you can eat without racking up points or spending your PersonalPoints budget, foods that are higher in carbohydrates — including fruit, whole grains, and dairy — will not be considered ZeroPoints for individuals on the diabetes-tailored plan.
Instead, ZeroPoint foods for those subscribing to the diabetes-tailored program will include foods less likely to cause a rise in blood sugar levels.
The WW app also includes a simple tool to help you manually track your blood sugar. This allows you to see changes in blood sugar over time, and identify any patterns that may emerge.
In addition, WW offers members on the diabetes-tailored program access to their own Living with Diabetes Connect group, so users can find support from others who share their diagnosis.
Connect is WW’s members-only social network where members can share tips, setbacks, and celebrations and find support from others on their own wellness journey.
While WW’s diabetes-tailored program is a useful option for those living with diabetes, it’s not intended to be a substitute for your doctor.
WW’s diabetes-tailored program adheres to guidelines set by the American Diabetes Association and prioritizes foods that help maintain blood sugar levels throughout the day. The program isn’t a replacement for care from a qualified healthcare provider.
While some people with type 2 diabetes require medication to manage their blood sugar levels, lifestyle interventions like diet modification and weight loss have been shown to be particularly effective (
Specifically, weight loss may improve levels of blood sugar and HbA1c — a measure of blood sugar control over 3 months (
While multiple studies tie WW to weight loss, there are also several studies that have specifically examined effects of the diabetes-tailored program in those with prediabetes and both type 1 and type 2 diabetes (4,
A study in 136 people with type 2 diabetes found that individuals following WW’s diabetes-tailored plan had lower blood sugar, greater weight loss, less stress, and improved quality of life at the end of the 24-week study (4).
A 12-month study in 225 people with prediabetes found that those following WW lost significantly more weight than those who followed a diet developed by the National Diabetes Education Program (
Those in the WW group also had significantly greater improvements in HbA1c and HDL (good) cholesterol levels (
In another study conducted before WW’s diabetes-tailored program was created, 563 adults with type 2 diabetes were assigned to either standard nutrition counseling or WW’s typical program with at least two counseling sessions from a certified diabetes educator, or CDE (
After 12 months, those in the WW plus CDE group lost significantly more weight and had greater improvements in HbA1c levels than those receiving standard care (
Yet, the study also found that those in the WW group who received fewer than two CDE consultations showed significantly less improvement in HbA1c levels than those who had at least two sessions — suggesting that counseling plays a major role (
It’s also important to keep in mind that the above studies were all funded by WW, which may have affected results.
In addition to weight loss, WW may help you make healthier food choices and get regular physical activity — both of which have been shown to help manage and reduce complications of type 2 diabetes (
WW members have access to on-demand cardio, core, yoga, Pilates and stretching workouts courtesy of Obé fitness, and free trials for ClassPass, which provides access to local gyms and fitness classes.
Diabetes-specific community groups are another perk of the program, as support is a key part of successfully managing diabetes and on any health journey.
Research has shown WW helps people with prediabetes or type 2 diabetes lose weight and improve their blood sugar management. Best results were seen when the program was combined with counseling by a CDE.
While WW’s diabetes-tailored plan does include access to WW’s diabetes coach, it’s not specified how often you’ll be interacting with them.
As mentioned earlier, research shows that counseling — and having two or more CDE consultations over 6 months — may help reduce HbA1c levels compared to individuals who had less than two counseling sessions (
Since WW uses the word “coach” instead of “counselor,” it’s unclear if WW’s certified diabetes coach is able to offer the same benefits as the CDE in the above study.
The amount of coaching sessions you receive may depend on your WW membership. It may also depend on how often you proactively reach out to a coach, or attend a workshop.
WW’s core membership includes access to a coach via the in-app chat 24/7, and premium members have access to in-person or virtual workshops with a WW coach and other WW members — in addition to the in-app coach chat.
However, it’s important to note that the Core membership’s 24/7 coach available via the in-app chat is likely not a CDE.
Additionally, while WW’s diabetes-tailored program is suitable for people with prediabetes, type 1 diabetes, and type 2 diabetes, it is not designed for pregnant individuals with gestational diabetes.
Tracking and recording what you eat may also be time-consuming and make compliance difficult for some people.
