I have a confession to make. I’ve been a member of Weight Watchers.
I first used Weight Watchers 8 years ago, after my freshman year of college. I can’t remember what made me decide to try it, but I found their website, joined the online program (no meetings for me) and away I went.
I found the points system to be fascinating, obsessive and quite effective. Like most diets, if you follow the rules (exactly, and obsessively), you lose weight. The rules of Weight Watchers taught me new things about portion sizes and calorie choices, and did help me lose a substantive amount of weight within a few months.
As diets go, I think the WW plan is pretty logical. No fasting, or all liquid gimmicks. No pills or herbal infusions. But like any diet, if abused, it can be taken to extremes in unhealthy ways. I’ve seen friends battling with anorexia use the program in harmful ways. We also all know that dieting is an extremely socially-promoted, gendered practice. That’s true. And it’s also true that a huge percentage of women and men still do it. It’s a reality we haven’t changed, even some of us, myself included, who are super-feminist, body positive folks.
Like any diet that is a business, WW is all about making money. I was intrigued, as someone who has used WW, to see the new plan they revealed last week. Despite complaints from some users, I think their changes on fruits and vegetables are great and make a lot of sense, health-wise. On the old plan, you were discouraged (in some ways) from eating fruit because it had the same “points value” as a low-fat twinky, for example. And WW has made millions off their line of highly processed foods, pre-packaged into points friendly servings. So in some ways, it looked like WW was undermining their own business.
But not so fast.
In actuality, I think the motivation behind Weight Watcher’s radical new plan is an attempt to make sure their customers still need them. The old points system was easily calculated. WW never shared the formula on their website (you used their “points calculator” instead) but I easily found the formula posted on another website back when I started the plan. With a few simple math tricks (based on the calorie, fat and fiber content of the food) I could figure out the points value in my head, without needing to pay WW a dime.
Not anymore. Now the new “points plus” system is based on fat, protein, carbohydrates and fiber. I have a feeling the math isn’t so simple. In reality they probably did find that when you incentivize fruit and vegetable consumption, people lose weight more effectively than when you incentivize low-fat processed twinkies. But it’s also good for their bottom line if you need to pay $20 a month just to use their magic calculator.