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Weight Watchers Diet

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Weight Watchers is a commercial organization offering flexible food plans, weekly support meetings, and an emphasis on sensible eating and healthful lifestyle habits, including regular exercise. Members are assigned an initial goal of losing 5 to 10% of their body weight through a combination of exercise and food plans designed to reach that goal.

Two food plans are offered. In the traditional program, called the Flex Plan, all foods are assigned point values according to fat, calorie, and fiber content. Each member is given a daily range of allowed points, and no foods are prohibited as long as dieters don't exceed the daily or weekly point maximum. Increasing exercise allows a member to earn more points for additional daily point allowances. A Web site (www.weightwatchers.com), printed guides, cookbooks, and branded Weight Watchers foods available in grocery stores are designed to help members learn and apply this point system. A newer program, called the Core Plan, provides a list of nutritious and filling yet low-calorie items in every food group that can be eaten freely without counting points. Occasional treats are allowed in both plans, and members can switch from one plan to the other if they desire.

Weekly group meetings led by a trained, experienced member allow dieters to get advice and support one another. Members are encouraged to weigh themselves at each meeting. Online tools are available to members for counting Flex Plan points and for tracking weight-loss progress and exercise habits. Weight Watchers also offers a weight-maintenance plan.

Why do people follow this diet?

Founded in the early 1960s, Weight Watchers is one of the most successful diet organizations in existence, with members numbering in the millions. One survey of successful dieters found that many used organized programs such as Weight Watchers to lose weight. People are most satisfied with Weight Watchers if they enjoy having regular support meetings to attend, and the traditional food plan may appeal to those who find it useful to learn a system for keeping track of food eaten throughout the day. Both food plans can be adapted for people with specific needs, such as vegetarians, teenagers, and breast-feeding mothers.

What do the advocates say?

The diet resembles the typical low-fat, “heart healthy” diet advocated by many governmental and professional organizations. Group meetings often help a weight-loss program to succeed by offering dieters practical advice, consistent motivation, and the chance to share experiences with other like-minded people. Preliminary research suggests that participating in Weight Watchers is more effective than a “do-it-yourself” diet program, and that long-term weight maintenance may be more successful with Weight Watchers than is reported for most dieters.

What do the critics say?

Though health and nutrition professionals design the Weight Watchers program, individuals are not offered professional guidance; instead they must rely on printed materials, group leaders, and other members for advice and problem solving. A recent report suggested that while dieters using Weight Watchers for a full year lost an average of 5% of their body weight, other dieters using Atkins, Zone, or very-low-fat diets lost the same amount. Therefore, the cost of membership in Weight Watchers, while not as high as some other commercial programs, might seem unnecessary when other weight-loss plans may be available either free or for the price of a single book.

Furthermore, regular weigh-ins at group meetings may make some people uncomfortable, and some health authorities believe that focusing on weight instead of overall health can lead to unhealthy dieting practices.

Are there any groups or books associated with this diet?

Official Web site for Weight Watchers: www.weightwatchers.com

Weight Watcher's New Complete Cookbook and Program Basics by Nancy Gagliardi (Editor). New York; Hungry Minds, Inc., 1998.

Weight Watchers The Fit Factor: How Getting Strong Can Help You Lose Weight by Weight Watchers. New York; IDG Books Worldwide, 2000.

Weight Watchers Coach Approach: How to Motivate the Thin You by Weight Watchers. Hoboken, NJ; John Wiley & Sons, 2003.

Bibliography

Dansinger, M.L., Gleason, J. L., Griffith, J.L., et al. “One Year Effectiveness of the Atkins, Ornish, Weight Watchers, and Zone Diets in Decreasing Body Weight and Heart Disease Risk.” Presented at the American Heart Association Scientific Sessions; 2003, November 12; Orlando, FL.

Freedman MR, King J, Kennedy E. Popular diets: a scientific review. Obes Res 2001;9 Suppl 1:1S–40S [review].

Lowe MR, Miller-Kovach K, Phelan S. Weight-loss maintenance in overweight individuals one to five years following successful completion of a commercial weight loss program. Int J Obes Relat Metab Disord 2001;25:325–31.

Lowe MR, Miller-Kovach K, Frye N, Phelan S. An initial evaluation of a commercial weight loss program: short-term effects on weight, eating behavior, and mood. Obes Res 1999;7:51–9.

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