December 20, 2007

Dissin' Weight Watchers

[Written by Crabby]

Over at Elastic Waist, Weetabix and Sarah were recently having a spirited gripe session about Weight Watchers. What set them off was a new ad campaign in which Weight Watchers is pretending not to be a "diet." (South Beach is apparently doing the same thing too).

But the discussion went beyond just the ad campaign to the program itself, and they both had some strong feelings about it.

Here's a choice quote from Weetabix:

"I can't deal with some old lady making a squinchy face if I only lose 0.2 pounds in a week, and tell me that I must be retaining water. I don't ever want to feel like I have to explain to someone that I just forgot to change out of jeans or didn't go to the bathroom before coming to weigh in. I am afraid of any mindset where I feel compelled to make excuses for not pooping!"

The whole post is amusing and there are a lot of great observations, both pro and con, made in the comments section.

Are any of you on Weight Watchers? (She said disingenuously, knowing full well from your blogs that a bunch of you are). I've never been on it myself, but I've known some people who have had great success with it. (But for the record, I would tend to agree that an ad campaign claiming Weight Watchers is "not a diet" sounds like total horsesh*t) .

This is one of those posts that's a question rather an opinion: What do you all think of Weight Watchers? What's great or awful about it?


  1. The Bag Lady refuses to pay to lose weight - she paid enough GAINING it!!
    Actually, she's never been on Weight Watchers, but has known a couple of people who were, and were very successful at losing the weight, AND at keeping it off. That said, it is still a diet...unless you consider it a life-style....forever and ever, amen.

  2. I'm one of the people who commented on the site, and I agree wholeheartedly with what they say. WW is ABSOLUTELY a diet, and, if you are prone to disordered eating, it will only make it worse.

  3. Weight Watchers is the weight loss system that studies seem to say works best. From personal experience, I do know people who have been successful with it. I don't think it encourages exercise enough, which I don't agree with. I recommend W.W. to people occasionally if I think it is what they need.
    Dr. J

  4. WW is absolutely a diet!

    It's not right for me, personally, because I tried it for a week or two and it made me mental. However, I do know lots of people who have been very successful on it, in the short and long term. I think it's just one more option for people, and we all have to find what works for us.

  5. Thanks Bag Lady, azusmom, Dr. J, and practiceliving! I find it really interesting that different people experience it so differently. It seems like it's much more comprehensive than a lot of other programs--which could be good or bad!

  6. Hi! I'm Marie and I'm an upcoming success story :P

    Sure, you can treat it as a "diet"; hording your points like they're precious gold and eating low fat, low cal, pre-packaged, processed foods out to wazoo and then YOU WILL end up binging until you're sick to your stomach. That is what makes the plan the diet that everyone hates, everyone thinks sucks, everyone thinks is unsuccessful and bashes out their ying-yang.

    OR you can treat it as an entire life style change; choose whole foods instead of junk, make your own treats, following the eight healthy guidelines they set out (which are really like following a food guide or a food pyramid), watching your portions and incorporating exercise into your day-to-day planning. That's sustainable. THAT'S A HEALTHY LIFESYTLE.

    Choosing to go to a meeting and be belittled by a crusty WW receptionist for ONLY losing .2 is usually an isolated incident, but you and your food journal would hold the answer to the .2 really, not the poop or the jeans or any other excuse you want to come up with to hide the food you really didn't track.

    For me, WW has changed the entire way I eat and live. I didn't have to spend the money on it and could have just followed a food guide, but I NEEDED the tools to get me there. I'm an over-eater and a sneak eater. I need the accountability and to record what I eat to SEE what I'm doing to myself.

    and I'd do it again in a heartbeat. Oh wait, I'm still doing it.

  7. Eh, it's definitely a diet. I know a couple folks who did have great success on it, but it's not for me. Though my all-chocolate-all-the-time diet isn't working -where did I go WRONG??? ;-)

  8. hehe, someone said "poop". Yes, I am twelve today....

  9. Marie, what an awesome comment! Thanks for your perspective.

    And Missicat, you crack me up.

