Why Does WW Change to a New Plan?
I keep seeing people wondering why Weight Watchers has come out with a new plan. Whenever Weight Watchers come out with a new plan, I inevitably see two comments. The first one usually goes this way: I was losing weight on the old plan. Why is Weight Watchers fixing what isn’t broken?
The second comment I see goes like this: Weight Watchers is only changing the plan so it can make more money. It gets a lot of money from people buying new calculators, new books, new starter kits, and so on.
With Beyond the Scale, I’m seeing both of those comments. While there may be a grain of truth in each of these comments, I largely disagree with them.
Whenever Weight Watchers changes its plan, some people who have been successful on the “old” plan will object to any change. I can understand that, to a point. I have been a Weight Watchers member since 1988. When I joined Weight Watchers used exchanges. I got to lifetime using exchanges. I regained some weight, got married, had a baby, gained some more weight….and went back to Weight Watchers. I was shocked when I went back to find that Weight Watchers had moved to a points plan. It seemed unnecessary to me. I knew that exchanges worked. After all, I had gotten to lifetime using them. I felt very insecure in moving from something that had worked for me in the past to something that might or might not work for me. So, yes, I understand the resistance to change.
It is easy to attribute a change of program to economic motivations on the part of Weight Watchers. This has a grain of truth in it. Weight Watchers absolutely hopes that a new plan will bring in new members, bring back old members and will help it to make money. I agree that is true. In fact, if I was a stockholder of Weight Watchers (I’m not), I would be pretty angry if Weight Watchers management wasn’t trying to make a profit! So, yes, Weight Watchers wants to make money with any new program.
And, frankly, loyal Weight Watchers members should want Weight Watchers to make money. It is no secret that Weight Watchers has had some financial woes. There was been speculation that Weight Watchers might not be able to survive financially. One of the reasons the Oprah investment is a big deal is that it might help Weight Watchers to turn around financially. If we like Weight Watchers and value its program and like its meetings, then we should want it to be profitable so that it will survive.
That said, I certainly also wish that Weight Watchers would give existing members a discount on things like a new calculator or new scale…without us having to buy a starter kit that may be useless to us. I paid the full $9.95 for the handheld calculator and decided the new scale was too expensive…especially since I have two Weight Watchers scales at home (they just function as scales now, and don’t help with calculating points). I realize some of this may go on sale later, but it would have been nice for it to be half price for existing member for the first month or something. Some UK members said they were able to turn in of their old stuff for new stuff. But, I haven’t had that option in the United States. (And, no, Weight Watchers can’t make it so your old calculator will work on this program. The formula for SmartPoints is different and the handheld calculator can’t be reprogrammed). So, yes, Weight Watchers could give more help to existing members to help them transition to a new program.
The real question, though, isn’t whether Weight Watchers wants to make money with a new plan (the answer is yes). The real question is whether that is the only reason Weight Watchers changes its program. That is, does Weight Watchers replace a perfectly good program with a new program just so it can make more money?
I would argue that the answer is no. Weight Watchers has reasons for changing it program. The fact is that science progresses and, over time, more is learned about effective weight loss and more is learned about what is healthy eating. It is easy to not want to change the program if you have been successful on it. But, there are two other points to look at. First, maybe a new program will help even more people be successful. Second, maybe changing the program will help people to lose weight, while eating in a heathier way.
I’m sure that many people were successful on the pre-exchange Weight Watchers program. That program was very restrictive in what you could eat. Many foods were forbidden entirely. You had to eat liver every week. That would have been a deal breaker for me. I’m sure that when Weight Watchers switched to exchanges there were many people who didn’t like it because they were happy with the old program. But, the reality is that the new program was a better program.
I liked exchanges and did well on it and got to lifetime. But, honestly, SmartPoints is better. Exchanges made it hard to eat even healthy fats. While you could eat any food, you had to spend most of your exchanges on certain things. If you didn’t like bread, it was hard to eat on that program. And, the exchange program would be considered outdated by what we now know about nutrition and weight loss.
If Weight Watchers didn’t change its program over time, we wouldn’t all be eating PointsPlus. We would still be eating a very restricted food list and would be eating liver every week! I don’t want to go back to the 1960s version of a weight loss diet. I don’t even want to go back to the exchange system of the 1990s, even though I did well on it back in that day.
PointsPlus had a lot going for it. But, in reality, it was still basically a calorie counting program that penalized all fats (plus penalized all carbs a little bit). It has taken years, but finally Weight Watchers is recognizing that not all fats are the same. Some of them don’t really need to be penalized. And, Weight Watchers has woken up and smelled the coffee and realized that people are eating too much sugar and that they would be healthier eating less of it.
Some members don’t like it that some high sugar foods are high in SmartPoints. I get that. I understand it can be difficult when a food has suddenly doubled in points. Maybe you could eat that food several times a week and now you can eat it once a week. The thing is that if the food has suddenly doubled in points …then the reality is that it is probably not a food that you should be eating very often. A Cinnamon Crunch Bagel from Panera is now 17 SmartPoints. It used to be 11 PointsPlus. I won’t eat it very often. And, you know what? It is a high sugar food that it really isn’t healthy for me to eat. I am better off not eating it. And, I like that Weight Watchers is giving me that information by telling me that bagel now costs more than half my daily points. I can still eat it, but the high points lets me know that this really isn’t a very healthy food to eat.
I know some feel that the beauty of Weight Watchers is that there are no forbidden foods. And, now, they feel that they have to change how they eat and they don’t like it. The fact is that while there are no forbidden foods, that doesn’t mean that every food is equally good to eat. 300 calories of chicken breast is healthier to eat than 300 calories of chocolate cake.
With SmartPoints, Weight Watchers has looked at the current nutritional science and recognizes that it isn’t just low calories that matter. What you eat matters. So, yes, it was high time to change the program to reflect how weight loss science and nutrition science has advanced. Some fats are healthy and don’t need to be penalized. Reducing added sugar is good for health. SmartPoints reflects that, while PointsPlus really didn’t do so to the same extent.
I want Weight Watchers to stay up to date and I want it to be willing to change the plan as needed to reflect better science. I know the transition can be difficult and some people will have to change what they eat by a lot. And, there will be members who don’t want to do that. And, that is fine. Not every weight loss program works well for every person. I am sure that a low-fat weight loss program works well for some people, but I’m never signing up for that program as it doesn’t suit me. I am perhaps fortunate that SmartPoints aligns closely with my nutritional goals (more protein, less sugar). So, this program will likely work well for me.
The point is not that this program will be the best weight loss program for everyone. It won’t be. Personal preference matters. But, to me, this program comes closer to supporting the current nutrition science and is a better program because it is more grounded in current science. And, Weight Watchers has good reasons to change the program to reflect that science. Is it perfect? No. But, I am glad that Weight Watchers moves along with the times. And, if it makes so more money while doing it, then it makes it more likely Weight Watchers will be around for the long haul, so I’m OK with that, too.