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What's up with Weight Watchers?
October 22, 2005 11:04 PM   Subscribe

DietFilter: Weight Watchers - cult or miracle solution? Has anyone used Weight Watchers? Successfully? Unsuccessfully? Online or with meetings?

I never thought I'd say this, but I have recently been considering joining Weight Watchers. I just saw an old friend who lost 40 pounds on the program, and it has got me thinking. I am a 25 year old female who is about 25 pounds above the "target weight" for my height. I've been a vegetarian for 10 years and am moderately active - running or soccer 3 times a week. I love veggies and whole grains and all . . . and everyone considers me a very healthy eater. I just have this issue with portion sizes. I figure their crazy point system may teach me a thing or two. Any comments, good or bad?
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (32 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
 
A close relative had great success with Weight Watchers. That was years ago, and she eventually put the weight back on and lost it only when she began South Beach; but she still speaks very highly of Weight Watchers, and feels it's absolutely effective if you stick to the program.
posted by cribcage at 11:28 PM on October 22, 2005


My mother lost around 50 pounds and has kept it off for almost a year (she attends meetings for free now as a lifetime member). My aunt did it with her and lost about 30. Courtney has lost over 200 pounds in the past three or four years, and also goes to meetings. Their success stories are pretty encouraging, too.

The thing with the points is that they're used to keep portion sizes and calories in check, so it might work really well for you. I know of a few people who do it online, but the great majority of people that I've known who have been successful with the program have given a lot of credit to their meetings (encouragement, accountability, and all).

Couldn't hurt to try, right? Sometimes they run enrollment specials, and I think that you can attend a meeting for free to check it out.

Good luck!
posted by mewithoutyou at 11:35 PM on October 22, 2005


Absolutely, it works. I went to Weight Watchers after the births of my children and lost about 20 pounds each time. I think it's the only way to truly change your method of eating to keep the weight off once you've lost it.
posted by lambchop1 at 11:57 PM on October 22, 2005


Meh. I've tried Weight Watchers off and on (online, it's cheaper than meetings) and never had much success. You sound like you eat kinda like I do, and I could never quite understand how small french fries are only five points, yet a couple of ounces of tofu are also 5 points. Granted, you'll feel more full with the more wholesome food, but the point system pissed me off with stuff like that.

Try fitday.com. It's free, and tracks calories and nutrients. Plus you get pie charts, and those are fun. It's definitely worthwhile to track what/how much you're eating; it's amazing how a "normal" plate of food is really way too big.
posted by ruby.aftermath at 12:19 AM on October 23, 2005


I'm a vegetarian too, and I lost about 15 pounds through the Weight Watchers web site program a few years ago. I'm not much of a joiner, so going to meetings didn't appeal to me. The web site helped me pick meals I could prepare myself or convenience foods I could pick up -- all of them vegetarian.

Once I lost the weight I left the program. After a few years my weight gradually started climbing up again, but I didn't have the cash to join a program. So I just wrote down everything I ate and used the web to calculate my calories. I tried to eat 1,300 to 1,600 calories per day, and burn at least 300 calories through aerobic exercise four times a week. Worked as well and as painlessly as Weight Watchers.

Statistically, people who are trying to lose weight are more successful when they do it with others, so if you're comfortable in a group environment WW might be good for you.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 12:19 AM on October 23, 2005


Some things about Weight Watchers have changed. One is that you can choose not to use the "points" system if you don't like keeping track that way. Instead, you can now choose among foods on a particular list, and just consume enough that you no longer feel hungry.

Also, there's an option that allows you to pay a few dollars more every time you go, and not have to pay for sessions you miss.

In addition, they now empasize things like fiber content and whole grains, and other healthful things. They encourage exercise but they don't harp on it.

Once you get close to your goal weight, the weigh comes off very slowly. This ought to be a clue that in order not to regain the weight, you really have to stay pretty close to the same program and calorie intake that got you to goal. Do I do this? No, and that's why I've had to rejoin every few years -- and so do a lot of other people.

I don't care for the meetings, but I find that having to get weighed regularly keeps me mostly on track. You really can tailor it to your own personality and goals. I weigh in every other week and I eat more than is suggested, because for me a slow decline in weight is much better.

