There are many different fad weight loss systems out there – but Weight Watchers isn’t one of them.
Instead, it’s a program that has been around a long time and has gone through various changes over the years.
The current version is known as the Weight Watchers Smart Points Program, or sometimes just SmartPoints.
But, how good is the program? Can it truly lead to weight loss, or is it just a waste of money?
Answering those questions is what this post is all about.
How Weight Watchers Works
In many ways, Weight Watchers is a great example of how to do a diet company. It’s one of the few programs out there that focuses on sustainability just as much as they do with actual weight loss.
The program itself relies on a system of points. Currently, these are known as Smart Points but there have been various versions throughout the history of the program.
Members of Weight Watchers get a certain number of points per day – along with an additional set of weekly points and the chance to convert your exercise into points as well.
As people lose weight, the number of points they get per day decreases.
Essentially, the diet acts a variation on calorie counting, where you are looking at points instead.
In theory, this is more powerful because the points are more comprehensive and consider areas like saturated fat, carbs and fiber. So, the diet tends to help people choose better food.
There is also a range of types of support in place.
One key aspect of this is community support, both through the website and through group meetings in-person (if you choose that option). This support can be critical for weight loss success and it’s something that most diets don’t offer.
There is also a range of both physical and online tools to support weight loss. This includes physical calculators and scales for weighing food and easily converting into points.
Likewise, members can use the website and/or an app to record food and points, or they can choose to use a physical journal to record.
There is also packaged food that you can buy, including snacks, cakes, frozen dinners and thinly sliced bread.
But, the beauty of the program is that you don’t have to. Instead, you can avoid their products entirely if you would rather.
Overall, the program can be effective for many people, as it is a way to cut down calorie intake in an easy-to-understand manner. Nevertheless, it does come with a range of advantages and disadvantages.
Weight Watchers Diet Reviews
There are many reviews for Weight Watchers out there, including the various points systems that have been in place over the years. Generally speaking, these reviews are fairly mixed, which honestly isn’t a surprise.
For example, the site Dr Fuhrman highlights how Weight Watchers focuses on weight exclusively, rather than health. Weight and health are often related but not always. Likewise, the Bulletproof Blog talks about one key mistake that the system makes.
In the next sections, I’m going to highlight some of the main advantages and disadvantages of the diet – but one important thing to mention is that the diet works better for some people than for others.
For example, there are many people who are heavily organized and rely on lists and recording information. These people may find the points system of Weight Watchers more rewarding than those who find counting too much hassle.
At the same time, Weight Watchers is definitely more suited for those with a lot of weight to lose, rather than those just wanting to drop a few pounds.
One interesting thing is that Weight Watchers performs fairly well when reviewed by experts. For example, a piece on the U.S. News site put the diet in the top 5 overall, giving it fairly high ratings in some areas.
For example, the image below was one of the pieces of information from their review:
The reviews from customers are more mixed. For example, one site found that 62% of people trying the diet liked it:
That mightn’t seem like a good outcome but not actually that bad. Additionally, it’s about what I would expect personally, as the Weight Watchers Smart Points Program is certainly going to be better for some types of people than for others.
Reviews for Weight Watchers are mixed but some people clearly see value in the program
Advantages of the Weight Watchers Smart Points Program
There are some key advantages that come with the Weight Watchers program, particularly the Smart Points version. These advantages are one reason that the program remains popular, even though Weight Watchers has been around for such a long time.
The Program Helps You to Make Good Choices
The algorithm with Smart Points has become fairly advanced and it does promote a lot of healthy choices. For example, the points for juice and for smoothies are much higher than they are for fruit.
The company also provides a lot of guidance and advice, to help people figure out what food they should be eating.
There are also many different recipes on the site.
The system is also particularly powerful because it makes you aware of what you are eating and your portion sizes. This can make it much easier to lose weight, especially if you don’t know all that much about nutrition when you get started.
With an emphasis on good food, Weight Watchers can be a good way to improve your eating patterns
Your Points Are Tailored to You
Most diets, particularly fad diets, place the same restrictions on you regardless of your age, gender, weight or activity level. Yet, all of those things will affect the calories you burn and how much you should be eating.
