What Is Weight Watchers?

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WW, previously (and still more commonly) known as Weight Watchers, is a points system weight loss program that calculates your personal nutrition needs based on your height, weight, age, and activity level. Your assigned daily points are designed with the goal of tracking what you eat. Every food as a point value—members are instructed to use the allotted points per day, without going over or under.

WW prides itself in being a wellness brand, but at its core, it's still a diet with the goal of weight loss. In a world where the dieting market is endless and healthy is the new skinny, one of the world's most popular diets had to do something to reimagine itself.

In 2018 Weight Watchers went through a rebranding initiative with a new slogan to boot, "Wellness that Works." While the point system remains, the system is now marketed as a personalized weight loss (and wellness) program.

Gone are the days of weekly weigh-ins and group meetings; instead, log your food digitally and find support virtually through the WW app. Another big change—some major high-cost point foods (like beans, avocado, and potato), which are energy dense, are now zero. While this sounds like a win, it can be confusing to someone who's trying to limit their calorie intake.

On the other hand, the points system is restrictive in nature and can potentially lead to binging or saving up points to overeat later in the day. All of which is probably why WW changed their system to allow "ZeroPoint" foods, though it's unclear whether this is better or worse for the program.

How Does Weight Watchers Work?

Weight Watchers, now called WW assigns point values to food and drinks which you add up to meet your daily points budget. There are no off-limits foods but due to the limiting points budget, you will likely need to choose lower calorie, higher volume, fiber, and protein foods that have a lower point value.

If you're considering trying WW, reviewing the pros and cons may help make your decision.

  • Balanced and flexible

  • Teaches lifelong skills

  • No foods are forbidden

  • Slow and steady weight loss

  • Tons of support and resources

  • Promotes exercise

  • Can be costly

  • Counting points can be tedious

  • Weekly weigh-ins are necessary

  • Too much freedom for some people

  • May lead to unhealthy dieting


Balanced and Flexible

Cookie-cutter, one-size-fits-all diet plans certainly don't work for everyone. That's where WW is different. Swapping out a meal plan for points allows you choose foods you want to eat and portion them out as you see fit. The ability to eat more of the foods you love while on a diet improves adherence to the program.

WW has made some changes, like the ZeroPoint list, that's designed to make flexibility even more achievable throughout the diet. Choosing what you eat throughout the day from a list of balanced foods makes WW more flexible and is a likable aspect of the program.

Teaches Lifelong Skills

Diets are meant to be temporary. However, WW aims to teach lifelong healthy habits and skills, like measuring portions and tracking your food, that you can continue to incorporate into your daily routine even when you're not following the program.

Studies show that tracking your food intake is associated with long-term weight loss success.

While measuring portions is important to avoid overeating, learning to eat larger portions of low energy-dense foods (as in ZeroPoints foods) and smaller portions of high energy-dense foods is more important for sustained weight loss and weight management.

WW also offers a library of healthy eating tips, advice, recipes, and more that encourage you to cook at home and teach the skills to make it happen.

No Foods are Forbidden

Off-limits or forbidden foods have a tendency to lead to disordered eating behaviors including binge eating. You may notice this in your own experience—the more you tell yourself you can't have a certain food or food group, the more you crave that food. Giving yourself permission to eat anything has a nuanced way of giving you more control over what you eat.

Studies show that when dessert foods or common off-limits foods are served with a family meal to children, they end up eating less overall at that meal regardless of the portion size served. Instead of a list of foods you can and can't eat, WW gives you "PersonalPoints" to count and FitPoints that allow you to gain more PersonalPoints as you workout.

Slow and Steady Weight Loss

WW is designed to help you lose 1-2 pounds per week—the same rate that the National Institute of Health recommends as safe weight loss.

Anecdotally, there are countless stories on the WW website and through a quick internet search. Scientifically speaking, a variety of studies have come to the same conclusions.

For example, a 2017 study published in Lancet compared weight loss among those using self-help materials, Weight Watchers for 12 weeks, and Weight Watchers for 52 weeks. The 52-week program led to better results than the 12-week program, and the 12-week program had better results than the self-guided program.

Another 2015 systematic review in Annals of internal medicine examined several commercial weight-loss programs. The study found that those on Weight Watchers lost 2.6 percent more weight compared to control groups.

