Weight Watchers is popular, so lots of people ask me, “How does Weight Watchers Work?” It’s a great question because it offers a lot of learning opportunities. Weight Watchers is fundamentally and critically flawed and I don’t want you to waste another dime or minute following Weight Watchers until you read this.
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 an 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, there are fundamental flaws in the Weight Watchers design.
It does an amazing job of marketing exactly what people hope to achieve. The problem is that it can’t deliver. To unpack why, I’m going to break down the program and explain why specific parts of the program are problematic.
My two sources for this review are the Weight Watchers official website and an article written by a “lifelong member of Weight Watchers” titled, “10 Reasons Why Weight Watchers Works!” (editor’s note: This article has sense been removed from the original source, so we have removed the link).
How Does Weight Watchers Work (Based on Their Claims)?
Weight Watchers is fundamentally a calories-in, calories-out diet (CICO Diet) that follows an “eat whatever you want, just less of it” philosophy.
This is the oldest modern dieting model and a philosophy that every single adult human being knows about (and yet we still have an obesity and preventable disease epidemic).
Now, if they were just telling you to count calories, there wouldn’t be much reason for them to exist, right? That’s right. So, they put a twist on things.
Weight Watchers realized that people don’t like to check the calorie count for every food they’re eating, portion out those foods, and log everything they eat manually. So, they developed a points system (called “SmartPoints”) that assigns points to every food item.
When you join Weight Watchers you’re given a points guide, a target point total for each day, and instructions on how to manage your points. That’s the core aspect of the Weight Watchers diet. If you hit your points, you’ll effectively cut your calories and lose weight.
To help with the “you don’t want to portion your food out” problem, they developed an entire line of food products that are already portioned and assigned a point total. Of course, none of these foods are actually healthy but we’ll get to that in a moment.
How Much Does Weight Watchers Cost?
Weight Watchers currently uses a monthly, tiered membership model with three plans to choose from.
OnlinePlus is their lowest tier plan which gives you access strictly to their online program. You can access this program for around $20/mo.
Meetings is the mid-tier plan which gives you access to the program as well as in-person meetings. You can access this program for around $45/mo.
Coaching is their highest plan which gives you access to the program, the in-person meetings, and a coach (not a real coach, just an experienced Weight Watchers member).
Keep in mind that all you’re really paying for when you join Weight Watchers is a points system for counting calories and accountability in the form of public weigh-ins (which are super unhealthy, in my opinion).
What you’re *not* paying for is a sound philosophy and process for changing your behavior and your environment in a way that’s going to create lifelong success. Weight Watchers is what I call a “treadmill diet.”
If you live on the treadmill they give you (which is very difficult), you’ll be successful. The minute you get off their treadmill, everything falls apart because you haven’t been given any real tools or been empowered in any meaningful way to be successful on your own (such as by teaching you what truly healthy eating looks like, what foods work best for your body, and why you behave the way you behave around food).
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.
Marketing Speak: 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. Is pizza a real food? Hardly. It fails almost every aspect of our ANTI-food grading model.
ANTI foods are addiction-feeding, nutrient-poor, toxic, and/or inflammatory. People love our ANTI food grading process because it makes perfect sense and it’s not one-size-fits-all.
Real food is food that is minimally processed. Food that is as close to its natural state as possible. Food that is nutritious and that your biology has a long history of interacting with (from a genetic standpoint).
Real food, as defined by Weight Watchers, 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.
When Weight Watchers talks about “real food,” they’re talking about “everyday food.” In other words, “food ‘real people’ in the ‘real world’ eat.”
You mean the people who are statistically obese and dying from preventable diseases? Yes, those real people.
They’ve molested the term in an attempt to appeal to your emotions and your clinginess to “comfort foods.”
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 meal replacement shakes. The choice is between Weight Watchers and TRULY eating real food.
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.
