Among the most famous of dieting trends is the program Weight Watchers. Weight Watchers was founded by Jean Nidetch and Felice Marks Lippert in the early 1960's, after Nidetch had great success losing weight on a particular diet prescribed at a weight-loss clinic. This weight loss program is based on a diet plan originally created by Dr. Nomal Jollife. Nidetch took this plan, on which she had great success, into a women's support group, and it became a highly successful business within a few short years. Nidetch felt that it was important to spread the word about this eating plan and her formulated success because of the emotional and physical benefits that she felt after losing the weight, so she built her support groups not only on the very basic menu and exercise plans, but also on the emotional and mental needs of the overweight and dieting person. Today Weight Watchers is a multinational corporation with approximately 25 million dieting "graduates" and over $1 billion in revenues. (Brierly et al.) High profile Weight Watcher members include the former royal Sarah Ferguson, (Nelson) and it is backed up by websites, countless tv commercials, popular magazine spots, and healthcare professionals. Dieters can expect to lose between one to two pounds per week on this plan.
AA, "Diet Comparison") Today, Weight Watchers is almost synonymous with weight loss plan. It has a great many advantages, but there are, of course, drawbacks as well. The commercial success of this program does not necessarily mean that it is, or is not, the right plan for a particular person.
The basic philosophy of the Weight Watchers menu plan is relatively simple and based on balanced and diverse food choices which are eaten in moderation.
Weight Watchers is a program based on points and incentives for keeping track of portions, and awareness of portion sizes is a vital part of the program. (AA, "Diet Comparison") The points system can seem intimidating and confusing at first, but it is actually relatively simple. All foods have a point value based on their nutritional content. (The points in Weight Watchers are not simply based on calories or fat content like many diet programs do, but it is based on a wide spectrum of information regarding the nutritional values of the food.) Each dieter is assigned a total points goal for each day based on his or her total body weight. If the total points goal is met, but not exceeded, then the dieter will have the proper nutrition and caloric intake for that day to help promote weight loss. Also, physical activities and exercises are each assigned a sort of negative points values, so that food points can be earned back after they have been used. This means that if the dieter meets physical requirements for the day, he or she is able to eat more food that if that person has been stationary all day. Weight Watchers also designates 35 reserve points each week, so that the dieter may occasionally splurge on extra food at a social event without breaking the plan.
This loophole helps to prevent the "cheating" that so often occurs because a person is in a situation where not partaking in food would be awkward (or just plain masochistic) by working the occasional treat into the plan. Alternately, the dieter may choose to not use those reserve points on extra food intake, and this will boost the dieter's weight loss. (FlexPoints)
Unlike many other diets, there is not anything in specific that is considered to be out of bounds so far as food choices. (AA, "Diet Comparison") Any foods are allowed. Eating a wide assortment from all food groups is highly encouraged. Healthy eating choices become a way of life, rather than strict rules about junk foods, which fail because rules are always "made to be broken," but a complete lifestyle change becomes natural. Any food from chocolate cake to brussels sprouts can be a part of the regular diet, as long as the moderation of the points system is followed.
In addition to the menu plan, Weight Watchers offers something much more, which is actually the key to many people's success who have tried this program. This program combines with the points system other weight loss and exercise ideas and the support and encouragement of other dieters at the support meetings. There are weekly weigh-ins done by local chapter leaders at Weight Watchers centers, and they help to determine any changes that need to be made in the dieter's points system. There are also Weight Watchers hotlines that offer encouragement or advice to members between the support group meetings, for when the dieter needs a little emotional boost. Today there are also online Weight Watchers groups which are a better alternative for some dieters who do not have the time to attend local meetings, or for people who would have a prohibitively long commute to get to the nearest meeting, and these online forums have very positive sides, but also drawbacks from the person-to-person atmosphere of the Weight Watchers centers. They also offer special cookbooks and exercise plans that help the dieter stay on track and to be creative while doing it, though these are not vital to the program, just helpful additions. Weight Watchers does also manufacture prepackaged meals and snacks that are specifically labeled with the points value for easy reference with the system, but again these prepackaged foods are not a necessary investment. (WLI, "Weight Watchers") Dietitians say that this diet has stood the test of time, and that the self-management tools taught to the dieter will help with keeping weight off in the long-term and developing healthy eating habits, not just instantaneous results that fade or reverse with time. (DietSurf, WEight Watchers) Dietitians also agree that the daily points system is consistent with NIH guidelines for minimum caloric intake for healthy weight loss, and many other diet plans do not follow this standard. (Alexander et al.)
However, Weight Watchers does have certain drawbacks. First, the points system can be confusing to follow. Translating food that is not marketed by Weight Watchers into the proper point value is more difficult than other diets which use an exchange plan, because the points system is unique to this program only and has no guidelines on normal packaging. Another drawback is that in order to partake in the Weight Watchers peer support meetings, weigh-ins, and other member benefits, the dieter does have to pay membership fees which can be quite high depending on the local Weight Watchers chapter and exactly what services are offered. (DietSurf, Weight Watchers) (The Online-only forums cost significantly less, but also lack the personal contact which gives Weight Watchers many of its advantages.)
Many of the prepackaged foods are reported as not being very appetizing (Nelson), and again the prepackaged foods and specialty items are quite costly, especially over a long period of time. Another problem, which is by no means unique to this program, is that success is based largely on weight loss alone, as opposed to overall fitness levels which are more difficult to detect. For people who gain weight in muscle mass from the improved exercise routines, or for people who have larger, more dense body builds, the weekly weigh-ins can actually be discouraging rather than encouraging. There is also the danger that some people may be accidentally assigned too low of a points value for their actual food intake needs, and they may feel hunger pains and overeat because they do not feel satisfied. (Alexander et al.) It is important to note that in the forty-plus years that the Weight Watchers system has been in use, there have been no known health risks or warnings regarding the safety of this plan. People who have followed this plan correctly have remained healthy and active while dieting, and the local centers and group meetings help prevent misuse of the diet by identifying problem behaviors and addressing them with the individual in a positive setting.
Kim Ludeke, the art director of FLEX magazine, is one dieter who used Weight Watchers and gave it a very positive review. Ludeke was trying to lose weight before her wedding. She said that she enjoyed the program because it didn't have any strict regimen to follow, and it gave her the freedom to enjoy a treat while attending social events. She also said that it was more realistic to eat this way, than to follow any of the high-protein or low-carb focused diets. She reported that it wasn't that hard to figure out the points system, and that Weight Watchers does in fact provide points information for many specific brands of food and restaurant chains to simplify the work.
Ludeke found that the Weight Watchers support staff was very friendly and encouraging, and that the weekly weigh-ins which didn't allow her to avoid checking her weight were very helpful. She attended many events where high-calorie intake occurred, and…