Oprah and Weight Watchers – Big Changes Ahead

(11/30 – Updated information regarding details of the new Weight Watchers program: Weight Watchers New Program Changes and my impressions at Weight Watchers New Program First Impressions.)

Today, Weight Watchers announced that Oprah Winfrey had bought 10% of Weight Watchers (with an option to buy 5%) more.  She has also joined the Board and will be an Adviser.  Further, she is a Weight Watchers member and “will candidly share her experienced and perspective long the way.”  On the Weight Watchers Facebook page, it was indicated that she is using Weight Watchers personal coaching.

In the announcement, Weight Watchers also announced a bit of shift in focus which I’ve seen coming recently.  The President of Weight Watchers said, “We are expanding our purpose from focusing on weight loss alone to more broadly helping people lead a healthier, happier life.”  And, on another note, I read this morning that Weight Watchers has sent out an email discontinuing the ActiveLink soon.  On the Facebook page I was on for the region I am in, members were reminded that Weight Watchers will sync with a lot of different activity trackers.

And, I think all of that has to be coupled with the statement that the president made in the August, 2015 earnings call when he said, that Weight Watcher is “getting ready to launch one of the most significant and comprehensive program innovations in the history of this company; something that we are increasingly confident will change the trajectory of our business.”

So what does all this mean?  I think there are some big changes ahead, only a few of which we have seen so far.  Weight Watchers has not been doing well financially. Weight Watchers stock has gone down sharply over the past few years from a high of almost $83 in 2011 to $6.79 a share on Friday (the price Oprah bought at).  Weight Watchers has chalked a lot of that up to the challenges of being in a different world where there are free apps and websites to give all sorts of diet advice and information.  Getting people to pay for Weight Watchers online program or to show up for meetings has been a tougher and tougher sell.

I have felt for awhile that Weight Watchers was still set in an old mindset on weight loss and wasn’t making good use of technology.  Further, they have not well integrated the in person meetings with the online offerings. I believe firmly that the heart of Weight Watchers is the in person meeting, but I recognize that some people just don’t want to go to actual meetings.  But, online only membership has always seemed like a second class substitute (for example, you can’t earn free lifetime membership through being an online only member).

Weight Watchers has simply not changed enough with the times.  It’s eating program has continued to emphasize low-fat with only a few small signs of recognizing that carbs have their own set of problems for some people.

As always, Weight Watchers will be coming out in December with their new program for the next year.  On most years, they make small tweaks.  But, sometimes they make major changes.  The last major change was Points Plus in December, 2010.  From what Weight Watchers said in August, it is clear this year will be one for major changes.

Just recently they made a change that I think fits within this whole concept of focusing more on living healthier rather than just losing weight.  When you go to a meeting, you get a little booklet where they put your weigh in sticker each week.  It has included within it the weight ranges that Weight Watchers uses to determine your goal range for lifetime membership.  The top of the range is the top of the BMI range for normal weight.  In order to obtain free lifetime status, you must have a weight within that normal BMI range (or get a doctor’s note as to another goal).  That hasn’t changed.

But, the new booklet no longer has those weight ranges in the booklet.  Instead you are encouraged to set a monthly goal and to set your own weight loss goal which doesn’t have to be within the normal BMI range.  I like this.  Not everyone wants or can reasonably achieve a weight within the normal BMI range.  I like the idea of being able to set a goal that work for you.  If I lose a lot of weight and end up at a BMI of 26 and feel happy there, I would want to feel like a success (which I would be!) and not a failure for not having gotten to a BMI of 25.  So, I think Weight Watchers is right to allow members to choose their own goal.

Now, to be clear, if this goal is over a BMI of 25 (as set forth in the weight ranges Weight Watchers still has), it will not qualify a member for free lifetime status (without a doctor’s note).  I understand this.  If it were any other way, someone could come in 100 pounds overweight, lose 5 pounds and declare being at goal and then not have to pay anything while working to lose another 95 pounds.  So, I understand why Weight Watchers needs to still have some limits for what will qualify a member for free lifetime.

