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Weight Watchers

Weight Watchers (NYSE: WTW) founded in the 1960s by Jean Nidetch, is a company offering various dieting products and services to assist weight loss. It started as a discussion group for how to best lose weight. It now operates in about 30 countries around the world, generally under the name "Weight Watchers" translated into the local language. Its most prominent celebrity endorser is Sarah, Duchess of York.

Varying on location, Weight Watchers generally offers two distinct programs:

* The POINTS program
* The Core program

The programs are supplemented by optional support groups which meet regularly and provide ground assistance to those trying to meet weight-loss goals.

POINTS program

The POINTS system is, in essence, a simple way to quantify a participant's caloric intake and energey expenditure. Various servings of food are assigned a specific number of points, and various types of exercize are assigned negative numbers of points; a program participant is allocated a certain number of points per week, 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 exercize into the plan increases its flexibility: the participant can eat more points as long as they offset them with exercize, or eat fewer points if they prefer not to exercize.

Many Weight Watchers proponents enjoy the POINTS system precisely because no food is out of bounds, as long as it is eaten in moderation, and because exercize 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 US Patent 6,040,531:

p = \frac{c}{50} + \frac{f}{12} - \frac{\min\{r,4\}}{5}

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 fibre (if the dietary fibre is greater than four, use four).

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 relatively no restrictions (although they are told that they should only eat these foods "until full"). Non-core foods are assigned the usual point values, and participants are given an allottment of non-core points that they can eat in a week. Some participants combine the two plans into what's been dubbed the Flex Plan: keeping track of the total points consumed as in the POINTS system, but trying to mainly eat core foods.

Meetings and culture

The Weight Watchers meetings are perhaps the most famous aspect of the program; they provide a social factor to the program, and, like other self-help groups, can help participants stay involved in the program and motivated. Participants must initially pay to attend meetings, but, once they have reached the weight goal that they set when they entered the program and stayed there for set period of time, they enter a phase called "maintenance" and may attend meetings for free.

Of course, once the participant has purchased the Weight Watchers materials (which include detailed lists of the point values of various foods and dishes, and a slide rule that makes it simple to derive points values from food labelling information), they can follow the program without attending meetings or paying Weight Watchers any more money.

Because much of the Weight Watchers program involves quantifying food values, many participants are eager to find out the points values of dishes at their favorite restaurants, and a number of Web sites unaffiliated with Weight Watchers exist to satisfy their curioisty. One of the most famous is Dotti's Weight Loss Zone, which features information on just about every chain restaurant in the United States. Some restaurants, including Applebee's, include specific dishes on their menus aimed at Weight Watchers participants, which have their point values listed on the menu.


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.

Corporate history

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.

More Information

Official Weight Watchers web site

Dotti's Weight Loss Zone unofficial Weight Watchers Info Site - Home of the Bootcamp Buddies support forum


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