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 you can choose to do Weight Watchers without them, using online "meetings" and other support options, as well as food and activity-tracking programs, instead.
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 nutrition experts because there are no forbidden foods. Weight Watchers has been evaluated in a number of clinical studies, with researchers unanimously concluding that it's effective for both weight loss and long-term weight control. Studies show this type of diet program is easier to stick to for the long term than more restrictive diets. It consistently makes the "top weight loss diet" list in yearly diet roundups and expert reviews.
Group support is key. Weight Watcher's flagship feature has always been social support, which experts say is key to sticking to a long-term eating plan. Traditionally, these were in the form of physical meetings where people weigh in, share tips and stories, and provide general support and encouragement. Those still exist, but for those who can't fit in a meeting, or don't have a facility close by, there is a full range of online services, including support groups, recipes, tips, coaching, and tracking software. There are even mobile apps available. Exercise is encouraged on Weight Watchers and you can earn extra food points through activity, something that earns high praise from experts on obesity and weight loss. Weight Watchers also accommodates those with special dietary needs.
You must track food and activity. Eating on Weight Watchers requires budgeting food points throughout the day, which one expert review notes requires "medium" effort. 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, but you have to be diligent about keeping track. There are points for specific categories, such as dairy, to help you balance your nutrients, as well as flexible points for treats. You can eat unlimited amounts of fresh fruits and vegetables. If you don't like to track, there is an easier option called the Simply Filling Technique in which you choose from a list of foods and eat until you are satisfied, but not stuffed. There are many cookbooks available that have recipes with pre-calculated points. Weight Watchers easily syncs with several fitness devices to automatically track your activity.
Support comes at a cost. There is a $20 registration fee to join Weight Watchers, although that fee is often waived. An online-only membership is about $5 per week; meetings will cost you about $15 per week, unless they're included in your monthly pass. The monthly passes range from $20 per month to $70 per month, and each level offers more support, such as personal coaching and meetings. While Weight Watchers 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. One issue we discovered: the Weight Watchers site says you can "Join for Free," but that's not quite true. You can't join unless you pay at least the minimum of $20 for a one-month plan, or $40 for a three-month savings plan (though the latter is not always offered, so watch for promotions). The "free" is merely a waiver of the starter fee of $20.
Weight Watchers Reviews
1. U.S. News & World Report
Angela Haupt offers a thorough overview of the Weight Watchers program which is named "best weight loss diet" in U.S. News & World Report's annual roundup of the best diets. It's also named the best commercial diet and the 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. 5, 2015
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. 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
4. 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
5. 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. Those on Weight Watchers and the Zone Diet were more likely to stick to their diet plan, however.
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
6. 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
WebMD.com provides a detailed review of the Weight Watchers diet. It is neither compared nor ranked with other diets nor is any statement made about the efficacy of the diet. The level of effort is judged to be "medium" based upon tracking. The author also notes that Weight Watchers is more a lifestyle change than diet.
Review: Weight Watchers, Editors of WebMD.com, Not Dated
The Weight Watchers program receives more than 1040 user reviews on Viewpoints.com, earning an average rating of 87 points out of 100 and a 2014 Viewpoints Reviewer's Choice designation. 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 January 2015