In contrast, the Weight Watchers Smart Points Program allocates points based on those factors. This means that if you are heavier you will have more points than someone who only needs to lose a little weight.
This approach can work really well for some people.
Often, this means that the program starts off fairly simple and easy to follow, and you have more than enough points.
As you lose weight, your number of points per day decreases. So, the program becomes progressively harder as you go but you also get used to the process.
All-in-all, this technique makes sense and it’s more sustainable than suddenly trying to dramatically change your diet all in one go.
Unlike most other diets, your Smart Points are tailored towards your needs, making the program particularly effective for those who are overweight
You Can Eat What You Like (mostly)
The biggest restriction with Weight Watchers is points. You have a set number of these per day, along with a bonus amount per week.
But, beyond the limits of your points, there is no restriction about what you can eat.
This means that you can still have McDonalds or KFC from time-to-time, or indulge in a steak. The flexibility also lets you choose how much you cook versus how much you rely on packaged and processed meals.
Honestly, that last part is a good thing and a bad thing.
Processed food isn’t a great choice for health at the best of times and it’s a pattern that many people need to break. Still, it is nice to have a diet that doesn’t force you to spend hours in the kitchen and gives you options for when you’re out and have no food with you.
Additionally, the ability to eat what you like lets you break old habits one at a time.
For example, you may start by simply decreasing how much you are eating, without paying too much attention to processed versus whole food. Then, over time, you may start to decreased processed options and increase the amount of whole and healthy food you eat.
The end result is that there is a lot of flexibility and this can be a powerful tool for both health and weight loss.
Plus, the site does have a consistent focus on real healthy food. So, while you can eat processed food, the emphasis is on being healthy.
Weight Watchers gives you flexibility in the food that you eat, letting you pick based mostly on your own preferences
It is Designed to be Sustainable
For the most part, Weight Watchers is supposed to be a sustainable system.
Even though counting points and recording food can make your meals seem tough, it does tend to become routine over time. Indeed, people often get to the point where they’re just jotting down the points for each meal just from what they know, without needing to manually calculate.
Additionally, there is a weight loss and a maintenance component to the program.
The maintenance aspect is designed to help people keep the weight off. The system here is basically the same but the number of points you get changes to account for the fact that you aren’t trying to lose any more weight.
This is much better than other types of diets where you suddenly stop. When you just stop a diet, you’ll often find that you regain some or all of the weight and quickly return to previous patterns.
Changing to a maintenance version of Weight Watchers is a great way around that issue and helps make sure you keep to the healthy patterns that you’ve developed.
Weight Watchers even includes a maintenance component, which focuses on keeping off the weight you lose
You Don’t Have to Stay a Member Forever
The cost of Weight Watchers is a little off-putting, however, you don’t really have to stay a member indefinitely.
If you do cancel your membership, you lose access to all the online tools and the community support. This includes the online calculators for points.
But, it is actually possible to still follow the program just using one of their physical calculators, although you’ll have to guess how your points change as you lose weight.
This approach isn’t really ideal but it is an option if you don’t want to be paying the monthly fee forever (which is often in the realm of $30-$40).
You could potentially keep going with Weight Watchers even after you stopped being a member
Negatives of the Weight Watchers Smart Points Program
There are a lot of things that Weight Watchers does right with Smart Points. But, there are some problems with the system and with Weight Watchers in general.
Many of these issues don’t necessarily make the program bad. Instead, they mean that it will only be suitable for some people and not for others.
You Have to Count – Daily
One of the key ideas with Weight Watchers is that you are keeping track of your food. Constantly.
That’s everything you eat, including your full meals and any snacks. Doing so can be a fairly big hassle, especially if you aren’t much of a counter/journaler.
Now, there are ways to make this easier.
For example, you can just record the points, rather than what you actually ate. Doing that actually gets really easy, as after a while you start to know what meals are worth without calculating.
Additionally, products from Weight Watchers (and some other brands) already have the points written on them. Plus, if you’re using online tools, you can often search for the specific food rather than calculating the points.
