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What are Weight Watchers points and how do they help you lose weight?

Here’s what you need to know about the point system behind the popular weight-loss and wellness program.
fruit and vegetables on peach surface
There are many foods with zero points — you can eat them without measuring or tracking them. Maren Caruso / Getty Images

WW — formerly Weight Watchers — consistently ranks in the top ten when it comes to best diet plans, according to U.S. News & World Report. Experts — and those who use the system — like the fact that there are no hard-and-fast restrictions on what you can or can't eat. Instead, the plan uses a point system to help you keep track of what you’re eating in order to optimize weight loss. But does Weight Watchers help people maintain a healthy weight in the long term?

The program has a lot of celebrity endorsements —Katie Lee, Ross Matthews and Ciara are all ambassadors. But Weight Watchers successes aren't limited to the rich and famous. The program has had solid results for regular people, too. For example, a woman who lost 65 pounds in a year using WW shared her success story with TODAY.

How does Weight Watchers work?

You begin the program with an online personal assessment. Basically, you answer a few questions about your nutrition, activity, sleep, and mindset that help WW guide you towards features that will work for you. The app will create a personalized, optimized plan for you that you can follow on your own. You can also attend optional virtual or in-person WW meetings.

What are Weight Watchers Workshops?

Workshops are 30-minute meetings designed to help members stay on track. You've probably seen some depiction of the "weigh in" moment in a movie or on T.V. — Betty Draper famously joined Weight Watchers in season 5 of Mad Men. But unlike in the movies, you don't actually get weighed and berated in front of a room of strangers. Each person steps onto a scale privately, talks to a coach about how they're doing and then joins the group to get advice from other members and coaches in the Weight Watchers community. Online workshops are available as well.

How much does Weight Watchers cost?

Weight Watchers has a flexible pricing structure. The more time you commit to the program, the less expensive it is per month.

Core digital membership — the least expensive access via the WW app — costs:

  • $43 for 1 month
  • $15 a month for 3 months ($45 total)
  • $10 a month for 10 months ($100 total)

The WW app Core membership plan includes a nutrition plan based on your questionnaire, trackers, recipes and 24/7 coach support.

If you want to be able to join WW Workshops — live and online coaching sessions and classes, you have to join at the Premium membership tier. Again, the more time you're willing to commit, the less you'll pay per month.

Premium membership costs:

  • $65 for 1 month
  • $30 a month for 3 months ($90 total)
  • $25 a month for 10 months ($250 total)

The Premium plan includes everything in the Core plan and you can attend live coaching sessions via the WW app or in person and a WW Studio. There are WW Studios all over the country and a lot of people benefit from having community when they're trying to make lifestyle changes, so while the cost is significantly higher for Premium membership, there's also more support.

What is the WW points system?

A crucial part of the WW program is Weight Watchers points — also called the WW Points system. The points system assigns a number of points to every food and beverage based on the amount of calories, sugar, protein and saturated fat they contain. The WW allowance calculator on the app will tell you how many points you can afford to use each day using your personal assessment, goals, gender, and current height and weight. Points are personalized and there's a range of points per day.

What do experts think about the points system?

“The points system is designed to help you build awareness of foods that give you some satisfaction at different calorie, fiber, and protein levels,” Samantha Cassetty, a registered dietitian based in New York City and the coauthor of “Sugar Shock,” told TODAY.

Cassetty goes on to point out that the only way to lose weight is to promote a calorie deficit. “The easiest way to do that — not that it is easy — is to learn to be satisfied with foods that also help you reduce your calorie load,” she said.

How do you calculate Weight Watchers points?

It starts with calories, but that’s not all that counts. Foods high in saturated fat and sugar get higher points while foods that are high in protein get fewer points. Sugar is also taken into consideration.

The easiest way to figure out how many points a food or drink costs is to use the calculator on the WW app. There are also online calculators made by WW enthusiasts, and some enterprising WW-ers calim to have cracked the code on the points formula if you want to do a lot of math using nutrition labels.