There is nothing unhealthy about Weight Watchers. The idea is to change the way you eat, adopting patterns you can live with indefinitely.
posted by wryly at 12:49 AM on October 23, 2005


It wouldn't hurt to try WW for awhile. You might spot a few foods that are hurting your efforts to loose. I used to think rice was a diet food until I became a diabetic--a cup of rice will shoot my sugars higher than a candy bar! In the long run you loose weight and keep it off by making subtle changes in your diet that become a part of your routine.
posted by phewbertie at 12:57 AM on October 23, 2005


My mom has had success with WW. She lost... I dunno, maybe 20 lbs, and is a lifetime member. She isn't going to meetings currently, but when she gains a couple pounds, she gets out her WW materials and does it for a few weeks to take them off.
A big part of it seems to be finding a group leader you like. My mom's leader is very popular. I have heard random people mention her several times.
It can't hurt to try. Just going into it committing to give it a fair try.
posted by clh at 1:19 AM on October 23, 2005


A friend is on the points system and it is going really well for her (~40 lbs) - she explained it to me and it seems really sensible and non-draconian as far as diets go, just an organized system of portion control really. She doesn't do meetings, just keeps track of her points on a website.
posted by mai at 1:29 AM on October 23, 2005


I lost 47lbs with WW last year. Since then I've put a fair bit back on again, but my habits have changed and my eating is generally healthier. I particularly like the way they let you swap exercise for food / booze - whilst out jogging, I've been known to shout "I'VE EARNED A PINT OF BEER!" every 15 minutes.

The meetings helped a lot, but it does depend on the group leader. I changed meetings quite a bit, and only found 1 leader whose style I didn't get on with.
posted by handee at 2:29 AM on October 23, 2005


2 of my coworkers (25 and 35) have had some success with a WW program at work. It seems that you get out what you put in, in terms of consistent portion control.

I had great success (lost 14 lbs in 2 months) by switching to Cooking Light recipes (from the magazine). I didn't worry too much about portion control, and the meals are really, really tasty. I also swam twice a week in a Master's Swimming class at the YMCA. *Vigorous* swimming.

good luck!
posted by mdiskin at 2:33 AM on October 23, 2005


I came to know about WW as a support person for a loved one who has recently started the program but lost 3 kgs in the first week.

The thing I find frustrating about WW is that I don't think they take into consideration race and cultural factors that may impact on someones weight.

The point system has taught me about good nutrition. Being aware of healthy portions will assist with your success. You can have regular food whilst on WW but you also need to be disciplined. Good luck.
posted by Chimp at 3:25 AM on October 23, 2005


I do not think WW is that healthy. At least in my country all they watch is calories, fat and a little fiber. Like Ruby said: tofu and french fries get the same amount of points. Most WW people I know eat fat-free cookies and think that that is healthy, even though they are loaded with sugar. They will not touch raw almonds though, because they are too fatty. WW does stress that fat is important, that's why they have you spread margarine on your bread, to get at least a little bit of fat. I do not think that that is the right approach.

Also, I think they diet is too starch based. Potatoes and pasta are unlimited (again: in my country, I have read that the system differs per country), but fruits are limited.

I think it might help people who do not eat healthy at all (lots of fast food and snacks), or people who do well with peer pressure, but based on how you describe yourself, I second the recommendation for Fitday or something similar. Simply tracking what I ate has helped me lose 100 pounds.
posted by davar at 4:31 AM on October 23, 2005 [1 favorite]


At heart, the points system is a calorie reduction diet, without the burden of tracking calories very precisely. It also encourages high fiber intake (which earns you more calories) and low fat content (which costs you calories). Nothing very revolutionary, but it works very well. In particular, it works for portion control since you have to track everything you eat.
posted by smackfu at 6:42 AM on October 23, 2005


I lost about 35 lbs with Weight Watchers and working my tail off.

davar, my experience has been quite different than your friend's. The emphasis on foods that are lower points, at least here, are all fresh vegetables and high fiber items. When you go from a diet where you eat crap, mostly, to one where you're really stacking your food deck with vegetables - you are bound to lose at least some weight. I am a type II diabetic and have found that it is adaptable enough for someone who watches carbohydrates.

What also helped me is that my leader was freakin' awesome. Very funny, sarcastic, and willing to talk about the dirty of losing weight and changing body image and stuff like that.
posted by cajo at 7:02 AM on October 23, 2005


I lost about 80lbs on WW last year, but have been slacking and put about 20 of it back on. WW has two plans they run right now, their point based counting plan, and their food choice based non-counting plan.

