I did WW (formerly Weight Watchers) for two years—here's why I'm still doing it
Even with a good plan, weight loss is no piece of cake.
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Weight loss is no easy feat. Weight gain, however slow it may be, is so easy that you might not even realize it’s happening. Next thing you know, you wake up and you’re the biggest you’ve ever been. At least, that’s what happened to me. A combination of mindless eating and living a sedentary lifestyle caused the undesired weight to creep up on me. It took about a year or so for me to realize that I did not want to experience such discomfort anymore. I wasn’t feeling well physically, my clothes weren’t fitting quite right. That’s when I turned to WW (formerly Weight Watchers). In the first year of using the program, I was able to shave off 30 pounds, and I’ve kept it off ever since.
What is WW and why did they rebrand from Weight Watchers?
WW is a weight-loss program that’s been around for 56 years, though it rebranded itself in 2018, no doubt to get away from the “it’s your grandma’s diet” stigma. The “new” Weight Watchers, deemed “WW” is more of a lifestyle, rather than a diet. The main goal isn’t just about reaching a certain number anymore. Sure, losing weight is a positive side effect. But it’s more about helping people change their bad habits and ultimately become healthier people, regardless of the number. The company must be doing something right because people swear by it, and the success stories got my attention as a millennial.
WW uses a simplified calorie-counting system that is personalized based on your age, weight, height, and sex to help you lose weight in a healthy way. You track everything you eat and drink, as well as your workouts, on the app or website. Depending on your goal, you’re allotted a specific number of what WW calls “SmartPoints” each day. Every food and drink has a corresponding SmartPoint value, with the healthiest foods being freebies with no points at all—it’s basically calorie counting with way less complicated math. Saturated fat and sugar drive the SmartPoints value up, while protein drives it down. The aim is to guide you toward making better choices and, with practice, to make those choices habitual. In theory, if you consume the equivalent of your daily SmartPoints (or below that number), you should lose weight, which you also record once a week on the WW platform.
What happens when you sign up for WW?
When you join, you take a quiz about your lifestyle, eating habits, goals, activity levels, and so on. The results of this personal assessment suggest the food values and total points you'll be working with, based on which of the three color-coded programs, Purple, Blue, and Green, you choose.
The Purple plan offers more than 300 zero-point foods, but gives you the lowest number of total daily points. If you’re on the Purple plan, you don’t have to track as much if you focus on consuming any of the 300 zero-point foods. However, it holds you accountable for anything that isn’t on the zero-point list, like cocktails or the occasional cheeseburger, and you have fewer total points to go around.
The Green plan gives you the fewest zero-point foods (a little over 100), but the highest number of daily points. With Green, you’re practically tracking every single thing you consume (or you’re eating a really boring diet), but you have more daily points to work with.
The Blue plan gives you more than 200 zero-point foods and a middle-of-the-road number of daily SmartPoints. It is best suited for someone who wants a mix of flexibility and guidance. This is the one I chose.
What is myWW+?
In November of 2020, WW introduced a new program called myWW+. WW members take a brand-new assessment that dives into more in-depth questions about your lifestyle, habits, and goals. It takes a more holistic approach to weight loss by looking at not only food but other contributing factors to your health, such as your mindset and sleep. Additionally, it offers new tools to help you on your health journey.
- A new “What's in Your Fridge” meal planner that makes meal suggestions based on what you have at home
- A more in-depth progress report measuring your success on and off the scale
- An upgraded activity dashboard with a new way to view FitPoints, helps you move more and find workouts that you enjoy
- A new 5-minute coaching tool that delivers short audio lessons to help manage stress-eating, finding motivation, and more
- New personalized recipes based on what you like to eat
- New sleep tools to help you get to bed on time and have a better night’s sleep based on science-backed strategies
How much does WW cost?
When you sign up, there are a few plans you can choose from. For each, you pay by the week, with at least one month of commitment required—after all, healthy weight loss doesn’t happen overnight (unfortunately).
- The Digital plan, which costs $3.83 per week (or about $15 to $19 a month), gives you a more self-guided program with access to the app and website. From there, you get food and fitness tracking capabilities, access to recipes and fitness guides, and a social platform where you can interact with other members and share your successes or frustrations.
