One of the questions I ask on my New Client Profile Form is, “What programs have you tried in the past?” 9 out of 10 people list Weight Watchers.
There’s no doubt that Weight Watchers is one of the most popular weight loss programs in the world. It’s a highly effective short term program. What most people don’t find out — until it’s too late — is that it lacks the ability to produce long term results.
Failing at Weight Watchers has nothing to do with the client. As I’ll outline in this article, the fundamental design of Weight Watchers is flawed. It does an amazing job of marketing exactly what people hope to achieve, except it can’t deliver. To unpack why, I’m going to break down the program as it is outlined and explain why specific parts of the program are effective or ineffective.
Note my disclaimer: I have never done the Weight Watchers program nor have I attended a Weight Watchers meeting. I don’t think either of those are required to assess effectiveness for the masses or the theory behind the program design. I hear-from and work-with a large number of real people who have tried the program, some to the point of being fanatics.
My two guides for this are the Weight Watchers official website and an article written by a “lifelong member of Weight Watchers” titled, “10 Reasons Why Weight Watchers Works!”
Weight Watchers Marketing
This is the poster from the Weight Watchers program page. It all sounds wonderful, but what’s the reality? It’s time to uncover the illusion of control, hope, and support that Weight Watchers is masterful at marketing to the masses.
Eat Real Food. Really.
The lifelong member says: ”Weight Watchers is a new way of eating, it’s not just a diet” and, “No food is off limits.”
Pictured alongside the eat real food headline is a slice of pizza. A few months ago, when I sat down to write an article that would clearly explain the difference between real food and unhealthy food products, I came up with the acronym, ANTI.
ANTI foods are addictive, nutrient-poor, toxic, and/or inflammatory. You can read more about ANTI foods here.
What part of pizza is real? The crust of pizza fails the ANTI model for fulfilling every single part of the acronym. The cheese fails the model. And so does the processed meat on top of it all.
The three main things you need to account for when choosing what to eat for weight loss are: hormone regulation, nutrient density, and chance of addiction/dependency. If you’re also concerned with health and performance, toxicity must be included also.
It turns out that real food (the opposite of ANTI food) provides for all of those things. Grass-fed steak doesn’t dysregulate hormones, it’s nutrient dense, and it has no degree of dependency. It also isn’t toxic. It’s real food.
Real food, as defined by Weight Watchers, actually means food that’s not healthy. You get to have your cake and eat it too. You can eat whatever you want as long as you eat less of it.
Food pretends to offer us control because we get to decide everything about it: the what, when, where, why, and how.
This is something we rarely get to do with other things in life: Our jobs don’t always go our way, we get stuck in traffic and are made to be late, and our investments often turn south.
Unfortunately, the control that food offers us is an illusion. We’re not in control during these periods of eating, we’re out of control and often shifting into a state of mindlessness.
Weight Watchers, most diets, and the calories in, calories out (CICO) model all pander to this illusory mindset. And it promotes more disordered eating.
We don’t suffer from calories or a lack of willpower — as Weight Watchers suggests — we suffer from disordered eating. And disordered eating isn’t solved with illusions of control. It’s healed by changing our personal relationship with food.
For any “diet” to work, it must become second nature. It must be something you can stick to – not just for a few weeks or months, as you loose weight – but for the rest of your life. The Weight Watchers program is just that. Can you honestly say that about a diet that requires you to buy their precooked meals or drink a liquid shake? I don’t think so! So the Weight Watchers plan prepares you for the rest of your life, not just for weight loss! ~ Lifetime Weight Watchers Member
This argument, of course, is a false dilemma fallacy. The choice isn’t between Weight Watchers and precooked meals and liquid shakes. The choice is between Weight Watchers and TRULY eating real food while healing disordered eating.
People who use these types of fallacies as their argument do so to hide the true alternative in the shadows. Weight Watchers has 50 years of experience perfecting this type of subtle misdirection.
We’ve Got Your Back. Always.
The lifelong member says: ”Weight Watchers makes you accountable” and, “Weight Watchers teaches.”
Believing that you just need someone on your team to hold you accountable is setting yourself up for failure. We know, based on the psychological concept of Ego Depletion, that willpower is a finite resource. Most people think that they’re simply not strong enough to use their willpower at all times, so they call on an external force to hold them accountable.
Accountability is not support, at least not the type of support you really need.
Accountability doesn’t heal complex psychological roadblocks.
Accountability doesn’t help with addiction and dependency.
Accountability doesn’t change your personal relationship with food.