What’s more, plans cost $15–$30 per month, making WW expensive — especially if your insurance already covers nutritional counseling from a registered dietitian.
Finally, WW is not a replacement for a medical provider. WW recommends continuing to monitor your blood sugar according to your healthcare provider’s recommendations, and following up with your provider routinely.
WW’s diabetes-tailored plan includes access to a certified diabetes coach, but it’s unclear how often coaching sessions occur or what the training or background of the coach entails. Additionally, WW shouldn’t replace care or recommendations from a qualified healthcare provider.
No foods are banned on WW. Instead, certain foods are encouraged over others. In particular, foods that are high in calories, saturated fat, and added sugar are often assigned higher PersonalPoints in order to encourage users to consume them less frequently and in smaller portions.
Still, it’s important to discuss the appropriate portion sizes of these foods with a certified diabetes educator (CDE), a registered dietitian, or your endocrinologist.
Foods to eat
On WW, ZeroPoint foods don’t contribute to your daily allotment of PersonalPoints.
While the number and types of ZeroPoints foods vary depending on the WW plan you choose, these foods are generally high in protein and fiber and low in added sugars and saturated fat.
When following WW’s diabetes-tailored plan, your list of ZeroPoint foods will look a little different than the list of someone without diabetes.
For example, while potatoes are usually a ZeroPoint staple for other members, they won’t appear on diabetes-specific lists.
Additionally, foods higher in carbohydrates including fruit, whole grains, and dairy also won’t be on your list of ZeroPoint foods.
If you’re following WW for diabetes, you may encouraged to focus on these foods:
- Non-starchy vegetables: broccoli, cauliflower, asparagus, eggplant, leafy greens, carrots, peppers, onions
- Lean poultry: boneless, skinless chicken and turkey breast
- Seafood: oily fish like salmon, and shellfish
- Legumes: beans, peas, lentils, and chickpeas
- Protein: eggs
- Certain fruits: avocados
- Beverages: water, unsweetened tea and coffee, sugar-free drinks
ZeroPoints foods are a great way to add flavor and substance to your meals and snacks, so you can fill up on foods less likely to raise your blood sugar, and stay satisfied longer.
WW even recommends recipes to try while adhering to WW’s diabetes-tailored plan.
Foods to limit
While WW doesn’t ban foods, you’re encouraged to limit foods that are high in PersonalPoints, as they contain more sugar, saturated fat, and calories.
Examples of foods to limit include:
- Sweets: candy, cake, cookies, baked goods, pastries, ice cream
- Highly processed snack foods: chips, crackers, buttered microwave popcorn
- Processed meats: hot dogs, sausages, bologna, salami, prepackaged deli meats, bacon, beef jerky
- Sugar-sweetened beverages: soda, sweetened fruit juice, sports drinks, energy drinks, sweet tea, sweetened coffee shop drinks
There are no off-limit foods on WW’s diabetes-tailored plan. However, your ZeroPoint food list will not include foods higher in carbohydrates including fruit, whole grains, and dairy.
WW’s diabetes-tailored program may be a good option for individuals looking to lose weight, form healthier habits and manage their diabetes.
While research shows WW’s diabetes-tailored program can help support weight loss, lower blood sugar levels, and even decrease stress, it’s important to consider that much of these studies were funded by WW.
With the regular on the diabetes-tailored plan to choose from, WW allows you to pick a plan that fits your lifestyle and needs, which may help support long-term compliance.
Still, it’s important to know that WW is not a substitute for a medical provider, and you should continue to follow up with a healthcare provider regularly.
Furthermore, research suggests that regular counseling increases your chances of lowering your HbA1c levels. Taking advantage of your access to a certified diabetes coach through your WW membership may impact how successful the program is for you.
WW’s diabetes-tailored program may be a good option for those with diabetes who are already receiving care from a qualified healthcare provider and looking for additional help with their weight and blood sugar management.
WW’s diabetes-tailored program uses a point-based system to help you make healthier food choices that are high in protein, unsaturated fats and fiber.
Overall, it may be a good option for those looking to better manage their diabetes through weight loss and healthier lifestyle habits.
Still, before starting WW, make sure to discuss any dietary changes with your healthcare provider.