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Weight has a funny way of creeping up on you. Whether it starts with the Freshman 15, or it’s just from years of sitting at a desk all day, suddenly you realize: You’re the biggest you’ve ever been. Once I decided I needed to make some changes, I didn’t know where to begin—I just knew I needed help to get there. That’s when I started using WW (formerly Weight Watchers). Over the past year, I lost 30 pounds and have kept it off. But it wasn’t always easy.

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What is WW?

WW is a weight-loss program that’s been around for 56 years, though it rebranded itself in 2018, no doubt to get away from the “it’s your grandma’s weight-loss program” stigma. The company must be doing something right because people swear by it, and the success stories got my attention as a 24-year-old millennial.

WW uses a simplified calorie-counting system that is personalized based on your age, weight, height, and sex to help you lose weight in a healthy way. You track everything you eat and drink, as well as your workouts on the app or website. Depending on your goal, you’re allotted a specific number of what WW calls “SmartPoints” each day. Every food and drink has a corresponding SmartPoint value, with the healthiest foods being freebies with no points at all—it’s basically calorie counting with way less complicated math. The aim is to guide you toward making better choices and, with practice, to make those choices habitual. In theory, if you consume the equivalent of your daily SmartPoints (or below that number), you should lose weight, which you also record once a week on the WW platform.

How much does WW cost?

When you sign up, there are a few plans you can choose from. For each, you pay by the week, with at least one month of commitment required—after all, healthy weight loss doesn’t happen overnight (unfortunately).   

  • The Digital plan, which costs $3.07 per week (or about $12 to $15 a month), gives you access to the app and website. From there, you get food and fitness tracking capabilities, access to recipes and fitness guides, and a social platform where you can interact with other members and share your successes or frustrations.
  • The Workshop + Digital plan ($6.92 per week, or about $28 to $35 a month) gives you that same digital access, plus in-person coaching sessions or “workshops” with other local members (the famous meetings that were Weight Watchers’ hallmark before the rebranding).
  • The Personal Coaching + Digital plan ($12.69 per week, or about $50 to $64 a month) gives you digital access and a weekly phone call with a WW coach instead of meetings.

With all plans, you have access to a digital coach—in other words, an online chat function—if something comes up and you need to ask a question.

What happens when you sign up for WW?

When you join, you take a quiz about your lifestyle, eating habits, goals, activity levels, and so on. The results of this personal assessment suggest the food values and total points you’ll be working with, based on which of the three color-coded programs, Purple, Blue, and Green, you choose.

The Purple plan offers more than 300 zero-point foods, but gives you the lowest number of total daily points. If you’re on the Purple plan, you don’t have to track as much if you focus on consuming any of the 300 zero-point foods. However, it holds you accountable for anything that isn’t on the zero-point list, like cocktails or the occasional cheeseburger, and you have fewer total points to go around.

The Green plan gives you the fewest zero-point foods (a little over 100), but the highest number of daily points. With Green, you’re practically tracking every single thing you consume (or you’re eating a really boring diet), but you have more daily points to work with.

The Blue plan gives you more than 200 zero-point foods and a middle-of-the-road number of daily SmartPoints. It is best suited for someone who wants a mix of flexibility and guidance. This is the one I chose.

What is it like to use the different WW plans?

I actually tried and failed on WW once before I had my more recent success. In January 2018, I started the Personal Coaching + Digital plan—I knew people that used WW and they were on this plan, so I followed suit. I lasted about two months, but didn’t lose the weight that I wanted, and not at the pace that I hoped. During this time, I had a weekly 15-minute call with a WW coach. My coach was very nice and intelligent, but I didn’t find talking to a perfect stranger very helpful. Who is this person to ask me how many times I’ve been to the gym this week? Admittedly, I could have switched coaches, and maybe I would have found more success with a better personality match. In theory, I can see the benefits of having someone else inspire you and hold you accountable. But I needed to find the motivation within myself, not from others.

Flash forward to January 2019, I rejoined WW but this time on the less expensive Digital plan. (As you may have noticed, I’m a weight-loss New Years Resolution gal.) This time, I stuck with it for 12 months and I’m still going—and I’m so happy about it. I found that focusing on the simple food tracking and being more thoughtful about my food intake was the key to my success. It changed my life in a major way—I lost 30 pounds and learned to approach food in a much healthier way. I’m much better about saying no to junk food and incorporating more fruits and vegetables, for example.

At first, the food tracking was tedious, but soon it got easier and quicker. Plus, I focused on zero-point foods, so I didn’t have to go into the app to log as much—I’m not sure if that’s exactly the, er, point, of giving healthy foods no loggable value, but it worked that way for me. After a while, tracking became second nature. WW also offers bonus incentives called “WellnessWins” for being consistent. Since I started the program, I tracked diligently and racked up over 7,000 WellnessWins (yes, yet another type of points) that I redeemed for a cookbook, new socks, and a sleep mask.

