Looking Beyond The Scale: Did Weight Watchers Hit The Nail On The Head?

How many of you are sick and tired of fixating on the number on the bathroom scale? Enter the new Weight Watchers program Beyond the Scale.

February 12, 2016
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How many of you are sick and tired of fixating on the number on the bathroom scale? Statistically speaking, fewer individuals are interested in losing weight and dieting these days, and programs all over are undergoing some serious cosmetic makeovers of their own.

The trouble with diets is that they are, by nature, restrictive. They focus a lot on what we “can’t” have and don’t teach us very much about nutrition along the way. Too often, the diet ends and we wind up right back where we started.

Enter the new Weight Watchers program Beyond the Scale. Weight Watchers became famous for its combination of in-person meetings and point-counting system. It has been touted for decades as a “non-diet,” but with a name like “Weight Watchers,” no one would argue that the focus has still, first and foremost, been that bathroom scale.

Beyond the Scale, they say, is different. It claims to focus more on overall health and well-being versus strict weight loss. SmartPoints replace PointsPlus, so you’re still counting, but the values change. They’re now based on saturated fat, sugar, calories, and protein; and you’re given a weekly “splurge” allowance tailored to you as an individual. There is also a No Count option, where you follow a list of healthy foods, and you’re given a weekly point allowance for items not on the list.

So, how does the program stack up?

THE PROS

According to the rejuvenated program, individuals are losing weight and report feeling more energy and less hunger, both very important factors for sustainable lifestyle changes.

The new point system also really goes after sugar. I’m not often one for demonizing any single nutrient or ingredient, but this is a marked departure from the low-fat diet craze of the ’90s from which this society is still recovering. I still find most “diet” or “healthy” products to be low in nutrients, with most of the calories coming from refined carbohydrates and sugar. Not being particularly unhealthy is not the same as being actively nutritious, and I appreciate that the new program seems to recognize that.

THE CONS

The fact that Beyond the Scale places such a strong emphasis on wholesome, nutrient-dense foods has been a turn-off for many individuals. Anecdotally, it feels at times more restrictive (“diet-like”) than before for anyone used to a diet full of more processed foods. These foods now count for more points than before, so fitting them in on a daily basis becomes more difficult. At first, I thought this sounded like a good thing, but it’s true that some people may not be quite ready to go from one extreme to the other, and perhaps the old point system was a better transition for them.

I also have a bone to pick with the program’s heavy focus on lean protein. This is a cornerstone of almost every traditional diet: low carbohydrate, high protein. While it’s true that getting enough is crucial for overall health and satiety (helping you feel fuller, longer), any excess that you eat is likely to be converted to fat, and very few people in Western countries are protein deficient.

There are other questionable results of this new SmartPoints system. It still steers people toward processed ingredients like zero-calorie sweeteners and other additives, because these products are low in sugar and calories. Then, there’s the fact that nutritious foods like plain, non-fat Greek yogurt and peanut butter actually went up a point with the new system, while empty calories like white wine went down slightly. In fact, both a skinless chicken thigh and a serving of Breyer’s coffee ice cream are five points, but I don’t think you need to guess which one this dietitian would recommend you eat more often.

THE BOTTOM LINE: FIT OR FLOP?

Let’s be clear: I have never been on Weight Watchers. I did not try the new Beyond the Scale program personally. For all of the hype surrounding its revolutionary, holistic approach, though…it reads a lot like the same program in a shiny new wrapper. For that, I’m inclined to give it a FLOP.

However, Weight Watchers can also be an accessible introduction to a healthy lifestyle, and that’s crucial. It provides guidance and support, and if nothing else, Beyond the Scale has ignited the conversation that health is about more than some number on the bathroom scale. The execution may be a little rough around the edges, but it’s a step in the right direction.

Counting SmartPoints could be your starting point, but remember, no one can or should spend the rest of her life counting points. Think of Beyond the Scale as your nutritional training wheels.

At some point, each at our own pace, we must learn to ride without them.

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