The counting plan is all about portion control - you eat what you want, but in limited amounts, and learn to trade off some of that chocolate cake for bran flakes in order to be non-starving at the end of the day.

The non-counting plan is about food choices and opting to eat healthier things instead of chocolate cake. It sounds like you've already got the healthy choices thing down, so the non-counting plan wouldn't help you much.

Someone else mentioned that they think it's ridiculous that a portion of tofu and a portion of french fries have the same number of points, but the reality is, a portion of tofu and a portion of french fries have very similar fat and calorie profiles. From a weightloss perspective, they *should* have the same number of points. It's learning things like that, that choices I made because they seemed healthier weren't necessarily better weightloss choices, that made the biggest difference for me. You do have to be careful to balance other factors like vitamin and nutrient content, which is where choosing tofu over french fries comes into play, but from a strictly weightloss perspective, they are equivalent.
posted by jacquilynne at 8:16 AM on October 23, 2005


Someone else mentioned that they think it's ridiculous that a portion of tofu and a portion of french fries have the same number of points, but the reality is, a portion of tofu and a portion of french fries have very similar fat and calorie profiles. From a weightloss perspective, they *should* have the same number of points. It's learning things like that, that choices I made because they seemed healthier weren't necessarily better weightloss choices, that made the biggest difference for me. You do have to be careful to balance other factors like vitamin and nutrient content, which is where choosing tofu over french fries comes into play, but from a strictly weightloss perspective, they are equivalent.
posted by jacquilynne at 8:16 AM PST on October 23


Uh, no, what the fuck?

3 oz tofu, Mori-Nu Silken Extra-Firm:

45 kcal
1.5g fat
55 mg sodium
2g carbohydrates
6g protein

2.6 oz McDonald's small french fries:

230 kcal
11g fat
140mg sodium
30g carbohydrates
2g protein

If that's the sort of information Weight Watchers provides, I can't believe anyone's ever lost weight on their program. I'm also not surprised people tend to regain the weight they lost. It's a gimmick just like all those other bullshit diets and programs out there.

Eat clean, lift weights, do cardiovascular exercise, run a calorie deficit. You will lose fat and not muscle mass, and you won't be fooling yourself into thinking that fucking fried potatoes are even close to a rational choice.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 9:23 AM on October 23, 2005


davar, you & ruby seem to disagree - ruby seems to think it's "not fair" that a tiny little french fry and a whole big serving of tofu get the same points, not that the two are equated.

I think weight watchers is basically just calorie counting. If you like having a group to do it with, go for it. You can also just do it on your own. Or read hacker's diet for support. Good luck.
posted by mdn at 9:28 AM on October 23, 2005


Oh, and anon: for real success stories, inspiration, and mostly good data about what to eat, how much, and why, visit http://www.johnstonefitness.com. I can't think of a better place for a beginner.

Also: http://www.stumptuous.com/weights.html
posted by Optimus Chyme at 9:30 AM on October 23, 2005


I am doing Weight Watchers now and so far have lost about 25 pounds. It is working really well for me, obviously, and I am not finding it all that difficult. If nothing else, it has helped me realize that if I don't eat as much as I possibly can, I can still be full. I've learned about portion control and it has also helped me ditch my addiction to greasy foods like potato chips and fast food.

The Weight Watchers points thing is based on a formula that considers calories, fat, and fibre.

In all honesty, though, I think what has helped with me is the "support group" atmosphere of the meetings. I go in each week, get weighed, and people clap every five pounds you lose. There is discussion about what has been difficult and what has been helping and this does a lot for me. I doubt the online thing would be as effective in my case. In some ways, WW treats over-eating like an addiction, and for some people (like me) this approach really works.

A handy site you might want to look at is http://www.dwlz.com, which has online boards (with journals and other WW-related discussion), as well as some recipes, food lists, and meal plans.
posted by synecdoche at 10:04 AM on October 23, 2005


If that's the sort of information Weight Watchers provides, I can't believe anyone's ever lost weight on their program. I'm also not surprised people tend to regain the weight they lost. It's a gimmick just like all those other bullshit diets and programs out there.