What foods have zero points on WW?

As mentioned, the zero-point foods vary depending on which program you choose, from just about 100 to more than 300. In general, foods that are considered to be zero points are most fruits and vegetables, eggs, lean proteins (chicken breasts, 99% lean ground turkey, most fish) and non-fat dairy. Zero-point drinks include things that have no sugar or fat, such as black coffee, black tea, and water. There are a lot of diet beverages, too, that are zero points. (I’m a sucker for Diet Snapple.)

What’s the difference between daily and weekly SmartPoints on WW?

The creators of WW know that people can fall off the wagon if they never have the opportunity to eat any of the high-point food that they crave. And so, in addition to the daily points—which are designed to keep you in check when you’re trying to decide between steak (on the Blue plan, three ounces of steak is 5 points) or chicken (chicken breasts are 0 points)—you’re assigned an additional number of weekly points, or “weeklies.”

These can give you freedom to indulge. If you choose to go over your daily point budget on any given day, points are taken from your weekly points. Or, if you keep your dailies in check, you may save up those weeklies for a decadent treat on the weekend, guilt-free. For example, you may opt for an unhealthy appetizer with your significant other or go out for drinks with your friends. Or the Starbucks drink that you found out is worth 14 of your daily points? Have it once a week. It’s all about moderation and making mindful food decisions while still living your life. I think that is the key to what makes WW so successful.

How does fitness fit into a WW plan?

Here’s a little (poorly kept) secret: You can expand your daily budget by working out, which earns you “FitPoints.” For example, a half-hour of elliptical at a high intensity yields around 9 points, and a half-hour of vigorous yoga yields 4 points. If you accrue enough fitness points, you’ll have more food points added to your daily SmartPoint budget. But you don’t have to apply your FitPoints to your food plan. I opted to set a weekly FitPoint goal, which allows me to compete with myself each week to earn more and thereby increasing my activity.

What are the downsides of WW?

Food tracking can be time-consuming, and it’s especially annoying when products aren’t in the database, or you have to assemble the recipes from scratch on the app. You’ll often find yourself selecting food that’s close enough to what you’re looking for. It works OK that way, it’s just not as precise.

It’s also easy to burn out if you don’t switch things up in what you choose to eat. Zero-point foods can turn very bland and boring if you eat the same ones every single day. You have to be willing to try new things—I actually appreciate hard-boiled eggs now—or learn how to prepare your standbys differently. You don’t have to eat tasteless chicken breasts and broccoli. Add some hot sauce. Season it excessively with herbs and spices. And use your weeklies for those indulgent foods you crave.

Like me, you may find that the first plan you choose isn’t the right one for you. While I didn’t like having a coach, other people love it. While I enjoy having more freedom with tracking and food in my plan, others may want more discipline. It may take some time and experimenting to figure out what will work best for you and your goals.

Lastly, it can get discouraging when you’re weighing in every week and not necessarily seeing the progress you want (though this is an issue with weight loss in general, not just WW). I dropped a bunch of pounds at the beginning and then I plateaued. But WW has so many resources on its websites for handling this. When you’re feeling discouraged, the key is to not give up. There were times when I wanted to throw all caution to the wind and eat mac and cheese and cookies for dinner. But I didn’t, and eventually I saw results.

Does WW actually work?

I am living proof that it can. But the keyword here is can. You have to put in work and make some sacrifices. If you don’t follow the plans thoroughly or “cheat” a lot, you’re only cheating yourself. When I focus on zero-point foods and make sure I track everything, I lose weight. When I kid myself and track fewer points than I actually consume, I don’t make any progress—though during those times, I haven’t seen any real weight gain, either, as I’ve learned enough to not completely sabotage myself.

In total, I’ve lost 30 pounds. Besides transforming my body, this program helped me to transform my lifestyle and mentality towards food. I’m much more conscious of what I put in my body. I’m more aware of how healthy (or not) certain foods or ingredients are. It helps me to make better decisions when given the choice between one meal and a healthier option. I say no to unhealthy foods more often than not, which I was not doing before and which led to my weight gain in the first place. It’s transformed my life—because I put the effort into it.

You may find that you don’t want to pay for this program forever, but in my experience it provides a great starting point for a lifelong journey of taking care of your body. I don’t intend to use it forever, but I like that it keeps me in check for now. But once you internalize how it works and why, you can carry forward those healthy habits long after you use this program—or, of course, rejoin if you need a refresher.

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