The aim: Losing weight while living healthier.
The claim: You’ll drop up to 2 pounds weekly.
The theory: There’s more to weight loss than counting calories – if you make healthier choices and behavior changes, you’ll feel better while losing weight. The Weight Watchers Beyond the Scale Program, launched in late 2015, is designed to help people eat better, move more and shift their mindset. The program assigns every food and beverage a SmartPoints value, based on its nutrition (higher amounts of saturated fat and sugar increase the point value; higher amounts of protein bring the point value down). Choices that fill you up the longest “cost” the least, and nutritionally dense foods cost less than empty calories. So if you’re wavering between a cup of lobster bisque soup or a chicken salad sandwich – both 380 calories – the sandwich is the smarter choice. A backbone of the plan is multi-model access (via in-person meetings, online chat or phone) to support from people who lost weight using Weight Watchers, kept it off and have been trained in behavioral weight management techniques.
With Beyond the Scale, Weight Watchers members lost 15 percent more weight in their first two months following the new program, the company says, compared with those who followed the previous program.
Weight Watchers Diet ranked #4 in Best Diets Overall. 38 diets were evaluated with input from a panel of health experts. See how we rank diets here.
Weight Watchers Diet is ranked:
#4 (tie) in Best Diets Overall
#1 in Best Weight-Loss Diets
#1 (tie) in Best Commercial Diet Plans
#11 (tie) in Best Diabetes Diets
#7 in Best Diets for Healthy Eating
#1 (tie) in Best Fast Weight-Loss Diets
#16 in Best Heart-Healthy Diets
#1 (tie) in Easiest Diets to Follow
How does Weight Watchers Diet work?
There’s no fixed membership period; many people who join Weight Watchers – via an OnlinePlus, Meetings or Personal Coaching subscription – stick with it even after they’ve shed unwanted pounds.
In late 2015, Weight Watchers introduced its new Beyond the Scale program, which emphasizes three components: eating healthier; fitness that fits your life; and learning skills and techniques that help you shift your mindset.
The new SmartPoints food plan guides members toward an overall eating pattern that is lower in calories, saturated fat and sugar, and higher in protein. However, you can eat whatever you want – provided you stick to your daily SmartPoints target, a number based on your gender, weight, height and age. You can find the points values of more than 290,000 foods on the mobile app or desktop food database. Processed choices like bologna usually have higher point values due to calories and saturated fat. Fresh fruits and most vegetables carry zero points, so you can eat as many as you need to feel full. That’s because they tend to be low-calorie and nutrient-dense, so they’re more filling than, say, a candy bar. (Fruit juice, dried fruit and starchy vegetables don’t count as freebies, since they’re more calorie-dense for the same serving size.)
The company offers thousands of recipes, each with a SmartPoints value, to show how it fits into your eating plan. If you’re preparing a dish that’s not listed in the database, you can calculate the points value ingredient by ingredient, using your mobile app or through the company’s website. Vegetarians, gluten-free eaters and people with other dietary preferences can also easily find items and recipes tagged for them.
FitPoints, a new metric to help you track activity, was introduced in late 2015. Every member has a personalized FitPoints goal based on an initial assessment, and FitPoints can be earned anytime, anywhere – from cleaning the house to walking the dog. Whether you want to get active and don’t know where to start or are ready to take it to the next level and run a 5K, the program helps members uncover fun and easy ways to move more. Plus, Weight Watchers syncs with popular activity apps and monitors, including FitBit, Apple Health, Jawbone, Withings and Misfit.
The Weight Watchers Beyond the Scale program also aims to help those attempting to lose weight while living healthier get in the right frame of mind. The program offers skills and techniques in areas such as mindfulness and self-compassion to help individuals gain greater self-awareness to make different choices and stay motivated to achieve their goals.
Weight Watchers isn’t only about what you eat and making lifestyle changes; support is also a big component. Though you can choose to follow the plan online only, company-funded research found that those who attended Weight Watchers meetings and used the mobile app/online tools lost nearly eight times more than those who tried to lose weight on their own.
What happens during those 30-minute get-togethers? In a group format facilitated by a Weight Watchers leader who has lost weight on the program and kept it off, members discuss both their scale and nonscale victories and problem-solve with others in similar situations. If in-person meetings don’t appeal to you, you can do the program totally online. All who follow Weight Watchers have access to an online feature that allows them to chat with an expert familiar with the program at any time, 24/7. Customized support and action plans are also available through a phone-based personal coaching program.
How much does it cost?
Cost varies with promotions throughout the year and depending on whether you choose to attend weekly in-person meetings, work with a coach, use the online tools only or all three. All new members pay a $20 starter fee and then select an offering that fits their needs:
- OnlinePlus, which includes digital tools and a 24/7 chat service, costs $19.95/month.
