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Weight Watchers Freestyle Vs. South Beach

I have followed the WW/Weight Watchers program for years, from "exchanges" up to the most recent Wellness Wins program.


The Commercials

Let me begin by comparing the TV commercials for both programs before I get into the nitty gritty. For Weight Watchers, I see women I can relate to: real women, in everyday situations. For South Beach, I only seem to remember seeing thin, attractive women (and sometimes men) in bathing suits, frolicking on the beach (presumably South Beach). Also, these beautiful people have usually lost somewhere between 10 and 20 pounds, and believe that this has transformed their lives!

What I didn’t realize before doing my research is that the South Beach Diet is actually owned by Nutrisystem. They both have similar approaches, but with slightly different timeframes. Nutrisystem asserts a loss of up to 13 pounds and 7 inches in your first month, where South Beach claims that you can lose up to 9 pounds and 3 inches in your first two weeks. So initially it would appear that South Beach would be your “go to” diet if you need to fit into your new swimsuit, in a short period of time.

Weight Watchers, by contrast, doesn’t spell out a specific target weight or inches loss on their front page. They prefer the slow but steady approach to weight loss. You must drill down deep into the program to find an average weight loss number (you can generally lose an average of two pounds a week or eight pounds a month). Weight Watchers is also a program, not a diet. The goal is to change your relationship with food for the rest of your life, not just until after summer vacation.

The Food

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The South Beach diet consists of gluten-free food, rich in lean protein and healthy fats. This diet nearly eliminates carbohydrates in Phase One (Body Reboot). Also, it is a meal delivery diet plan, so all the meals, snacks, and shakes are delivered right to your door.

You can eat literally anything you want, just not all at the same time. What is the catch? On program, you are guided to make smarter choices (e.g., apples over donuts), and watch your portions. You learn to eat until satisfied, not stuffed. Other than that, nothing is off limits.

This diet reminds me of the Stillman diet that was popular back in the 1970’s. Stillman’s diet is similar to the better known Atkins Diet, although Stillman published his diet 5 years earlier. The primary difference is that South Beach allows for more “healthy” fats.

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. Also, with the new Freestyle approach, there are dozens of “zero point” foods to choose from, with a slightly reduced daily point limit to compensate.

In Phase Two you are allowed to add so-called “good” carbs, such as whole-grain products and limited amounts of fruit. Also, you can have a little alcohol if you wish. Phase Three is the maintenance plan, designed for lifelong healthy eating.

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.

The first two phases rely heavily on home delivery of South Beach diet foods, supplemented with fresh fruits and vegetables from the grocery store. You also have two days per week on your own.

Since you are completely in control of food choice, you are also in control of taste, quality, and preparation. If too much freedom and choice stresses you out, this may not be the program for you.

The Cost

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South Beach delivers fully prepared meals, snack bars, and shakes to your home. The plan normally runs $460 per month, but by selecting auto-delivery you can get that price tag down to around $300 for a woman, or $340 for a man.

There are “startup” costs with Weight Watchers Freestyle, which can be waived during certain advertised times of year.

Of course, this is the cost of food for five days out of the week, since you are on your own the other two. Also, you will need to buy your own fresh produce, salad dressing, and a few other items (so you’ll still need to go to the grocery store to supplement the delivered food).

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. With this level, you have the support of your peers, your meeting facilitator, plus online support.

Also, if you decide to add other optional food (e.g., alcohol) after Phase One, that would be an additional expense as well.

Food is not included in the cost. However, if you stay away from Weight Watchers brand foods, you will be paying no more or less for food than if you were not on a weight loss program.

Keeping Track

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Since most of the food is delivered to your home, there is no counting calories, fat grams, fiber, protein, carbohydrates or anything else. One way that you do keep track is by using the portion-control containers and program guide. Online members can use the South Beach Diet app to track meals, weight, and diet goals.

Tracking what you eat is a core concept behind the Weight Watchers program. Just the physical habit of honestly recording your entire nutritional intake (foods and beverages) typically has a restraining effect on most people. With Freestyle, however, there are fewer items that need to be tracked.

Other than those exceptions, South Beach is pretty much a “no track” program. Since the diet is fairly restrictive, keeping track isn’t a major deal.

Writing down what you eat and drink (including bites, nibbles, sips, and chews) increases accountability, and becomes a powerful behavior modification technique.

Special Needs

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South Beach is not appropriate for children, and Phase One is inappropriate for pregnant women and nursing mothers. The high amount of protein may not be safe for people with kidney problems.

Weight Watchers Freestyle has a variation of their program for nursing moms. Diabetics are advised to consult their physician to make any necessary modifications.

Vegetarian and vegan-friendly meal plans and recipes are available online to subscribing members. People who can't tolerate gluten will like this diet. Also, there are lots of kosher recipes.

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.



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South Beach does encourage low intensity activities such as walking during Phase One. In Phase Two and beyond, you will be encouraged to add some high-intensity exercise.

Weight Watches 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

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In my opinion, lifestyle and behavior modification is South Beach’s weakest feature. It’s very good at taking off a decent amount of weight very rapidly (nine pounds in your first two weeks), but few people can keep it up for long. It is too restrictive (e.g., only two alcoholic drinks per week after Phase One) and difficult to follow for more than a few weeks.

Weight Watchers Freestyle 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. There are several ways to get support (meetings, online) to keep you on track.

Some would argue that a good kick-off is motivating, which is true. However there are rules even in Phase Three that may be difficult to maintain for a lifetime. On the plus side, it does teach you to eat smaller, more frequent meals, which many experts agree is a good strategy for weight management.

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.


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This form of extreme carbohydrate restriction will definitely have the pounds flying off (assuming you follow it closely). It can also trigger kidney problems if you stay on it too long, and avoiding grains can lead to fatigue.

Weight Watches 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.

Because of the rules and restrictions, many people will find it difficult to stay on the plan long enough to keep off lost weight for the long term (e.g., at least two years).

That said, the tools and techniques that you learn while on the program will help you for the rest of your life. There are many success stories of people taking off, and keeping off the weight for 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.

© 2018 Carolyn Fields


Larry Rankin from Oklahoma on January 27, 2018:

Interesting comparison of two established weight loss systems.