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 WW Freestyle, you can roll over some of your points to another day. And there are also more than 200 “zero-point” foods that you don’t need to track at all. Those items include beans, chicken breast (skinless), eggs, and fish.
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. Nutritious foods that fill you up have fewer points than junk with empty calories. The eating plan 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, or save them to use another day.
But healthier, lower-calorie foods cost fewer points. And some items now have 0 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 tweak your eating and lifestyle patterns -- many of which you may have had for years -- and you'll create new ones.
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 app that tracks FitPoints. You get credit for all of your activity.
Does It Allow for Dietary Restrictions or Preferences?
Because you choose how you spend your 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 one-on-one coaching through phone calls and messages. Check the Weight Watchers website for the pricing for the online-only and online-with meetings options (you’ll need to enter your ZIP code). The coaching plan is $10.77 per week.
Prices and offers may vary, so check the Weight Watchers website.
Support: Besides the optional in-person meetings and personal coaching, Weight Watchers has an app, online community, a magazine, and a website with recipes, tips, success stories, and more. You can also sign up online for a newsletter or use WW Connect, a community available through the Weight Watchers app.
What Brunilda Nazario, MD, 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.
Weight Watchers ranked 1st both for “Best Weight Loss Diet” and for “Best Commercial Diet Plan” in the 2018 rankings from U.S. News & World Report.
Overall, it's an excellent, easy-to-follow program.
Is It Good for Certain Conditions?
If you choose any premade meals, check the labels, as some may be high in sodium.
Work with your doctor so they 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 website. 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.