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The Promise

Pasta, steak, cheese, even ice cream. You can eat what you want on Weight Watchers - provided you're willing to count the points. Each food is assigned a number of points, and foods that fill you up have fewer points than foods that are just empty calories.

This isn’t so much a diet as a lifestyle change program designed to help you learn how to eat healthier and become more active, so you lose the weight for good.

Weight Watchers says that people who follow the PointsPlus plan can expect to lose 1 or 2 pounds a week. Studies have shown that this rate of weight loss leads to long-term success.

Weight Watchers also recently launched a 2-week starter program called Simple Start, which includes more than 30 meal ideas; tips for dining out; photos of recommended portion sizes; motivational support; and suggestions for snacks and beverages. You do Simple Start on your own via a mobile app.

You can also follow the whole diet online entirely on your own: track food and exercise, chart progress, and find recipes and workouts. Or you can go to in-person group meetings, where you’ll weigh in and get support from other people going through the same process. That's part of the Weight Watchers appeal: You're not on your own. A Consumer Reports survey found that people who attended 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. You’ll eat real food, all of which Weight Watchers assigns a PointsPlus value.

You’ll have a PointsPlus target, which is personalized to your body (including your height, weight, age, and gender). As long as you stay within your daily target, you can spend those PointsPlus however you’d like, even on alcohol or dessert.

Of course, healthier, lower-calorie foods cost fewer points. Some are even free.

Level of Effort: Medium

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

As a result, how much effort it takes depends on how much you’ll have to change your behaviors.

Cooking and shopping: Expect to learn how to shop, cook, and dine out in ways that support your weight loss goal without sacrificing taste or requiring unusual foods.

Packaged foods or meals: Not required.

In-person meetings: Optional.

Exercise: Weight Watchers encourages you to exercise and make it fun so you stick with it.

Does It Allow for Dietary Restrictions or Preferences?

Because you choose how you spend your daily PointsPlus, Weight Watchers can accommodate various dietary preferences, including vegetarians, vegans, and people who need to limit salt or fat.

What Else You Should Know

Cost: Weight Watchers offers several payment options. If you do the diet online only, it's $48.90 for the first month and $18.95 for each additional month. Or you can sign up for a 3-month savings plan, which costs $65 for the first 3 months and $18.95 for every month after that.

If you want to go to meetings, the prices vary depending on where you live. You’ll need to contact Weight Watchers for the cost.

You can also buy a monthly pass (as long as you’re over 18), which gives you unlimited meetings and access to the online tools. Again, the price varies depending on where you live.

Support: Besides the optional in-person meetings, 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 Weight Watchers' 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 Weight Watchers 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 lose weight on their own.

Weight Watchers is an excellent, easy-to-follow program. It’s one of the best programs to help you lose weight and keep it off.

Is It Good for Certain Conditions?

Overall, this program is good for anyone. Weight Watchers’ focus on foods that are rich in nutrients and low in calories 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. Of course, you should work with your doctor so he can check your progress. 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 designates 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 eliminate anything 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 benefits of losing weight and keeping it off.

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