Choosing the Best Weigh Loss Plan Part 4: Weight Watchers Falls Short of a Healthy Weight Loss Solution

This week we review Weight Watchers.

Unlike the Cookie Diet and Nutrisystem, the Weight Watchers program does not rely solely on its own food products. Instead, it assigns points to real world foods. By following the points system, you limit your calorie intake and lose weight. The program also includes exercise and counseling, but for the purposes of this review, we will focus on the food part.

Here’s what we like:

  1. The system provides a lot of flexibility. All you have to do is count points and once you’ve reached your limit for the day, you’re done. That means you can eat what you like – as long as you stay within your point total.
  2. Fruits and most vegetables get a point score of 0 – so you can eat as much fresh produce as you like.

Here’s where the program falls short:

  1. Being able to eat whatever you want is not necessarily a good thing. Eating Cheetos all day is acceptable on the Weight Watchers program as long as you keep to your points allocation. By any measure this is still a poor choice for health.
  2. The  point system is a helpful guide for losing weight, just like counting calories. But the calculator doesn’t read an entire ingredient panel, and so assigns points based on general nutrient composition but not nutrient origin. So, for example, all fiber ranks the same, whether it’s coming from inulin, an added fiber without a clinically proven health benefit, or whole food fiber, the kind you find in Step One Foods which helps drive down your cholesterol.
  3. Ingredients that can harm your health, like additives, preservatives, and other highly-refined ingredients, can pass muster on Weight Watchers. In fact, we give two thumbs down to the packaged foods sold under the Weight Watchers brand. Here’s the ingredient list in their Salted Carmel Brownie: 

SUGAR, POWDERED SUGAR, WATER, WHITE CHOCOLATE CHIPS (SUGAR, COCOA BUTTER, MILK, NONFAT MILK, BUTTER OIL, SOY LECITHIN,  NATURAL FLAVOR), ENRICHED WHEAT FLOUR BLEACHED (FLOUR, NIACIN, IRON, THIAMINE MONONITRATE, RIBLOFLAVIN, FOLIC ACID), PALM KERNEL OIL, CORN SYRUP SOLIDS, COCOA PROCESSED WITH ALKALI, INVERT SUGAR, NONFAT MILK, INULIN (CHICORY ROOTS), SOYBEAN OIL.  CONTAINS2% OR LESS OF: BUTTER (CREAM, SALT), CARAMEL COLOR, CHOCOLATE LIQUOR, CORNSTARCH, DEXTROSE, EGG WHITES, GLYCERIN, HEAVY CREAM, HIGH FRUCTOSE CORN SYRUP, LEAVENING (BAKINS SODA, SODIUM ALUMINUM PHOSPHATE), MILK, NATRUAL AND ARTIFICIAL FLAVOR, PEA FIBER, POTASSIUM SORBATE AND SODIUM PROPIONATE (PRESERVATIVES), RED 40, SALT, SODIUM CITRATE, SOY LECITHIN, TAPIOCA SYRUP, TOCOPHEROLS (PRESERVATIVE), XHANTAN GUM. CONTAINS MAJOR FOOD ALLERGENS (MILK, SOY, WHEAT, EGGS)

Added sugars/sweeteners are listed 7 times. How can that be good for you? We might sound like a broken record sometimes, but this point deserves to be made over and over and over again. Everything you put in your mouth matters. Everything you eat must be metabolized by your body. It’s not just about carbs, protein, calories or points. It’s about ingredients. 

So what’s our Weight Watchers take-away? Recommended with reservations. There are some real positives about this program. Some of the things we didn’t cover including the support system and the fitness points program represent a more holistic approach to weight management that will help with long term success. But when it comes to food, this program falls short because looking at points exclusively won’t train you to make healthier choices – and might even mislead. So if you’re going to use Weight Watchers, be prepared to learn how to read ingredient panels. We offer a great resource on our website – the Ingredient Glossary – which you can access here.

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