Weight Watchers was founded by Jean Nidetch, a Brooklyn homemaker, in 1963. Today Weight Watchers is an international company which operates in over 30 different countries.
The Weight Watchers program includes regular meetings, learning sessions, group support, and a very effective points system.
About Weight Watchers founder, Jean Nidetch
Jean Nidetch was born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1923. She says she was an overweight homemaker - her term was 'housewife' - who was very partial to cookies. Nidetch had taken part in several fad diets, one of which was under the sponsorship of the New York City Board of Health.
She managed to lose 20 pounds (9 kilos), but was concerned her 'weak resolve' would mean a return to her previous body weight. Nidetch got in touch with several friends and started a support group.
This support group evolved and soon there were weekly classes - in 1963 Nidetch founded the Weight Watchers Organization. 1
In 1978, the food company H. J. Heinz bought Weight Watchers. Nidetch is still a consultant, and has set up numerous scholarship programs at the University of Nevada and the University of California (Los Angeles).
The thrust of the Weight Watcher's program is on regular meetings, monitoring and encouragement, through self-help group type sessions. The dieter aims for a target weight or BMI (body mass index) of between 20 and 25.
If your body mass index is below 20 you are considered as too thin, if it is over 25 your are overweight, if it is between 20 and 25 you are within the ideal weight range. People can aim for a BMI outside the 20 to 25 parameters as long as they have a doctor's note saying so.
The importance of support networks
The Weight Watchers program includes regular meetings, group support and a points system.
Weight Watchers Inc. says that establishing a support network at the start of any weight-loss attempt is crucial for both short and long term success.
A dieter needs constant positive reinforcement. Attempting to lose weight can be a stressful ordeal for many dieters, and a support network can help make the process less daunting.
It could be possible that dieters' levels of cortisol, a hormone our bodies produce in times of mental stress. are higher when they do not join a support network. Research published in the journal Psychiatry 2 suggests "social support reduces stress-induced cortisol release."
Weight Watchers members will have regular meetings where they will learn about nutrition and exercise, as well as having their weight loss progress monitored.
Weight Watchers will accept any participant as long as they are at least 2.3kg (5lbs) over the minimum weight for their height.
Weight Watchers points system
The points system is considered by many as the easiest tool for a person who aims to lose weight over the long term. Dieters learn how to self monitor on a
daily basis - thus making themselves accountable for each day.
A simple way to calculate points is (Calories + (Fat x 4) - (Fiber x 10)) / 50
Portions of foods are assigned points. If a food is high in fiber and/or low in fat it is worth fewer points. The higher the fiber content, or the lower the fat content, the more of that food you can eat each day. 3
Dieters can either join a Weight Watchers program online or in person.
Typical points based on body weight
- Weight 150 lbs - points 18 to 23
- Weight 150 to 174 lbs - points 20 to 25
- Weight 175 to 199 lbs - points 22 to 27
- Weight 200 to 224 lbs - points 24 to 29
- Weight 225 to 249 lbs - points 26 to 31
- Weight 250 to 274 lbs - points 28 to 33
- Weight 275 to 299 lbs - points 29 to 34
- Weight 300 to 324 lbs - points 30 to 35
- Weight 325 to 349 lbs - points 31 to 36
- Weight >350 lbs - points 32 to 37
When members reach their target weight they enter the maintenance period. For six weeks members gradually increase their food intake until they are neither losing nor putting on weight.
During these six weeks there are regular weigh-ins. If a member manages to stay within 0.91 kilos (2lbs) of his/her target weight during the six-week period, that person is then promoted to "Lifetime Member".
Lifetime Members can attend any Weight Watchers meeting free of charge as long as they weigh in once per month, and do not veer from their target weight by more than 0.91 kilos (2lbs).
Lifetime members who do drift from their weight target range have to pay weekly for meetings, and then recover their Lifetime membership by going through the process all over again.
Benefits of Weight Watchers
Researchers from the UK, Germany and Australia reported findings in The Lancet that patients who were referred by their doctors to Weight Watchers were found to lose about twice as much weight as those on standard weight loss care over a 12-month period. 4
The authors of the study concluded:
"Referral by a primary health-care professional to a commercial weight loss programme that provides regular weighing, advice about diet and physical activity, motivation, and group support can offer a clinically useful early intervention for weight management in overweight and obese people that can be delivered at large scale."
Another study, published in the American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine. found that after a 6-month Weight Watchers group program, overweight or obese adults who attended at least two thirds of the weekly sessions, not only lost weight, but also significantly reduced fasting glucose and insulin levels - important indicators of diabetes risk. 5