Weight Watchers – Biggest Change in 50 Years?

(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.)

I earned my Weight Watchers Key to the Future (i.e., got to lifetime) almost 25 years ago.

Key front

I’ve seen a lot of program changes over that time.  And, I know from experience that Weight Watchers usually changes it program every December.  It rolls out the changes usually on the first Sunday in December.  Some years it is a huge change, some years it is little change, and other years it is sort of in between.  The general rule of thumb has been major changes about every 5 years.  Points Plus, for example, came out in December, 2010.  Therefore, it is not surprising that this December will be one of the years of big changes.  And, about every 5 years there is enough new known about the science of weight loss, that it makes sense to update the program.  I’ve been expecting a significant change next month. I may have been underestimating the amount of change, however.

I didn’t get it, but some people got an email from Weight Watchers around last Wednesday.  Apparently it said the “biggest change in 50 years is coming.”  I also saw a picture of a graphic that is similar.  It said: “Get ready for the NEW Weight Watchers.  It’s all kinds of good.”  And, at the meeting I attended Saturday, a trailer video was played entitled “Something Big is Coming.”  It asked if we were ready for the biggest breakthrough in Weight Watchers history.

So, what does it all mean?  No one really knows.  Well, employees of Weight Watchers know I’m sure.   But, they can’t tell us.  Often, by this time of year something has leaked.  There have been years where virtually everything has been found out before the roll out.  This year, not so much.

You can get some information from doing patent searches, but that is usually vague enough that it doesn’t help all that much.  Also, it is known that Weight Watchers filed for a trademark on “Smartpoints.”  I’m guessing that will be the name of the new program, although there is no certainty.

Also, you can look at the transcripts of Weight Watchers earnings calls to get an idea of what has been said by Weight Watchers management.  This is maddeningly vague, but does support the idea of this being a year of substantial change.

In the first earning call of this year, the CEO said:

While weight loss remains critically important, increasingly, consumers are asking us to think more expansively about the role Weight Watchers can play in their lives. As we stated in our last call, 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 generally healthier eating, wellness and fitness with weight loss being a critical element of this bigger picture.

He tied this to the new program when he said:

This suggests a compelling opportunity for Weight Watchers to take our program beyond the scale, broadening our program to include fitness among other things. The consumer gives us permission to play in this broader space with opportunities for both our face-to-face and digital offerings. These are the insights that are driving the meaningful program innovation that we will be introducing for winter season 2016 as well as the marketing that will support its launch.

So what does that mean?  Well, here is what the CEO in the earnings call for the second quarter:

Late this year we will be launching perhaps the biggest innovation to our proven program in our history. We are not going to share specifics ahead of the commercial rollout. But as we stated before 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.

In the most recent earnings call, the CEO said:

The innovation that we will be launching, both in meetings and online, in all our major markets, has been built on strong consumer insights. Today’s consumers want more than diet and restriction. They want a more holistic and personalized solution, integrating healthier eating, fitness and emotional wellbeing.

And, of course, in the middle of all this, Oprah Winfrey bought 10% of Weight Watchers, is following the plan, joined the board and will be involved with the marketing.  So, yes, it seems like their are big changes.  I posted back then about some of what I would like to see.  But, it now looks like the changes are being billed as something much bigger than what I was anticipating when I posted about the Oprah investment.  Truthfully, however, none of what the CEO said sounds all that massive in terms of changes.

So, what are the big changes?  I don’t know, unfortunately.  But, I think we can perhaps speculate on a few things.  And, to be clear, this is pure speculation.  I have no information at all and if I am totally off base I won’t be surprised.

First, I still think we will be eating points of some sort.  It would be reasonable to think they will be SmartPoints and not Points Plus.  On the Beta Tracker, the calculator now has you input sugar and saturated fat, along with calories, carbs, fat, protein and fiber.  Right now, the sugar and saturated fat doesn’t change the points when you put them in.  I suspect that with the new plan, sugar and saturated fat will be part of the calculation.  I would guess that foods with sugar and saturated fat would be higher points than similar calorie food that doesn’t have a lot of sugar and saturated fat.

With Points Plus, we saw carbohydrates being disadvantaged a bit on point count as compared to protein.  And, fat was even more disadvantaged.  I think that Weight Watchers has probably recognized that not all fats and not all carbs are created equal.  Disadvantaging sugar and saturated fat, in particular, seems to make sense.  While I like that there are no forbidden foods on Weight Watchers, I do think it is important to pay attention to nutrition and how healthy a food is.  I suspect the program will pay more attention to those factors. And, there may be more efforts to nudge you to eating healthier foods.

But, you know, I don’t think that just tweaking the formula to use saturated fat and sugar is enough to bill the changes as the biggest in 50 years.  I mean that goes back almost to the founding of Weight Watchers.  For example, tweaking the formula is not nearly as big a change as when Weight Watchers changed from an exchange program to a points based program.  And, 5 years ago, the switch to Points Plus was a switch from Points and was a big change, but it wasn’t hyped as much as what we are seeing now.

So, one of two things is happening.  The first possibility is that Weight Watchers is over-hyping it all.  I remember a few years ago, reading hype about some upcoming changes and they were totally a non-event.  It wasn’t a year of major changes, but even the minor changes were minimal.  But, in advance, it sounded like it was a big deal.  So, maybe the big changes are just tweaks to how points are calculated, a new name, and Oprah hype.