  10. WW was great for me, but i never did it to the letter, and i always did the Core program, which doesn't involve quite so much regimented counting. I also broke rules that seemed silly to me; the program is more low-fat than i think is necessary, for example. It's geared toward volumetrics but after a certain point, I'd rather eat less food but have it be richer. Still, it helped me lose about 15 lbs that i've kept off.

    But the idea that i was officially "on a program," as well as the weigh ins and online support were really helpful, i think. i never could stand meetings, where most of the people were counting points and they all seemed focused on obsessive searches for foods that were under 2 points. So i just didn't attend them! They did seem to promote food-obsession.

    One other thought though: I used WW to get down a weight that in retrospect, looking at photos, was a little too low for me. Still not overly thin by social or even healthy standards, but not right for my body. My head looked big! So I gained a few back on maintenance and leveled out at the "happy weight."

  11. I don't agree with any weight management plan that requires obsessive scale-watching. Weight fluctuates for a number of reasons and if you're exercising, you can even gain weight while losing girth. So I would have to disagree with the weigh-in aspect of WW.

    From what I've heard of the WW points system, it sounds like basic common-sense calorie management that anyone can do without complicating it with endless translation of calories to points.

    WW seems to allow more variety than other diets, which I think is good. No diet will work for long if it's centered around what you can and cannot eat. My understanding of WW is that of course you can have an Oreo, you just have to budget the points (calories) against the rest of your input (food) and output (exercise) for the day. And if your food tastes run more toward vegetarian fare, fine. If you're a meat and potatoes person, that's fine, too. The focus is on the bottom line and in theory there aren't any "forbidden" foods.

    That's my understanding at any rate, and it's good thinking and common sense.

    Of all the diet plans I've heard of, WW seems to be the most easily used in a sensible and successful fashion. If someone is helped by the mystique of points and meetings, more power to them. But one can apply many of the WW principles to daily living without spending a dime.

  12. Marie, that is so awesome! I'm glad that you've had success with the program. Whether some people do make it work for them was never really in contention, and I agree, it is totally one of the best commercial diet programs out there. But it's still a diet program. They're still trying to sell you something, and it's a lot of common sense for most serial dieters.

  13. So, I'm sitting here, reading this, eating potato chips (sour cream and bacon, if anyone wants to know) and I dropped one on the floor. Both my cats had to check it out. They will usually eat anything, and if anyone should be on WW, it's them, but neither one of them ate it. Makes ya wonder, eh?

  14. I am another WW success story, though the 'keeping it off' part is yet to be seen--I just lost 65+ pounds and am just starting maintenance. WW is definitely a diet, but it is also more of a system to change your eating habits and way of thinking about food and exercise. To me what is really great about it is that it can facilitate as much or as little lifestyle change as you are willing to make.

    I do agree that in actual practice, WW puts way too little emphasis on exercise. But as far as the financial aspect goes, it is far cheaper than food purchase diets like Jenny Craig, and more sustainable. And I have never felt pressured into buying WW food, which I find to be mostly junk. I am concerned about how many people seem to work the program, lose the weight, then put it all back on and then some, and back to WW they go. I don't know if that is really a reflection on the program, or the difficulty of losing weight and keeping it off. I do suspect they are the same people who eat the junk diet food and don't exercise.

  15. I've lost 31 lbs (so far) using Weight Watchers. I think it is absolutely a very sensible plan that teaches you how to eat in a healthy manner.

    I truly don't consider it a diet. I consider it a healthy way of eating. I had no idea what real portions were before I started the program. I was eating two and three times the amount of food that I was supposed to.

    WW doesn't tell you that anything is off limits, like some other weight loss plans. It doesn't give you prepackaged stuff that doesn't force you to make good or bad choices and account for them. It gives you the tools to make the right choices for yourself, and once you have those tools, you can move forward towards being more healthy.

    I personally like my meetings and feel like they've made a tremendous difference in the amount of weight I have been able to lose. No one judges me at the scale. They quietly write it down in my little book, and if I'm frustrated they offer encouragement. I've never heard anyone say anything that hasn't been anything less than supportive at my weigh ins.

    There's a lot of science and nutrition behind Weight Watchers. So many other plans I see use elements of what Weight Watchers teaches you. I honestly think it is the healthiest, sanest way to achieve a healthy lifestyle. I'm back at the weight I was in my late twenties, I'm in better shape than I have been possibly ever, and I know what I'm doing for my body with every bite I take.