- The Digital 360 plan ($5.07 per week, or about $20 to $25 a month) gives you that same digital access, plus live & on-demand expert-led digital content.
- The Unlimited Workshops + Digital plan ($7.15 per week, or about $28 to $36 a month) gives you digital access and unlimited face-to-face (virtual or in-person) Coach-led sessions with other members (the famous meetings that were Weight Watchers’ hallmark before the rebranding).
- The 1-on-1 Coaching + Digital plan (not shown above) ($11.08 per week, or about $44 to $55 a month) gives you digital access and private coaching to support you and your accountability if you need that push.
With all plans, you have 24/7 access to a digital coach—in other words, an online chat function—if something comes up and you need to ask a question.
What is it like to use the different WW plans?
I actually tried and gave up on WW once before I had my more recent success. In the wake of a new calendar year, I started the 1-on-1 Coaching + Digital plan. It gave me access to the digital platform, in addition to personal coaching by phone. I knew people that used WW and enjoyed using this plan, so I followed suit. I lasted about two months, but didn’t lose the weight that I wanted, and not at the pace that I hoped. During this time, I had a weekly 15-minute call with a WW coach. My coach was very nice and intelligent, but I didn’t find talking to a perfect stranger very helpful. Who is this person to ask me how many times I’ve been to the gym this week? Admittedly, I could have switched coaches, and maybe I would have found more success with a better personality match. In theory, I can see the benefits of having someone else inspire you and hold you accountable. But I needed to find the motivation within myself, not from others.
Flash forward to a year later, I rejoined WW but this time on the less expensive Digital plan. (As you may have noticed, I’m a weight-loss New Year’s resolution gal.) This time, I stuck with it and lost 30 pounds and I’m still going. I found that a more self-guided experience focusing on simple food tracking and mindful eating was the key to my success. It changed my life in a major way in teaching me to eat more purposefully. I’m much better about saying no to junk food and incorporating more fruits and vegetables, for example.
At first, the food tracking was tedious, but soon it got easier and quicker. Plus, I focused on zero-point foods, so I didn’t have to go into the app to log as much—I’m not sure if that’s exactly the, er, point, of giving healthy foods no loggable value, but it worked that way for me. After a while, tracking became second nature. WW also offers bonus incentives called “WellnessWins” for being consistent. Since I started the program, I tracked diligently and racked up over 12,000 WellnessWins (yes, yet another type of points) that I redeemed for a cookbook, new socks, and a sleep mask.
What foods have zero points on WW?
As mentioned, the zero-point foods vary depending on which program you choose, from just about 100 to more than 300. In general, foods that are considered to be zero points are most fruits and vegetables, eggs, lean proteins (chicken breasts, 99% lean ground turkey, most fish) and non-fat dairy. Zero-point drinks include things that have no sugar or fat, such as black coffee, black tea, and water. There are a lot of diet beverages, too, that are zero points. (I’m a sucker for Diet Snapple.)
What’s the difference between daily and weekly SmartPoints on WW?
The creators of WW know that people can fall off the wagon if they never have the opportunity to eat any of the high-point food that they crave. And so, in addition to the daily points—which are designed to keep you in check when you’re trying to decide between steak (on the Blue plan, three ounces of steak is 5 points) or chicken (chicken breasts are 0 points)—you’re assigned an additional number of weekly points, or "weeklies."
These can give you the freedom to indulge at your discretion. If you go over your daily point budget on any given day, points are taken from your weekly points. You may go over by a point or several, but there’s no harm, no foul. Your amount of weeklies is personalized to you and designed to help you find success in your weight goals whether you use them little by little, many at once, or choose not to use them at all. If you underuse your daily points, up to 4 points (also known as “rollovers”) will automatically roll over into your weekly point bank. You may save up all those weeklies for a decadent treat on the weekend, guilt-free. For example, you may opt for an unhealthy appetizer with your significant other or go out for drinks with your friends. Or the Starbucks drink that you found out is worth 14 of your daily points? Have it once a week. It’s all about moderation and making mindful food decisions while still living your life. I think that is the key to what makes WW so successful—no food is truly off-limits.