So, the process isn’t as bad as it sounds.
But, you are still counting.
This means you have to follow the habit every single day – and that sucks for many people.
You do need to count points throughout the program and, for some, this may simply be too much work
Some Healthy Foods and Eating Patterns are Penalized
With each new version of the program, Weight Watchers has become better at paying attention to the various nutritional components of food – rather than just the calories.
But, the program is still based on an algorithm, so it won’t always be right.
Because of this, some healthy foods end up being surprisingly high in points – mostly due to their specific combination of fat, carbs and calories.
For example, a quarter of an avocado comes in at 3 points and tuna in olive oil is 5 points (versus 1 point for the same tuna in water).
Likewise, the program does often end up favoring more processed options and choosing carbs over fat.
So, you end up spending 4 Smart Points if you want 2 teaspoons of butter but only 2 Smart Points if you want a similar amount of canola spread.
Yuck. Now, there is growing recognition and research that saturated fats and fat in general aren’t nearly as bad for health as people assume.
This is partly tied into the cholesterol controversy and the research that has surrounded cholesterol.
At the same time, it’s becoming clear that processed food can damage the body, as can sugar. This pattern is a key reason why many people are turning to low carb and even ketosis diets.
Now, the overall pattern with the Weight Watchers Smart Points Program does still contribute to weight loss and it is a fairly healthy long-term approach for many people.
But, these issues mean that it simply isn’t as healthy as it could be.
Additionally, the diet is a particularly bad fit for people who tend to emphasize fat, protein and whole foods in their diet, rather than the traditional high-carb and low-fat diet.
Weight Watchers is best suited for low fat diets and ends up penalizing some healthy food choices
It’s Not the Best for Small Weight Loss
The Weight Watchers Smart Points Program tends to be the hardest and the most restrictive for people who don’t have much weight to lose.
This is actually why there are many negative Weight Watchers reviews out there.
If you’re fairly small already, then you don’t get all that many points under the program. This often means that you’ll end up going hungry or struggle to keep within your points.
Personally, I wouldn’t recommend the program for people just wanting to lose a little weight. It really isn’t designed for doing so and it is far more hassle than it is worth.
If you only have a little weight to lose, Weight Watchers may not be the best choice
Keeping Inside Your Points Can Be Tough
The system can be a difficult one to get used to and many people struggle to keep within their points.
Often, this does come down to the amount of weight you have to lose. For example, some people start out with 30 points per day, which honestly isn’t a lot.
It is possible to be successful at this level and many people do. However, it does take planning.
Additionally, this really depends on your eating patterns and habits. For example, as I mentioned before, if you favor fat over carbs, you’ll probably always struggle with points.
Honestly, Weight Watchers isn’t the best fit if you fall into that category anyway.
Some people struggle to keep within the points, especially if they don't have much weight to lose
You Can Cheat the System
One major downside is that you can cheat the system. For example, in the Smart Points version of Weight Watchers, fruit and vegetables are now free.
The reason for this may be that in previous versions, people were avoiding fruit and vegetables in favor of less healthy food – because they didn’t want to spend the points. In the end, the points you get per day under Smart Points are lower to consider the fruit and vegetables you will eat.
But, needless to say, if you eat a dozen pieces of fruit per day, you won’t be very effective at losing weight.
Likewise, if you focus on foods that are low in nutrients, you’re not doing your health any favors.
For that matter, the ability to cheat the system can make it unsustainable for some. For example, if you didn’t know much about nutrition and focused just on points – you’d probably end up choosing a lot of food that isn’t very filling.
As a consequence, you might find that you’re always hungry or always going over your points.
Either case would make the diet fairly hard to follow in the long-term.
But, as long as you consciously focus on eating well and following the advice that Weight Watchers offers, you should be fine.
Honestly, you’re just sabotaging your diet if you try to cheat the system anyway, so it’s never a good plan.
There are some ways to cheat the system, particularly with fruit, so you need to pay attention to your decisions
Billing Can be a Pain
This isn’t directly related to the diet itself but to the company.