  16. I did it once, years ago, and it was bad news for me. I don't deal well with recording everything that I eat and it's nutritional contents, it just allows me to become very compulsive about the whole thing.

    Also, WW wanted me to eat MORE than I had been eating, so that I actually gained weight on it.

    However, I know several people for whom it has been amazing. One was really fat, and she lost over 100 lbs and has pretty much kept it off (she's gained some back, but is still definately in a different, lower weight-class now). another was not fat, but wanted to lose weight gained while recovering from surgery, and did so. For each of them, the decisive factor was the embarassment of the weigh-in, and the fact that it was costing them money.

  17. Well I happen to have had great success with weight watchers and I don't believe it is JUST a diet. Although I no longer go, I have maintained my weight loss (30 lbs) for over 2 years now. Not only that, but I learned how to make better food choices, something that will stick with me forever. Sometimes it's really simple stuff like choosing clearer salad dressing over creamy, or looking for food with more fiber in it, and goodness knows I've discovered fat free and reduced fat foods that actually taste good. Either way, I think weight watchers or any other weight loss, diet, nutritional program you choose to follow is your own choice and it's up to each person if it's for them or not : )

  18. Wow, these are just incredibly interesting and helpful comments, both pro and con. And I love the way none of you is trying to speak for anyone else but yourself!

    (Except of course amusing anonymous who is speaking for two rather sensible cats).

    And a special thanks to Weetabix for stopping by! (And btw, I didn't mean to imply she was "dissing" WW for other people--she was very clear in her post that she was speaking of her own experience).

    That's what I love about this crowd--everyone has great opinions and observations, but it always stays a discussion rather than turning into an argument when people come from different perspectives.

  19. I'm down 45 lbs. and back to my college/highschool ideal weight by following WWers Core plan. I've been maintaining since Jan '07.

    The reason I chose WWers? I knew a few women with amazing bodies who said that they had lost weight years ago on WW. They were healthy, fit, cool, and not disordered in their eating. Not everyone at WW is an old lady with a frozen dinner/artificial sweetener fetish.

    Also, almost all of the lifetime members I know who maintain their weight successfully follow a regular fitness plan.

  20. I sort-of tried Weight Watchers once -- a friend who was on the program gave me the quiz for how many points you get, and it worked out to 19 a day for me. She also gave me the points formula, which is public, by the way:

    Points = (calories/50) + (fat grams/12) - (min(fiber grams, 4)/5) -- That is, one point for every 50 calories and every 12 fat grams, minus up to 4/5 of a point for the first 4 grams of fiber.

    She never told me anything about any "Flex" points (I don't know if the version of the plan she was on includes them) and if you do a little math, you should see a fairly big problem: following this plan would have me eating less than 1000 calories per day.

    Obviously, that nonsense did not last very long.

    Even if you take "Flex" points into account, though, the Weight Watchers plan in itself really doesn't do anything to encourage healthy food choices, and it didn't do anything to get me to reduce my sugar intake, which I feel was the key to finally being able to lose any weight.

    I got on the Richard Simmons plan shortly afterwards; he emphasizes (and the plan, in fact, enforces) a balanced diet. I started eating (*cough* drinking) vegetables and had to eliminate most sugary stuff from my diet. And, of course, Richard requires you to exercise as well (it's one of the windows you have to close every day).

    Guess what happened? :)

    So, in conclusion: Counting points bad, sparkly tank-tops good. (At least for Chicken Girls.)

  21. I did Weight Watchers around 8 years ago. The points system was really helpful for me at the time and I lost around 15kg. However, one of the main attractions was our group leader, and she never followed the typical meeting format. I was around 3kg off my goal weight when she decided to organise for some personal trainers to come and talk to us about fitness and exercise. Weight Watchers told her that it wasn't part of their programme, and refused permission for her to have the trainers come to our meeting. She was so disgusted by Weight Watchers' attitude that she quit. Most of the members of that group left with her. Some of us stayed for a little longer, but the standard meetings were so formulaic that we quickly lost interest. I didn't lose that last three kilos until I developed a running habit two years ago, and then I lost five more on top of those three!

