A wellness program for weight loss.
The program works
Focuses on lifestyle changes and not on fad diets
Has a great physical support model
Program is flexible and nonrestrictive
New program model seems to encourage people with poor self control to binge eat
Issues with customer support
Basically issues no refunds. Ridiculous refund policy
Weight Watchers is the most popular weight loss diet program in the world. Its effectiveness in achieving weight loss is indisputable. But do you know that now the company has rebranded itself to WW International Inc. and is no longer just about weight loss, but about healthy eating and exercise lifestyle in general? In this comprehensive article/review you’ll find out all you need to know about this company, its program, and whether it is worth it to sign up with them. So let’s begin, shall we? It’s going to be interesting!
Weight Watchers: A Brief History
Weight Watchers was conceived by an obese housewife named Jean Nidetch in 1961. At that time she was 38 years old and weighed 218 pounds.
According to several sources, Nidetch started dieting to lose weight using a free, government-sponsored diet program called ‘The Prudent Diet.’ This diet was very restrictive and strict and although she found success with it, she nevertheless disliked the way the diet coach, a clinician, shared information during meetings and the fact that discussion wasn’t encouraged. For this reason and to combat her urge to binge on cookies, Nidetch started holding weekly support meetings in her home with her friends, using The Prudent Diet. But this time around, she introduced discussion and encouraged her friends to share their personal stories, their questions and provide help and support to each other. She also introduced a rewards system, whereby a gift is given to any member that achieves a positive weight loss milestone. Within two months, her weekly meeting attendance rose from seven to over 40 women each week.
Eventually, in October 1962, Nidetch achieved her weight loss milestone, slimming down to 142 pounds. According to New York Times, she maintained this weight and never exceeded 150 pounds until her death in 2015 at the ripe old age of 91.
Weight Watchers was founded by Nidetch along with her overweight husband and two friends Al and Felice Lippert in 1963. By 1967 the corporation had grown into an international franchise, with centers in North America, the Middle East, and Europe. It eventually grew too big for her little team to manage and so Weight Watchers was sold to H.J Heinz Company in 1978. Al Lippert remained the chairman while Nidetch remained the public face of the company and consultant.
By 1990 however, rising competition from other weight loss companies like NutriSystem eventually caused Weight Watchers to lose money. So Heinz sold it to private equity firm Artal Luxembourg in a leveraged buyout. To this day, Artal remains the largest shareholder of the company.
On September 24, 2018, Weight Watchers announced that they are rebranding to ‘WW’. This is because they are no longer just about weight loss, but about health and wellness in general.
Oprah Winfrey’s Relationship With Weight Watchers
If you visit Weight Watchers’ website you’ll see that the photo of TV personality and actress Oprah Winfrey is featured prominently on the homepage. Now, why is that? The answer is simple. She’s a major shareholder in the company and helped restore the company’s performance in the wake of crushing competition from other weight loss programs like Nutrisystem – even though her influence still didn’t prevent the eventual decline of the company in 2016, approximately a year after joining the company.
Oprah didn’t just join the company for business purposes. Oprah actually used Weight Watchers to lose weight and keep it off. Previously, she had tried losing weight twice – first with the infamous liquid-only diet called Optifast in 1988 – and each time she regained all the lost weight and more. So it’s pretty understandable why she loves Weight Watchers so much that in 2015, she decided to buy 10% of the company and join its board of directors.
Currently, Oprah is actively involved in launching diet recipes and plans for the company. A lot of women are following her personal diet plan … and not everyone is achieving the desired satisfaction. Of course, it’s not Oprah’s fault. It’s her personal plan after all and no one is the same.
OK, now it’s the time to talk about what Weight Watchers has to offer for health and wellness.
Weight Watchers Program: What is it?
As I mentioned earlier, Weight Watchers is now no longer just about weight loss. According to them, they have completely overhauled their program to accommodate anyone who wants to live a healthy life.
‘The name WW reflects that we’re becoming the world’s partner in wellness,’ the company says on its website. ‘We will always be the global leader in weight loss, but now WW welcomes anyone who wants to build healthy habits – whether that means eating better, moving more, developing a positive mindset, focusing on weight … or all of the above!’
Now how do they plan on accommodating everyone in their program?
WW Freestyle Program
This is the newest feature of the Weight Watchers program. Under this program, WW removes restrictions placed on certain foods, meaning that you can eat as much of them as you want without having to fear adding more weight. These foods include many fruits, vegetables, and lean proteins.
