Oprah Winfrey revealed this week that she lost more than 40 pounds, and she did it using one of the most popular weight loss programs out there: Weight Watchers.
History of Weight Watchers
Weight Watchers has been a powerful and effective tool in the fight against obesity since the program was founded in 1963 by Jean Nidetch, a self-described “overweight housewife obsessed with cookies.”
How does Weight Watchers measure up?
Weight Watchers works by using what it calls “SmartPoints,” where one number represents each food and drink’s calories, saturated fat, sugar and protein.
When US News and World Report ranked 35 of the most popular diets, Weight Watchers tied for fourth place overall — and No. 1 for weight loss. (The diets taking the No. 1 and No. 2 spots overall were the DASH diet, MIND diet and TLC diet.)
U.S. News called Weight Watchers “effective,” highlighting the upside that you can eat what you want and that no foods are off-limits. Downsides include the program’s price and tedious point tallying.
“It’s based in real life, real food, real living,” Gary Foster, Weight Watchers’ chief scientific officer said last year. “We’re not a brand about exclusion, saying ‘you must eat this’ and ‘you can’t eat that.’ You’re in charge of what’s in and what’s out.”
If you restrict eating to certain foods or certain times of the day, said Foster, you might get people to eat less, but the results are short lived. They’ll put the weight right back on.
“Broadly, reality not meeting expectations is what trips people up,” said Foster. “The most common example is when people have unrealistic notions of what the weight loss journey will be — that they’ll lose the same amount (of weight) every single week, or eat perfectly every single day. Life gets in the way. Teaching people a different mindset around that and being aware of your thinking style is key. ‘All or none’ is not good for weight, relationships or work performance.”
“The other thing is to not be so myopically focused on the scale,” said Foster. “It’s a piece of metal that gives you a number and is fraught with disappointment. It’s not a good measure in the short term. It’s better over the long term. Non-scale victories like looking better, feeling better, fitting into a smaller jean size” are far more important milestones.
The Oprah Effect
On November 15, 1988, Oprah opened an episode of her show titled “Diet Dreams Come True” by revealing her new slim figure. She showed — not just told — her audience how much weight she lost by wheeling 67 pounds of fat on stage in a bright red Radio Flyer wagon.
“This has been the most difficult thing I have ever done in my life,” Winfrey said. “Those of you who are starting dieting — this is what 67 pounds of fat looks like. … It’s amazing to me that I can’t lift it, but I used to carry it around every day. When you talk about making yourself the best you can be, I’m glad I did this for my heart, because my poor heart had to send blood to all of this. It’s shocking to me.”
The future of weight loss
“In the end, weight loss isn’t what people are pursuing anymore,” said Foster. “People are no longer saying … ‘I want to lose 20 pounds.’ They say, ‘What I’m after is a healthier, happier life.'”
“Most weight-loss doctors and dieticians say it’s one of the strongest programs out there,” said Jampolis. “There’s a lot of positive potential. It’s a very good program that could potentially be made better with (Oprah’s) guidance.”