Marketing Speak: We’ve Got Your Back. Always…
The lifelong member says: “Weight Watchers makes you accountable.”
Believing that you need someone on your team to hold you accountable is erroneous.
I don’t fault people for thinking they need someone to hold them accountable. It’s driven by the myth that willpower and discipline are the keys to success and these are two things that most people complain about not having enough of.
What happens next? They recruit an accountability partner to force them to stay on track when their willpower is gone. When their discipline wavers.
It’s not necessary. In fact, it can be destructive. When you understand the psychology of health and fitness, you free yourself from a lot of these myths. That’s why our clients are successful long-term without willpower or discipline.
Let’s look at what accountability isn’t.
- Accountability is not support, at least not the type of support you need.
- Accountability doesn’t heal complex psychological roadblocks.
- Accountability doesn’t help with addiction and dependency.
- Accountability doesn’t change your relationship with food, body, and Self.
Even worse, they’re using the scale as an accountability tool just like all traditional diets do…
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.
Marketing Speak: 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, tracking, and weighing doesn’t make decisions easy. It doesn’t “train your brain.” It doesn’t “give you great habits.” It makes you obsessive and unhappy.
And what better time to point out another aspect of Weight Watchers that’s billed as “making life easy.” Have you seen their food products?
Weight Watchers Meals, Recipes, and Food Products
Weight Watchers subsidizes the cost of their memberships by selling food products that are the antithesis of healthy.
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 while working to heal your relationship with food, body, and Self. You can’t wrap that up in neat marketing with quick-fix promises, though, can you?
What About Weight Watchers Freestyle?
In late 2017, Weight Watchers announced that it was releasing a new program called Weight Watchers Freestyle.
This program promised to create a massive list (over 200 foods!) of “points-free foods” which is supposed to make Weight Watchers more flexible and less restrictive.
I’ve looked at the Freestyle foods list and it’s clearly just a marketing initiative. Before Freestyle, Weight Watchers already allowed you eat vegetables and fruits for zero points. So, how did Weight Watchers add tons of new items to their Freestyle list? By skirting the lines of obvious and obscure, basically.
In addition to all the fruits and veggies that were already zero points, Weight Watchers added things like: beans, calamari, daikon, eggs, egg whites, egg substitute (yum!), fish, garlic, ginger root, seaweed, and turkey breast.
If that doesn’t trigger the Trump shrug inside you, I don’t know what will.
And to help promote it, they brought in another celebrity, DJ Khaled. Will Khaled and his private chef have better success than Oprah and her private chef?
That brings me to this question I want you to ponder…
If Oprah, With Her Private Chef, Can’t Succeed on Weight Watchers, How Can You Expect to?
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 a “real world” process, nor is it effective.
Weight Watchers knows that by restricting how much you eat, you’re going to lose weight. Since they’ve defined success by weight, nothing else matters. They’re not promising health. They’re not promising happiness. They’re not promising a healthy relationship with food, body, and Self. They’re promising weight loss. That’s it.
Does it matter that they’re setting you up for further disordered eating habits?. Not to them. When your disordered eating habits lead to failure, they get to keep you on as a paying member for even longer.
They’ll tell you to double down on willpower and discipline and show up to more “accountability” meetings. It’s always your fault, not theirs.
If you reach your goal weight on Weight Watchers, 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.
The free membership offer is not a reward, by the way. It’s a dangling carrot they know very few will manage to grab hold of. Even with a private chef and all the resources in the world, Oprah hasn’t been able to make it work.
Whether Weight Watchers do this on purpose, or its pure negligence, is debatable.
Weight Watchers did finally admit, in 2010, 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
Unfortunately, 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 horrific 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. Rather, it tends to look more and more like a racket.
Kevin Geary is the founder of RebootedBody.com and a respected expert on cravings, eating psychology, and long-term habit change. He’s worked with thousands of men and women in over 35 countries around the world through his online academy and programs like Shut Down Your Sugar Cravings.