Can You Do Low-Carb and Weight Watchers at the Same Time?

Low-carb diets like keto continue to be all the rage, but can you merge this eating approach with a more traditional diet like Weight Watchers (now known as WW)? It turns out, if you've hit a plateau in your weight-loss attempts, combining the two just might help you get back on track.

Control carbs and portions by combining a low-carb diet with Weight Watchers.
Image Credit: Vladislav Nosick/iStock/Getty Images

But before you jump in, you might consider working with a registered dietitian-nutritionist to understand your specific goals and needs — based on your height, weight, medical history, activity level and body composition — because the same plan isn't going to work for everyone, notes Monique Richard, RDN, LDN, an integrative dietitian nutritionist and owner of Nutrition-In-Sight.

It's also important to have a good understanding of what you can eat on your low-carb diet, so you know how to best use Weight Watchers' SmartPoints for the results you want.

Low-Carb Diet Basics

There are no clear guidelines for what constitutes a low-carbohydrate diet. Typically, though, this type of diet will start with a very-low-carb phase, restricting you to 20 to 50 grams a day for at least two weeks, to kickstart fat burning. Then, carbs are increased so that you continue to lose, but they're limited to no more than 150 grams a day.

Even the definition of a low-carb diet can vary widely in research studies, says Richard. "Loosely, we look at less than 100 grams of carbohydrates a day as a lower-carb plan, though one that restricts carbs to just 25 to 50 grams a day can begin to put the body into ketosis, which certainly has some nutritional and health implications," she says. Ketosis occurs when your body doesn't have enough sugar or glucose to use for energy, so it turns to stored fat instead, per the Mayo Clinic.

To keep carb intake low, you'll be eating mostly carb-free protein foods such as meat, poultry, eggs and seafood, along with low-carb veggies such as spinach, lettuce, broccoli, green beans, mushrooms, asparagus and peppers. Cheese, fats (such as butter and oil) and low-carb fruits (such as avocados, pumpkin and olives) are also allowed. Per the Mayo Clinic, if you choose a low-carb diet that's higher in fat and protein, it's best to pick foods with healthy unsaturated fats and limit those with saturated and trans fats.

Read more: List of Zero-Point Foods

Weight Watchers SmartPoints

Instead of calories, you count points on Weight Watchers — and the current system is called SmartPoints. Foods are assigned a point value based on calories, protein, saturated fat and sugar content. The goal of this system is to encourage you to eat more lean protein, fruits and vegetables and less sugar and saturated fat.

To help you get more of the good stuff, most fresh fruits and veggies have zero points on the WW plan. Here are a few other common food items and their points value per serving:

  • Chicken breast: 1 point
  • Shrimp and salmon: 2 points
  • Sirloin steak: 3 points
  • New York strip steak: 5 points
  • Tablespoon of olive oil: 4 points
  • Tablespoon of butter: 3 points
  • Avocado: 3 points

Tips for Making Your Weight Watchers Plan Low-Carb

Combining a low-carb diet with the Weight Watchers point system might help you restrict carbs for fat burning, while teaching you how to control portions, make healthier protein choices and eat more veggies. To keep things simple for meal planning, use the low-carb guidelines when selecting foods, and then assign the Weight Watchers points as appropriate.

How many daily SmartPoints you need is based on your activity and goals, which is determined by the folks at Weight Watchers through their online program or in-person meetings. To get the most bang out of your point values, choose leaner sources of protein. Your best picks? Lean pork and lamb, including tenderloin, and lean white meat poultry from the breast without the skin, per the Mayo Clinic.

And while most fresh fruits and veggies have zero points, you need to be mindful of their carb value and eat more of the low-carb options from your low-carb list — or use a carb counter to stay within your limits. "A serving of fruit, across the board, has similar amounts of carbohydrates — the two sugars that make up fruit are primarily fructose and glucose. Vegetables can have similar amounts of carbohydrates per serving as fruit (such as corn), but more watery vegetables have fewer carbs per serving," says Richard.

Read more: How to Lose Weight Fast While on Weight Watchers

What a Typical Day Might Look Like

If you've been assigned 26 daily SmartPoints, here's a sample day of low-carb meals to try:

Breakfast

Three-egg omelet filled with 1 ounce of cheddar cheese, five sliced cherry tomatoes and 1 cup of cooked spinach (10 SmartPoints, 5 grams of net carbs)

Lunch

Top 2 cups of mixed greens with 1/2 cup of cucumbers, 1/2 cup of red peppers, 1/2 of a Haas avocado, 3 ounces of sliced, grilled chicken, 1 tablespoon of balsamic vinegar and 1 tablespoon of olive oil (9 SmartPoints, 13 grams of net carbs)

Dinner

Grilled 3-ounce portion of sirloin steak, with a grilled portobello mushroom and 2 cups of broccoli sautéed in 1 tablespoon of olive oil and garlic (7 SmartPoints, 10 grams of net carbs)

Totals for the Day: 26 SmartPoints; 25 grams of net carbs

But no matter which plan or combination of plans you select, don't forget exercise. The American Heart Association recommends at least 150 minutes of moderately intense aerobic exercise a week, or 75 minutes of vigorous working out — or (ideally) a combination of both.

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