    I think things may have changed now, but Weight Watchers always used to allocate more points to fat than sugar, even though the fat might be healthier.

    IThe points system did teach me about portion sizes, but in the end Weight Watchers is a marketing machine just like any other weight loss company. There was more emphasis on eating low-point Weight Watchers sweets and desserts and 'getting away' with poor food choices, than there ever was on actually following a proper balanced diet.

    And yes, WW is still a diet!

  22. I'm with Baggie on this one. I won't pay to diet. I do know what I should and shouldn't eat, and when I follow my own set rules, I'm successful, though I suppose keeping on track is one aspect of WW that I could benefit from.

  23. I've known a lot of people who have been successful on WW. (Marie being the first person to come to mind)

    That said, I SUCK at math. My husband and I were teasing each other the other day because it took both of us WAAAAY too long to come up with an answer for a really simple multiplication problem (Is it 2,000 or 20,000?) I can barely keep track of calories, so I'm not so sure I'd be any better at points.

    I did Body For Life a long time ago and lost some weight. When I go into weight loss mode, I pretty much revert to that basic plan. It's really simple. But as a general rule I stay away from "programs," and if I don't think I could do it for the rest of my life I stay away.

    (that was a really funny post at elastic waist though. And I loved marie's comment about making excuses!)

  24. I've been on WW for 8 months and I've lost 50 lbs so far. I really needed to take a hard look at the portions that I was eating. I was NOT a veggie eater before WW, but all that has changed. I have found lots of vegetables and fruits that I enjoy now, instead of junk food.

    WW also encourages you to drink at least 6 8 oz glasses of water per day. I decided to give up my diet drinks and replaced them with water. I can really tell a difference in my skin. Since I rarely drank water before, this was definitely a good move for me.

    I had been a member of WW before...and always the first week you lose several pounds, but after that, the pounds come off more slowly. I tended to give up too easily. This time, I decided to hang in there and realized that 1-2 pounds per week was actually a good thing.

    So, with all this said, I think WW encourages a healthy lifestyle. I intend to keep this philosophy for a lifetime. Since I have never felt deprived, it doesn't feel like a diet to me.

    Oh, by the way, I have never attended a meeting. I just joined online. :) I'm only accountable to myself, no ladies giving me the evil eye if it's not such a good week on the scale!

  25. Wow, these personal observations are so interesting--I bet a lot of people who are thinking about whether to do WW or some other program would find this really helpful. Thank you all for sharing what works for you and what doesn't!

    Um... anyone know how many points in a medium to large sized cupcake?

  26. I know I am kind of late jumping in to this discussion, but I am so surprised that no one has mentioned the WW stars. REALLY!

    I have never had anyone give me the evil eye over my weight. I LOVE it when they ask who lost .2 lbs and then give them a star and everyone cheers. It just goes on from there. The stars make me happy.

    I think the location and leader that you use are key. You have to find someone that has your outlook on things. I had a leader that ate out all of the time and every recipe she ever posted for the group had artificial EVERYTHING in it. YUCK!

    I had another leader that stressed whole foods and exercise. I got lots more out of that!

    I like WW because I can have a dish of ice cream and not feel like a failure.

  27. Of course WW is a diet - but a diet can translate into a lifestyle for many people. Which would seem to match up with all those people who have lost weight and kept it off on the plan.

    WW does include a maintenance phase, and my understanding is once you reach goal weight and stay there for a certain amount of time, you can attend meetings for free.

    I have never attended meetings, but I am giving the online version a try. From what I can see on the site, they do encourage healthy food choices and exercise.

    Whether this will work for me, I don't know. I have used tools like fitday and sparkpeople before and done ok with them, but lately I've been feeling like I needed something a bit more structured to help me focus, so I decided to try WW. Problem is, I know what I need to do, but I have a hard time sticking to it.

    So far, I haven't found that WW is a huge change from what I have tried before. Probably the best thing for me so far has been the online community at the WW site. I found a group on a particular board that are really encouraging. Which I guess is sort of like attending virtual meetings.