- Meetings, which includes access to OnlinePlus digital tools in addition to unlimited in-person meetings, costs $44.95/month. Or, if you don’t want a monthly meetings subscription, you can pay-as-you-go at $12 to $15 per week.
- Personal Coaching, which includes one-on-one support with a coach and access to OnlinePlus digital tools, costs $54.95/month.
- Total Access – which includes OnlinePlus, Meetings and Personal Coaching – costs $69.95/month.
None of the costs include food, as there are no required food purchases on the program. Weight Watchers encourages members to choose the foods they want, which helps make the program sustainable for the long-term.
Will you lose weight?
Most studies suggest Weight Watchers is effective, but may not be much more so than other similar diets.
Here’s what several key studies had to say about Weight Watchers:
- Short-term weight loss is a reasonable goal. Researchers compared the effectiveness of four commercial weight loss programs (Atkins, Weight Watchers, Slim Fast and Eat Yourself Slim) in overweight or obese adults. After four weeks, Weight Watchers participants were down an average of 6 pounds, compared with 10 pounds for Atkins, 6 for Slim Fast and 7 for Eat Yourself Slim. After that first month of the six-month study, dieters continued to lose weight, with no significant differences in weight loss among the groups. The findings were published in the British Medical Journal in 2006.
- A more recent review in Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes looked at the results of previous studies comparing Atkins, South Beach, Weight Watchers and Zone diets. It found that all but South Beach were equally effective at achieving sustained weight loss for more than a year. Weight Watchers did have one advantage, though: In studies that compared it with usual care, rather than with other diets, it was the only diet that “consistently demonstrated greater efficacy at reducing weight at 12 months,” the researchers wrote.
- That finding supports a 2011 study in the Lancet showing that Weight Watchers is more effective than standard weight-loss guidance. Researchers tracked 772 overweight and moderately obese people who either followed Weight Watchers or got weight-loss guidance from their primary care doctors. After a year, those in the Weight Watchers group had dropped 15 pounds compared with 7 pounds for the doctor-advised group. What’s more, 61 percent of the Weight Watchers participants stuck with the program for the full 12 months the study lasted, compared with 54 percent for the standard-care group. The program’s success is likely explained by its regular weigh-ins and group meetings, which hold dieters accountable while offering support and motivation. Weight Watchers funded the study, but an independent research team was responsible for all data collection and analysis.
- A 2013 study in the American Journal of Medicine also suggests Weight Watchers has major benefits over standard “self-help” approaches. In it, researchers found overweight and obese participants assigned to Weight Watchers were nearly nine times more likely to lose 10 percent of their weight than participants who were only provided with printed materials and publicly accessible websites and tools for weight loss. The more Weight Watchers participants used the program’s various tools – including meetings, a mobile phone app and online tools – the more weight they lost.
- Weight Watchers seems to be worth the cost. In a study published in 2011 in the British Medical Journal, researchers found that people lost more weight – and saved money – when they enrolled in a commercial weight-loss program as opposed to a primary care-based program. After 12 weeks, Weight Watchers participants had lost 9.8 pounds; those on a primary care-guided plan had dropped 3 pounds.
- A more recent article in the journal Obesity reviewed other randomized controlled trials of weight loss programs to determine which program offered the best shot at weight loss for its cost to the wallet and quality of life. Weight Watchers fared best – costing $155 per kilogram lost and $34,630 per quality adjusted life year gained.
- After comparing the menus of eight popular commercial weight-loss programs, researchers praised Weight Watchers’ emphasis on fruits, vegetables and foods high in whole grains and low in trans fats. The program also got high marks for providing ample fiber, which helps dieters feel fuller for longer, thus promoting weight loss, according to a study published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association in 2007.
- A 2013 study in the journal Obesity compared Weight Watchers to professionally directed weight-loss treatments. It found that dieters stuck with traditional Weight Watchers longer and were more likely to lose weight than they were with the treatment delivered by a specialized weight loss clinic. Nearly 150 overweight or obese men and women were assigned to one of three groups: a behavioral weight-loss treatment led by a health professional; Weight Watchers, whose groups are led by Weight Watchers staff; or a hybrid program that started with 12 weeks of behavioral weight-loss treatment, followed by 36 weeks of Weight Watchers. All programs lasted a total of 48 weeks. People in all three groups lost weight, but on average, Weight Watchers participants lost a little more than 13 pounds, compared with a little less than 12 pounds for those in the professionally led group, and nearly 8 pounds for those in the combination group.