I do think that Weight Watchers should still put those ranges in the booklet and disagree with the decision not to.  But, I think this all fits within the new goal of focusing more on healthy living, than simply getting to a normal BMI number.  I like the idea of letting members select a goal they want to have regardless of whether it will entitle them to free lifetime status or not.  Getting to your own goal is what is most important, even if it isn’t within the specific “normal” BMI range.

So, what’s ahead?  I think that Oprah’s association with Weight Watchers will be positive.  She has a lot of influence and will bring interest to Weight Watchers.  I also haven’t been impressed with Weight Watchers current management, so hope that she can bring some real life experience to Weight Watchers that will help the company to make better decisions.  And, she is definitely putting her money into this.  She stands to make a lot of money if these succeeds, but if Weight Watchers stock continues to tank, she could lose it.  She has a lot of incentive to help Weight Watchers succeed. And, I hope she does as I was really starting to fear that Weight Watchers would go bankrupt.

I am interested in what Weight Watchers will do with the program and I’m curious with how they plan to better integrate fitness in the program.  During the earnings call, the president stated that “the underlying desire for weight loss is still a very important part of the equation. However the consumer wants to get there through a more holistic mindset of healthier eating, fitness and emotional strength, with weight loss being a critical element of this bigger picture.”  I do think there are going to be changes with how fitness works with the plan.

Getting rid of the ActiveLink is a positive step.  ActiveLink was not a very good fitness monitor compared to the alternatives such as the Fitbit.  And, ActiveLink required payment of  $5 a month, compared to the other monitors syncing for free while providing more information.

As to what the innovations are to the program come December?  I don’t know.  I have some hopes for what it will be.  In my ideal world, they would do two things.  First, I’m fine with still having some sort of Weight Watchers points (although personally, I still think the old exchange program from 25 years ago is better).  But, I would like to see it where you could calculate points depending upon what kind of plan you want to follow.  So, someone eating low carb would calculate points very differently from someone eating low fat.

While I would like more flexibility in that way, I do think the current plan has too much flexibility in one way.  It is far too easy to eat total junk food to a high degree, but still feel you are following the program.  Back in the exchange days, you couldn’t really do that.  There were no forbidden foods, but the amount you could eat during the week on program was limited.  Take chocolate cake for example.  There were not exchanges for cake.  The cake could only be eaten through optional calories (similar to the current weekly points).  The amount of optional calories was limited each week.  So, you could eat 1 piece of a cake in a week and then would have a few optional calories left for other things.  There was no way to, for example, eat cake on Monday, a candy bar on Tuesday, chips on Wednesday, etc.  You could eat anything, but had to make real choices.  Now, it is far too easy to use daily points to eat the kinds of foods that are OK in small quantities, but shouldn’t be the main part of your diet.  I would like to see certain foods relegated to being eaten only as weekly points or activity points.

And, that’s another thing.  I would make it easier to earn activity points, but would use them to actually replace weekly points.  That is, have daily points that everyone gets.  Anything beyond that earned through activity.

Having said all that, I am not really expecting to see most of that.  I think that they may come up with something to accommodate different eating styles. And, they are clearly doing something with fitness, but I doubt it will be that radical.  But, I don’t know. We will know in early December.


  1. says

    Well, from an outsider looking in, and a LCHF proponent at that, when I look at WW, all I see is processed foods in an outdated format of what IS now considered healthy by more and more people. Of course, to lose the WW meals, they’d lose the bulk of their income, I suspect.

    Will be interesting to see how this goes, especially with Oprah, one of the better known yo-yo dieters in the past 20 years. (and usually unsuccessful. Her heavy years have far outweighed her thin years.)

    • says

      No, not at all on the food. Product sales of all types (this includes things other than food) is only a small part of their revenue. Meeting fees and online subscriptions are about 80% of their revenue.

      Many of us rarely, if ever, buy any of the food. I do buy some of their other products. I have their measuring spoons and scale for example.

      One of the best kept secrets of WW (unfortunately, I think) is that it is entirely compatible with low carb eating! For example, while WW recommends whole grains over refined grains you can 100% follow the program and never eat a single grain! For example, you could follow what you eat and be on WW just fine.

