If you know anything about Weight Watchers (which recently rebranded as WW), you know that it counts points rather than calories. The points plan, in place since 1977 and revised in 2015 as SmartPoints, is designed to help you make healthier choices.
Every food is assigned a specific number of SmartPoints based on a formula that takes into account the carbs, protein, calorie, sugar and fat content. Every subscriber is then given a daily SmartPoints goal and he or she can then decide how to spend the points. Calculating your personal SmartPoints allowance is done by your Weight Watchers leader, with a specialized calculator or via the online app.
So, How Does the SmartPoints System Work?
Weight Watchers likens the SmartPoints system to a personal financial budget. And when you're on a budget, you know you need to spend wisely.
You'll get a certain number of SmartPoints, depending on your weight-loss goal, as well as your age, weight, height and sex. You then "spend" your points on foods, which each carry their own SmartPoints value.
In addition to your daily points value, you also get a certain number of "free" weekly SmartPoints to spend as you like. These act like a savings account: If you splurge one day and exceed your SmartPoints, you draw down on the weekly savings.
Weight Watchers encourages you to use the SmartPoints however you like, but keep in mind it's ideal to stick to foods that are low or even zero in value. These low- to no-point foods have lower energy density and have fewer calories (and therefore points). Plus, a diet that's rich in low-energy-dense foods can help you feel satisfied for longer after each meal, per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
How SmartPoints Are Calculated
Weight Watchers offers three program options: online tracking, one-on-one personal coaching or group meetings. Social contact — in the form of meetings, calls and chats — may be one of the keys to weight loss. In fact, a June 2017 PLOS One study found that participants who joined a Facebook group improved their BMI and lost more weight than those without social support.
When you enroll, the calculator or your leader uses your physical stats and goal to figure out your SmartPoints. Even if you could calculate your point allocation without being a member, you'd still need the app or calculator to determine how to spend your points — only these methods will tell you the number of SmartPoints in a particular food.
As you lose weight, your SmartPoints number adjusts so you can continue to drop pounds. The points number that helps you lose weight initially may be too great when your body shrinks in size. When you reach your goal weight (fingers crossed!) and switch to maintenance, your Weight Watchers SmartPoints target shifts slightly upward.
Foods and SmartPoints
The SmartPoints value of a food depends on its calories, sugar, carbohydrates, protein and fat. Lean proteins, such as chicken breast or canned tuna packed in water, have lower SmartPoints values than fatty meats.
While you need the app or calculator to determine SmartPoints values for most foods, including restaurant and name-brand choices, Weight Watchers offers some examples on its website:
- A whole egg: 2 SmartPoints
- 2 tablespoons of low-fat shredded cheddar cheese: 1 SmartPoint
- 1/2 cup of beans or lentils: 3 SmartPoints
- 3 ounces of lean pork: 3 SmartPoints
Most non-starchy vegetables and fruits have 0 SmartPoints, including lettuce, broccoli, cucumbers, beets and tomatoes.
Starchy vegetables, such as sweet potatoes, corn and peas, as well as dried fruit, do carry SmartPoint values (they're higher in calories and sugar then the non-starchy ones).
WW Alternative to SmartPoints
Is all this math hurting your head? If you don't feel like tracking your SmartPoints, Weight Watchers offers an alternative. The Simply Filling approach guides you to choose foods that are inherently low in points. Check out this online list of zero-point foods and all you have to do is determine portion sizes — eating until you are satisfied, but not too full or still hungry.
Foods on this list include all watery, fibrous vegetables and fruits. Even potatoes, corn and peas can be eaten in moderation, but french fries, buttered vegetables, avocado and plantains are off limits, alas.
Modest servings of plain whole grains, such as brown rice and oatmeal, are also permitted, but it's best to avoid white pasta, rice and grain mixes with added salt and fats.
Fat-free dairy and lean proteins, such as chicken, fish, lean steak and reduced-sodium luncheon meats all get the green light.
The Simply Filling plan also gives you leeway to daily eat low-calorie bread, most spices, low-fat condiments and two teaspoons of healthy oil, such as olive oil or flaxseed oil.
- Weight Watchers: "The SmartPoints Plan"
- Mayo Clinic: "How meat and poultry fit in your healthy diet"
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: "Low-Energy-Dense Foods and Weight Management: Cutting Calories While Controlling Hunger"
- Weight Watchers: "Simply Filling Foods List"
- PLOS One: "Effects of a weight management program delivered by social media on weight and metabolic syndrome risk factors in overweight and obese adults: A randomised controlled trial"
- Weight Watchers: "200+ ZeroPoint™ Foods"