Eat clean, lift weights, do cardiovascular exercise, run a calorie deficit. You will lose fat and not muscle mass, and you won't be fooling yourself into thinking that fucking fried potatoes are even close to a rational choice.


Okay, first of all, you're not factoring in fiber - the tofu has none, the fries have three grams, which will bring down the points a bit. Even so, according to my points calculator and the information at nutritiondata.com, the tofu is worth one (1) point. McDonalds fries (a small order) are worth six (6).

It's possible that Ruby was just tossing out a general example, but that one is incorrect. Not to nitpick, but Weight Watchers is proven to work for exactly the reasons that you're encouraging here. If you follow their guidelines (which do not in any way encourage eating french fries), you'll be "eating clean" by making healthful, low calorie and portion controlled choices. They also encourage regular exercise. In fact, depending on the leader, they'll tell you that no program works without it.

The bottom line is that no matter what program you're on, if you're really dedicated, it will work. If you stay with it, you will keep your weight off. Additionally, what works for one person may not work for another (in terms of what they can actually stay dedicated to). Go with what works for you.
posted by mewithoutyou at 10:34 AM on October 23, 2005


Eek. Yeah, that was just a general example, I haven't been on Weight Watchers for a while and didn't bother to look anything up.
I guess what bothered me was the opaqueness of the point system (even when I understand the general principles behind it). I prefer to make decisions based on actual calories and nutrients. YMMV.
posted by ruby.aftermath at 10:55 AM on October 23, 2005


The thing I find frustrating about WW is that I don't think they take into consideration race and cultural factors that may impact on someones weight.

Chimp, this piqued my curiosity. Could you expand on this a little?
posted by tangerine at 12:42 PM on October 23, 2005


I've lost 95 pounds on a modified version of the whole points-counting part of Weight Watchers. I say 'modified' because 1) I don't get into the whole support-group public weigh-in thing and 2) I don't think the program puts nearly enough emphasis on getting a decent amount of exercise. Still, the points system made it dead easy to get a fast handle on how to eat cleanly.

I don't follow the points system to the letter anymore, simply because I work out far too hard and too often to be able to subsist on the supposed 'points target' for my weight. I've tried, and I end up pissed off and starving. However, without the program I don't know if I would have ever figured out how to eat this well on my own without getting discouraged and giving up.

My opinion, more or less: Weight Watchers absolutely works, but not if you go about it half-assed. And you need to exercise.
posted by makonan at 1:29 PM on October 23, 2005


I just think that peoples body shapes and height can vary depending where they come from, example hot climate v cold climate. This is something I picked up in high school science. I guess ww provides a reasonable suitable weight range that may already take race factors into consideration.
posted by Chimp at 1:52 PM on October 23, 2005


makonan, as far as the exercise goes, did they have the earn points by exercise system then? Now, if you exercise, you can earn points based on your weight and the intensity.
posted by synecdoche at 1:53 PM on October 23, 2005


I guess ww provides a reasonable suitable weight range that may already take race factors into consideration.

They do not. It's based on BMI, which does not take body composition or other factors (such as race or ethnicity) into account. (Unless they've changed this in the 3 years since I've been to a meeting, in which case I stand corrected.)

About the only thing, IMO, that WW is good for is for teaching appropriate portion sizes and better overall nutrition. The meetings I've been to--across three different states--emphasized ways to eat a lot of volume without a lot of corresponding points, the importance of obsessively tracking every morsel of food that goes into your body, and various other behaviors that, if exhibited by a group of 96 pound people instead of a bunch of fat people, would be considered unhealthy.
posted by eilatan at 4:48 PM on October 23, 2005


the importance of obsessively tracking every morsel of food that goes into your body

If you're looking to lose fat, it's good to be a little obsessed at first. Ignoring a soda there or a few pieces of candy here not only adds up, such behavior makes it far easier to slip into bad habits.

However, I can't see the benefit of taking race or ethnicity into account, unless you are a literally world-class athlete looking for every possible advantage you can have. It's just not going to make a difference what race you are 99.99% of the time.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 4:59 PM on October 23, 2005


I prefer to make decisions based on actual calories and nutrients.

