In the diet industry, there are only a few diets that stand out and are referenced more than Weight Watchers. It is one of the longest-standing commercial diets, with well over one million members and countless success stories. The fact that this program has lasted successfully for over 50 years is certainly something worth acknowledging and researching further. So let’s determine whether or not the Weight Watchers Diet provides a truly healthy and effective lifestyle change, which is how all diets should be approached.

To better understand the reasoning behind the Weight Watchers program, a brief history of its inception is always helpful. The company was founded in 1963 by Jean Nidetch, a homemaker from Brooklyn, New York. Jean was a housewife with a self-proclaimed cookie obsession who was sick of fad diets and being overweight. She had her fellow weight-struggling friends come over, basically for a venting session, and realized afterwards that the mutual support and understanding made her feel a million times better. From then on they met weekly and began to include more and more people. After they all lost weight, they came to the conclusion that losing weight was about more than just dieting. It was primarily about changing habits and getting supportive encouragement from others. Thus, the most effective keys to weight loss under the Weight Watchers program are “empathy, rapport, and mutual understanding,” as stated on the Dotti’s Weight Loss Zone website www.dwlz.com. Jean’s little support group grew into a multi-million dollar empire, and is now offered throughout the world, both as a meetings-based program (where a leader instructs members in a group setting) and online at www.WeightWatchers.com. Not bad for one woman with a simple vision!

While the actual program specifics have undergone many modifications over the decades, Weight Watchers’ core philosophy has always focused on forming helpful habits, eating smarter, getting more exercise and providing support. This philosophy has gained Weight Watchers countless awards and top-notch rankings. It has received top rankings in U.S. News and World Report’s Best Diets of 2015 for: Best Weight-Loss Diet (#1), Easiest Diet to Follow (#1), Best Commercial Diet Plan (#1) and Best Diet Overall (#3). Clearly, this is a diet that has the recognition to back it up.

So what exactly is the Weight Watchers program all about? What can you eat? Since 2010, the company has used a system known as the Weight Watchers PointsPlus program. This program assigns every food a Points value, based on its caloric breakdown, the food’s protein, carbohydrate, fat and fiber content. You can find the Points values of more than 40,000 foods, as well as hundreds of recipes with pre-assigned Points, on the Weight Watchers’ mobile app or desktop food database. Food choices that keep you full the longest “cost” the least amount of Points. In other words, nutritionally dense foods use up less Points than empty (processed) calories do. So if you’re choosing between a 200-calorie bag of nuts and a 200-calorie candy bar, the bag of nuts is the smarter choice; this is because the bag of nuts will keep you fuller longer and uses less Points (meaning you get more points to “spend” and eat with during the day). As mentioned, in addition to diet, an essential backbone of the plan is both online and in-person access to support from people who have lost weight and kept it off using Weight Watchers. So to answer the all-important of what you can eat, the short version is, essentially, anything you want. The program allows for flexibility in your food choices. The catch: Be careful or you’ll use up all of your food allotments (Points) for the day. Another potential con? All of that Points tallying for every single food item you eat can be tedious and quite time-consuming. Also, while both short-term and long-term weight loss has been achieved by followers of this program, many studies suggest that the Weight Watchers diet is no more effective than other similar (less complicated and less expensive) diets.  Pros and cons aside, the Weight Watchers diet itself does indeed allow you to be healthy, stay full and be flexible.

This information has been well and good so far…but how does it all work? The “science” behind the Weight Watchers program is actually rather simple. You already know that you get assigned a certain number of daily Points to utilize as you wish. This daily PointsPlus target number is based on each individual’s gender, weight, height and age. So this program really is tailored to you. Foods like fruits, veggies and whole grains will work best to satiate you, because they are high in fiber and are more filling than something like a candy bar or a creamy pasta dish. And remember, more filling foods cost you less Points anyways, so it’s definitely a win-win situation. But, if you’re craving that piece of chocolate cake, don’t worry. The science of the Points system allows for that, and will keep the remainder of your calories in check throughout the rest of your day. The end result: The program claims that you can lose up to two pounds per week if you follow the guidelines.

The Weight Watchers Diet is well-established, provides great personalized support, and it is flexible, safe and can lead to a true lifestyle change. For those of you willing to put some effort, time and planning into your diet, the Weight Watchers program may be perfect for you.