The other possibility (and what I hope for) is that there really will be big changes.  But, saying these are the biggest changes in 50 years is saying that this will be a bigger change than any other change since the original plan.  Surely getting rid of mandatory liver beats almost anything!

If so, what could it be?  I keep going back to the statements during the earning calls.  There has been an emphasis on members wanting a “holistic mindset” of healthier eating and fitness.  There is an idea that weight loss is important, but isn’t the only thing.  The most recent call said that consumers “want a more holistic and personalized solution” and talks about integrating healthier eating, fitness and emotional wellbeing.

What does that mean?  Well, if points take into account saturated fat and sugar, that would seem to fit with the healthier eating part.  And, recently Weight Watchers has had an emphasis on you being able to pick your own goal even if it is above the BMI normal weight range (you still have to end up in that weight range or get a doctor’s note in order to obtain lifetime membership).  Perhaps that is how Weight Watchers will be more personalized.  That is fine, although I would like to see more personalization of the actual eating plan.

But, the burning question to me is how fitness is going to be more integrated into the plan.  I can imagine some possibilities, although I don’t think they are likely at all.  In reality, at meetings, fitness has always taken a back seat to food.  And, to a great extent, that is reasonable.  You have to get the food right or you won’t lose weight.

However, Weight Watchers has long allowed you to earn Activity Points that you could eat in addition to your Daily and Weekly Points.  You earn these points by engaging in activity.  Basically, it is set up so that roughly you earn Activity Points that would equate to half the calories you burned in the Activity.  It isn’t exact, but is a rule of thumb. Like a lot of people, I have Weight Watchers set up so that I don’t “eat” my Activity Points unless I’ve eaten all of my Daily Points and all of my Weekly Points.  Most weeks I have some Weekly Points left over, so I don’t eat any Activity Points (there are occasional exceptions).  The result is that earning Activity Points is something I just do as a side effect of activity, but it really isn’t integrated into how I use Weight Watchers.  That is, my Activity Points don’t really make in difference in what I eat or how much I eat.

I could envision some ways that Activity Points could be made more meaningful and could integrate into the plan in a more substantial manner.  For example, Weight Watchers could go back to having a daily points range and get rid of Weekly Points with anything above that earned through activity.  Right now, when you are on Weight Watchers, you get a set amount of Daily Points Plus (I get 26, which is the minimum — this varies with your age, height, and weight) and you get 49 Weekly Points which you can eat during the week (or not).  Importantly, if it is the first day of your Weight Watchers week you can eat all 49 points if you want to.  Back in the day, though, you used to get a point range for each day.  You could eat anywhere in the range and you could bank unused points for another day.  And, you could earn additional points through activity.  If it was day one of your week, the only way to eat above your range (and stay on plan) was to earn points through activity. Of course, if Weight Watchers went back to that, then it wouldn’t be the biggest change in 50 years….

So, it won’t be that.  But, I do wonder if they will do something to make Activity Points more necessary.  I, personally, would like it so that certain foods could only be eaten through Weekly Points or Activity Points.  For example, if I have a chocolate chip cookie it would have to be eaten from one of those and not as part of Daily Points.  Daily Points would be reserved for healthier food.  Unfortunately, I don’t expect to see that either.  I just don’t know what they plan to do with the fitness part.

So, what is the biggest change in 50 years?  What is the biggest breakthrough in Weight Watchers history? No clue.

Signed,

Anxiously awaiting December 6th.  (I usually go to Saturday meetings, so I wouldn’t usually go to my  meeting that week until the 12th.  I’ve already told my husband that we’ll be going to the Sunday morning meeting instead that week).

Comments

  1. Kate Mayer says

    I was wondering if you have any insight into the AZ franchise and if they are planning on moving into the digital age. It is a little bizarre in this day and age to still see a tupperware container holding cards as a matter of booking. I know not relevant to losing weight but I have always been curious! BTW I do enjoy your blog and always find them to b on point (no pun intended!).

    • says

      Wow! I think that franchise locations don’t always have to do things the same way as those owned directly by WW. Could it be that they don’t want to invest the costs to upgrade their locations to be able to do things by computer? If it was me, I would probably contact the franchise and ask and maybe give them feedback to encourage them to join the modern world…. May not do much, but if enough people say something maybe it would help…

  2. cathy moore says

    i have been following you for more info. i am waiting for new program to join
    again!!! anyway, with the mention i have been seeing is count sat fat and sugar. sat fat is already counted under total fat. and sugar is under the carb heading. if i count carbs and sugar. it will add more than there really is. i am diabetic so carbs are very important because of the sugar being in the group. that’s where i am having trouble seeing counting it all.
    but, we just wait and see. this is the tightest i have seen WW keep a new program in the dark until reveal day. i google it all the time to finds leaks. not much longer. they shut down allot of locations around me this summer. so will have to travel further. we here are franchise locations.
    thanks for your postings.

    • says

      My guess is that they would adjust the formula to account for also counting saturated fats and carbs. And, I agree that I haven’t seen it be as hard to get good information as before. And, it is interesting to me that some people got an email from Weight Watchers about it being the biggest change in 50 years, but other (such as me) didn’t receive it.

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