Weight Watchers vs. Other Diets: Which Is Best?

people eating healthy food

 Getty Images

Wondering how Weight Watchers stacks up to current nutrition recommendations and popular diets? In many ways, Weight Watchers bears a lot of similarities to the USDA nutrition guidelines. The diet emphasizes low-calorie nutrient-dense foods, encourages portion control, and recommends physical activity.

Similar to other popular diets like Nutrisystem and Jenny Craig, though, Weight Watchers has traditionally focused heavily on weight loss and less on overall health. However, recently it appears that Weight Watchers is trying to place a greater emphasis on wellness and lifelong health, which may be a beneficial shift.

The 2019 U.S. News and World Report Best Diets ranks Weight Watchers number 4 in Best Diets Overall and gives it an overall score of 3.9/5.

USDA Recommendations

In many ways, the Weight Watchers program resembles several of the current USDA nutrition recommendations. The diet emphasizes nutrient-dense foods and encourages portion control. One major difference is the focus on points rather than calories.

Food Groups

Weight Watchers features all five food groups from the current USDA nutrition guidelines, including fruits, vegetables, protein, grains, and dairy. No food groups are eliminated, which is a major plus compared to many other popular diets.

Calories

While the USDA offers guidance on calorie intake, Weight Watchers instead uses its proprietary points system. Similar to calories, your daily points allowance is based on your age, height, gender, and weight. You can also “earn” extra points by exercising.

The point value of foods is based on several factors (which has evolved since its inception), but generally they can be loosely tied to calories. Higher calorie foods tend to have a higher points value, while lower calorie, nutrient-dense foods are generally low in points.

Because of this, staying within your points allowance can lead to weight loss – similar to counting calories and staying within your calorie goals.

If you’re curious about your own calorie needs, either instead of a points allowance or to see how it compares to your Weight Watchers points allowance, try using our calorie goal calculator.

Variety

One of the core tenants of the current USDA nutrition recommendations is eating a variety of foods. Weight Watchers falls in line with this to a degree. For example, the USDA MyPlate visual emphasizes making half your plate fruits and vegetables, and Weight Watchers naturally steers users to do so by making those foods equivalent to zero points.

However, the USDA recommendations get a bit more specific. For example, they recommend getting vegetables from each of the various subgroups, like dark green vegetables and red/orange vegetables. Similarly, they recommend varying your protein choices, like including seafood twice a week.

While these choices can naturally fit into a Weight Watchers meal plan, the program itself does not require it. When following the diet, you can structure your meals to include as much – or as little – variety as you choose.

Clearly, it’s beneficial to include many types of healthy foods in your routine. One of the concerns with Weight Watchers, though, is that some users structure their day full of less-nutritious foods while staying within their points allowance.

Similar Diets

With no off-limits foods, Weight Watchers offers a step up from many other commercial diets. But how does it compare to other popular plans that also include all food groups? Here’s a quick breakdown:

Weight Watchers

  • General nutrition: Weight Watchers includes all food groups, and steers users towards nutritious options like fruits, vegetables, and lean proteins by categorizing them as zero point foods. Though users can manipulate their use of points, those who are following the plan as it’s intended will generally have a balanced diet.
  • Cost: Rates range from $4/week to $16/week, depending on the option selected.
  • Weight loss: Several studies have supported Weight Watchers for modest weight loss over a one-year period. Whether or not the weight stays off long-term likely depends on the user's continued adherence to the plan.
  • Sustainability: The program offers a lot of flexibility, includes all foods, and can easily be applied when eating out or attending special events. These factors make it sustainable for many people to comply with long-term.

Jenny Craig

  • General nutrition: On Jenny Craig, you’ll eat prepared frozen meals that are combined with fresh produce and low-fat dairy. Overall, these meals are fairly balanced and you’ll be able to meet your nutrient needs. However, some people may not like the processed, pre-packaged nature of the food.
  • Cost: You can expect to pay around $100 to $200 per week for food from the program (along with any other food you need to supplement like fresh fruits and vegetables). Keep in mind this is the cost for an individual, so if you’re doing the program with a spouse you can expect the cost to double.
  • Weight loss: In a systematic review published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, Jenny Craig was actually shown to promote more weight loss at 12 months compared to Weight Watchers – 4.9 percent compared to 2.6 percent more weight versus the respective control groups.
  • Sustainability: Because of the high cost of the program, and the reliance on pre-packaged meals, Jenny Craig is not sustainable for many people to follow long-term. Some may struggle when transitioning back to preparing their own meals, whereas Weight Watchers betters addresses the overall lifestyle change from the start.

Nutrisystem

  • General nutrition: You’ll eat prepared meals and supplement with fruits, vegetables, and dairy, similar to Jenny Craig. The Nutrisystem meals themselves are calorie controlled and support weight loss, but they are highly processed.
  • Cost: The program is more expensive than Weight Watchers (though it includes food, which Weight Watchers does not), but is not as costly as Jenny Craig. Most people will pay around $65 to $85 per week for food on Nutrisystem (not including any other food they need to buy at the grocery store to supplement).
  • Weight loss: Research has shown Nutrisystem leads to better weight loss compared to control groups over 3 months. There is little data on long term efficacy.
  • Sustainability:  Though meal delivery systems are convenient and can support weight loss goals, they are not sustainable for most people to follow for life.

Low-Calorie Diet

  • General nutrition: Strict low-calorie diets are generally between 1000 to 1500 calories per day. They should only be done under professional supervision in order to make sure you meet your nutrient needs. This type of diet has a higher risk of nutrition deficiencies compared to Weight Watchers.
  • Cost: Because this is not a commercial diet, it does not have an up-front fee to access the program (unlike Weight Watchers). However, you may have fees associated with doctor or dietitian copays while they are monitoring your progress.
  • Weight loss: Studies have shown that low calorie diets support weight loss in the short term.
  • Sustainability:  Many low-calorie diets are not sustainable for long term health due to the level of restriction. While a plan like Weight Watchers may be appropriate to follow even after reaching a goal weight, it wouldn’t be healthy to follow a 1000 calorie low-calorie diet after reaching a goal weight.

A Word From Verywell

Weight Watchers has a lot of positive attributes for a commercial diet plan. It emphasizes nutritious food choices, offers support via the app and community meetings, and has been shown in research to support weight loss.

However, there is no one right diet for everyone. Some people may become excessively preoccupied with constant tracking or may manipulate points – which is not a sign of a healthy relationship with food. Similarly, users may not like the heavy focus on weight that has traditionally been associated with the program.

For the best outcomes, choose a diet that allows you to enjoy food and helps you feel healthy in your own body.

Was this page helpful?

Article Sources

Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial policy to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Ma Y, Pagoto SL, Griffith JA, et al. A dietary quality comparison of popular weight-loss plansJ Am Diet Assoc. 2007;107(10):1786–1791. doi:10.1016/j.jada.2007.07.013

  2. USDA. A Closer Look at Current Intakes and Recommended Shifts. 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines.

  3. Gudzune KA, Doshi RS, Mehta AK, et al. Efficacy of commercial weight-loss programs: an updated systematic reviewAnn Intern Med. 2015;162(7):501–512. doi:10.7326/M14-2238

  4. Damms-Machado A, Weser G, Bischoff SC. Micronutrient deficiency in obese subjects undergoing low calorie dietNutr J. 2012;11:34. doi:10.1186/1475-2891-11-34

  5. Strychar I. Diet in the management of weight lossCMAJ. 2006;174(1):56–63. doi:10.1503/cmaj.045037

Additional Reading