How Does Weight Watchers Work?

The first Weight Watchers’ meeting took place over forty years ago, in the living room of founder Jean Nidetch. Since then, Weight Watchers International has become one of the global leaders in weight loss programs. Certainly you’ve heard of it, and perhaps know people who have tried it, but how exactly does Weight Watchers work and why is it so successful in helping people achieve and maintain a healthy weight?

The Weight Watchers program is based on four principles: smarter food choices, healthy habits, exercise and community support.

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Smarter Food Choices

Just like every other weight loss plan on the planet, Weight Watchers embraces the science of “net” calories burned. Simply put, to lose weight, it is necessary to burn more calories than one consumes. So it is not surprising that the Weight Watchers diet is based on a low calorie diet that emphasizes fruits, vegetables, complex carbohydrates, and de-emphasizes fat and simple carbohydrates.

But rather than counting calories, Weight Watchers has assigned “points” to represent the cost or value of different foods. The original points system was developed in the late 1990′s and it essentially accounted for the caloric content of certain foods, with a penalty for fat and a bonus for fiber.

The new Weight Watchers diet, launched in 2011, is now based on the Points Plus system, which takes into account the type of calories (fat, protein and carbohydrates) that make up each food choice. The new Weight Watchers Points Plus system was developed because of a growing understanding by nutritionists that not all calories are created equal. For instance, a 100-calorie pack of cookies offers vastly different nutrition than does a 100-calorie apple. Because all fruits and most vegetables now carry zero points on the Points Plus program, the Weight Watchers diet definitely encourages the consumption of more fruits and vegetables and discourages sugary snacks.

Healthy Habits

Weight Watchers has built two different systems into their weight loss program that assist dieters in developing healthy long-term habits. First, the fact that dieters have to track their Weight Watchers Points, dieters are forced to monitor and record all of their food choices. This helps to develop the habit of awareness and discourages the habit of mindless eating.

Secondly, the Weight Watchers diet requires members to attend a weekly weigh-in during the weight loss phase, and a monthly weigh-in once the goal weight has been achieved. Weigh-ins are conducted privately and the results are not shared with any third parties, but many members find it motivating to be accountable to another person.


In addition to food points, the Weight Watchers plan also keeps track of activity points. These are points that can be earned by performing a particular activity (chosen by the dieter), at a certain level of intensity and for a certain period of time.

The amount of recommended exercise is increased as the dieter progresses from the early stages of weight loss to the ultimate maintenance of the achieved goal weight. But there is quite a bit of flexibility when it comes to choosing the type of exercise and each participant can choose activities that best fit their individual lifestyle.


When participants of Weight Watchers share their success stories, the single most cited reason for success is the emotional support that dieters receive from the Weight Watchers community. Whether they are attending monthly meetings in their local area, or joining the member discussion boards at Weight Watchers Online, participants seem to enjoy the camaraderie shared with their follow members.

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