What it is
What you can eat
How it works
What the experts say
Food for thought
What It Is
Weight Watchers believes that dieting is just one part of
long-term weight management. A healthy body results from a
healthy lifestyle -- which means mental, emotional, and
Weight Watchers does not tell people what they can or
can't eat. The goal is to help people make healthy eating
decisions and encourage them to enjoy more physical
activity, thereby losing weight safely and sensibly. At
local group meetings, Weight Watchers members get
motivation, mutual support, and encouragement in handling
the challenges encountered in the process of changing
The initial Weight Watchers' goal is to reduce body
weight by 5% to 10%, and the ultimate weight goal is a BMI
less than 25. For those who have a lot of weight to lose,
the goal is to lose in increments of 10% -- which helps
people stay motivated.
What You Can Eat
"Eat the food you love and lose
weight" is the Weight Watchers philosophy. No foods are
prohibited. Instead, each food is assigned points, and you
are allotted a certain number of points each day. You can
earn more points with exercise, which is key to the Weight
Points are assigned based on the food's calorie, total
fat, and dietary fiber content. Here are some examples:
- 1 cup broccoli = 0 points
- 1/2 cantaloupe = 2 points
- 1 small bean burrito = 5 points
- 1 cup spaghetti with 1/2 cup marinara sauce = 6
- 1 6-ounce steak = 8 points
- 3-ounce grilled chicken breast = 3 points
- 1/4 cup regular creamy salad dressing = 8 points
- 1 slice bread = 2 points
- 1 ounce chocolate = 4 points
- 1 scoop vanilla ice cream = 4 points
Each member has a Daily Points Range, calculated based on
their body weight. For example, a 5'6" woman who weights 180
pounds would be allotted between 22 and 27 points each day.
A "points finder" helps members calibrate the points
value of a recipe or a packaged product using the Nutrition
Members can earn extra points with exercise. Based on a
formula that factors in body weight, time, and intensity,
all types of physical activity can be assigned a points
value. For example, if a woman walks or cycles at moderate
intensity for 30 minutes, she would earn 2 points for it.
Group support has been the cornerstone of the Weight
Watchers program since its inception. Through weekly
meetings, members get support in making lifestyle changes,
which helps them lose weight and keep it off. "No one has to
go it alone," says Weight Watchers.
How It Works
The Weight Watchers program is based
on good, old-fashioned "calories in, calories out" advice.
Members keep track of the calories/fat they eat (in the form
of points) and burn enough calories/fat to lose weight. It's
just that simple.
What the Experts Say
The Weight Watchers philosophy
follows recommendations from the National Weight Loss
Registry, which shows that weight maintenance is achieved
through a variety of life-changing -- not just diet-focused
Research suggests that people who lose weight and keep it
- Eat a low-fat, carbohydrate-rich diet.
- Spend a considerable amount of time each day
exercising. Walking is a favorite form and is often supplemented with other
activities such as aerobics, weight training, and swimming.
- Weigh themselves regularly -- two or three times a
- Continue to keep contact with those who helped them
Research also shows that checking the scales regularly
helps ensure dieters are holding steady and prevents the
scale from slipping upward to a point that may foil their
efforts, says Weight Watchers. Action taken when (or before)
weight reaches five pounds above weight goal helps keep
weight off. By increasing activity and cutting back on
calories at that point, the dieter can keep his/her weight
from increasing even more.
Recently, Weight Watchers sponsored a two-year clinical
trial in which researchers followed participants randomly
assigned one of two weight loss methods -- Weight Watchers
or self-help. Those assigned to Weight Watchers consistently
averaged weight losses that were about three times greater
than the self-helpers. They also kept if off more
successfully. The typical self-helper was back to his/her
original weight after two years. However, those in the
Weight Watchers group who continued to regularly attend
meetings kept an average 11-pound weight loss.
Food for Thought
"The Weight Watchers' program has
changed some over the years, but it has certainly stood the
test of time," says Alice Lichtenstein, a professor of
nutrition at Tufts University and member of the American
Heart Association's nutrition committee.
"Any diet plan is a way of helping people limit caloric
intake, but it's important that it also allow for optimal
nutrient intake," she tells WebMD. "This program attempts to
Nutritionists like Lichtenstein agree that exercise is
critical in dieting. However, while support groups helps
many people stay on the straight and narrow, not everyone
likes the group approach, she says. "Weight Watchers
probably works very well for some people. Others will need a
Reviewed By Charlotte E. Grayson, MD February 2004.
SOURCES: WeightWatchers.com. Weight
Watchers International. Alice Lichtenstein, professor of
nutrition, Tufts University, Boston.
© 1996-2004 WebMD Inc. All rights reserved.
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