packaged low calorie food division of the H.J. Heinz Company, then the parent of Weight Watchers.
In some areas, including the Philadelphia metropolitan area in the United States, Weight Watchers meetings are operated by a locally-franchised organization rather than by Weight Watchers International.
Weight Watchers usually has a 'minimum weight' level, to protect those who are not actually overweight. If those interested in Weight Watchers are above this 'minimum weight' then they can set up their weight loss goal with their local Weight Watchers leader. Height, age, and beginning weight are recorded in order to establish their goal weight.
Varying on location, Weight Watchers generally offers two distinct programs:
- The Flex program
- The Core program
The programs are supplemented by optional support groups which meet regularly and provide assistance to those trying to meet weight-loss goals.
The Flex system is, in essence, a simple way to quantify a participant's calorie intake and energy expenditure. Various servings of food are assigned a specific number of points, and various types of exercise are assigned negative numbers of points; a program participant is allocated a certain number of points per day, with that number based on the individual's current weight and weight goals.
The effect of this is that the participant is not restricted from eating any specific type of food, but they must stay under their total point value for the week. This stands in marked contrast to diet approaches such as the South Beach diet or the Atkins diet, under which some foods are completely forbidden and others are permitted in theoretically unlimited amounts. The participant's ability to factor exercise into the plan increases its flexibility: the participant can eat more points as long as they offset them with exercise, or eat fewer points if they prefer not to exercise. By not restricting certain foods the Flex Plan allows for your favorites by just giving each food item a point value.
Many Weight Watchers proponents enjoy the Flex system precisely because no food is out of bounds, as long as it is eaten in moderation, and because exercise can be factored in. (In the UK, Weight Watchers advertises under the slogan "Where no food is a sin"; this is a reference to its chief competitor Slimming World's system of giving some food "sin" values.) Others, however, dislike the record-keeping that the plan imposes on the participant, who must essentially keep track of the points value of everything they eat; they prefer other plans that place restrictions on types of food rather than amounts of food.
The POINTS formula
The formula for calculating the POINTS content of a specific food serving uses a formula described in U.S. Patent:
Where p is the number of points, c is the number of calories, f is the grams of fat, and r is the grams of dietary fiber (if the dietary fiber is greater than four, use four). The POINTS value is always an integer, with fractional values rounded to the nearest point. (An alternative format, mentioned in the patent and used on some websites, rounds values to the nearest half-point.)
New members are given a cardboard slide rule to assist in calculating point values: by reading the nutrition label on any food package and quickly adjusting three of the slide rule scales for Calories, Fat, and Fiber, the points are easily determined by inspection of the fourth scale. In addition, a simple calculator is available that allows a member to quickly enter the Calories, Fat, and Fiber and immediately see the resultant POINTS.
A small paperback book is available for purchase that lists thousands of foods for sale in Fast Food outlets, restaurant chains, and even generic restaurant foods, e.g. "Mexican: Refried Beans, 1/2 cup" and the corresponding point value. This is for use in cases where the nutritional label is not available.
An early version of the POINTS system did not limit the fiber "credit" to four grams. Another variation, which may be explained by rounding, is that the "POINTSfinder" manual calculator distributed at Weight Watchers meetings does not reach a POINTS value of 2 until after 70 calories have been reached, rather than 50 as the formula would indicate. As a result, point boundaries are 20 calories (or 4.8 fat grams) higher than might be expected. Though the patent mentions possibly using 70 rather than 50 as the single point baseline, that method is said to be intended for use by dieters who do not use fiber as a "point enhancer" (reducer).
More recent versions of the program, such as that described in US Patent 6,878,885, take exercise and physical activity into account to grant additional points in the daily allowance.
