Time and time again, people come into my office explaining how they’ve had success in the past with X,Y, or Z diet, but inevitably the weight has piled back on again. But is a diet really successful if the weight doesn’t stay off in the long term? Over the next couple of weeks, I am going to break down common diets and explain how they’re helping, or hurting you. First off- Weight Watchers
Background: Weight Watchers bases their program on participants counting SmartPoints, which are allotted based on the height, weight, and sex of the person. These SmartPoints are based on the calories, saturated fat, sugar, and protein in a food. Dieters earn FitPoints for exercising which they can swap for food, or not if that’s what they prefer. Weight Watchers leaders run weekly meetings where dieters are weighed in and weight loss topics are discussed as a group.
The Good: In Weight Watchers, nothing is off limits. The idea that anything can be included in moderation is an idea that I’m completely behind. If you don’t allow treats in moderation it is inevitable that one day you will end up binging on the foods you’ve been restricting, so learning how to work these indulgences into a balanced eating patterns is essential.
Weight Watchers helps people become more aware of what, and how much, they are eating by having dieters measure portions and logtheir food. The accountability of tracking points paired with the social support of Weight Watchers meetings is motivating for people and has been shown time and time again to be successful weight loss tools, which is why Weight Watchers is so popular with dieters.
The Bad: Weight loss is the sole measure of success in Weight Watchers. Leaders are not required to have a background in nutrition, so they are not trained to give individualized nutrition advice or counsel people with medical conditions. Leaders do not inquire about the quality of food being eaten or whether disordered eating habits are used, which can lead to poor diet quality and unsafe dieting.
Logging points encourages people to keep a strict eye on their food intake. Many people have success tracking their food, but it doesn’t work for everyone. I’ve spoken with many people who have done diets like this only to become obsessed with food and dieting. As a dietitian who is trained to recognize these behaviors, I can steer clients away from this thinking and suggest other weight loss methods, but this isn’t the case at Weight Watchers.
The most concerning thing about Weight Watchers is the products they sell to their customers. The company sells a variety of baked goods, ice creams, and candies as well as endorses many other food brands. While low in points, these products are highly processed and loaded with empty calories. These are the ingredients in Weight Watchers Salted Caramel Brownie Bliss:
Powdered Sugar, Water, Sugar, Semisweet Chocolate (Unsweetened Chocolate, Sugar, Cocoa Butter, Soy Lecithin, Natural Flavor), Enriched Wheat Flour Bleached (Flour, Niacin, Iron, Thiamine Mononitrate, Riboflavin, Folic Acid), Palm Kernel Oil, Cocoa Processed with Alkali, Corn Syrup Solids, Inulin (Chicory Roots), Invert Sugar, Glycerin, Soybean Oil, Caramel Color, Chocolate Liquor, Dextrose, Egg Whites, Leavening (Baking Soda, Sodium Aluminum Phosphate), Milk, Natural and Artificial Flavor, Nonfat Milk, Pea Fiber, Potassium Sorbate and Sodium Sorbate, Red 40, Salt, Soy Lecithin, Xanthan Gum.
Notice the long ingredient list here (27 without even considering the ingredients of ingredients)! Sugar, cleverly disguised by words like “corn syrup solids” can be found in 6 different places. Many ingredients are foreign to most people. Have you heard of potassium sorbate or xanthan gum? There is nothing redeeming about this food product, yet Weight Watchers encourages its consumption.
The Bottom Line: Weight Watchers addresses weight loss but not necessarily healthy eating. The program lacks the individual guidance needed to craft a weight loss plan that is healthy, personalized and sustainable. For millions of dieters who have lost weight only to gain it back using Weight Watchers, it is time for a change. Try meeting with a dietitian who has substantial knowledge about the science and psychology of weight loss and can work to create an individualized weight loss plan. In addition, focus on whole foods instead of highly processed “diet” foods.