Our new program: Taking Weight Watchers to the Next Level

David Kirchhoff, President and CEO of Weight Watchers International, introduces the new PointsPlus™ program.

Why change a great program?

We first launched the POINTS® program in 1997, and it marked a whole new era for Weight Watchers. The POINTS program took a major step forward in helping our members by providing a tool to guide healthy choices in an infinite array of eating situations. Counting POINTS values provided critical help to our members in:

  • Learning better food choices
  • Learning proper portion size
  • Keeping track of those hidden bites, licks and tastes throughout the day
  • Maintaining an energy deficit

Research has shown that budgeting and keeping track of our food and exercise is a critical part of developing healthier habits and lifestyle change. The currency of the original POINTS formula was based primarily on calories with a penalty for fat and a bonus for fibre. During its 13 years, many, many, many people had terrific success following it. So why change such a great program?

We asked ourselves that very question about three years ago. The simple answer is that understanding about weight loss has grown significantly over the past 10 years. Further, we have grown to learn even more about the difficulty in making healthy choices and achieving sustained weight loss in a food culture that seems to conspire against us. This so-called “obesogenic environment" is one in which we find ourselves surrounded by multiplying food choices in the grocery store and in restaurants. Too many of these choices seem to entice us to excess sugars, fat and sodium as well as ever-increasing portions. All of this began to suggest that we needed a better set of tools to help us cope in our daily world.

Some of the recent areas of advancement in understanding include:

  1. Conversion cost. It has been known for decades that the body has to work harder to process some foods more than others. For example, protein and carbohydrates rich in fibre take much more work to process than refined carbohydrates and fats. This means that some foods leave our bodies with fewer calories to use for fuel. While the knowledge has been there for years, weight-loss diets have traditionally been based simply on calories.
  2. Energy density and satiety. Research has shown that we tend to eat the same volume of food each day. Eating foods that have a low energy density (e.g., relatively few calories per volume of food) leads to having a greater feeling of fullness and satisfaction. Furthermore, research has also shown that some nutrients, particularly protein and fibre, provide greater satiety than others, such as sugars and fat.
  3. Complexity of choice. It’s easy to feel a little overwhelmed each day by the horde of messages, often seemingly conflicting, about the latest nutrition fad. Watch out for saturated fats! Watch your sodium! Carbs are bad! No wait, all fat is bad! Our lives move too fast to think about all of this stuff too much. It would be far better if there were a food plan that did the homework for us.

Knowing all of the above was reason enough for us to recognise the need to give the POINTS program a long awaited refresh. However, the best reason I can think of is this: Empty calories. The bottom line is that an energy deficit is still at the heart of weight loss. The issue is that calorie-counting has become unhelpful. When we have a 100-calorie apple in one hand and a 100-calorie pack of cookies in the other, and we view them as being “the same” because the calories are the same, it says everything that needs to be said about the limitations of just using calories in guiding food choices. We needed a program that recognised that calories are most definitely not created equal. We knew that counting, budgeting and planning still made fundamental sense, but we wanted a better and more accurate currency. We wanted a POINTS formula that was much more “opinionated” about food choices beyond just calories.

Introducing the PointsPlus program

Our new PointsPlus program is by far our biggest advancement since the launch of the POINTS program 13 years ago. It has a completely new formula, a new set of food rules and nutrition guides built into a simple, easy-to-use plan.

Philosophically, the PointsPlus program is allowing us to step in front and into the future. We are taking a stand for unprocessed food. We are taking a stand for fruits and vegetables. We still recognise the need for a lot of flexibility and some indulgences, but just in a much smarter way. It’s a modern approach that gives us all the ammunition we need to survive and thrive in an often unforgiving food culture. It allows us a way of making choices that will leave us feeling satisfied, more energetic, more in control and give us the edge to lose weight and maintain that loss in a healthier, more sustainable lifestyle.

I totally understand that some of you will be excited and eager while others will be stressed and anxious. Change is hard, particularly when you’ve already been having success. But remember, it’s still fundamentally about counting, so it’s not completely different. As well, new PointsPlus values mean a new chance to better understand the choices you are making. It’s an opportunity to dive in and be “new” again. Trust me, you will get the hang of it quickly, and then you will be ready to fly even higher.

For meetings members and Weight Watchers Online subscribers making the transition, here is my advice based on seeing many beta testers of this new program:

  1. Treat it as the all-new program that it is. While the PointsPlus system is still based on counting, the formula underlying it is completely different. This means that most of the values have changed, including your PointsPlus range (which is higher) and the PointsPlus values for most foods (also higher). Avoid the temptation to do a “hybrid” program that uses elements of the old POINTS program and elements of the new PointsPlus program. Trust me, they don’t mix well together.
  2. Enjoy the fact that fruits have a PointsPlus value of 0, but don’t go completely crazy. Only 10 percent of Americans eat the recommended amount of fruit, so most of us are not at risk of eating too much fruit on the new program. However, if you already eat a lot of fruit each day, doubling or tripling that will result in slower weight loss. When in doubt, use common sense, listen to your body’s signals (don't just mindlessly eat fruit because you can), and avoid grazing (one of my personal pitfalls).

If you are new to Weight Watchers or coming back after a long hiatus, I think you will love — and thrive on — this new program.

Welcome to the future!