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World’s Best Diet Part 3–Weight Watchers

If you google the word diet, you will come up with over 200,000 results.  Every week, month, year, and decade a new study or article comes out claiming certain foods are killing us, or that some other food or nutritional approach will lead us to the promised land.  Unfortunately, articles are written to create traffic, so scientific research is often misreported or spun to sell magazines or generate website traffic.  The truth is, there are many ways to skin a cat.  All of the evidence on nutrition (in regards to weight loss) points to two undeniable truths.  First, that dietary adherence is king.  It doesn’t matter how perfect or evidence based a nutrition plan is, if you can’t follow it, it doesn’t matter.  Before starting any eating plan, you must ask yourself how easy it will be to maintain long term.  Second, you must achieve an energy deficit to lose weight (eat less energy than you expend each day).  Though “calories in, calories out” may be slightly over simplified, it is still the underlying rule to any weight loss success.   For any weight loss plan to work, you must consistently follow the pla, and you must be in a caloric deficit.  This series will highlight the nine most popular current nutrition approaches, and the pros and cons of each.

Weight Watchers

Claims: Weight Watchers markets itself as being flexible and livable.  They assign food points based on their “Smart Points System”.  They encourage the consumption of fruits, vegetables, and lean proteins, and discourage the consumption of sugar and unhealthy fats with this points system.  They even list 200 different foods as being “zero points foods”.  They encourage tracking of food and claim to be successful at helping people achieve long term sustainable weight loss.

Reality: Tracking your food intake in any way is usually helpful when it comes to weight loss–if done accurately.   The points system is really just a complicated marketing scheme similar to simply tracking calories, which anyone can do on their own for free.  There are no zero foods in existence that have no caloric impact, so the notion of “zero points” foods is ludicrous.  Any food eaten in excess can and will slow weight loss and/or lead to weight gain.  Every person I’ve ever met who was a lifelong Weight Watchers client had success with the program, but was 40+ pounds overweight..

Pros: Allows for dietary flexibility which should improve long term adherence.  Requires tracking of food and portion sizes.  If you opt into monthly meetings, there is an accountability factor built into it.

Cons: No minimum requirement given for protein intake.  Allows certain foods to be eaten with no limit.  Not a good long term success rate (think Oprah’s weight swings).


Jeff Tirrell, CSCS, CFSC, Pn1