Basically, Weight Watchers works on a monthly subscription, regardless of whether you are using the online or the in-person version. There are also sometimes promos which give you a cheaper price for 6 months or let you avoid the membership fee.
But, actually canceling your account can be a little challenging and the company often forces people to call instead of letting you do it electronically.
Additionally, if you sign up for a 6-month promo membership, you’ll typically be billed monthly and cannot cancel until the 6 months has expired.
This can be really frustrating, especially as many people don’t realize they lock themselves into a contract with the signup.
These issues aren’t necessarily a reason to avoid the company but they do mean you should read all the terms and conditions carefully. Likewise, you shouldn’t assume that emailing a cancellation request will work, as the company seems to only take cancellations over the phone.
Be very careful about what you sign up for, as canceling an account can sometimes be tricky and you often can't immediately cancel a membership that was part of a deal
Does Weight Watchers Work?
Without a doubt, the Weight Watchers Smart Points Program is better than many of the diet options out there. So, it would promote more long-term success than the 3 Day Diet Plan, the AdvoCare 24 Day Challenge, Plexus Slim or even relying on products like the shakes from Isagenix and Shakeology.
It is also a good program for long-term outcomes, especially if you have a lot of weight to lose.
But, even then, the program isn’t going to be a good fit for many people.
A lot of this comes down to how you feel about food journaling and how you eat.
If you hate the idea of counting calories, then Weight Watchers may not be appealing either.
Even if you streamline the process as much as possible, you still have to pay close attention to what you eat and all of the ingredients.
This makes the process of going out especially difficult – particularly if you are going to a restaurant or a friend’s house.
At the same time, the program is interesting when it comes to healthy eating.
Focusing on points does give you a better balance of food than just looking at calories. But, even then, the system favors carbs over fat and seems to strongly penalize saturated fat.
In many ways, those views are becoming outdated and aren’t necessarily the best ways to lose weight or stay healthy.
But, it’s not all bad.
In many ways, the program is pretty simple, especially if you rely on their online tools. Those make it a breeze to record points for each meal – and there is also a smartphone app, letting you take the whole process with you.
Plus, you can even connect in activity trackers to make the process of calculating activity points easy too.
At the same time, Smart Points does mean decision-making is pretty simple.
Certainly, there is much less stress involved in trying to figure out whether you should or shouldn’t be eating a specific food.
Likewise, you become much more aware of the food you put into your body.
Over time, you get to the point where you’re making healthier decisions automatically and you’re paying much closer attention to your portion sizes as well.
The end result is that yes, Weight Watchers works.
It isn’t a perfect system, not by any means and it isn’t the absolute best way to eat. Still, it’s fairly easy to pick up and understand – which isn’t true for many other types of diet or lifestyle.
The system does work and is even powerful for some people. Nevertheless, it isn't a weight loss tool that will help everybody
Using Smart Points as a Stepping Stone
In many ways, the Weight Watchers Smart Points Program can be a great place to begin a weight loss journey – particularly for those who are just beginning to figure out healthy eating.
It’s true that there are many other legitimate approaches out there as well, including low carb diets, Paleo, ketosis and intermittent fasting.
However, while these techniques work, they tend to be a bit confusing and often very restrictive. Going from a lifestyle where you eat whatever you like to a diet like one of these would be immensely challenging and confusing for many people.
In contrast, Weight Watchers is fairly easy to follow and pretty intuitive – especially if you have a lot of weight to lose.
As such, it can be a great way to get used to healthy eating patterns and to get a sense of what food is healthy.
As you learn that information, you may find that you eventually step onto another type of diet or lifestyle, one that is less expensive and means you don’t have to worry about points.
For example, I have a friend who moved from Weight Watchers to intermittent fasting. Both techniques worked for her but she said that the time at Weight Watchers helped her learn a lot about what food to eat and what portions to follow.
This may not be true for everyone but if you struggle with eating healthy, Weight Watchers isn’t a bad place to start improving your behaviors.
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What are your experiences? Is Weight Watchers worth it or a waste of money?