have an arm of my business that consults with Fitness Professionals
to help them understand what's "really" going on
in this field. A question recently came in from a trainer
asking about Weight Watchers. Since I receive so many
questions about the Weight Watchers program, I thought posting
the Q&A would help provide clarity, not only for trainers,
but for anyone seeking a sound weight loss program.
I frequently run into clients who are willing to exercise
with me and who want to "do" weight watchers because
"it has worked for them in the past." I
know very little about Weight Watchers except that the members
regularly weigh in (encouraging the use of the scale as THE
measurement of success) and they use some sort of point system
within which it seems the member can eat ANYTHING, including
sugar. As a result, I never know how to respond. Can
you clarify the Weight Watchers technology for me; i.e., on
what are the points based, how do they account for appropriate
amounts of carbs, protein, fat, etc.
ANSWER: Weight Watchers
may very well have been the first effectively marketed diet
program aimed at the masses.
The popularity of Weight Watchers about 40 years ago
actually introduced most Americans to a word they never knew,
and most still don’t understand. The calorie. The
reason it received such high public acclaim, aside from the
number of pounds lost without drastic deprivation as in previous
diets, is because Weight Watchers presents the premise of
“a lifestyle change.”
The founder of Weight Watchers, Jean Nidetch, started the program
in her home in Brooklyn back in 1963 where she instituted
a real world sensible eating program that focuses on cutting
back on calories. She
didn’t however distinguish between the different effects sugar
calories, fat calories, quality protein calories, and complex
carb calories bring about in the human body. She also failed to incorporate the “thermic effect” of eating
Weight Watchers has modified its recommendations since its first
inception, and while far more lifestyle information is now
disseminated by the organization, the overall effectiveness
of calorie deprivation remains unchanged.
As I’m sure you recognize, if “it worked for them in
the past,” yet they’re seeking out a NEW solution, it didn’t
work for them in the long term.
Originally Weight Watchers developed an “exchange” system, where
you were allotted a certain number of “bread exchanges,” “fruit
exchanges,” etc. every day, a concept later re-invented by
Richard Simmons' “Deal a Meal.”
The exchanges were based upon portion control limiting
the amount of calories being ingested while still encouraging
eating of real food.
As their exposure brought greater profits, they decided
to implement “weight watchers foods,” further increasing their
profit margins by now having their followers buy meals as
well as support. The
exchange system allowed for snacking, as long as you limited
your daily intake to the food exchanges suggested.
Their new approach brings with it some modifications.
They’ve replaced the exchanges with “points.” Now, every food is assigned a number of points based on its
fat, fiber, and calorie content.
There are various categories so you can choose a “point
system” that works for you.
Conceptually this sounds great, but the reality is, you’re still
changing your lifestyle to one that cuts calories, you are
ingesting, if you prefer, some sugar laden foods (while limiting
points in other areas), and cravings and metabolic slowdown
are a given.
If something positive is to be said for any diet, Weight Watchers
is one that I can actually find some kind words for. I don’t believe their entry into the marketplace was based
upon a fraudulent attempt to collect money from weight loss
hopefuls without delivering value.
While the diet is flawed, I believe it’s developers
and operators believe they are involved in an ethical and
Of course, what they fail to answer is why, if their diet is so
“successful,” so many people "return" to Weight
attended Weight Watchers meetings.
They’re almost comical.
14 or 15 women sit around in a room, lending each other
support, and some make the journey to . . . the scale!
They take off their jewelry, remove their shoes, peel
off a sweater, and exhale, then they step up.
A facilitator examines the measurement, refers to a
chart, and announces, “Mary lost 1.25 pounds” and the room
erupts in applause.
Interestingly, nobody’s there for the first time.
They’ve all “come back” after regaining the weight.
Weight Watchers, although they can document substantial
pounds being shed, maintains the same abysmal failure rate
as the other commercial diet programs.
new Weight Watchers has also integrated lots of psychology
into their attempts at initiating adherence.
They offer such pearls as, “Start thinking of food
in terms of nutritional and economical value. If you’re tempted
to get a second serving of Chinese just because it's free,
think ahead to the high costs in health bills and low self-esteem
that an unhealthy diet results in.”
Again, with good intentions being recognized, I see
an instant flaw in telling people to stop thinking of food
as enjoyment. We
live in a society where every social outing, every celebratory
event, is focused around food.
I’ve found it’s far better to teach people to eat and
exercise in a manner that speeds metabolism, allowing you
to enjoy a good amount of food, and even the less supportive
food on occasion without consequence.
also address the theory that people gain weight because they
overeat, and they overeat because they feel as if the foods
offer reward. In
that vain, they suggest you find other ways to reward yourself.
These include renting comedy videos, having coffee
with a friend, singing, or taking a bath.
Let’s get real.
If you’re craving cheesecake, you can sit in the tub
with the TV blasting a comedy video while you drink coffee
and you’re still wanting that cheesecake!
appeal is vast, and their promise is legitimate. “Stick with
your Daily Points and you will lose weight.”
If, however, a diet is based on long term deprivation,
calorie restriction, and inclusion for frequent sugar allowances,
you can rest assured very few will “stick” with their Daily
Points for the duration.
This brings about that all too familiar self-blame,
where people feel guilt for their perceived lack of willpower.
The fact that the program is marketed as “easy” further
stimulates self indictment when people inevitably “fall off.”
Once your clients begin to understand precisely why
calorie deprivation failed them in the long term, and come
to appreciate the metabolic advantages you can offer them,
they should open up to eating supportively.
As a final note, Weight Watchers presently “sees” about
600,000 people per week!
There’s a vast market out there, all failing, all blaming
themselves, and all in desperate need of your help!
If you begin by introducing Weight Watchers followers
to supportive exercise, and then, a little at a time, provide
education as to how they can modify their nutritional approach,
given a bit of time you should win them over.
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