    Anyway, enough rambling from me...Bottom line: They are in business to make money, so I don't see the point in getting worked up over a new marketing campaign. For some people, it does work and it does become a way of life. For others, it obviously is not the right fit. We are all different and each of us has to find the solution that is right for us.

  28. I think Weight Watchers is great, but not for me. It depends on the person. And I may not be the one to give an opinion, being that I only attended one meeting, but I’ve had friends and family on Weight Watchers and this is what I’ve gathered with what’s good and not so good about it. What’s good is that it’s structured and tells you how to lose weight. It’s daunting trying to learn it yourself and a lot of people need help. Additionally, there’s a lot of face-to-face support (which is suppose to be a very effective) and it’s not as expensive as other means. What I don’t like about it is that although it isn’t expensive, I wasn’t ready to spend that kind of money. Also it’s commercialized. I have an issue with that. It makes me feel that they’re trying to get you to spend even MORE money than you set out to spend.

    If WW is trying to pass itself of as NOT a diet, I say whatever. Technically it is a diet, but then most people associate the word “diet” with drastic change in eating that you stop eventually. WW doesn’t want you to stop, ever, so they’re probably pushing the diet vs. lifestyle change route.

  29. Thanks so much Holly, Javachick, and LilyT--I love these really thoughtful responses!

  30. This is a tough one... if you could just look at the program itself at face value - there's sound thinking behind it - lifestyle changes, healthy food pyramids, etc etc.

    They do have good stuff in the literature about nutrition: making sure you get your recommended serves of veggies in, plenty of calcium, whole foods, etc etc. but for so many, all that seems to fade into the background with all the scale/meetings bullshit.

    my personal experience: i lost 100lb in a year with WW and reminded myself of what a reasonable portion of food looked like. but the rest of it screwed with my head: desperately squeezing in another bathroom trip before facing the scale, all that tsk-tsking from the staff if you Only lost half a pound, hearing myself pathetically justify a tiny gain... not to mention the endless pimping of crappy WW snacks full of artificial sweeteners.

    at the end of the day its a business and they make their money with the snacks and the weekly weigh-in fee... if you can remember that you could just make use of the good bits. but i couldn't keep it up without going Scale Bonkers.

  31. I've never done WW, so I can't give a honest opinion. From what I know of it, it seems like you can treat it like a diet, or give yourself some more leeway and adapt it into a lifestyle -- at least, it probably has ore potential to become a lifestyle than other kinds of officially-labelled diets around there.

    On the other hand, I wouldn't want to pay for something that, all in all, is only common sense (common sense is the hardest thing to apply to one's life, don't you think so? ;)). And the meetings/weigh-in stuff probably isn't adapted to everyone, though I find a support part IS important in any long-term weight loss success.

  32. Crabby I'm going to answer you in a post soon. This is a great topic!

  33. I have been on WW on and off for 4 years. The biggest revelation came when I was getting one of those fancy basal metabolic rates readings and my results came in waaay too low for my weight and activity level. The lady told me that the number is either genetic or is a result of long-term caloric deprivation typical for Weight Watchers clients (she didn't know I was with WW). I quit the program shortly thereafter.

  34. Sorry I'm late jumping in here, but I wanted to add my two cents. I have tried WW several times, each time swearing to myself that "this will be the time I succeed". "This time" never comes. I recently had a revalation of sorts though. I realized that WW will never work for me, because I have too many ways to "cheat" legally. I also eat way too many processed foods while "on plan" and I tend to forget about things that are healthy, yet higher in points. All that being said, I'm a person who is just bad at diets (yes, I believe WW is absolutely a diet). I have failed at MANY diets and I believe that my impulsive/compulsive personality has a lot to do with it. I'm now looking into the South Beach Diet (yes, another diet), but I honestly don't know that I'll even go that route. I need to really sit down with myself and figure out a way to navigate my disordered relationship with food.

  35. I definitely lost weight on WW for the bazillionty times I joined it - gave it all my non-existent money and went out for pizza after a good weigh-in. :)

  36. I've been a WW lifetime member for two years now having lost 65 lbs. I'm grateful that I've kept it off. Up until now I've been going every month to weigh in. This month I won't because I can't. I'm probably 3 lbs above my goal weight and they'll make me pay!! I've paid enough. I know why I gained the weight....I've been in and out of the hospital. The "pressure" of that scale telling me I'm over my goal sucks. However I do plan to keep the weight off. I just signed up for the National Body Challenge presented by Discovery Health. And I'm fortunate enough that one of the big kick off events will be held right here in NJ. I've already made my weigh in appt and cannot wait. I will get all great tools for FREE and nobody judging me. Woo hoo.