/me shrugs. The formula for a point is (Calories - 25 + 4*Fat - 10*Fibre) / 50, rounded up. That's pretty specific. For me, I can remember and count 30 points a day. But trying to remember and count 2000 calories a day without approximating and rounding my way into an extra 250 calories a day doesn't work. Of course, I have to admit I fell off WW about 6 months ago, and these days I can't keep to the points, either. I can count them, and remember how many I'm eating, it's just more likely to be 50 than 30.
posted by jacquilynne at 5:10 PM on October 23, 2005


Obsessive as in weighing every food to the tenth of the gram, counting numbers of grapes, et cetera, and writing it all down in elaborate journals. To be shown to one's meeting leader and fellow WWers, as a kind of trophy. I can see writing down what you're eating to keep track of your intake (I do that occasionally, and I no longer diet), but eating 20 grapes one day instead of your usual 10 isn't going to make a significant difference in your weight-loss regimen. And there are people who go to WW who do believe that eating 20 grapes instead of 10 once a week is going to make an appreciable difference. After a certain point--and I don't pretend to know where this point is, as I was only ever a haphazard food journaller even when I was a "good" WWer--it strikes me as being not good for one's mental health to be so meticulous and exacting about one's food intake. I don't know about you, but I've got better things to do with my time than count grapes. :)
posted by eilatan at 8:04 PM on October 23, 2005


eilatan, obviously your experience was very different than what mine has been. The meetings I have attended have not been anything like that at all. There is certainly a measuring of food, but no more so than anybody else who wanted to monitor caloric intake even somewhat accurately would do. The emphasis in the meetings I have been to has been on monitoring serving size, certainly, but this is useful in that-- for me anyway-- what I used to take as a serving was much more. Now that I actually pay attention to what a serving size is, I am a lot healthier. I have lost weight, and I feel generally better to, which is the ultimate goal for me. We also deal with things like finding healthier substitutes for certain foods and figuring out how to lower the calorie and fat count of recipes and things like that, which is not bad.

None of this has involved measuring things as exactly as you say (though obviously you're been hyperbolic for rhetorical effect). In fact, they encourage finding general rules of thumb to estimate a serving size (ie based on the palm of your hand, for example).

And I don't think journalling is necessarily bad. They encourage it but by no means do they force anybody to do it. That said, I have found it very useful, not only for weight loss, but also for reference for my own use.

Also, the current incarnation of Weight Watchers allows you flex points. You have your points total for the day, and you get a certain number of "flex points" so you can treat yourself or whatever.

Now, my mother did Weight Watchers in the 80s, and based on speaking to her, it used to be much more draconian in its method than it is now. But ultimately, Weight Watchers is about limiting fat and calories, which is important for weight loss, and they do spend much more time (again, at the meetings I have been to, anyway) encouraging exercise than they do counting beans for your lunch.
posted by synecdoche at 9:09 PM on October 23, 2005


My girlfriend has done WW and it's been successful for her when she commits to doing it. My observations of her and others lead me to believe a few things about it.

One, there probably are true cases where healthy item X has the same points as unhealthy item Y. Someone determined to game the system can do so by scrupulously looking for such things and expending a lot of effort finding those "loophole" foods. Solution: don't do that. It's not a licensing exam, if someone wants to cheat that bad they should just not use WW. If other people do it, what the hell do you care? Let them just be fat and enrich the WW people with their dues.

Overall I think the point system is very useful. A goodly percentage of the people on WW need to be made to be aware of what they are eating and in what quantity and it does a good job of accomplishing that. Overall it's a system that pushes you into picking certain kinds of things certain ways and once it's a habit it's fairly easy to keep up.

Two, the major lack in the WW system is that it doesn't involve screaming at the members GET OFF YOUR ASS AND GET SOME EXERCISE, ANY EXERCISE. It's very possible to be on the points system and not alter your physical habits at all, and the difference in success levels (particularly long-term) for people seems to be almost completely tied to getting some physical activity. The new portion/type of food system (called "Core") seems to be an effort to make it almost impossible to not suppliment with some exercise but it can still be done.

Those of you saying WW is useless, just eat less and exercise: well no shit, Sherlock. WW is a weight-loss version of a mnemonic to help you remember something important. In the end it still involves actually remembering, it's just a shorthand technique towards building those skills. Personally I'd say the Points system is the best diet-plan implementation of EL&E there is; I certainly like it better than good food/bad food stuff like South Beach and Atkins.
posted by phearlez at 11:54 AM on October 24, 2005


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