How many Weight Watchers points are you allowed in a day?

The short answer is that it depends on a number of factors, including age, gender and activity level. Again, since WW is so popular, you will find a lot of off-brand advice on how to calculate your points. But it really only takes a few minutes to get an official number using the WW calculator.

The average WW points allowance is about 23. If you were allotted 23 points a day, here’s what you could eat:

  • A ham-and-cheese omelet for breakfast (3 points).
  • Apple cider chicken salad for lunch (4 points).
  • Filet mignon with herb sauce and a light beer for dinner (9 points).
  • Chocolate chile cookies and a cup of low-fat milk for a snack (7 points).

You also get an allotment of weekly points and can earn additional points by tracking healthy activities.

What can’t you eat on Weight Watchers?

No foods are off-limits. But if you choose food with higher points, you’ll want to balance it with lower-point foods to stay within your total limit.

Some foods have zero points

Which foods are zero points for Weight Watchers? There are many foods with zero points — you can eat them without measuring or tracking them. That doesn’t mean you can gorge yourself on them. But most of us aren't likely to overindulge on blueberries, lean protein, coleslaw mix or spinach, anyways.

Different WW plans give you a different ratio of points and zero-point foods. The various plans give you more flexibility or more structure, whichever works best for you to meet your goals. The plans include from 100 to more than 300 zero-point foods — fruits, veggies, lean proteins and whole grains.

Here’s what the experts like about Weight Watchers points

Dietitians pointed to several factors that can make the WW points system a good choice:

  • It’s based in science. Bonnie Taub-Dix, RDN, author of “Read It Before You Eat It: Taking You from Label to Table,” told TODAY, “I applaud WW for going with the science.”
  • No foods are off-limits. “To take care of yourself and lose weight, all foods can fit. That’s been my philosophy as a counselor my entire career,” Taub-Dix said. “Not having an ‘allowed’ list and an ‘avoid’ list is a positive attribute.”
  • It goes beyond simply tracking calories. Taub-Dix especially likes how saturated fats are factored into the points system: “The focus on saturated fat is good, especially now with so many popular diets like keto encouraging higher saturated fat intake. I’m glad WW is still focusing on saturated fat.”
  • It can be easier to track points than calories. “Points for many people are an easy route to help them lose weight and eat better. Numbers like 1, 2, 3 and 4 are easier than calories,” Taub-Dix said.
  • It can teach you about healthy food choices. Cassetty notes that along with your diet, things like exercise, sleep, and stress also contribute to your overall health. (The WW program can help you improve in those areas.) That said, the points system can help with the food aspect of your health and wellness. “It highlights the fact that foods with high points might not be filling,” Cassetty said.

The downsides of the Weight Watchers point system

The points system may not work for everyone. Here are a few downsides dietitians pointed out:

  • Tracking points can get tiresome. Cassetty said a downside of points is that it can be exhausting for people to track. “WW does try to address that. There are certain foods you don’t have to track,” she said. “People get burned out on tracking.” Taub-Dix agreed: “This is not for people who don’t want to get involved in math at all, even though counting points is simple.”
  • You can make poor nutritional choices. Like counting calories, counting points can promote less healthy food choices. “If you’re always trying to stay within a certain number of points or calories, you’re not necessarily thinking about the quality of foods you eat,” Cassetty said. “I’ve seen people go down that road of eating a lot of lower-point processed foods rather than addressing their snack habit.”

The bottom line

WW points might help you meet your wellness and weight-loss goals long term. It really depends on what you want to achieve and what changes can fit into your lifestyle. “If you are going to pick a plan to eat healthier, whether to lose weight or not, you need to find something you can incorporate into your life, not change your life for,” Taub-Dix said. If you want to be part of a community of people who are also trying to lose weight, WW might be for you.