If you hop onto the WW website (previously Weight Watchers), you’ll see hundreds of “success stories” showing users who followed the program and lost weight. But this isn’t the case for everyone who signs up for the membership. If you’ve tried it and haven’t seen the same results, you’ve probably wondered “Why am I not losing weight on WW?!”
In this blog, we’re going to dissect the WW point system, talk about who the coaches are, and take a look at why your lack of willpower might not be the problem.
Hey there, I’m Jamie, a Registered Dietitian of 8+ years! I’ve personally worked with hundreds of women, many of whom have tried Weight Watchers at some point or another. While some are “successful” on WW, it’s impossible to ignore the huge group who aren’t. So many women leave WW feeling more confused about nutrition and often weigh more than before. Instead of confusing nutrition rules, I work with women to help them feel confident with food and find their healthiest weight.
Have you tried WW in the past? Or maybe you’ve been thinking about signing up? First, let’s jump into how it works… or doesn’t.
What is Weight Watchers?
The WW (formerly Weight Watchers) program follows a point system and foods are assigned a certain number of points based on their calories, added sugars, fiber, protein, and saturated fats vs. unsaturated fats.
The goal here is to guide you towards “healthier” foods. Foods that are healthier – such as fruits and veggies and whole grains – are going to have fewer points than foods that aren’t quite as nourishing.
Every day you have a points budget and the goal is to stay under it. Essentially, it’s another way to count calories, but with a bit more flair, because healthier foods have fewer points than treats like desserts.
And as simple as this approach sounds, things can get hairy when you’re trying to follow the program in your real life, every single day. There are a few reasons that you might not be seeing the results you were hoping for.
Reasons you’re not losing weight on WW
Not everyone loses weight on WW, even if they think they’re following the point system to a T.
Let’s go over a few of these common reasons, starting with the accuracy of tracking.
1. You might be overeating zero-point foods
In the simplest terms, weight loss is caused by a calorie deficit, or consuming fewer calories than you burn.
Every day you have a points budget and you choose which foods you “spend” it on. Foods that are high in added sugar and saturated fat get a higher score, while foods high in protein and fiber get a low score – some receiving zero if they’re deemed highly nutritious by WW.
This system helps you choose more nutritious foods, but your body doesn’t work off of points, it works off of calories. For example, if you’ve met your points budget for the day, but still feel hungry you’re technically allowed to eat as many zero-point foods as you want.
And even though you’ve stuck to your budget, those foods still have calories.
This piece of the equation can be most confusing for people who try WW. You’re free to eat as many (unlimited) zero-point foods as you want, sometimes even when you’re not hungry, but you’re still consuming calories.
If you struggle to eat after you’re already full (pssst.. I have a whole blog article on this), this really doesn’t solve your problem.
2. WW feels too restrictive for you
If you feel like you don’t have strong enough willpower to stick to your points, your willpower might not actually be the problem. Studies have shown negative psychological effects and binge eating can come from restrictive diets.
WW must be followed consistently to work, meaning you have to track your points daily. If you do it for a few days, fall off, track again, then fall off, you can’t make consistent progress. It’s all or nothing for this one. And when life gets in the way, it can lead to diet burnout and undermine your confidence in your ability to be consistent.
This endless cycle of on-again-off-again dieting (yo-yo dieting or diet cycling) often results in weight gain.
3. Not tracking accurately
This is a big one and is even mentioned on the WW website as a reason for a lack of weight loss. If you don’t accurately track and measure your food it’s easy to miscalculate your points and overshoot the daily budget.
For example, recording 2 oz of cheese as 1 oz will show you ate 3 less PointsPlus values than you really did.
Tracking simply isn’t for everyone and can be unsustainable long-term, especially when you go out for food with friends, or sit down with family to enjoy a holiday dinner. Feeling like you constantly have to track points can make you feel even more restricted and distract you from living in the “now.”
4. There’s a better method for you
According to endocrinologist Dr. Dennis Gage, only 11% of people who try WW are “successful” in keeping the weight off long term. Those aren’t great odds! If this applies to you, you’re in the majority.
The long-term success of WW relies on careful and consistent food tracking, and this method simply isn’t for everyone! I want to make it clear that you didn’t fail if WW didn’t work for you, it’s just time to try another way!
5. Other things are going on
As important as food is for your health and weight, there is a lot more that can influence how you feel and the number on the scale.
Other factors to consider include:
- Are you well hydrated?
- Are you eating far too few calories? If so, your metabolism can eventually slow way down.
- Are you sleeping enough? Overly stressed?
- Are you taking medication that influences your weight?
- Are you exercising?
And last but not least, a tougher talk.
6. Your goal weight isn’t realistic
This one might be hard to hear, but you can’t just decide exactly how much you want to weigh. Your genetics and environment play a significant role in how you look and how much you weigh.
Yes, your nutrition and movement influence your weight, but if you’re aiming for a weight that isn’t healthy for your body, your body is going to fight back.
With that in mind, do I recommend WW? I’ll run you through some pros and cons now so that YOU can decide.
Pros and Cons of WW
Is WW all “bad”? Nope!
As a Registered Dietitian, I know that you’re unique so what works for you might not work for someone else. My role is to give you unbiased info so that you can choose the best path forward. Here are a few things to consider with WW.
The program isn’t all doom and gloom and it has helped people lose weight successfully, or it wouldn’t be a popular weight loss tool. For example, it encourages:
- Eating more nutritious foods
- Increasing physical activity
- Staying hydrated
- Getting quality sleep.
You also find a community in the program that helps keep you accountable on your weight loss journey.
Although there are many pros, WW has some shortcomings, too.
- Although nutritious foods are encouraged based on points, the point system doesn’t actually teach you why certain foods are “better” than others. I’ve worked with women who’ve followed WW for nearly 10 years and still walk away with very little nutrition knowledge.
- Certain foods are unlimited based on their points, which can make weight loss puzzling. These foods aren’t zero calories, and it’s possible to eat more than you burn throughout the day. Plus, if there’s seemingly no restriction on them, you might actually feel encouraged to overeat.
- WW Personal Coaches lead the 1-on-1 interactions with you. They do have personal experience going through the program and special training on motivation, but they’re not Registered Dietitians. These are people who’ve gone through the program and lived it firsthand but aren’t professionally trained in recommending dietary or nutritional advice.
- Tracking simply isn’t for everyone. It can be unsustainable long-term or make you feel restricted. You might seek out the lowest-point foods all the time and fixate on your point budget instead of actually enjoying the wonderful meal in front of you. And low points doesn’t always mean healthier – keeping those numbers down can cause you to lose out on essential nutrients and cause you to undereat, or feel out of control around foods you really want.
Thoughts on WW from a Registered Dietitian
Overall, WW is a well-intentioned program that’s meant to help you reach your goals, but I’ve personally met too many women who walked away, more confused about nutrition than when they started. If it didn’t work for some, the program wouldn’t still exist! But I think there are some serious holes in knowledge surrounding food and what’s considered “healthy.” And, with how few people it works for in the long term, I know that there are better ways to pursue health.
If you’ve tried every diet under the sun and are still confused about nutrition, it may be time to learn more about the foods you eat and understand why your body needs them.
If you need a good place to start, sign up for my free mini course on Conquering Your Cravings. Learn why you’re feeling so drawn to less nutritious foods and exactly what to do about it. Sign up here!
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