Weight Watchers: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

When it comes to diets, Weight Watchers is probably the most famous and longest standing contender in the ring. Everyone photoseems to have some passing knowledge of the program, regardless of if they have ever tried it or not. Most people know a success story or two as well. What most people don’t know is the nitty gritty of the system, and the good, the bad and the ugly about this program.

For those of you who aren’t intimately familiar with the program, it is actually pretty simple. Based on your sex and weight, you get a daily allotment of “points” to spend on food/drinks. The points assigned to a specific food or drink are calculated by a formula based on fat, carbs, fiber and protein. You also get an extra 49 points per week regardless of your weight/sex to spend as you see fit, or not spend at all. The program operates on the premise that as long as you stay within your points, you will lose up to 2 lbs a week. That is weight watchers in a nutshell.

They have an optional program you can follow where you don’t count points but eat as many “power foods” as you like during the day, but I find I’m too picky to follow that one, so I’m not going to go into detail on it.

Alongside the points as a WW staple is the support group type meetings that most members attend on a weekly basis. When you arrive, you get weighed and your weight is tracked in a little booklet for you. If you have a smartphone and monthly pass, you can see the same info online. As you hit milestones, you get a reward sticker. The meetings are led by members who have reached their “goal” weight.

Weight Watchers: The Good

Honestly, if you stick to the points it seems to work. I’m not a big support group type of person, but the meetings honestly seem to help. Weighing on the same scale at the same time each week helps consistency, and there is no fudging the numbers. The system keeps you honest. By having members as leaders, you are looking at a living success story each week. The booklet you get each week is mostly fluff, but has some good info in it from time to time. Finally, I really like the iPhone app. It might not have good reviews in the app store, but the ability to look up the points anytime, anywhere has really helped to keep me on the plan.

Weight Watchers: The Bad

The tracking gets tedious quickly, and if you stop tracking you stop losing weight. This means that if you want to continue the diet, either you need to cough up the monthly fee ($42.95) for the mobile app or track everything on paper. The cost is another bad feature of the program. In this day of free mobile apps, it seems pretty damn overpriced. You can rationalize it by saying your truly paying for the meetings and the supports, but is that half hour really worth $10 a week? For those on a limited budget, the price is steep and can be what ultimately turns them away from a program that could do a lot of good in their life.

Weight Watchers: The Ugly

The ugliest part of the program is the cult-like environment it creates. The leaders sometimes act like a high priestess presiding over their congregation of very hungry people. Yes, they are living proof that the plan works, but they often act like the WW is the ONLY way for people to lose weight, and everyone who doesn’t track points and attend weekly meetings is doomed to fail.

Then, you have the weird actions of the members. I admit it, I am guilty of a couple of these too. When women arrive at the meeting, you will notice they tend to strip. It’s not as kinky as it sounds, though. They start by trying vainly to pee, or do worse in the bathroom. Then, you notice them taking off all their jewelry. Then, they strip down to tank tops and take their shoes off before being weighed. I even have a friend that was so desperate; she cut her hair into a short, hideous-on-her pixie cut so it would appear that she had continued to lose weight when she hit a plateau.

After the women weigh in, you will see the water bottles and snacks come out. They will drink like they avoided drinking all day in order to be at their lowest weight for the weigh in, and the snacks are devoured almost instantaneously. For the record, I have never seen any of the male members pull any of these shenanigans. The behavior seems almost desperate, especially for the ones who only lose a fraction of a pound that week. But, that is still a loss, so it is still a success.

I think that while the atmosphere it creates is ugly, it is still helpful for many people. While someone might be running laps in front of the store for the half hour before her weigh in, if it means she didn’t gain weight that week, then it’s still a good thing. It’s just hard to tell if the means justify the end sometimes.

Then, there is what happens to people when they quit. Even the leaders will tell you stories about how they stopped the program and then gained the weight back and then some. I lost 15 lbs on it a year ago. I gained back 40 after I stopped. My friend lost over 100 (hair included), and from the looks of a recent photo is well on her way to having gained it all back. That story is told over and over again. People quit and gain it all back and more. Like a cult, once you join you are stuck unless you want to fail and gain more weight than you started with.

 

Wieght Watchers: Why Bother?

With all this in mind, you might wonder what possessed me to start drinking the Kool-Aid again. Sometimes, it’s nice to be a part of a cult. The other members are there for the same reason as you, and they have the same problem as you: they like to eat. Seeing others struggling with the same issues that you are struggling with makes the transition into healthy eating easier, at least for me. The weekly weigh-ins keep me honest, and I really enjoy being congratulated on successes. I find the WW app easier to follow and track in than lose it or my fitness pal. I like how WW takes calories out of the equation, and I like how they gradually whittle down the amount of daily points you get. When I try tracking on my own, I tend to dive in head first, and you can image how much that helps things. I like having someone else setting the boundaries. Also, they have some low-point foods that I absolutely love.

 

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  • I like how Weight Watchers has different meetings you can attend so you can find the right kind of fit for you. Leaders have different styles on how they run the meeting and also member participation. I had the opportunity to attend meetings in different cities: Lansing, MI, New York City, Portland, OR. This also helped me with perspective on what I like in a leader. I never felt shamed when I gained weight nor stopped going. I wished they would of had an extension to their program when you get pregnant. I had to quit because of pregnancy. I feel you need the support to eat healthy but because of legality they can't offer the support to pregnant women due to being a weight loss program. I wished WW was more affordable too. I know that Medicaid Family Care Network pays for WW in Illinois. I believe all health insurances should offer this or a program that is evidence based. I like how the program has shifted the focus on behavior as opposed to counting food intake and how to change the behavior.

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