      I do think that they still disadvantage fat in how they calculate points (they also do disadvantage carbs as well). I think that should change.

      The thing is I think many people totally see WW as low fat/high carb and pro processed foods when really you can totally be a WW member and eat low carb and avoid processed foods!
      Kitty recently posted…Oprah and Weight Watchers – Big Changes AheadMy Profile

      • Cara says

        I try to do low carb high fat Weight Watchers, and it is not easy, because the fat grams are so heavily penalized. I really hope that the new plan has found a way to soften the fat penalty.

        • says

          I eat lowish carb myself and I agree about the fat grams. I really end up using Weekly Points mostly to deal with that. I’m hoping that the new plan does better on the fat front. I would love to see a plan that lets you customize what the points will be based upon whether you are trying to eat low carb, for example, or low fat. So if eating low carb, the plan would penalize carbs and sugar (especially) and if doing low fat it would penalize fat. I guess we’ll find out in a few week…

  2. says

    I also got the email about the Activelink, but when I asked about it at my meeting a couple days later – no one knew anything about it. The one lady did tell me before there were changes coming but she didn’t elaborate – which is why they haven’t had the spiral bound tracker journal for the last month or so. I like to use that in conjunction with eTools.
    That’s interesting about the exchange program, I never knew how that worked!
    Lisa recently posted…Holy Crap!My Profile

  3. says

    Glad to hear they’ve let go of a BMI-based goal weight, that always seemed very realistic to me, and just not focused on the right things. This sounds like it could be a really positive change for them and more importantly ,for WW members; I’m interested to hear more as it unfolds. Cheers.
    Wendy recently posted…A quick catch-upMy Profile

  4. Joyce says

    I don’t know why people make a fuss about low fat/high fat/low carb, etc. Weight Watchers has made it clear that you can follow ANY style of eating on their plan.

    Also, I just have to say I am NOT a fan of their convoluted way of counting points by entering nutritional info. It is time consuming and I prefer the just as effective and easier method of calories per serving divided by 40 (some genius on the forum broke the code back in 2012 and broke down the analysis of points. Bottom line: 1 point averages 40 cals). I can do that one in my head. I notice on the new beta tracker, there are now 7 nutritional areas to enter. Are they kidding? I’ll just again figure out how many calories is one point (like I’m doing with the current program) and take it from there, if the new plan is even MORE convoluted. I’ve said it before, and I’ve said it again, we live in a lazy culture and people want EASY. That is why I like the point to calorie conversion method. For me simpler, I can figure it in my head, and don’t need to depend on technology. Now THAT’s empowering. When I was caught with a computer on the fritz and a lousy cell phone, my lesson was learned.

    • says

      I do think some things work better for different people so I like that you can have a choice. But, yes, I estimate the points in my head all the time.

  5. says

    I personally have used the active link for almost two years. I have to disagree where you wrote it was a POSITIVE direction that weight watchers was no longer supporting it. The active link gave you a baseline FIRST before you EARNED activity points. So many ppl feel they should get a ticker tape parade because they worked out. Too many times ppl over estimate their activity and underestimate their points. You cannot work out for a half hour…call it 2 activity points and then call it a day. I LOVE my activelink. I understand the concept. I personally feel that wws dropped the ball by not standing behind the product they pushed so hard. The active link 2.0 was not out even a FULL year and now it is going dark. BAD BUSINESS with this decision.
    mary brady recently posted…Oprah and Weight Watchers – Big Changes AheadMy Profile

    • says

      Oh, I totally agree about the baseline. I think no activity points should be earned until a baseline is met. I used to have an ActiveLink, but use a Fitbit now. Activity points from the Fitbit are based upon all of your day’s activity. If I were to, say, workout for a hour early in the morning I would earn no activity points then. I would have to meet a baseline of overall activity before I earned any. While I like the Fitbit more than ActiveLink I really do think it is unfair to just totally make them inactive. I would rather see them allow people who have ActiveLinks to continue using them.