Weight Watchers believe that lifting restrictions on these foods, will encourage you ‘to eat more fruits, veggies, lean protein, and less sugar and unhealthy fats.’
Weight Watchers essentially guarantee that you can lose up to 1 pound a week if you adhere strictly to the requirements.
How WW Freestyle Program Works: The SmartPoints™ System
WW Freestyle program is based on the SmartPoints system, a scientifically-backed system developed by Weight Watchers. This system assigns points to many food types based on their nutritional content, i.e, factors like protein, sugar, fat, and overall calorie content. Foods considered to be ‘unhealthy’ – like, for example, junk foods – are assigned higher points, while healthier foods carry lower points.
When beginning the Weight Watchers program, a set amount of daily points is assigned to you based on personal factors like age, height, sex, body constitution, and weight loss goals. You are then expected to plan your daily meals based on the set points. For the program to work, you must not exceed the set daily points in your meal plan. Any unused points can be rolled over for future use.
This system was modified in 2017 as part of the new WW Freestyle program. Now, the SmartPoints system has ‘over 200 ZeroPoint™ foods’ that have been assigned zero points. This essentially means that you can eat these foods in any quantity and as often as you want without having to worry about losing your progress.
Weight Watchers App: How To Track Your Progress
In order to keep track of your SmartPoints progress, WW provides an app that will help you do just that. The Weight Watchers app is available for iOS and Android.
Here is what you can do with the Weight Watchers app:
- Set up your profile and your weight loss (or wellness) goals
- View your daily SmartPoints and how many of them you have used up for the day
- View your weekly SmartPoints. These weekly SmartPoints come in handy if you exceed your daily points, hence providing some flexibility to the program.
- View your ‘rollovers’, i.e, the unused daily SmartPoints. These points are added to the weekly SmartPoints.
- View and track your daily meals as well as add new ones
- Gain access to support
- Search for new food recipes or restaurants
- Use the barcode scanner to find out how many SmartPoints a food item has before taking it home
WW app also features Connect, which is basically a community of fellow Weight Watchers members. So you get to meet and interact with others with similar goals as yours.
WW Studio (Formerly Meetings)
WW Studio is another unique feature that differentiates Weight Watchers from other diet programs. These are essentially local meeting sessions where users can meet each other in real life and share their weight loss journeys for inspiration, motivation, and support. This undoubtedly has a psychological effect on the participants, which is excellent for faster weight loss if the effect is positive.
The meetings are held weekly and the proceeds are reportedly ‘private and confidential.’ A ‘wellness coach’ is the head of the proceedings.
WW offers studio locations in all the US states and Puerto Rico, as well as in other international locations it operates in (Australia, Canada, Belgium, Germany, The Netherlands, New Zealand, Switzerland, Sweden, United Kingdom).
WW Pricing Plans and Packages
Weight Watchers offers three pricing plans and packages:
1. WW Freestyle Digital: This package is the basic plan that is completely based online. For $4.61 per week (or $20 a month), you’ll gain access to the members’ area of the website, the app, the online program, and chat support. There is also a 3-month subscription at a discounted $3.07 a week ($13.30 a month) and a 6-month subscription. The 6-month subscription is free for the first month, and you’ll also get a free cookbook with it.
2. WW Digital + Studio: This package includes all the features of the Digital package plus access to the weekly group meetings (now known as Workshops). You also get guidance from wellness coaches, weekly private check-ins, and access to guidebooks and printed materials. This is the recommended package, as it definitely increases your chances of success with the program. The price is calculated based on the studio location you choose, but it is definitely more expensive than the basic Digital plan.
3. WW Digital + Coaching: This is the third and most expensive option. With this plan, you’ll get to choose a personal Wellness Coach who answers to you and prepares a personalized plan for you. You’ll also get unlimited one-on-one phone sessions and personalized training. Interestingly, Studio meetings (or workshops) are not included in this plan.
WW Digital + Coaching costs a discounted $12.69 a week (or $54 a month). You can cancel at any time.
Does Weight Watchers Work? Expert Opinions and Research Findings
As I mentioned earlier, the effectiveness of Weight Watchers when it comes to weight loss is indisputable. In this section, however, we’re going to look into some studies and expert opinions backing Weight Watchers as a credible program for weight loss.
First, a 2011 study by independent researchers found that people placed on a Weight Watchers program lost twice as much weight as those who received standard weight loss consultations from a primary care professional. The study was funded by Weight Watchers through a grant to the UK Medical Research Council.
Also, a 2015 systematic review of popular weight loss programs found that in a year, Weight Watchers users lost approximately 2.6% more weight than those who received normal, standard weight loss counseling.