In Europe and some other areas or countries, including Australia and New Zealand, the nutrition labels are markedly different; in particular they normally show kilojoules rather than calories, and may not include fibre. Thus, the POINTS formula varies and it calculated only from energy (as kilojoules) and saturated fat. This formula is expressed in UK Patent 2302605 as:
Where p is the number of points, e is the energy value, and f is the grams of saturated fat. The constants are k1 and k2 are described as such: k1 is chosen so that the points target will be in the low tens. If the energy value is to be entered in calories, then k2 will be within the range of k1/35 and k1/10, ideally k1/17.5. If the energy value is defined in kilojoules, then the value of k2 will be between k1/146.7 and k1/41.8, ideally being k1/72.8.
A practical implementation of this formula for a kilojoule-based calculation appears to be:
for a calorie-based calculation.
The resultant value, p is then rounded to the nearest half.
The Core Plan
In part as a response to the popularity of plans like Atkins and South Beach, Weight Watchers has recently developed a separate plan, known as the Core Plan. This plan classifies certain types of food as "core," and permits participants to eat core foods with the restriction that they should only eat these foods "until satisfied, not full." Core foods are a list of healthy foods from all the food groups, including fruits, vegetables, fat free dairy, lean meats, and whole grains. Non-core foods are assigned the usual point values, and participants are given an allottment of 35 non-core points that they can eat in a week.
The Flex Plan
Under this plan, participants are assigned a set number of points to consume per day based on their current weight. The number of points allowed may be increased with exercise. As in the Core Plan, participants are given an allotment of 35 "flex" points, above and beyond the per-day points, that can be eaten in a week.
In August of 2004 the TurnAround Program (a registered trademark) was introduced which not only incorporated the Points and Core food plans but is intended to assist people with developing an overall healthy lifestyle. The program includes healthy food intake but also includes following 8 Good Health Guidelines, activity and member support. It is through all of the aspects of the program that members are able to not only reach their weight loss goals but to make permanent changes to support lifetime weight management.
In England, the plans are referred to collectively as the "Switch" program, and the two plans are called "The Points Plan" and "The Core Plan." They essentially correspond to the Flex and Core in America, except that in England there is no such thing as the 35 "flex" points allotted per week in the "Flex" plan, and the Core Plan UK members get only 21 points per week outside of their Core diet. In "The Points Plan," one may eat less points than has been calculated from their sex, weight, age, height, pregnancy status, and activity level and save these points up for a special occassion within the week. Interestingly, members in England know nothing of the American system while they could easiily follow it. Dietary fiber is listed on almost every food item and allows an American member the ability to eat foods that are high in fiber and are filling, while using fewer points than they do on the UK system.
Like many other weight loss programs, Weight Watchers frequently offers promotions and coupons ranging from free registration (normally thirty dollars) to advance-purchase plans that bring the weekly cost down from twelve dollars on average to less than nine. Of all of the weight-loss plans currently popular throughout the United States, Weight Watchers is one of the most reasonably priced as long as a member attends each week--missed meetings must be paid in full before the next weigh-in, which is a surprise to some members.
Once a member reaches their goal weight and maintains that weight within plus or minus two pounds for six weeks they become Lifetime Weight Watchers members. They can then attend any number of meetings anywhere for free, as long as they weigh no more than 2 pounds above their goal weight and weigh in at least once per month. Part of the success of Weight Watchers members keeping weight off is the continued free support of their weekly meetings.
Weight Watchers Online is another option for dieters, where for a monthly fee they have access to all support materials and programs through E-Tools. This alternative is for people who don't want to attend meetings, and is a more independent approach to weight loss. The support system for WW Online is a message board, where dieters can post support and share advice. Although using WW Online has been proven successful for many Weight Watchers members, research has shown the members lose three times more weight by attending regular meetings.
From 1978 until 1999, the Weight Watchers company was owned by the H. J. Heinz Company, which continues to produce packaged foods bearing the Weight Watchers brand name (and with points values clearly identified). Weight Watchers was acquired in a leveraged buyout in 1999 and went public in 2001.
Current members of the board of directors of Weight Watchers are: Philippe Amouyal, John Bard, Raymond Debbane, Marsha Evans, Jonas Fajgenbaum, Linda Huett, Sacha Lainovic, Sam K. Reed, and Christopher Sobecki.