Does Weight Watchers Work? Weighing The Pros And Cons

Since the 1960s, Weight Watchers has remained one of the most popular diet programs in America. The program assigns points to food based on how healthy it is, and members must eat within the number limit. But does Weight Watchers work?

As with many diet programs, Weight Watchers can work for some people and not for others. Whereas some may love Weight Watchers’ lenient diet, others may need more structure. Some may not want to invest in losing weight that they may gain back later. If you’re questioning Weight Watchers, here are all the pros and cons of the program.

PRO: There Is No “Forbidden Foods” List

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Paleo, Keto, and Veganism are called “restrictive” diets because they don’t allow certain foods. Weight Watchers has no forbidden food list. While some people in the program can eat vegetarian, they don’t have to. In this sense, Weight Watchers can adapt to anyone’s preferred diet.

In a SELF article, registered dietitian Wendy Lopez mentioned that restrictive diets don’t work for many people. If you find restrictive diets hard to maintain, you may bounce back and regain the weight. But with weight watchers, you don’t have to worry about giving up meat or gluten.

PRO: You Lose Weight Slowly And Healthily

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Marcus Hessenberg/Barcroft Media via Getty Images

Weight Watchers doesn’t promise that people will lose ten pounds in one week. Researchers emphasize that anything above two pounds is too much weight to lose in a week. According to the Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics, people who lose weight gradually are more likely to keep it off in the long-term.

Weight Watchers offers a 12-week and 52-week program, and both aim to lose one to two pounds per week. In 2017, a study confirmed that the 52-week program offered better results than the 12-week program. Weight Watchers may change your diet habits for life.

PRO: Say Goodbye To Counting Calories

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Although many people hear that diets must involve calorie-counting, this isn’t necessarily true. Weight loss has more to do with the quality of your food, not its calorie number, says endocrinologist David Ludwig. For instance, two tablespoons of olive oil have more calories than a donut, but olive oil helps you lose weight.

Weight Watchers does not rely on calories. It calculates points based on a food’s nutrients, healthy fats, protein, and fiber. If you feel stressed by calorie-counting, you may want to look into Weight Watchers’ point system.

CON: It’s Not Cheap

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One of the biggest concerns surrounding Weight Watchers is the price. Cost varies from person to person, but it can range from $6.92 to $13.85 per week. If you get the app, plus workshops, plus personal coaching, you could pay up to $51 per month.

That said, other dieting companies such as Noom cost more than Weight Watchers–around $45 more every month, reports CNET. One study estimated that for every 5% body fat lost, Weight Watchers participants spent around $1,610. That may sound like a large investment, but if it works, you’ll save money later in life.

PRO: The Investment Keeps You Invested

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Joe Raedle/Getty Images

While some people view Weight Watchers’ cost as a downside, others see it as a benefit. People are more likely to engage in their diet if they spend money on it. According to Psychological Science, people are more likely to continue a habit if they pay to do it.

This is called the sunk cost fallacy, and it can either work for or against you. If you spend money on healthy improvements–such as weight loss–you can essentially trick yourself into sticking with your new diet.

CON: You May Regain The Weight Afterward

Eugene Gologursky/Getty Images for Weight Watchers
Eugene Gologursky/Getty Images for Weight Watchers

As with any weight-loss program, Weight Watchers runs the risk of gaining back any pounds that you lose. Most studies that back Weight Watchers only track participants for several weeks or a year. However, 84% of Weight Watchers participants are repeat customers, claims BBC.

According to a Social and Personality Psychology Compass study, most weight loss occurs after one year. Within five years, most people gain back all of the weight except for two pounds. People who spend a lot of money on Weight Watchers may not benefit from their investment.

PRO: You Learn To Measure Portion Sizes

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Natasha Breen/REDA&CO/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

If you don’t measure portion sizes, you will learn to do so with Weight Watchers. This is a life skill that you can take with you for the rest of your life. According to research in Nutrition Bulletin, larger portion sizes at restaurants have resulted in more widespread obesity.

“People think they’re eating the right amount,” says registered dietitian Lori Zanini, “but when I have people take pictures of their food, what they think is one cup is actually three!” Although it may take a while to learn balanced portion control, Weight Watchers will help you on that journey.

CON: Their Coaches Are Not Diet Professionals

A Weight Watchers coach introduces herself to a client.
Eugene Gologursky/Getty Images for Weight Watchers
Eugene Gologursky/Getty Images for Weight Watchers

Weight Watchers coaches are not doctors, registered dietitians, or nutritionists. Instead, anyone can become a Weight Watchers coach. Employees take free nutrition workshops provided by the company, but other than that, they do not have professional dietary training that some people need.

Dr. Dennis Gage of Park Avenue Endocrinology and Nutrition says that medical professionals have many advantages. For instance, they can examine any medications and chronic conditions that may impact your weight loss. If you struggle with a medical condition, you may benefit more from a dietitian or nutrition doctor.

CON: It May Be Too Lenient

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Eugene Gologursky/Getty Images for Weight Watchers
Eugene Gologursky/Getty Images for Weight Watchers

While a lenient weight loss program may help some people, it doesn’t work for others. Weight Watchers runs on a point system; every food is assigned points, and you must stay below your daily points system. However, it’s still possible to eat processed, unhealthy foods under this program.

“For some, the plan can be too lenient and does not require a balance of different food groups every day,” says registered dietitian Lisa Moskovitz. This diet may not fit your lifestyle if you have to watch blood glucose and cholesterol levels.

PRO: It Rewards Daily Exercise

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Richard Baker / In Pictures via Getty Images

If you struggle to exercise every week, Weight Watchers can help you. The program offers FitPoints for any workout. As you earn FitPoints, you can trade some for SmartPoints to eat more during the day. Weight Watchers calculates your daily FitPoints through height, weight, age, and gender.