- In a 2015 Annals of Internal Medicine review of studies evaluating commercial weight loss programs, researchers reported they “found consistent evidence supporting the long-term efficacy of Weight Watchers and Jenny Craig.” The study found Weight Watchers participants achieved at least 2.6 percent greater weight loss at 12 months, compared with those who underwent no intervention other than receiving health education. The review found following Jenny Craig resulted in at least 4.9 percent greater weight loss at 12 months than education and counseling. Researchers noted it was unclear whether Weight Watchers was superior to undergoing behavioral counseling to lose weight.
How easy is it to follow?
You won’t go hungry – daily points are always high enough to allow for three meals a day, plus at least two snacks. Members are also allotted a number of weekly SmartPoints – personalized to them – that provide flexibility.
In the 2006 British Medical Journal study mentioned above, researchers found that 20 of 33 overweight or obese adults who were members of Weight Watchers were still participating a year later. Programs like Weight Watchers that offer emotional support and group meetings lead to higher compliance than a do-it-yourself dieting, according to the findings.
Convenience: Whether you’re online or on the street, Weight Watchers makes it easy to check the points value of what you’re eating. For example: You can search for food by name on the mobile app or website, use a barcode scanner or simply enter the necessary nutrition information on the label. And if you have an Apple Watch, you can voice track your foods with the Weight Watchers Apple Watch app. There’s also a pocket guide or pocket calculator for those without access to a smartphone or computer.
Recipes: Weight Watchers members can access thousands of free recipes on the company’s website or mobile app, complete with serving size, preparation and cooking time, difficulty level and user reviews. Each is stamped with its SmartsPoint value, eliminating guesswork.
Eating out: Restaurant dining is doable. Just grab the Weight Watchers “Menu Master,” which serves up the nutritional low-down on meals at hundreds of restaurants, and includes tips on making healthy restaurant substitutions. Since no foods are off-limits or required, you’ll have an easier time at restaurants than will folks on more inflexible eating plans.
Alcohol: Moderation is key. Most 12-ounce beers cost 5 points, so knocking back a couple glasses means you’ll have fewer points to spend on food. (All members get at least 30 SmartPoints per day.)
Timesavers: If you’re not up for cooking, head to the grocery store. Weight Watchers offers “Nearly No Cook” recipes if your idea of cooking is simply opening a package. These ideas make use of prepared ingredients (like a rotisserie chicken) and grocery store staples. You can purchase packaged Weight Watchers products including cheese, ice cream and chocolate as well as endorsed products such as Jolly Time Healthy Pop popcorn. Cost varies based on where you live and where you’re shopping. Weight Watchers is also piloting meal delivery services, so check in your area if you’re interested in exploring this option.
Extras: The Weight Watchers mobile app offers personalized food and fitness tracking; a comprehensive look at your personal weight loss journey; and advice from a coach who’s participated in the program. The most popular feature, though, according to the company is the Connect community on the Weight Watchers app, where you can share your journey via photos and status updates with other members like you.
Fullness: Nutrition experts emphasize the importance of satiety, the satisfied feeling that you’ve had enough. Hunger shouldn’t be a problem on Weight Watchers, since the program emphasizes foods that will keep you feeling fuller, longer. Plus, you’re allowed a personalized weekly cushion of extra points on top of your daily SmartPoints target, so if you’re feeling particularly ravenous one day, you have some leeway to eat more than usual.
Taste: No foods are off-limits – if you’re drooling for a double-cheese pizza, go for it. Weight Watchers simply guides you toward foods and portions that fit your lifestyle, and you can tweak your favorite recipes so your meals are as healthy as possible. And you’re bound to find a Weight Watchers recipe that will please your palate: Philly cheese steaks, sauteed shrimp and homemade sugar cookies are all popular. Plus, packaged products include favorites such as Mocha Latte Ice Cream Bars, Everything Sandwich Thins and Jalapeno String Cheese.
Health & Nutrition
All-you-can-eat fresh fruits and veggies? It’s got to be healthy. Dieters are allotted daily points that quickly run out if expended on fatty foods or sweets. Weight Watchers promotes a healthy, balanced approach to eating, concluded the experts, who largely felt that dieters would get adequate nutrients and would not lose weight too quickly, which could be unsafe.
What is the role of exercise?
The new Weight Watchers Beyond the Scale program, which launched in late 2015, hiked the role of fitness for dieters. The program revolves around working easy, fun ways to move more into your daily life – like going out dancing or even doing an hour of laundry (yes, it burns calories).
A feature called FitPoints, available on the Weight Watchers app and website, helps participants track their activity. Each member fills out a personal assessment to determine their weekly FitPoints goal, and then receives personalized tools based on the activity they track manually or via a monitor.
Weight Watchers also now offers a free activity app called FitBreak, which purports to turn small moments of downtime into time for regular physical activity. The app supplies activity recommendations based on where you are, the level of difficulty and the area you’d like to target.