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Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About WW (Weight Watchers)

If you don't like being told what you can and can't eat, this diet could be for you.

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While there are no guarantees in life, WW (formerly called Weight Watchers) has a reputation as a sensible weight-loss program that, if followed, works. Its many devotees have found success with an eating plan that claims you can lose one to two pounds a week, which is considered a healthy rate of weight loss.

The program started quite simply in the early ‘60s when housewife and founder Jean Nidetch invited friends to her home in Queens, New York, once a week. The topic? How to lose weight. What began with one woman’s quest to slim down turned into a world-renowned weight-loss plan, developed by health and nutrition experts, that has helped millions of people shed unwanted pounds—and maintain their weight loss. Here’s how it works.

Medically reviewed in September 2019. Updated in January 2020.

Eat smarter

2 / 7 Eat smarter

WW has been long known for its “eat what you want” approach to weight loss. It works by assigning foods and beverages a point value—called SmartPoints—based on calories, saturated fat, sugar and protein. The higher the sugar and saturated fat content, the higher the points; protein helps lower the points. The number itself tells you how “smart” the choice is, and in this case, lower is smarter. There’s also a long list of ZeroPoint foods—healthy choices such as fruits and vegetables—that accumulate no points at all.

When you enroll in myWW, you’re matched to a customized meal plan, determined by your needs and goals, in one of three colors: green, purple or blue (formerly called Freestyle). Each plan gives you a budget of daily and weekly SmartPoints, along with a list of ZeroPoint foods for your plan. The “extra” weekly SmartPoints are the ones to use when you want to splurge a little, whether it’s enjoying pancakes with maple syrup or a slice of pepperoni pizza. A limited number of daily SmartPoints can carry over to your weekly SmartPoints if you don’t use them. 

The goal of the program is about more than losing weight by staying within your SmartPoints range: it’s about learning to choose and enjoy healthier, less processed foods as part of a healthy lifestyle.

Ramp up activities

3 / 7 Ramp up activities

When you’re on WW, you can also earn FitPoints—a way to measure physical activity. The idea is for members to track activities to see how much they’re moving and find ways to exercise more. Each week there’s a target number of FitPoints to shoot for, based on your activity level. All activities count, from running errands to regular workouts. 

To enter your activity, simply look it up, then select duration and intensity to generate your FitPoints results. If you have a wearable activity tracker like a Fitbit, connect it to your WW account and it’ll do the tracking for you. An Apple Watch can do the job, too.

 

Grow in confidence

4 / 7 Grow in confidence

Emotional support has always been a mainstay of WW. The plan places significant focus on your mindset and how it influences weight loss. The goal is to change your thoughts to develop a positive, “can-do” attitude and live a healthier, more confident life. 

To this point, WW offers Connect, a digital community in which you can post your progress, get tips and meet other members. You can also join Connect support groups based on your interests and stages in the program. And for those needing to talk one-on-one with an expert, chat support is available 24/7. Simply engage the chat and a WW coach (a trained Lifetime member) will respond, offering encouragement, compassion and advice.

While WW’s online offerings are significant, some people—including long-time devotees—prefer face-to-face inspiration. Attending Workshops (formerly called meetings) or having phone sessions with a coach can offer a steady stream of encouragement.

Eat what you want

5 / 7 Eat what you want

One of the manifestos of the WW program is no deprivation. Love bacon? It’s all yours if you factor it into your daily points. Three strips of cooked bacon will cost you more points than three slices of Canadian bacon—a healthier alternative.

In spite of this relative freedom, WW emphasizes healthy eating for both weight loss and good health. The SmartPoints method—assigning lower points to healthy choices like lean proteins and whole grains—reinforces the idea that nutrients need to be considered along with calories when planning your daily menu.

Track what you eat

6 / 7 Track what you eat

Researchers have found that tracking foods is an effective weight-loss tool, and the WW tracker is easy to use. As you log foods, you get a running tally of the SmartPoints you’ve used throughout the day, helping to inform your decisions for the next meal.

To use the tracker, simply scan your food’s barcode or type its name into the search bar. If you type it, a menu of choices displays, including brand-name foods and dishes from popular chain restaurants. The program also has more than 8,000 original WW recipes, each with a SmartPoints value. If you’re preparing your own recipes, there’s a Recipe Builder function with which you can add ingredients individually. 

Looking for other ways to track your food? Try Sharecare, a free app for iOS and Android: simply record what types of meals you eat each day and earn Green Days as you go. 

Is Weight Watchers for you?

7 / 7 Is Weight Watchers for you?

Some diets give you strict guidelines about which foods you can and can’t eat. But that’s not the WW way. The full range of foods is available, and it’s up to you choose what you’ll eat, how much and when. If you don’t like to be told what to do, this could be the plan for you.

Sources:
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Losing Weight.”
WW/Weight Watchers. “WW's scientific advisory board,” “about us,” “Introducing myWW,” “Everything you need to know about SmartPoints,” “Have an unprocessed summer!” “Everything is on the menu,” “How tracking can help you lose weight,” “Recipes for healthy living,” “About FitPoints 2.0,” “How to sync your fitness device to automatically track activity on the WW app,” “Meet your support squad,” “How to track on the WW app,” “How to create a meal and build a recipe in the WW app.”
Alexandra Sifferlin. “Weight Watchers Founder Dies at 91.” TIME. April 29, 2015.
LE Burke, J Wang, et al. “Self-Monitoring in Weight Loss: A Systematic Review of the Literature.” J Am Diet Assoc. 2011 Jan; 111(1): 92–102.
American Psychological Association. “How social support can help you lose weight.”
“Study Suggests Home Cooking is a Main Ingredient in Healthier Diet.” Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future. November 17, 2014.

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