You don’t need a cheerleader, you need a change leader. Things have to change and you need to support to help make that happen. You can’t eat what you’ve always eaten and expect a miracle to happen because you’re following a cute points system that thinks it can trick you into eating less.
And then there’s the aspect of the Weight Watchers accountability system that drives confusion, anxiety, and an unhealthy body image: the weigh-in.
Having to show up at a meeting on a weekly basis to weigh in makes one accountable. Each week there’s a real person there – a trained Weight Watchers staff member – waiting to record your weight and progress. ~ Lifelong Weight Watchers Member
The process of a weigh-in is fundamentally flawed as explained in my article, The Ten Pound Problem. Weight has nothing to do with this journey and the scale is the most useless tool one can use to gauge success. In fact, the fastest way to exchange your one-way ticket to success for a round trip ticket is to start weighing yourself and pretending those numbers mean something.
Based on Weight Watchers’ slow starvation model, the weight you’re likely losing is due to the cannibalization of muscle. Hey, they didn’t promise to help you lose fat — they promised to help you lose weight.
The Smart Choice is the Easy Choice
The lifelong member says: ”Weight Watchers fits the way you live” and “Weight Watchers is for life!”
Train your brain by learning new routines and great habits, so you can make healthy choices without even thinking about it. ~ Weight Watchers marketing
Counting anything, whether it be calories, macronutrients, or points doesn’t make decisions easy and doesn’t “train your brain” or “give you “great habits,” it makes you obsessive.
Of course, we already tackled the issue of “healthy” as it relates to real food versus ANTI food. But, this would be a good time to point out another aspect of Weight Watchers that’s heavily promoted to “make life easy.”
Weight Watchers subsidizes the cost of their memberships by selling their members food products that are the antithesis of health.
Though no food is technically off limits, the Weight Watchers plan will guide and lead you toward healthier choices simply because of the point system it employs. ~ Lifelong Weight Watchers Member
Really? Is this why Weight Watchers offers microwavable meals, frozen desserts, and other packaged food products filled with corn syrup, aspartame, wheat/gluten, Canola Oil, hydrogenated oils, added sugar, MSG, corn, and GMOs?
Weight Watchers makes millions off their licensing deals at the enormous expense of their clients’ health. That might make things easy, but it certainly doesn’t make them smart.
The smart way is to eat real food as defined by avoiding the ANTI model while working to heal addiction, dependency, disordered eating, and unhealthy mindset. I can’t guarantee that’s going to be easy though (mainly because I’m not interested in creating illusions).
When a weight-loss plan is built for human nature, you can expect amazing. Temptation is everywhere, and science shows us that our brains are hardwired to give in. That’s why we created our program, built on our proven PointsPlus® plan and backed with 50 years of helping real people in the real world lose weight. And it’s changing the face of weight loss.
It’s not human nature to harm yourself. We’re not hardwired to eat poison and having a points system that helps us eat less poison is not “real world” programming. It’s not effective either.
Weight Watchers knows that by restricting how much you eat you’re going to lose weight and see some semblance of success. They also know that they’re setting you up for further disordered eating (usually emotional eating binges — driven by the psychological impact of restriction). When that occurs, your Weight Watchers “accountability” partners tell you to bolster your willpower (which is futile) and focus even harder on the program.
Those cashing the checks at Weight Watchers hope you continue to repeat this success/failure cycle for a while. Of course, if you reach your goal weight, the program is free and you stop paying. If you yo-yo for a long time and then quit, they make more money on average.
At some point you’re going to stop paying them; they know that getting you to yo-yo means you’re going to pay them longer than if you reach success. In effect, they teach you how to ineffectively lose weight so you spend more money to lose weight. And the free membership offer is not a reward, it’s a dangling carrot they know very few will manage to grab hold of.
Whether they do this on purpose or they’re just negligent is still considered debatable by some. After fourteen years — in 2010 — Weight Watchers finally admitted that calorie counting doesn’t work:
We needed a program that recognized that calories are most definitely not created equal. We knew that counting, budgeting and planning still made fundamental sense, but we wanted a better and more accurate currency. We wanted a POINTS formula that was much more “opinionated” about food choices beyond just calories.” ~ Weight Watchers CEO
But their new points system is just as ineffective. They have “50 years of experience” and still haven’t scratched the surface of what it takes to truly help people. Their 98% long-term failure rate proves that.
Combine that with their licensing deals for unhealthy food products and Weight Watchers looks less and less like a program doing it’s best to help people and more and more like a racket.