The absolute best way to lose weight is to get a customized nutrition program from a Registered Dietitian who specializes in both weight loss and whatever else you need help with (PCOS, kidney disease, PKU, diabetes, sports nutrition etc. – there are a number of specialty areas) and combine that with a good training program that meets your current state of health and physical capacity. However, for a multitude of reasons, some people like what I call Canned Weight Loss Programs. Programs that work with the masses and give a one size fits all approach. And, there’s nothing wrong with this but, you should go into it knowing what to expect.
Programs that give you meals like Nutrisystem, work if you follow them. And, they take the guesswork out of dieting if you just want to lose weight asap without having to put any thought into it. These programs are fantastic for busy people on the go but those who need variety may get sick of the meal options sooner rather than later. Nutrisystem like programs get you used to appropriate portion sizes but, they do not teach you how to pick and choose and put together your own meals. And while that sounds easy, it is typically where people fail. They fail to plan and end up making poor choices because they are hungry and have no food with them or come home and can’t figure out what to make for dinner.
As a professional who has worked with many clients who are on Weight Watchers, I feel this is one of the better, more sound dieting approaches out there. While you count points (which are determined based on calories, fiber and fat in food) versus calories, you’ll get used to sticking within a basic calorie budget with some room for those days you go out to eat, hit a party etc. (each person gets 35 extra points per week). And, aside from learning portion sizes and re-training yourself with how much food you should be eating in a given day, Weight Watchers forces you to plan at least some of your meals. When you choose a higher calorie breakfast, you’ll start thinking about how many points you have left and what you should eat for lunch and dinner to stay within your point allotment.
Like all canned programs, Weight Watchers falls short in a few areas. First, you are only required to eat 2 dairy per day. In a world where many people have blood levels of vitamin D that are deficient or insufficient and we aren’t consuming enough of this vitamin: 55% and 68% of U.S. men and women aged 31-50 consume below the Adequate intake for vitamin D, 2 dairy just aren’t enough. In addition to making it more difficult to get vitamin D, dairy is your best bet for getting calcium and 42% and 67% of U.S. men and women consume less than the Adequate intake for calcium*. Secondly, Weight Watchers encourages a high fiber (good), higher carbohydrate diet. Many women I’ve met with are falling short on protein and healthy fats on this diet. And, high carbohydrate (even if you cut calories) just doesn’t work well for some people especially those with blood glucose issues, PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome) or insulin resistance. Anyone who fits in one of these categories needs an individual tailored program that manages their blood sugar levels.
For a Canned Diet Program, Nutrisystem works, Jenny Craig works, and Weight Watchers works and teaches you something about portion sizes in a supportive group environment. But, if you choose Weight Watchers, know ahead of time you are very likely to fall short on both vitamin D and calcium (a multivitamin will not make up for the calcium shortfall and in many people it won’t help your vitamin D levels too much either) and if you have PCOS, insulin resistance, pre-diabetes, diabetes or any blood sugar abnormalities, I do not recommend Weight Watchers. Instead, talk to a dietitian who specializes in weight loss and these issues. It’s worth the time and cost – you’ll end up less frustrated and with a better chance of being successful.
*NHANES data 2005-2006.