Weight Watchers vs. Macro-Counting – Which is more sustainable?
First, let me start by saying I’m not a Weight Watchers expert nor have I done their most recent program; however, I did follow their program about 10 years ago (long before I knew what I know now) and I was very successful… short-term. I also want to say this is also not intended to discredit the WW program or it’s effectiveness. It is simply to share my professional opinion based upon my personal experience with the program compared to my current, sustainable, eating lifestyle.
If you’re not familiar with Weight Watchers, it is one of the most popular diet programs for people looking to lose weight without having to give up their favorite foods. Thousands of people have lost weight on the Weight Watchers program since the 1960s, including myself. I was able to lose about ~40 lbs following their program in college which was great!… until I stopped counting points and I gained it all back plus some… why? Primarily because I learned how to count points rather than learning how to eat right and understanding what was in the food I was eating.
The WW program is based on a point system – currently known as Weight Watchers Freestyle. The premises of the point system is to eat within your allotted points based on your weight and goals and most people track their points with their app/online platform which makes the program very easy to follow. The ‘Freestyle’ program is intended to provide more flexibility and freedom by offering over 200 zero SmartPoint foods, along with a rollover option. While veggies and fruits were always “free foods,” this new list includes tons of protein-rich options like unlimited chicken, seafood, and beans.
One of the biggest reasons people love WW is the flexibility to eat anything you want as long as it fits within your points. It also allows you to ‘bank’ points for special occasions or for your weekly GNO.
Seems pretty awesome right? I can eat anything within my points and still lose weight!
Sign. me. Up.
Weight Watchers also does a really nice job of providing support to their members via their online platform, virtual communities and locations around the world to attend weekly meetings. Plus, when you hit your goal you gain lifetime access to their program. This is certainly a big perk for those needing accountability – aka everyone – without working with a personal coach.
On the flip side, there are a few concerning issues with the points system that I would like to point out compared to tracking macros and understanding the energy and quality of your food.
- There are no “free foods” and nothing should be deemed ‘unlimited’ as every food has energy content, aka calories – depending on how many carbs, protein, & fat is in the food!
This can lead to severely undereating (which is what I did and that can damage/slow your metabolism) or overeating.
Let’s look at an example of a meal on the Freestyle points versus calories & macronutrients.
One of my favorite meals is chicken fajitas so let’s compare values since veggies have always been free; and now corn, chicken and beans are also ‘free’ foods.
For this example consider 6 oz Chicken breast, 1 cup black beans, ½ cup corn, 1 cup bell peppers sliced, and ½ cup red onion. On the freestyle system, this is technically considered 0 points since it is ‘free.’ However, it actually has 594 calories, 63g carbs, 70.4g protein, and 5.8g fat.
Now imagine one is banking their points for GNO and only counts points for chips, cheese, sour cream, guacamole and margaritas they can have a pretty low ‘point’ night while racking up quite a few calories (1,000+ cals). Not to mention all the other food they’ve eaten throughout the day.
- It is important to know what energy your food consist of – is it primarily a carb, fat, or protein? How much sugar does it have? Does it provide micronutrients such as fiber, vitamins and minerals or is it all GMO/processed food? Understanding macros versus counting points key to making adjustments/changes when you hit a plateau or your goals change (i.e. build muscle, shed fat vs weight, improving your overall HEALTH). Otherwise you’re just counting points, forever.
- There are a lot of WW branded foods, which are nice for convenience but they are all processed. I was guilty of looking at how much food I could get in for the amount of points I had for the day and ate more processed foods on the WW plan than I ever have… I recognize I’m the only person to blame for that! However, many people fall into the same trap because 1) it’s convenient and 2) I could eat more quantity that way instead of quality – at that time nothing was ‘free’ – so I ate more processed food in place of real, healthy food with higher point values such as avocados, almond butter, chicken, eggs, etc.
Note: The freestyle system seems to highlight eating more nutritious food now, but it wasn’t that way when I did the program as the point system has changed multiple times.
- There is no account for how food impacts your body. Food, even certain healthy foods, can cause hormone imbalances, poor gut health, and lead to other health issues (dry skin, constipation, acne, fatigue, low libido, etc) if you have food sensitivities. This is not to fault WW as each individual is different, processes food differently according SEVERAL factors, so it is a case by case basis. However it is worth mentioning as weight is not the definitive factor of living a healthy lifestyle.
- Last but not least – Learning to track points without learning how to properly eat healthy is like learning your ABCs without knowing how to spell.
This is my number one concern with the program.
When I stopped tracking points, I didn’t know how to eat right. Far from it! I only knew points, I didn’t know calories or macros. I didn’t know what was in food and I didn’t understand portion control of food groups.
Tracking macros actually teaches you what is in food, as I mentioned before. Outside of tracking carbs, fats, and protein, you start to recognize how much sugar, fiber, and sodium are in foods (if you’re tracking food properly with health in mind). If you really want to dive deeper, you can see the vitamin and mineral breakdown. It also teaches you proper portion sizes and how to eat a well rounded, nutrient dense diet.
AND food values pretty much never changes! So, once you learn how to eat right, understand what your meals should look like you can start to eat intuitively and track less because for the rest of your life you will have this knowledge so you can sustain your results.
The bottom line
When it comes to weight-loss diets, Weight Watchers Freestyle is easy to follow, affordable, and offers community support that other programs may not. It’s a great plan for those looking to eat better without making super drastic changes to their lifestyle. However, if you’re looking for a long-term, sustainable solution to understand what good nutrition is and how to properly fuel your body, we recommend considering macros and tracking in a free app such as MyFitnessPal or MyMacros Plus.
Macros may seem overwhelming in the beginning, just like learning point values, but it has a much higher return on investment for your time and health. Eventually as you learn how to eat right, and high quality foods that your body can use as fuel and burn – you will be able to track less and not be chained to counting.
Just remember no matter what ‘diet’ you follow to be in a caloric deficit, you need to focus on the quality of food if you want live a healthy lifestyle, fuel your body with good nutrition to shed fat and maintain results. Just because you counted calories/macros or points for pizza, doesn’t mean it should be in your daily intake. A well rounded diet consist of lean protein, smart carbohydrates, a good amount of fiber, controlled sugar, and healthy fats.