Weight Watchers®

March 22, 2017


Weight Watchers®

Natural Standard Monograph, Copyright © 2013 (www.naturalstandard.com). Commercial distribution prohibited. This monograph is intended for informational purposes only, and should not be interpreted as specific medical advice. You should consult with a qualified healthcare provider before making decisions about therapies and/or health conditions.

Related Terms

  • Core Program®, Flex Program, Points Program®, Points System®, Turn Around Program™.


  • The Weight Watchers® company was founded in the 1960s by Jean Nidetch in New York City. Today, Weight Watchers® offers weight loss related programs and products consisting of several diets and meeting structures, as well as consultations and weight loss tools. Weight Watchers® offers weekly meetings that participants pay a fee to attend. Weight Watchers® programs currently exist in approximately 30 countries; however, programs may vary by country and region.

  • The Weight Watchers® diet centers on an eating plan that assigns point values to various types of food as a means of achieving weight loss. The points correlate to the total number of daily calories a person should consume for their target weight loss goal.

  • In general, medical studies have only evaluated the efficacy of Weight Watchers® as a tool for study participants to lose weight in comparison to other diets, such as Atkins®. The efficacy of Weight Watchers® in preventing or controlling other medical problems, such as blood pressure, has not been studied. Higher quality large scale or long term studies on Weight Watchers® alone are currently lacking.

  • Unlike other dieting plans, Weight Watchers® remains popular because participants attend regular group meetings where they receive social support while following the diet. In addition, the Weight Watchers® webpage offers a very active online community of message boards and weight loss tools. This community aspect of Weight Watchers® makes it an attractive diet option for some individuals.


  • Diet Points: Though there are several types of Weight Watchers® diets, all of them rely on counting daily points. Various foods are assigned points according to their caloric and nutritional value. Each participant is assigned a certain number of daily points according to their gender, current weight, weight loss goal, and pregnancy status. Any foods may be eaten as long as the individual does not exceed the total number of permissible points per day. While all of the Weight Watchers® diets encourage physical activity, some programs afford participants extra points according to exercise routines. Extra points may also be given by consuming a large amount of fiber.

  • Meetings: Weekly meetings are central to following the Weight Watchers® diet. These typically begin with a "weigh in" where each participant steps onto a scale in front of the group to have any weight change recorded. The leader of the meeting discusses aspects of nutrition, physical activity, or healthy habits. The leader may also offer advice on weight loss strategies or distribute motivational tools. Participants share recipes and provide emotional support to each other in adhering to the diet. In the United States, people who choose the Weight Watchers® diet may follow one of three weight loss plans and meetings are not segregated by diet type.

  • Flex Program (Points System®): The Flex Program is the oldest Weight Watchers® program. Participants simply make sure that they do not exceed their total food point value for the week. Participants attend a weekly meeting. Participants are also given 35 discretionary points that may be used per week.

  • Core Program®: This eating plan developed in response to other diets, such as the Atkins® and South Beach® diets, and allows relatively unrestricted eating of some foods. The Core Program allows participants to eat larger amounts of foods from the Weight Watchers® "core" list, provided that the participant stops eating when satisfied, but before feeling overly full or bloated. These foods include vegetables, fruits, fat free dairy, whole grains, and lean meat. Core foods are not assigned points; however, foods outside of the core list are assigned the normal point values.

  • Turn Around Program™: This program combines the Flex and Point program®, but has a focus on assisting participants with developing an overall healthy lifestyle. The program includes four levels of exercise intensity to prepare participants to integrate physical activity into their daily routine. In addition, participants follow the "8 Good Health Guidelines," which were created by Weight Watchers®, but follow contemporary and commonly accepted principles of a healthy lifestyle.


  • Truby et al. conducted a six month multi-center controlled trial studying weight loss and body fat in overweight and obese adult subjects who were otherwise healthy. Participants were assigned to one of four diets: The British Weight Watchers® pure points program, Dr. Atkins' new diet revolution®, the Slim-Fast plan®, and Rosemary Conley's eat yourself slim diet and fitness plan. Regardless of the program followed, all participants experienced weight and body fat loss. The authors concluded that all four diets may be clinically useful for weight loss over a six month period of time for individuals who follow the guidelines of each diet.

  • Dansinger et al. conducted a single center randomized trial to access the success and adherence rates of overweight or obese adults in achieving weight loss and reducing risk of heart disease. Participants were assigned to follow the Weight Watchers®, Atkins®, Ornish, or Zone® diets. All groups saw modest reductions in weight loss and body fat, although adherence to treatment plans was low. The authors did not specify if the weight loss occurred due to the diets or other factors.


  • A qualified healthcare provider should be consulted before making decisions about diet programs, therapies, and/or health conditions.

Author Information

  • This information has been edited and peer-reviewed by contributors to the Natural Standard Research Collaboration (www.naturalstandard.com).


Natural Standard developed the above evidence-based information based on a thorough systematic review of the available scientific articles. For comprehensive information about alternative and complementary therapies on the professional level, go to www.naturalstandard.com. Selected references are listed below.

  1. American Dietetic Association. www.eatright.org.

  2. Dansinger ML, Gleason JA, Griffith JL, et al. Comparison of the Atkins, Ornish, Weight Watchers, and Zone diets for weight loss and heart disease risk reduction: a randomized trial. JAMA. 2005 Jan 5;293(1):43-53. View Abstract.

  3. National Eating Disorders Association. www.edap.org.

  4. Truby H, Baic S, deLooy A, et al. Randomised controlled trial of four commercial weight loss programmes in the UK: initial findings from the BBC "diet trials". BMJ. 2006 Jun 3;332(7553):1309-14. View Abstract.

  5. Weight Watchers. www.weightwatchers.com.

Copyright © 2013 Natural Standard (www.naturalstandard.com)

The information in this monograph is intended for informational purposes only, and is meant to help users better understand health concerns. Information is based on review of scientific research data, historical practice patterns, and clinical experience. This information should not be interpreted as specific medical advice. Users should consult with a qualified healthcare provider for specific questions regarding therapies, diagnosis and/or health conditions, prior to making therapeutic decisions.


March 22, 2017