Rapid weight loss results in a greater likelihood of weight regain over the long term—it's ok that this weight loss method sticks to a "slow and steady" mantra. If you want to lose weight and keep it off, slow and steady wins the race.

Tons of Support and Resources

A solid support system is necessary for successful weight loss. WW offers support by way of virtual coaches, in-person and online support groups, and a members-only online community available 24/7. Studies show that almost any weight management program will be more successful if accompanied by support services.

WW has a large library of recipes and on-demand workouts that are included with every membership. There's a barcode scanner for easy meal tracking and the ability to create and save your own recipes. And if you have an activity tracker you can easily sync your device with the WW app for seamless activity and nutrition tracking.

We've tried, tested, and reviewed the best fitness trackers. If you're in the market for an activity tracker, explore which option may be best for you.

Promotes Exercise

The National Institute of Health recommends adults aged 18-64 do at least 150-minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity throughout the week, or 75-minutes of vigorous aerobic physical activity throughout the week. In addition, muscle-strengthening activities should be performed two days a week.

WW helps you create daily and weekly activity goals and then encourages you to meet those goals by giving you additional PersonalPoints for every workout added to your weekly budget. WW keeps it light and encourages you to choose workouts that you enjoy.

Included with your WW membership is an on-demand workout program that includes instructor-led cardio, core, yoga, Pilates, and stretching workouts. You're also encouraged to try local workouts in your area with free trial class offerings.


Can Be Costly

When you sign up for WW, the first thing you'll do is choose the duration of the program and cost per duration (6-month, 3-month, or 1-month). From there you'll choose your add-ons like one-on-one coaching or instructor-led workouts, all of which come at an additional fee.

Be sure to consider how much you'll pay each month for the duration of the program before deciding if it fits within your budget.

To make it slightly more affordable, opt to pay upfront for several months or lock in a promotion. Also, be sure to check with your insurance provider—many insurance companies will offer a discount or reimburse you for participating in Weight Watchers.

If you're still unsure, a 2019 study analyzed the cost for a group of women to lose 5 percent of their body weight using Weight Watchers, which came in at a total of $1,610. While this sounds like a lot, this amount was still far less than the other weight loss program studied, Curves Complete, which cost a total of $8,613 to achieve the same goals. It's worth mentioning this cost was collected for a 2-year period. This brings the cost to around $67 per month.

Counting Points Can Be Tedious

Many people find it annoying to count points and track their nutrition. It can also become stressful trying to stay within your daily points budget. Not to mention, for some people, focusing so deeply on what they're eating throughout the day can lead to an unhealthy relationship with food and create disordered eating behaviors—quite the opposite of what is necessary for sustained and healthy weight loss.

Weekly Weigh-Ins Are Necessary

To track your progress you'll need to weigh in once per week at an in-person meeting or virtually. For some people, this can create unnecessary stress surrounding the number on the scale, while others may feel uncomfortable being weighed in front of other people.

If you find yourself having a bad day based on your weight on the scale, weighing yourself often is probably not a wise habit to form. On the other hand, some people find weekly weigh-ins helpful and encouraging to monitor their progress and keep them accountable and on the right track.

Too Much Freedom

For some, unlimited access to zero points foods may prove to be too challenging at this stage in their weight loss journey. If you think you'll find yourself overeating zero points foods or saving up PersonalPoints for less nutritious foods later in the day, finding a more structured weight loss plan may suit you better.

May Lead to Unhealthy Dieting

Avid dieters can vouch for the stress that comes along with counting points and following a program. If your diet program is interrupting your social life or taking over your thoughts, it's becoming unhealthy for you. Many of the components of WW can absolutely contribute to unhealthy dieting including tracking foods, counting points, and saving points for overindulgent foods.

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By Shoshana Pritzker RD, CDN, CSSD, CISSN
Shoshana Pritzker RD, CDN is a sports and pediatric dietitian, the owner of Nutrition by Shoshana, and is the author of "Carb Cycling for Weight Loss." Shoshana received her B.S in dietetics and nutrition from Florida International University. She's been writing and creating content in the health, nutrition, and fitness space for over 15 years and is regularly featured in Oxygen Magazine, JennyCraig.com, and more.