With Weight Watchers, exercise is secondary– as it should be. Research in PLoS ONE concluded that no matter how often you work out, you will not lose weight if your nutrition is lacking. Nutritionists assert that dieting is 80% diet and 20% exercise.

PRO: Weight Watchers Lowers The Risk Of Diabetes

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Jens Kalaene/picture alliance via Getty Images

Research has concluded that Weight Watchers can lower peoples’ chances of diabetes. In 2017, a BMJ study observed the Weight Watchers pre-diabetes program. After finishing the diet, 38% of participants got their blood sugar levels back to normal. A majority of participants had improved blood glucose after several weeks.

Weight Watchers offers specific diets for people living with diabetes or those with a high risk of diabetes. An earlier study in Obesity showed that the diet is better at reducing diabetes risk than some other diets.

PRO: You Must Remain Socially Accountable

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Weight Watchers participants meet weekly and talk to their coaches regularly. When it comes to weight loss, social accountability makes all the difference. Research in the International Journal of Medical Informatics found that support groups–even online networks–can help people lose more pounds.

Scientists from the University of Illinois said that social accountability is “critical” to weight loss. Specifically, interacting with people who are also losing weight keeps people motivated. On the flip-side, a lack of social support can hinder peoples’ weight loss journey.

CON: Weekly Weigh-Ins May Be Uncomfortable

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Weight Watchers encourages people to “weigh-in” every week, updating others about their progress. Some members may feel uncomfortable with this, especially if they lack progress. Despite the stress around self-reporting, it is proven to help people lose weight.

A study in Obesity Research noted that people who self-report are more likely to stick with their weight loss goals. On the other hand, self-reports for weight loss are only “sufficiently accurate,” says Behavioral Therapy. People can easily lie if they feel intimidated by group meetings.

CON: It Has No Proven Heart Benefits

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While Weight Watchers has proven benefits for diabetes, research still debates over its effectiveness regarding heart disease. In 2005, a study in JAMA noted that Weight Watchers stabilizes blood sugar and cholesterol levels. However, it didn’t affect heart health any more than other diets such as Atkins, Ornish, and Zone.

Despite the lack of research, Dr. Brunilda Nazario argues that weight loss can significantly enhance heart health. While Weight Watchers doesn’t target cholesterol or blood pressure, successful weight loss will improve your heart as a side effect.

PRO: You Have No Lack Of Support

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Weight Watchers has no lack of resources. From apps to coaches to website guides, Weight Watchers participants will never be left in the dark. On top of that, research has found that dieting with this system works.

In 2003, a study compared Weight Watchers’ supportive program to their self-help system. Participants who received support lost three times more weight than people in the self-help program. They also kept off their weight more effectively than the self-help group. If you decide to try Weight Watchers, take advantage of their resources.

PRO: There Is No Junk Science Or Fast-Acting Cures

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Frank Bienewald/LightRocket via Getty Images

You won’t find a reliance on supplements, shakes, or one “miracle” food in Weight Watchers. These quick, fad diets are likely to fail, say UCLA researchers. Their study suggests that most diets that last less than two years have a high failure rate.

Weight Watchers does not eliminate or over-emphasize certain foods. This approach is not only realistic but also much more achievable. In 2017, research in The Lancet noted that long-term commitment to Weight Watchers yields the best results. With no junk science or fast-acting cures, this is attainable.

CON: Counting Points May Get Tedious

Points are showed on the Weight Watchers app.
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Rosenfeld Media/Flickr

Weight Watchers’ point program is designed to streamline healthy eating. But some people struggle to log what they eat every day. If food items aren’t in the database, it can quickly become stressful and time-consuming. And some may feel anxious while staring at how many SmartPoints they have left in the day.

Smartpoints also has some flaws. Some processed foods have lower point values similar to healthy foods. If people overstep their points, they may give up and binge-eat. Before investing in Weight Watchers, consider whether the points system is right for you.

PRO: It Encourages Whole Foods

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Robert Alexander/Getty Images

Through its point system, Weight Watchers encourages people to eat whole foods. Fruits and non-starchy vegetables have ZeroPoints, which allows people to eat as many as they want. Eggs, beans, and some fish are also listed under ZeroPoints.

Science confirms that a whole food diet can accelerate weight loss. Stanford researchers discovered that whole, home-cooked meals help people shed pounds even without counting calories. Weight Watchers encourages people to avoid trans fats, sugars, and refined foods that cause people to gain weight.

CON: The System May Trigger Binge Eating

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Marty Caivano/Digital First Media/Boulder Daily Camera via Getty Images

If you have struggled through binge eating in the past, Weight Watchers may not work for you. The points system can make some people feel anxious about eating foods with too many “points.” If people hold back too much, they may feel hungry throughout the day. Over time, they may give up and binge eat.

The FitPoints system could also lead to binge eating if you aren’t careful. FitPoints can be exchanged for SmartPoints, allowing people to eat more throughout the day. People who focus on this may eat more than they need to. If this sounds like you, think twice before committing to Weight Watchers.

PRO or CON: Cheat Days Are Nearly Impossible

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Xulio Villarino/Cover/Getty Images

Weight Watchers ensures that you can’t easily “cheat” on your diet. Unhealthy foods have large point values that don’t easily fit into your daily meals. Depending on your perception of diets, this could either be a pro or a con.

If you’ve thrown away a diet because of cheat days in the past, this could be a pro. But some researchers argue that cheat days can help your diet. In 2018, a study found that dieters who took cheat days were more likely to drop weight than those who didn’t.