Weight Watchers, now called WW, is a weight-loss program that assigns points to various foods and urges you to track your intake of points by the day or week. According to Weight Watchers, you can expect to lose 1 to 2 pounds per week by following the program.
What Is Weight Watchers?
Weight Watchers was founded in 1963 by Jean Nidetch, a housewife living in Queens, New York. Initially, the program involved weekly in-person group meetings with weigh-in sessions. The company grew and evolved and, in 2018, rebranded to WW, with a focus on overall wellbeing and fitness as well as weight loss.
There are presently three ways to participate in the program: Using an app, online coaching and optional in-person group sessions. Various foods are given "points," and you're encouraged to stay under a certain point total for any given day or week. The idea is that sticking below a certain "point" number will help you achieve a calorie deficit that can contribute to weight loss.
U.S. News & World Report ranks Weight Watchers as the fourth-best diet overall in 2019, tied with the MIND diet, which prioritizes foods that support brain health. Top-rated U.S. News & World Report diets had to be "relatively easy to follow, nutritious, safe, effective for weight loss and protective against diabetes and heart disease."
Read more: Healthy Ways to Lose Weight Fast
How Weight Watchers Works
Weight Watchers is a subscription-based program, and there are three different levels of membership. Pricing varies depending on your location and which membership you choose.
A digital membership gets you access to the app and website, a database of recipes and 24/7 "expert chat" capabilities with a WW coach.
A workshop membership provides all the benefits of the digital membership plus access to an in-person coach and group workshops. According to the website, there are over 3,000 WW Studio locations holding over 14,000 in-person workshops a week.
A coaching membership is the most expensive membership tier. You work with a coach of your choice one-on-one who you can call or text message any time. Your coach will design a personalized "action plan" for you based on your weight-loss goals, schedule, fitness level and habits. You also get all the benefits of the digital membership, but you don't get access to the weekly, in-person group meetings offered with the workshop membership.
Weight Watchers Points
The program used to be based on a PointsPlus system, where each user was assigned at least 26 points per day and could earn up to 49 bonus points weekly. The new system uses SmartPoints, where daily and weekly point allocations are based on each person's personal goals and activity levels. Users can also "roll over" four unused SmartPoints per day to give them more points later in the week, allowing them to "bank" points for special occasions or restaurant meals.
The old Weight Watchers PointsPlus system assigned point values based on a certain food's macronutrients, meaning the composition of carbohydrates, protein and fat it contained, rather than on calorie content. The new SmartPoints system assigns point values based on calorie content, protein, saturated fat and sugar.
With the SmartPoints Freestyle program, over 200 foods are assigned zero Weight Watchers SmartPoints, meaning you can eat as much of them as you like without tracking or measuring your intake. According to Weight Watchers, zero-point foods are chosen "because they help form the foundation for a healthy eating pattern" and are less likely to be overeaten than other foods.
Zero-point food options include skinless chicken breasts, whole eggs, fish, beans, peas, lentils, shellfish, tofu and a variety of fruits and vegetables. Many of the zero-point foods align with the USDA's Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which says that a healthy diet includes fresh fruit, vegetables and a number of protein-rich options, including seafood and tofu.
How to Lose Weight Fast
As Harvard Health explains, there's no magic trick that helps you rapidly lose weight and keep it off. In reality, safe and effective weight loss is a long-term lifestyle change. In order to lose weight, you need to be in a calorie deficit — meaning you burn more calories each day than you consume. You can achieve a deficit by limiting your caloric intake, increasing the amount of calories you burn daily through exercise or a combination of the two.
A healthy calorie deficit would be between 500 to 1,000 calories per day, the Mayo Clinic says. And since burning 3,500 calories is equivalent to losing about 1 pound of weight, operating under a calorie deficit can help you lose between 0.5 to 2 pounds per week.
Counting calories can help you figure out what you're eating each day and identify any potential areas for decreasing calories or increasing your intake of certain macronutrients like protein. Some people find that a calorie-counting app is sufficient for this, while others prefer a commercial weight-loss program like Weight Watchers or Jenny Craig.
Exercising for Weight Loss
Most diets, including Weight Watchers, recommend combining physical activity with healthy eating to maximize weight loss. Workouts burn calories, plus the University of Michigan explains that regular exercise can increase your resting energy expenditure (REE) — the number of calories your body burns at rest. Combining aerobic exercise with strength training and flexibility work can strengthen your body, improve your mood and contribute to weight loss.
A few weeks or months into your weight-loss journey, you might hit a weight-loss plateau where you stop losing weight despite your decreased calorie intake and increased exercise routine. This is common and happens because your metabolism has slowed down.
In order to push through a plateau and keep losing weight, you'll likely have to increase the intensity of your workouts. It can be tempting to further decrease your caloric intake, but eating too few calories can be detrimental to your health. As such, going below 1,200 calories per day for adult women or 1,500 calories per day for adult men is not advisable.
- Weight Watchers: "200+ ZeroPoint™ Foods"
- US News & World Report: "Best Diets Overall"
- Weight Watchers: "Everything You Need to Know About SmartPoints"
- Harvard Health: "7 Habits to Help You Lose Weight and Keep It Off"
- Mayo Clinic: "Counting Calories: Get Back to Weight-Loss Basics"
- University of Michigan: University Health Service: "Weight Reduction"
- USDA: "Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2015-2020: Chapter 1. Key Elements of Healthy Eating Patterns"
- Weight Watchers: "Our Approach"
- Weight Watchers: "History & Philosophy"