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.

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