Easily outshining the competition, Weight Watchers promotes a sensible diet, exercise, group support and a positive attitude that has been proven effective in a variety of scientific studies. There are no off-limit foods, and the program can be customized for those with special dietary needs. In-person, group meetings are the plan's cornerstone, but there are online "meetings" and support options, as well as food and activity-tracking programs.
Top-shelf performance. Weight Watchers encourages weight loss with a sensible diet of healthy, whole foods, plus exercise and a positive attitude. It earns top marks from researchers and experts for nutrition because there are no forbidden foods. You track your calorie intake via a point system that is currently known as PointsPlus. Your ideal daily caloric intake is determined by your gender, age, height and weight. Weight Watchers has been evaluated in a number of clinical studies, with researchers concluding over and over that it's effective for both weight loss and long-term weight control.
Group support is key. Weight Watcher's flagship feature has always been group meetings, which experts say are key to sticking to a long-term eating plan. Traditionally, they are physical meetings where people weigh in, share tips and stories, and provide general support and encouragement. For those who can't make a meeting, there is a full range of online services, including support groups, recipes, tips and tracking software. There are even mobile apps available. Exercise is also encouraged on Weight Watchers and you can earn extra food points through exercise, something that earns high praise from experts on obesity and weight loss.
Eat what you want, just not too much. Eating on Weight Watchers requires budgeting food points throughout the day. Points values are assigned to a food based upon a formula that includes fat, sugar, protein and carbohydrate count; in other words, they do the math. You can eat unlimited amounts of fresh fruits and vegetables. There are points for specific categories, such as dairy, to help you balance your nutrients, as well as flexible points for treats or for that second helping. There are many cookbooks available that have recipes with pre-calculated points. Weight Watchers easily accommodates people with special dietary needs, including vegetarians and the gluten-adverse.
Support comes at a cost. There is a $20 to $30 registration fee to join Weight Watchers, depending upon the program you choose. An online-only membership is about $5 per week; meetings will cost you about $15 per week. The monthly pass at $42.95 per month waives the registration fee and gives you unlimited meetings and eTools. While it does cost money, experts and consumer-reviewers agree that compared to diet plans that require prepackaged meals, it's much less expensive and you get a lot for your money.
1. U.S. News & World Report
Angela Haupt offers a thorough overview of the Weight Watchers program. U.S. News & World Report's annual roundup of the best diets names Weight Watchers the best weight-loss diet, best commercial diet and easiest diet to follow. It ties for third in best overall diet with The Mayo Clinic Diet and Mediterranean diet.
Review: Weight Watchers Diet, Angela Haupt, Jan. 4, 2013
Four commercial weight-loss programs, including Weight Watchers, are evaluated and rated. Ratings are based upon feedback from 9,376 subscribers. Each plan receives an overall score for initial weight loss, maintenance, calorie awareness, food variety, inclusion of fruits and vegetables, and exercise integration and encouragement.
Review: Diet Plans Ratings, Editors of ConsumerReports.org, Not Dated
3. The Daily Beast
By analyzing clinical studies and published research, The Daily Beast chooses the best diets for both short- and long-term weight loss. They also assign points (or not) for promoting cardiovascular health and diabetes control. Weight Watchers comes in second to Volumetrics.
Review: 14 Best Diets for 2013: See What Topped Weight Watchers, Lauren Streib, December 2012
4. Journal of the American Dietetic Association
This study compares the dietary quality of eight weight-loss plans. Researchers say Weight Watchers is one of the best options, especially compared to popular diets such as Atkins, South Beach and the Zone.
Review: A Dietary Quality Comparison of Popular Weight-Loss Plans, Yunsheng Ma, M.D., Ph.D, et al., October 2007
5. Obesity Reviews
This review analyzes 39 weight-loss studies that focused on diets and lifestyle modifications. Of those, only 11 produced significant weight loss that was kept off for at least two years. The effective diets included low-fat, low-calorie and Weight Watchers plans. Weight Watchers is the only commercial diet mentioned as being effective for weight loss.
Review: Systematic Review of Long-Term Lifestyle Interventions to Prevent Weight Gain and Morbidity in Adults, T. Brown, et al., November 2009
6. The Journal of the American Medical Association
This study randomly assigns 160 overweight individuals to one of four diets, including Weight Watchers. At the one-year mark, 25 percent of participants who stuck to their diets lost more than 5 percent of their body weight, regardless of which plan they followed. There is no correlation between the weight a person lost and the diet he or she was on. What does make a difference across the board is whether an individual stuck to the plan, which those on Weight Watchers and the Zone Diet were more likely to do.
Review: Comparison of the Atkins, Ornish, Weight Watchers, and Zone Diets for Weight Loss and Heart Disease Risk Reduction, Michael L. Dansinger, M.D., et al., Jan. 5, 2005
7. The Journal of the American Medical Association
This article details the results of a two-year study comparing dieters on the Weight Watchers plan and those on a self-help plan. At every point during the study, weight loss in the Weight Watchers group is greater than that of the self-help group.
Review: Weight Loss With Self-Help Compared With a Structured Commercial Program, Stanley Heshka, Ph.D, et al., April 9, 2003
8. British Medical Journal
The BBC's "Diet Trials" is a reality TV show and accompanying medical study that follows the ups and downs of 293 dieters on either Weight Watchers, the Atkins Diet, Slim-Fast, Rosemary Conley's "Eat Yourself Slim" (a U.K.-based diet and exercise program) or a self-regulated control group. The only dieters who report continued success are those on Weight Watchers and "Eat Yourself Slim," suggesting that these diets are easier to stick with than Slim-Fast or Atkins.
Review: Randomized Controlled Trial of Four Commercial Weight Loss Programmes in the UK: Initial Findings from the BBC "Diet Trials", Helen Truby, et al., June 1, 2006
WebMD.com provides a detailed review of the Weight Watchers diet. The writer interviews nutritional experts for their takes, including a spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association. Nutritionist Keri Gans calls the new PointsPlus system a "huge improvement."
Review: Weight Watchers, Kathleen M. Zelman, MPH, RD, LD, As of November 2012
10. CBS Moneywatch
Jeanne Lee reviews eight of the most popular diet plans, including Weight Watchers, Jenny Craig and Nutrisystem. She interviews nutrition and health experts, and looks at the latest clinical studies to determine which weight-loss plans are the best bet for most dieters. Membership and food costs are also taken into consideration.
Review: Diet Plan Review: Best Ways to Lose Weight, Jeanne Lee, Jan. 7, 2011
11. Health Magazine
Health magazine asks a panel of nutrition experts to evaluate more than 60 popular diets. Of these, 10 -- including Weight Watchers -- are recommended for their good balance of nutrition, calorie control, motivation and exercise.
Review: Weight Watchers, Tracey Minkin, Sept. 28, 2009
The Weight Watchers program receives more than 930 user reviews on Viewpoints.com, earning an average rating of 87 points out of 100. Many reviewers say they're able to stick with Weight Watchers because of the excellent support.
Review: Weight Watchers Reviews, Contributors to Viewpoints.com, As of December 2013