Written by: Kelley R. Hill, MSN, RN-BC
In a Nutshell
- Known popularly as “WW” or “MyWW”
- Foods are weighted on a points system and the diet is based on ZeroPoint foods
- Supported by a large WW community with many tools available
Weight Watchers, now called WW, has evolved since its launch in the early 1960s; however, it continues to be a points-based system and not a calorie counting plan. There are ‘ZeroPoint’ foods and foods that are assigned a value called SmartPoints®.
No foods are off limits, but foods that are not among the more than 200 ZeroPoint foods then add to your daily point total. Daily point totals are individualized, based on the WW calculator, and the points allowances decrease as weight decreases.
ZeroPoint foods can be eaten in unlimited quantity. Examples of ZeroPoint foods are:
- Skinless chicken and turkey breast
- Fish and other seafood
- Pulses (beans, lentils, chickpeas, etc.)
- Plain, nonfat yogurt
Foods that are assigned SmartPoints and count toward your daily point limit are:
- Starchy vegetables (potatoes, sweet potatoes, parsnips)
- Most all dairy
- Olives and olive oils
- Desserts and snack foods
As WW has been on the market for almost 60 years, the plan has identified loads of WW friendly foods – including, for example, over 60 different ice creams – and it is so successful that some food manufacturers have tailored their production processes to achieve a lower SmartPoints value. Weight Watchers also produces its own line of foods, the most popular of which is the snacks.
The program includes guidance on behavior change for both eating and incorporating activity. Not only are there many helpful and easy-to-use guides and tools with the WW diet, there is also a large dieting community available to support your goals and efforts.
It consistently ranks in the top five of U.S. News Best Diet Rankings year after year.
There is a fee for the program, delivered in three tiers on a digital platform, starting at $3.57, $6.67, and $9.69 per week (dependent upon location as well as how many weeks are paid in advance). The highest priced plan includes personalized coaching.
The line of Weight Watchers foods, while quite robust, contains items that may be more expensive than comparable items you find in supermarkets, and shipping costs must be considered. Several Weight Watchers products, however, are available from participating retailers directly; maybe even your preferred grocer.
The plan is focused on behavior change that is helpful if you want to lose weight, or simply embrace better eating patterns and exercise habits. The diet, however, is intended primarily for weight loss. Among all weight loss diets, it is probably the easiest to follow…
That is if you are okay with increased planning, shopping, and cooking so as to minimize foods that acquire points. Though even Americans who enjoy convenience may still find this diet accommodating given the wide range of prepackaged WW foods and snacks available.
The plan is so popular that many bloggers, and others with an online presence, frequently post recipes of their own creation that are complete with points values.
The lack of specificity, more accurately the extreme flexibility, of the WW plan may not work for many.
Scientific & Expert Support
It has been well-established that tracking intake is essential to maintaining any diet, and research is clear on the benefit of having support when making behavior changes.
These elements of the program are supported by both nutrition and psychology research, though WW as a whole has not been studied to see if it produces better or more lasting results than other diets.
Cleveland Clinic adopted WW into its employee health plan, covering half the cost for employees who participate.
The idea that there are foods (even nutritious foods) that don’t need to be portioned, weighed, or tracked – the idea that you can eat as much of them as you want – is concerning for many experts who feel this doesn’t promote a balanced mindset, which may still lead to an overall unhealthy diet even while on the WW plan.
While this diet is reasonably balanced and generally safe for anyone to try, consultation with your physician, and ideally a registered dietician (RD) or nutritionist, before changing your diet or eating habits is recommended. Especially if you are pregnant, breastfeeding, are taking prescription medications, or have existing health conditions.
STRENGTH OF EVIDENCE: B
There have been no direct scientific trials of the WW plan, though there have been millions of testimonials over the last 50+ years as to its effectiveness. Substantial research also backs the benefits of having support when making behavior changes.
No food restrictions and all foods on a point system may sound ideal, but know that the points can add up fast. One dinner out with friends could put you over the total daily points. Knowing that WW has safely and effectively worked for millions, however, makes it a frontrunner in weight loss diets to try.
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- Berberich, D. (2017, July 27). Weight Watchers lightens your wallet, but only a little. Bankrate: Personal Finance. Retrieved from: https://www.bankrate.com/personal-finance/how-much-does-weight-watchers-cost/#:~:text=The%20cost%20of%20Weight%20Watchers,begins%20at%20%243.07%20per%20week.
- Cleveland Clinic. (2020). WW (Weight Watchers reimagined): What’s changed + how you can enroll. Cleveland Clinic: Employee Health Plan. Retrieved from: https://employeehealthplan.clevelandclinic.org/EHP-Wellness-Program/Weight-Management-And-Nutrition/Weight-Watchers.aspx
- Collins, S., Koustis, E., & Aoun, A. (2016). Comparison of weight loss achieved with the MOVE! Program for veterans, the Atkins diet, and Weight Watchers. Scan’s Pulse, 35(4), 13-17.
- DiValentino, A. (2018, August 29). The pros and cons of Weight Watchers, according to medical professionals. Insider – Home: Health. Retrieved from: https://www.insider.com/weight-watchers-pros-cons-2018-8#:~:text=It%20is%20still%20possible%2C%20however,enough%20to%20work%20for%20others.
- Mayo Clinic Staff. (2020, June 06). Weight loss: Choosing a diet that’s right for you. May Clinic – Healthy Lifestyle: Weight Loss. Retrieved from: https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/weight-loss/in-depth/weight-loss/art-20048466
- U.S. News & World Report. (2020). Best diets overall: #4 WW (Weight Watchers) diet. Best Diets Rankings. Retrieved from: https://health.usnews.com/best-diet/weight-watchers-diet
- Weight Watchers. (2020). myWW. Retrieved from: https://www.weightwatchers.com/us/