I have followed the WW/Weight Watchers program for years, from "exchanges" up to the most recent Wellness Wins program.
New Year, New Goal
Each January, advertisers go crazy promoting diet programs, exercise gadgets, and all manner of health improvement strategies. The following is a side-by-side review of two very popular diet programs: Nutrisystem and Weight Watchers. You will see the pros and cons of each one, but it’s up to you to decide which approach is the best fit for you.
The main feature of the Nutrisystem diet plan is the food, which is prepackaged and delivered directly to the customer’s door. You get food that is perfectly portioned for weight loss. Week one is designed to “jumpstart” your progress. Weeks two and beyond incorporate more variety. There are currently three plans available, with varying degrees of customization. With all of the plans, you eat up to six times a day (three meals, and three snacks). What you probably don’t realize from looking at the TV commercials is that you still need to go to the grocery store for your own fresh fruits and vegetables (not included in the delivered food). Some prepackaged foods are “portable,” e.g., don’t require refrigeration, while others come frozen (only on the custom plan). Reviews about food quality and taste vary. However, what you see is what you get, i.e., you are required to select from their menu. If you don’t like their food, this is not the program for you.
You can eat literally anything you want. Yes, I said anything. Let that sink in for a minute. What is the catch? On program, you are guided to make smarter choices (e.g., apples over donuts), and watch your portions. Other than that, nothing is off limits. The famous “point” system is still there, but it has been updated to reflect the new philosophy that healthier foods should count for fewer points, and vice versa. There are multiple tools to help you select your food, including suggested menu plans, Weight Watchers prepackaged food (not required, and you pay for it separately), and hundreds of recipes. Since you are completely in control of food choice, you are also in control of taste, quality, and preparation. If you don’t like what you are eating, it’s entirely up to you to change it. If too much freedom and choice stresses you out, this may not be the program for you.
There are always advertised specials running around the start of each year that will bring your cost down. Full retail, however, is $423.06 for four weeks of the “basic” woman’s plan, and can run as high as $576.91 for four weeks of the most highly customized men’s plan. This cost does NOT include one lunch and one dinner per week (which you “get to” enjoy on your own), plus it does NOT include fresh fruits and vegetables that you will need to purchase on your own. The cost does NOT include access to support, unless you select the “core” or “uniquely yours” plans (more expensive).
There are “startup” costs with Weight Watchers, which can be waived during certain advertised times of year. There are currently three “levels” available to members: (1) Exclusively online, (2) Online with in-person meetings, and (3) Coaching. The “meetings” level is the recommended level, which runs $44.95 per month. Remember, this does not include any food. With this level, you have the support of your peers, your meeting facilitator, plus online support. If you stay away from Weight Watchers brand foods, you will be paying no more or less than if you were not on a weight loss program.
Nutrisystem promotes the idea that you don’t have to “count” or “measure” anything. However, even the “basic” program comes with an online tracking tool. When you receive your shipment of food, you receive a personalized Daily Tracker, which acts as a food diary. You are also given a Grocery Guide that lists exactly what fresh grocery additions you need. Since you eat what is provided (plus your own fresh produce), theoretically the tracking should be a no-brainer. Keeping track is therefore mostly a reinforcement tool.
Tracking what you eat is a core concept behind the Weight Watchers program. Just the physical habit of honestly recording all of your nutritional intake (foods and beverages) typically has a restraining effect on most people. Writing down what you eat and drink (including bites, nibbles, sips, and chews) increases accountability, and becomes a powerful behavior modification technique. There is a variation on the program called the “Simply Filling Technique,” where you don’t count points, but instead select foods from a list of Power Foods. Tracking is still involved, since you are allowed a few points to add food off the list.
Nutrisystem offers special programs for vegetarians (but not vegans), and for people with diabetes. They also offer separate programs for men and women, and also for people over 60 years of age. It is not suitable for pregnant women, or for people with kidney disease or certain allergies. It’s also not for children under age 14.
Weight Watchers has a variation of their program for nursing moms. Diabetics are advised to consult their physician to make any necessary modifications. Vegetarians will find a wide variety of food choices and recipes suitable for them. Men and women follow the same basic program, except for the number of points allowed for each. Teens can also follow the program.
You don’t have to exercise on Nutrisystem to lose weight. That said, they still promote regular exercise, to the extent you are able.
Weight Watchers promotes a healthy level of activity. You “earn” extra points for increasing and tracking your activity – which can consist of virtually any physical activity, e.g., walking, gardening, dancing, cleaning, etc.
Lifestyle and Behavior Modification
Nutrisystem is designed to help you lose weight by taking all the “thinking” out of food choice and preparation. As such, once you finish the program, the food shipments stop, and you’re on your own to select your food once again. The “flex” meals are designed to help you learn how to select appropriate portions and nutritionally balanced meals on your own. So, 15% of the time, you are learning a new way of eating. The test is whether or not you will be able to maintain your new weight once you are no longer relying on prepackaged foods.
Weight Watchers teaches you how to select and prepare nutritionally balanced and properly proportioned meals from day one. The SmartPoints plan give you full control over what you eat, while guiding you to make the best possible choices. Once you reach your goal weight, you’re not on your own. You are taught how to maintain your new weight. In fact, if you achieve lifetime member status, you will receive free support for the rest of your life. Even if you don’t achieve lifetime status, the knowledge you gain will help you on or off the program.
Yes, you can achieve results on Nutrisystem, especially in the short run. So, if you’re planning on attending a wedding or reunion, you have a very good shot at achieving a substantial weight loss for your special event. There is limited information on the long-term success rate for people on the Nutrisystem program.
Weight Watchers is a solid program, based on scientific research. It has a proven track record. However, it is not magic. You have to actually work at it, and invest the mental, emotional, and physical energy required in order to achieve success. That said, the tools and techniques that you learn while on the program will help you for the rest of your life.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.
Patricia Scott from North Central Florida on February 20, 2017:
Years ago, I tried both. None of them worked for me. My own method works best...have lost 61 pounds in one year....revised eating habits, walk 8 miles daily...
My whole attitude is ...one must do what works for them. If Nutrisystem works for whomever they should use it; the same for
Angels are on the way to you this evening ps
Larry Rankin from Oklahoma on January 17, 2017:
Deborah Nessmith from Florida on January 17, 2017:
Great post. These are both great plans, but with Nutrisystem you're not really learning how to change your lifestyle. As noted Nutrisystem uses prepackaged meals, already portioned out. So, once you go off this diet, it's easier to lose site of portion sizes and return to unhealthy eating. Weight watchers is the best of the two, in my opinion. I say this because it's helping you learn portion sizes and how to make healthier food choices. This plan is helping make lifestyle changes that you can follow even if you stop using the program.
In either program, exercise is key. Even if they claim it's not required. I say this because you have to burn more calories than those eaten to lose weight.