Finally, a 2017 controlled study of 1267 obese or overweight adults found that those placed on a Weight Watchers program for a year lost more weight than those placed on a short, 12-week program or given self-help weight loss advice. These participants were followed up for two years, and those on Weight Watchers were more successful in keeping off the lost weight than the other groups.
Many doctors agree that the approach used by Weight Watchers is beneficial not just for obese people, but for those with diabetes, heart disease, high blood cholesterol, and high blood pressure. Dr. Dennis Gage, an endocrinologist and nutritionist, tells Insider that he appreciates the fact that WW is ‘realistic’ and doesn’t rely on ‘nonsense diets with just vitamins, injections, or dangerous things that could get a person into trouble.’ He, however, criticizes the program for using ‘coaches’ instead of medical professionals and expressed worry that its flexible, non-restrictive nature can have a counterproductive effect on some.
According to experts at the U.S News and World Report, Weight Watchers ranks 4th in Best Diets Overall, tying with MIND Diet.
Does Weight Watchers Work? Customer Ratings and Testimonials
Since Weight Watchers is a big company, it is not hard to find customer reviews and ratings for it. According to feedback from 1067 customers at ConsumerAffairs.com, almost all of them agree that Weight Watchers work. Also, consumer satisfaction is high, at around 80%. Most of the complaints come from those who don’t really know how to operate the app or from those who have issues with the monthly billing and refunds. Very few customers reported that the program didn’t work for them. Most of these customers are either returning clients or long-term members, and most of them used the local meetings option. The most complaints came from those who used the personal coaching option.
Pros of Weight Watchers
- The program is a tested and proven way of achieving weight loss.
- The program focuses on lifestyle change and exercise. It is also not a fad diet that promises massive weight loss in a short period of time.
- The program is flexible and non-restrictive and many people find it easy to adhere to. The new ZeroPoints feature makes it especially less restrictive and encourages eating of more healthy foods.
- The physical support meetings offered by the program have been credited for the high compliance rate of users. It is also a very good method of keeping people focused on their goals.
- Although it can get expensive, the pricing options of the Weight Watchers program make it accessible for everyone. So it’s not just a diet program for the rich.
- Weight Watchers has a robust community, which means it is very easy to search for information online on how to do certain things in the program or learn from other people’s experiences.
Cons of Weight Watchers
1. Concern over WW Freestyle and Self-Control. WW Freestyle has been criticized for supposedly enabling those who gained weight due to their inability to control themselves when it comes to the quantity of food they eat. Critics argue that, by adding over 200 foods without SmartPoints, Weight Watchers have essentially encouraged binge-eating of these foods which, in turn, won’t teach people about the importance of self-control around food. I personally agree with this criticism, but at the same time, I understand why Weight Watchers did this. People find restricting diets more difficult to adhere to and need to feel free. This is what Weight Watchers is providing with the Freestyle system.
2. Issues With Customer Support. As I mentioned earlier, many of the consumer complaints are about how Weight Watchers handle issues concerning billing and refund requests. I’ve seen disturbing complaints from some consumers alleging that the company doesn’t honor the promos they attach to their long-term subscription plans. Some allege that they are over-billed despite canceling their subscriptions at least a month earlier. Sure, Weight Watchers is actively working to resolve these complaints (judging from their replies to the complaints on the Consumer Affairs website) but this is a serious issue that definitely qualifies as a con.
3. Essentially Offers No Refunds. Weight Watchers has a ridiculous refund policy, basically speaking. According to their Terms and Conditions, you are only eligible for a full refund if you request it a mere 5 days after subscribing, if you’re canceling due to health reasons, pregnancy, relocating to a place where there are no local WW Workshops at least 15 miles away, or if they terminate your account by themselves due to reasons other than violation of their policies. On top of that, they will charge you a certain fee in order to process your refund request. Ridiculous. At least give a 14-day money-back guarantee for new subscribers!
Also, if you sign up for the 3-month or 6-month plan and decide to cancel before the subscription period is over, then forget about getting any refund for the unused months. I want to believe that this policy is in place to discourage people from dropping out of the program before it’s over and hence failing in their weight loss goals. But of course, others will see it differently and you can’t blame them.
Final Conclusion: YES, Join Weight Watchers!
Overall, Weight Watchers is a great program that has withstood the test of time and still soaring higher. Its programs are easy to follow and adhere to and even though it’s a shame that they reluctantly offer refunds, at least you’re assured that you are using a program that actually works and can be held accountable if anything goes wrong.
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