Are you looking to shed some pounds? Almost everyone has heard of the Weight Watchers, a multi-component and science-backed program to lose weight. Most of us know someone who has tracked points on the Weight Watchers program to meet their health goals.
But how much do you really know about the Weight Watchers program? Weight Watchers, under their new WW name, has made some significant changes in the past few years. Even if you felt that Weight Watchers was not right for you, you may feel differently about their reinvented program.
WW is not your grandparents’ Weight Watchers, and today’s article will cover why. Here are the topics that we’ll tackle below:
- What is the history behind the Weight Watchers program?
- Who should not join WW?
- What are the options for WW membership?
- Which foods can you eat and which foods must you eliminate on WW?
- If no foods are off-limits, how does WW work as a weight loss program?
- Is WW appropriate for children? How old do you have to be to join?
- If you are interested in joining WW, what are the next steps to take?
Are you ready to learn more about the diet that took first place for weight loss in the 2019 U.S. News & World Report diet rankings? With its firm grounding in science and its greater focus on overall health, the new WW is worth looking into!
Weight Watchers has helped many through the years and may help you too.
The story of Weight Watchers is one of American entrepreneurial ingenuity and success. Weight Watchers was founded in 1963 by Jean Nidetch (1923-2015), a housewife from the New York City area. Nidetch had struggled to lose weight and developed the group as part of the commitment to herself to regain her health.
Nidetch invited her friends who also wished to lose weight to meetings in her living room. It is this innovative weight loss group concept that eventually blossomed into the WW meetings of today. With the support and accountability provided by the group, Nidetch lost 72 pounds, and her program has since helped many others.
Today, WW is “the most clinically studied commercial provider of weight management services operating globally through a network of company-owned and franchise operations.” They hold more than 14,000 workshops per week at over 3,000 locations to help people learn healthier lifestyle habits.
Most people may join WW, but it’s not a good idea for everyone.
Because Weight Watchers was created as a weight loss program, certain people were traditionally not accepted, such as underweight individuals. The new WW Reimagined shifts the program’s primary focus from weight loss to the broader attainment of an overall healthier lifestyle.
For this reason, certain persons who were not permitted to join Weight Watchers in the past may join WW. Those who are underweight (BMI under 18.5) may only join WW to develop healthy habits, not for weight loss. According to the WW website, the following groups of people may not join:
- Those who are pregnant
- Persons under the age of 18 (more on this below)
- Those with an active diagnosis of anorexia or bulimia
- Those who do not meet certain minimum weight requirements (which were unspecified on the website)
With WW, you can pick the option to fit your schedule.
The WW program has several flexible membership options to meet the needs of different preferences and lifestyles. Pricing depends on which membership option you choose, where you live, as well as some other factors.
Your average monthly fee may be less if you sign up during a free trial offer. Signing up for a three or six-month rather than a one-month plan may be another way to save. Check out the details on the WW website for the most current pricing information.
There are three main membership options for the WW program. They are:
- Digital (formerly called OnlinePlus)
- Workshop (previously called Meetings)
- Personal Coaching
Digital is the least expensive WW option. With digital, you get access to the WW app and website. This gives you the tools you need to track your food, physical activities, and weight.
With digital, you also have access to the WW database with thousands of healthy recipes. A WW virtual assistant is available to chat 24 hours per day, seven days per week if you have questions. The downside of this plan is that you do not get support from local meetings; everything is online only.
WW recommends that you choose the workshop option, which gives you all the benefits of digital plus local meetings. Certified coaches at the meetings can help you to learn strategies that support your health and weight loss goals. Additionally, making friends at meetings with similar goals may help to keep you accountable.
Personal coaching is the most expensive WW plan but also offers the most intensive and individualized support. With personal coaching, you get access to the WW app and website, and to a WW coach of your choosing. Your coach will set you up with an action plan that works with your lifestyle and schedule.
Coaching may work well for the person who is facing significant challenges and needs one-on-one support to succeed. This plan offers you unlimited phone calls and messages with your WW coach. If you are interested in WW, choose the option that best fits your budget, needs, and schedule.
You can eat what you want on the WW program (within certain limits).
A major benefit of WW as a weight loss program is that no foods are entirely restricted. You can have some cake or cookies with the WW program. Yes!
However, that does not mean that unlimited portions of these less healthy options are permitted. Though no foods are completely restricted, the WW program is devised to encourage participants to make healthier food choices. I’ll cover how they accomplish this in the next section.
Though no foods are completely off-limits, you can still lose weight on WW.
The Weight Watchers program was traditionally based on a point tracking system. Like calorie counting, you can fit any food on the program, but the portions of certain foods are small. WW participants get a personalized point budget that should help them to achieve their weight management goals.