  6. Hannah says

    I totally agree with the change in goal! I lost 40 pounds on WW. I am short, and to be at a healthy BMW I needed to be 126. I got to 130 comfertably, and on my best weeks I was 128. But I couldn’t get to 126. I left WW because I constantly felt defeated. Two years later, and 10 pounds heavier. I want to go back but I don’t want to beat myself up at the end. ALSO they need to figure out how to target a younger age group. I’m 27, and from 22-25 I used WW. I always felt like the only one in my age group. With that, I needed more enthusiasm about working out. I love to workout but couldn’t find a WW partner on the same page as me.

    I’m hoping to sign back up soon and enjoy the changes!

  7. says

    I am a lifetime member who has not been to weigh in for about four years. Back then, my goal weight was a bit higher than the bmi weights they’re using now, and I had to be within five pounds of my goal weight, not two. Will I still be able to go back and use my previous lifetime member goal weight and the five pounds not two? Thanks!
    Renee Rhoads recently posted…Fitbit Charge HR RevisitedMy Profile

  8. Deborah Willians says

    I lost 50 pounds on the Momentum Plan and was NEVER hungry. When they changed to the PointsPlus Plan I started gaining weight and was hungry a lot of the time even though I followed the program exactly, tracked everything, etc. It has too many calories, too much food, too much sugar, and too many carbs without enough protein. I was not the only one gaining weight on the program. Unless you had a lot of weight to lose, you gained weight. I was 3-5 pounds away from lifetime when they changed and never got there to stay so I gave up. Went back to the Momentum Plan which accepted the fact that fruit and vegetables both have calories that count in them. They can also cause you to gain weight if you are sensitive to carbs and sugar. I have maintained well but still have about ten pounds to lose and miss the encouragement and motivational boost I got by attending meetings.

    • says

      If the program shakes out how I think it will, you will like this program. I think fruit/veggies are still zero point but foods with high added sugar in particular are really penalized in the point count. Protein is the favored macro basically. For me, even though fruits and veggies were zero points I always recorded them in MyFitnessPal (in addition to tracking on WW) so I had a handle on how much I was eating.

    • says

      WW discontinued the ActiveLink. I think most people didn’t like having to pay a monthly fee for a substandard activity monitor when they could outright buy a Fitbit or Jawbone and wouldn’t have to pay a monthly fee. I have a Fitbit. You do need it to sync with the internet once a day though so the info can get to Weight Watchers.

  9. says

    I’m thinking of joining WW and this is very helpful as the website is interestingly evasive in terms of sharing specifics. Not very pleased with this, but having joined WW several times in my life I simply wanted to have some idea what is new that might be an incentive for me to give it another try. I dislike attending meetings…makes me feel very exposed. I prefer privacy as I work out how to manage the program into my life. What I am hoping WW will do is get rid of the horrible products they tout. The products are filled with horrible ingredients that, frankly, make me ill and I would absolutely never touch or recommend. This company would do well to reconfigure the products they are selling their clientele to reflect a healthy lifestyle rather than garbage that is filled with artificial ingredients and sugar. Not good. If you have anyone’s ear at WW I would love you to pass this feedback on. Frankly, this has been one of the things that has kept me away. It’s hard to support a program that is touting unhealthy products when they are purportedly encouraging a healthy lifestyle. Seems out of alignment and inauthentic. Just one woman’s perspective.

    Still considering joining again to see how this new program works for me. I eat only organic and whole food rather than processed which is my choice and I realize not the choice of many. I think WW would do well to bring their standards up and get rid of the junk that has their name on it.

    Thanks for sharing your experience and insights here. I will visit often.

    • says

      I would say that they have fewer products for sale in the meeting room and I think some of them are marginally better in quality than the old ones. But, I also don’t buy those products and wish they didn’t have them either. I think the products are more of a transition product for those who were eating things much worse and who have difficulty with portion control. There was a time when that was me. Now, I don’t eat them either. Thankfully, at the meeting I attend they aren’t pushed at us so I just ignore them. I do think for those who like whole foods the new program will be much more to your liking than the old program.

  10. Sophie says

    I loved my active link I could wear it in the pool which is where I get most of my cardio. Fitbit does not have anything like that even though customers have been begging them to make one that can be worn while swimming laps.

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