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    The Promise

    Pasta, steak, cheese, ice cream... You can eat what you want on Weight Watchers. While the popular weight-loss plan has been revamped, the basic principle of eating what you love remains -- though the program steers you toward healthier foods with its points system.

    In its new program, called Beyond the Scale, fitness also takes a bigger role. You'll be encouraged to move more every day.

    Weight Watchers isn’t so much a diet as a lifestyle-change program. It can help you learn how to eat healthier and get more physical activity, so you lose the weight for good.

    You can follow the plan online on your own. You'll track your food choices and exercise, chart progress, and find recipes and workouts. There’s a coaching option if you prefer one-on-one consultations by phone, email, and text. Or you can go to in-person group meetings, where you’ll weigh in.

    A Consumer Reports survey found that people who went to meetings were more satisfied with the program and lost more weight than people who used only the online tools.

    What You Can Eat and What You Can't

    No food is forbidden when you follow this plan, which doesn’t make you buy any prepackaged meals.

    Weight Watchers assigns different foods a SmartPoints value, which replaces its long-standing PointsPlus plan. The concept is the same, though. Nutritious foods that fill you up have fewer points than junk with empty calories. But the eating plan now factors sugar, fat, and protein into its points calculations to steer you toward fruits, veggies, and lean protein, and away from stuff that's high in sugar and saturated fat.

    You’ll have a SmartPoints target that's set up based on your body and goals. As long as you stay within your daily target, you can spend those SmartPoints however you’d like, even on alcohol or dessert.

    But healthier, lower-calorie foods cost fewer points.

    Level of Effort: Medium

    Weight Watchers is designed to make it easier to change your habits long-term, and it's flexible enough that you should be able to adapt it to your life. You’ll be tweaking your eating and lifestyle patterns -- many of which have been years in the making -- and you'll be creating new ones.

    So, how much effort it takes depends on how much you’ll have to change your habits.

    Cooking and shopping: Expect to learn how to shop, cook healthy foods, and dine out in ways that support your weight loss goal without skimping on taste or needing to buy unusual foods.

    Packaged foods or meals: Not required.

    In-person meetings: Optional.

    Exercise: You'll get a personalized activity goal and access to the program's new FitBreak app, which suggests ways to get moving based on where you are and how much time you have.

    Does It Allow for Dietary Restrictions or Preferences?

    Because you choose how you spend your daily SmartPoints, you can still do Weight Watchers if you're a vegetarian, vegan, have other preferences, or if you need to limit salt or fat.

    What Else You Should Know

    Cost: Weight Watchers offers three plans: Online only, online with meetings, or online with coaching. Each has a $20 starter fee, but the company often has specials that waive the charge.

    Within each category, you can opt to pay for 3-month or monthly packages. You’ll save a little more by signing up for the 3-month deal, with rates starting around $4.61 a week for online only vs. $8.84 per week for meetings and online, or $10.77 per week for coaching and online. Prices may vary, so contact Weight Watchers for the cost.

    Support: Besides the optional in-person meetings and personal coaching, Weight Watchers has an online community, a magazine, and a web site with tools, recipes, tips, success stories, and more -- including a section just for men. You can also sign up online for a newsletter.

    What Dr. Brunilda Nazario says:

    Does It Work?

    Weight Watchers is one of the most well-researched weight loss programs available. And yes, it works.

    Many studies have shown that the plan can help you lose weight and keep it off.

    For instance, a study from The American Journal of Medicine showed that people doing Weight Watchers lost more weight than those trying to drop pounds on their own.

    Overall, it's an excellent, easy-to-follow program.

    Is It Good for Certain Conditions?

    Weight Watchers is good for anyone. But its focus on nutritious, low-calorie foods makes it great for people with high blood pressure or cholesterol, diabetes, and even heart disease.

    If you choose any premade meals, check the labels, as some may be high in sodium.

    Work with your doctor so he can check your progress, too. This is especially important for people with diabetes, as you may need to adjust your medicine as you lose weight.

    The Final Word

    If the thought of weighing your food or counting calories leaves your head spinning, this is an ideal program, because it does the work for you. The online tool assigns a certain number value to each food, even restaurant foods, to make it easy to stay on track.

    If you don’t know your way around the kitchen, the premade meals and snacks make it easy. They’re a quick and easy way to control portion sizes and calories.

    You don’t have to drop any foods from your diet, but you will have to limit portion sizes to cut back on calories.

    The emphasis on fruits and veggies means the diet is high in fiber, which helps keep you full. And the program is simple to follow, making it easier to stick to. You can also find Weight Watchers’ premade meals at your local grocery store.

    A huge advantage of Weight Watchers is their web site. They offer comprehensive information on dieting, exercise, cooking, and fitness tips, as well as online support groups.

    Be prepared to spend some cash to get the full benefits of the robust program. It can be a bit costly, but it’s well worth it to reap the health perks of losing weight and keeping it off.

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