How does fitness fit into a WW plan?
Here’s a little (poorly kept) secret: You can expand your daily food budget by working out, which earns you “FitPoints.” To put it into perspective, a half-hour of elliptical at a high intensity yields around 9 FitPoints, and a half-hour of vigorous yoga yields 4 FitPoints. If you accrue enough FitPoints, you’ll have more food points added to your daily SmartPoint budget. But you don’t have to apply your FitPoints to your food plan if you don’t want to. I, personally, feel more comfortable with a set amount of SmartPoints each week so I don’t accidentally overeat by mistracking my FitPoints. I opted to set a weekly FitPoint goal instead, which motivates me to work out by chasing that goal each week and allows me to compete with myself by increasing my activity. You can even sync devices, like your phone or fitness tracker, to your WW app to track your activity for you.
In addition to hundreds of workouts on the WW blog open to the public, being a member gives you free access to do-it-anywhere fitness content through FitOn and Aaptiv. FitOn is an online workout platform that offers free digital workouts right through the WW app. Some perks to FitOn are that the workouts don’t require any equipment and many workouts are celebrity-taught. Aaptiv is a fitness app that offers personalized audio-only workouts led by expert trainers.
What are the downsides of WW?
Food tracking can be time-consuming, and it’s especially annoying when products aren’t in the database, or you have to assemble the recipes from scratch on the app. You’ll often find yourself selecting food that’s close enough to what you’re looking for. It works OK that way, it’s just not as precise.
It’s also easy to experience burnout if you don’t switch things up in what you choose to eat. Zero-point foods can turn very bland and boring if you eat the same ones every single day. You have to be willing to try new things—I actually appreciate hard-boiled eggs now—or learn how to prepare your standbys differently. You don’t have to eat tasteless chicken breasts and broccoli. Add some hot sauce. Season it excessively with herbs and spices. And use your weeklies for those indulgent foods you crave.
Like me, you may find that the first plan you choose isn’t the right one for you. While I didn’t like having a coach, other people love it. While I enjoy having more freedom with tracking and food in my plan, others may want more discipline. It may take some time and experimenting to figure out what plan will work best for you and your goals.
Lastly, it can get discouraging when you’re weighing in every week and not necessarily seeing the progress you want (though this is an issue with weight loss in general, not just WW). I shed many pounds at the beginning and then I plateaued. But WW has so many resources on its websites for handling this. When you’re feeling discouraged, the key is to not give up. There were times when I wanted to throw all caution to the wind and eat mac and cheese and cookies for dinner. But I didn’t, and eventually, I saw results.
Does the "new" Weight Watchers actually work?
I am living proof that it can. But the keyword here is can. You have to put in work and make some sacrifices. If you don’t follow the plans thoroughly or “cheat” a lot, you’re only cheating yourself. When I focus on zero-point foods and make sure I track everything, I lose weight. When I kid myself and track fewer points than I actually consume, I don’t make any progress. That said, maintaining weight is a true feat in and of itself. I’ve been using WW for a few years now and I haven’t seen true weight gain since I began this journey. I’d be lying if I said I’ve never fallen off the wagon, so sometimes my weight will fluctuate, but because of the lessons that the WW lifestyle has instilled in me, I’ve learned how to not completely sabotage myself.
In total, I’ve lost 30 pounds. Besides transforming my body, this program helped me to transform my lifestyle and mentality towards food. I’m much more conscious of what I put in my body. I’m more aware of how healthy (or not) certain foods or ingredients are. It helps me to make better decisions when given the choice between one meal and a healthier option. I say no to unhealthy foods more often than not, which I was not doing before and which led to my weight gain in the first place. It’s transformed my life—because I put the effort into it.
You may find that you don’t want to pay for this program forever, but in my experience, it provides a great starting point for a lifelong journey of taking care of your body. I don’t intend to use it forever, but I like that it keeps me in check for now. But once you internalize how it works and why, you can carry forward those healthy habits long after you use this program—or, of course, rejoin if you need a refresher.
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