    I definitely would support WW over any of those other plans any day. However, we all have what works or doesn't work for us. And as long as we do what works...whatever it is, it doesn't matter.

    I wish everyone a very happy and healthy new year!!

  37. Wow, thanks for all the excellent comments about this! Especially with the new year coming a lot of people may be wondering about WW and I think this information might really help people decide whether the program is right for them or not.

  38. I would bet everyone dissing WW is fat and will stay fat. You see it all the time, the people making excuses and critcizing will never succeed.

  39. Anon-
    I'm going to leave your comment up for now, because I hate to delete comments very often--but honestly, it seems quite mean-spirited.

    Lots of people have legitimate opinions about the various different programs. I have no idea why you'd want to disparage people you don't even know just because they don't like the same one you do.

  40. My point being............Dissing WW is just ANOTHER excuse to not lose weight. I get if it is not for you but to discredit it or discovurage someone else is just giving "you" (universal) an excuse not to succeed. I do not go to WW meetings although I have the material and do it at home. Anyone can figure out that it is just a common sense approach to portion control. To diss it is just another excuse for "you" to fail. My opinion right?

  41. Isn't portion control a life style change..............not a diet?

  42. Since the beginning of my "weight-loss journey", my leader has always ended the meeting with "Don't forget! Weight Watchers is not a diet, it's a lifestyle change." You know what? Is it a diet? Sure. But I have changed my eating habits, learned more about portion control (4 servings of pasta? No sweat for the old me.), and enjoyed doing it. Granted, there were definitely weeks where I cheated (you know, it's much easier to order a #1 from Wendy's as opposed to the grilled chicken and a side salad), but always tried to go back with my head held high. Although the woman who weighs us in is a complete slore (yes, mixture of slut and whore), I have always heard down .2 and replied "better than being up!" It's called a positive attitude. I took a vacation from WW for the holidays (my last meeting before last night was December 19th), but went back January 3rd to program. Sure enough, I went down 5.2 lbs! I was so happy (and still am), and I am not cheating anymore. So, that makes a total of 29.6 and I want these last 22 lbs. off before the summer! I want to look good in a bikini! I WANT TO BE A NORMAL TEENAGER AND NOT HIDE AT THE BEACH! So here's hoping. I'm going to start a blog about this, because I'm upgrading from handwriting everything to typing. Here's hoping, and good luck to all the ladies on this diet, scratch that, "Lifestyle Change!"

  43. Of course it's a diet - or should I say a change in your diet. But it's a diet that hopefully you can tweak to fit your life and lifestyle.

    I've maintained a 30+ lb weight loss for almost 20 years after losing it with WW. This afternoon I ate a biscotti. Last night I went out for dinner and had a martini and panecotta to start my meal.

    Oh, did I say I've maintained my weight for almost 20 years?

  44. Weight watchers worked really well for me. I used the core plan, easy peasy.

  45. I'm a lifetime member of WW - hit my goal in Januar of 2006. As bad as it sounds, it really is a lifestyle change. It took planning and dedication. I followed what they called at the time, the Core Plan, which I still follow. You can eat as much as you need to until you feel fool of certain foods, then use an allotment of points for the foods not included on the list. Thanks to my heavy workout schedule I'm allowed a good amount of extra points. I fall of track once in a while and no longer go to meetings, but the program really did teach me how to balance my diet and manage my food. (jen)

  46. With WW, it helps to take some healthy perspective on the weekly weigh-in. When you "gain" or "lose" .2 or .4, that could easily be fluctuations in water weight or clothing.
    I found it helpful to look at my 1-month average. If I'm lower than I was 1 month ago (through those little fluctuations), then I know I'm headed in the right direction. That helped me not obsess over every weekly fluctuation, but focus on the food and exercise choices that would keep me losing weight in the long term and in the following month.


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