There have been several updates to the Weight Watchers points system over the years. The points of food are not necessarily in perfect alignment with the calories it contains.
The current points system assigns higher point values to foods that are higher in saturated fat and sugar. Higher protein content in food brings the points down. These adjustments are made to help encourage those using WW to make healthier and more satiating food choices.
If you ever end up with a few leftover points, they do roll over, so you can use them another day. This automatic rollover can help you if you have a celebration coming up and need more points to cover it.
The current WW Freestyle program uses its former SmartPoints system. Under this system, many (not all) fruits and vegetables were assigned zero points.
However, Freestyle is more flexible in the sense that it includes a list of over 200 zero-point foods. There are healthy food choices like skinless chicken breasts, eggs, and seafood that you do not need to measure or track.
According to WW, foods that were chosen to be zero points form the basis of a healthy eating pattern. They also tend to be more difficult to overeat. An example given is that it’s far more challenging to eat six zero-point chicken breasts than to eat six cookies.
Freestyle is another way that WW is encouraging participants to make healthier food choices. The extensive list of food options helps ensure that those looking to lose weight won’t have to battle hunger continually. By creating meals high in volume and protein but low in calories, participants may more easily meet their goals.
In addition to the food component, WW is also promoting health through its WellnessWins™ program. With WellnessWins, participants earn credits for behaviors that support their health, like physical activity. The credits can be cashed in for prizes that will be mailed to their residence, all for free!
WW has a new program out for children, but it has drawn some controversy.
Traditionally, children under the age of 13 were not allowed to join the Weight Watchers program. Children under 18 were permitted to participate in certain circumstances. Currently, the WW website says that those under 18 may not join, but suggests their Kurbo program as an alternative.
Kurbo is a food and activity tracking app for children. The app may be used with children as young as eight. However, those under age 13 must sign up for the app through a parent.
Like traditional WW, the Kurbo program eliminates no foods. Instead of points, Kurbo uses a traffic light system which groups foods as follows:
- Greenlight foods: can be enjoyed anytime (e.g., fruits, vegetables)
- Yellow light foods: should be portioned (e.g., pasta, lean protein)
- Red light foods: only a small amount is allowed (e.g., candy, soda)
As part of the paid program, the child is also matched with a coach to provide feedback about food choices. The coach helps to provide additional structure and motivation if needed.
The traffic light system is based on research on pediatric weight management from Stanford University. Though studies have shown that it is safe and effective for weight loss, some medical professionals feel unfavorable about it. One of the major concerns expressed is that this approach has the potential to damage a child’s relationship with food.
Some children should not use Kurbo under any circumstances. The app notes that children who fall into the following groups should see a pediatrician for a different option:
- Have a post-bariatric routine
- Use laxatives or diuretics
- Do self-induced vomiting
- Have an eating disorder diagnosis
- Have structural heart disease
- Use insulin for type 1 or type 2 diabetes
The decision about whether WW is right for a child ultimately rests with the caregivers and pediatrician. Any child taking part in a weight management program should be receiving regular feedback and support from adults. This is critical to help shield the child from developing a disordered relationship with both food and their self-image.
Here’s what to do if you want to take the next steps with WW.
If reading this article has piqued your interest in WW, head over to the WW website to learn more. Their website is the best resource to find current information on pricing and programs. The Kurbo app for children has a separate website if your family is interested in that program.
As always, have a chat with your physician or a registered dietitian if you are planning on making diet changes. They are in the best position to know whether you are a good candidate for WW.
Did you attend a local WW meeting and feel that it is not a great fit? Don’t throw in the towel just yet; make sure to visit the various groups in your area. They all have a slightly different flavor depending on their leadership and membership.
Even if you like the first WW group you attend, it’s still a great idea to check out your other local groups. It costs you nothing to explore the different meetings, and you may find a group you like even more.
Jean Nidetch’s philosophy was that “It’s choice – not chance – that determines your destiny.” Healthy weight management is a lifelong journey, so take the time to learn about the different options available. Exploring the various WW meetings can help you make informed choices about your health, instead of leaving things to chance.
Final thoughts on WW Diet
WW can be an excellent option if you are looking to lose weight but need the support of a more structured program. Similar to what many dietitians recommend, you eliminate no foods with the plan, and better-for-you food choices are encouraged. Those who feel overly restricted with approaches that limit certain types of food, like keto, may prefer the WW program.
Though WW provides a built-in community, both in-person and online, Healthy Cauldron can help you meet your goals as well. Have you checked out our recipes? We have a lot of healthy meal options that are low in points and that use zero-point foods!
Summer is a registered dietitian located in Avon, Connecticut where she specializes in weight management, special diets, general nutrition, and avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder (ARFID). She is the developer and content creator behind the Summer Yule Nutrition website, where she shares evidence-based information on hot topics in food and nutrition.