Weight Watchers’ Paleo Diet

I know someone on Weight Watchers. She was on it before, as was her mother, but like so many others they fell off the Weight Watchers’ wagon. Since they now live in the same town together, she decided to join Weight Watchers again in order to motivate her mother to do the same. It’s a social bonding experience, as the social component is central to Weight Watchers — their dieting support groups sound like an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting.

This person and I were talking about diets. One thing that came up was the points system with some foods listed as zero points. I’d heard about how fruits are considered zero points on the Weight Watchers’ plan. This is absurd from a low-carb perspective, but to be fair the diet does recommend to eat such things as fruits in moderation. It seems odd to call them zero points, in that case, since the point system is what is supposed to help people to maintain dietary moderation.

The original Weight Watchers had both fruit and vegetables as zero points. The purpose was to encourage people to eat more “whole foods” in place of industrially processed foods. As with so many other diets, Weight Watchers ended up severely restricting refined carbohydrates, added sugar, and seed oils. That is the reason almost any diet will lead to at least short term health benefits such as weight loss, even if the diet isn’t healthy in the long term such as lacking optimal nutrition.

Anyway, the restrictions increase over time. As one loses weight, one is given fewer points to use on a daily basis. This steadily shifts the person toward eating the zero point foods. It’s a simple form of behavioral modification, simple enough for almost anyone to follow, assuming they have the willpower to do so, albeit a major assumption to make and the typical reason why such diets have high rates of failure.

The purpose of the social support and social pressure is to keep the individual on board with the protocol, the reason almost anyone turns to a support group for any problem, from addiction to mental illness. Being around those of like mind or rather of like problem allows for commiseration and understanding. The lady I was talking to said this is the main attraction for her and I do see the value in it for many people.

What is interesting is that the zero point foods are basically part of the core of a paleo diet. Hunter-gatherers tend to eat limited fruit, although there are examples of traditional diets with higher amounts of fruit. The focus on high intake of vegetables, though, is particularly paleo.

There is a newer version of Weight Watchers, what they call the Freestyle plan. Along with fruits and vegetables, a much larger list of foods are now deemed zero points. This includes a wide variety of lean meats, something that was prioritized among many early paleo diet advocates and still is followed by many, although fattier meats have become more common in the paleo crowd. Also included are eggs and seafood, which likewise are well within the range of the paleo diet.

There are a few zero point foods that aren’t paleo. These are corn, tofu, and nonfat plain yogurt. There are also legumes, but they are eaten by some hunter-gatherers, if typically more limited in amount. But more important is what isn’t zero points, such as high-carb foods that were key to the rise of agricultural societies: potatoes, rice, grains, etc. Most dairy foods also have points and so are restricted. As one loses weight and loses points to spend on these foods, one’s diet increasingly falls in line with the paleo ideal.

I find that amusing. It might be simpler to go straight to a paleo diet and get the same results without all the complicated fuss and the unnecessary costs. Maybe that is why popularity of Weight Watchers is on the decline and popularity of the paleo diet continues to rise. But if Weight Watchers helps you move toward a healthy paleo diet, then more power to you.

* * *

5/14/20 – Interestingly, Weight Watchers has been challenged by the low-carb movement. The CEO has admitted that the keto diet in particular is cutting into their popularity, i.e., profits.

As noted by John Zahorik, “Curious that Weight Watchers wouldn’t just EMBRACE keto and INCLUDE a keto point system as an option. Simple solution to this ‘competition’ problem right? Low carb IS a point system really. Seems like EVEN AN IDIOT could think of this solution, right? There’s a reason.” And the reason he gave had to do with conflicting financial interests: “A regular reminder that WEIGHT WATCHERS is only about 20% of Invus Group, a consortium of primarily PHARMACEUTICAL companies.” That is to say there aren’t profits to be had from a healthy public.

Also, someone else pointed out that, “They already had a carb points system after the Atkins Low Carb craze in 1974 . At some point it disappeared without trace” (Amanda ZZ – Atkins). The Weight Watchers company has tried low-carb before and, having failed to capitalize on it in their previous attempt, apparently have decided to stay the course by ignoring the carbohydrate issue or at least downplaying it and only dealing with it indirectly. As I demonstrated above, the present point system does have the end result of pushing individuals away from the worst offending high-carb foods, which seems to be an unstated admission that low-carb works.

Here is a bit of what I wrote in another post — Low-Carb Diets On The Rise:

Even Oprah Winfrey, though financially invested in the conventional Weight Watchers diet (in owning 8% of the company) and a self-declared lover of bread (actual quote: “I love bread!”), has put out a line of products that includes a low-carb pizza with cauliflower crust. This is interesting since, as low-carb diets have gained popularity, the stock of Weight Watchers has plunged 60% and Oprah lost at least 58 million dollars in one night and a loss of 500 million over all, putting Oprah’s star power to a serious test — maybe Oprah decided it is wise to not put all her eggs in one basket, in case Weight Watchers totally tanks. The company is finding it difficult to gain and retain subscribers. Those profiting from established dietary ideology are feeling the pinch.

It’s amusing how Weight Watchers CEO Cindy Grossman responded to the low-carb threat: “We have a keto surge,” she said. “It’s a meme, it’s not like a company, it’s people have keto donuts, and everybody on the diet side look for the quick fix. We’ve been through this before, and we know that we are the program that works.” And that, “We’ve lived through this [competition from fad diets] for 57 years and we’re not going to play a game and we never have.” Good luck with that! Maybe in reassuring stockholders, she also stated that, “We’re going to be science informed and we’re sustainable for the long term.” That is great. Everyone should be science informed. The problem for those trying to hold onto old views is that the science has changed and so has the public’s knowledge of that science.

Most people these days aren’t looking for complicated diets with eating plans and paid services, much less pre-prepared meals to be bought. A subscription model is becoming less appealing, as so much info and other resources are now available online. Besides, the DYI approach (Do It Yourself) is preferred these days. Diets like paleo and keto are simple and straightforward, and they can be easily modified for individual needs or affordability. But even for those looking for a ready-made system like Weight Watchers, there are other options out there that are looking attractive: “Wall Street is clearly nervous, too. JPMorgan analyst Christina Brathwaite downgraded the [Weight Watchers] stock to “underperform” last week and slashed her price target. One of the reasons? She was worried about competition from rival weight-loss service Diet Doctor, which is a proponent of keto.”

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