BEYOND WEIGHT WATCHERS: Does Weight Watchers Help You Prevent A Heart Attack?

By Janet Brill, Ph.D., R.D., LDN
NABBW’s Healthy Heart Lifestyle Expert

Weight Watchers (WW) has got to be doing something right. WW, now Weight Watchers International Inc., is the world\’s largest and most successful commercial weight loss program. It all began in 1961, when an overweight housewife named Jean Nidetch, living in Queens New York, organized small group meetings with her overweight friends to provide each other with mutual support and to, well, discuss weight loss. In 1963, Weight Watchers incorporated and the rest is history.

The philosophy of WW has remained fairly consistent over the years despite changes in the actual food program guidelines. The program has always been based on sound nutrition science, recommending a balanced intake of foods within a specified calorie intake level. Exercise is always encouraged which is a tremendous plus. Perhaps the genius of WW is the simplified techniques that have been well accepted by the public-methods that translate the complex caloric intake of food into an easy-to-understand and follow systematic tool whereby ultimately you learn to control portion sizes. Building on this concept, and addressing some of the criticism leveled at the original Points system,

WW recently unveiled the new Weight Watchers POINTS PLUS™ plan. Here are the two major changes in the program interpreted from a Nutritionist\’s point of view:

  1. You get MORE points (food) in the new plan (both daily and weekly totals) giving you a bigger budget. However, the new PointsPlus™ system takes into account the macronutrient composition of each food (carbs, fat and protein) as well as fiber content-so all foods are assigned new values based on the latest science showing that foods high in protein and fiber cost the body more calories to assimilate. So lean proteins and foods high in fiber now cost you less points.
  2. The beauty of the new plan is in the “free” food category meaning you get more “free foods.”-translation: eat pretty much as much as you want of these foods without counting them! All fruits and most veggies now count as a PointsPlus™ value of 0. A wonderful addition to the old plan as it will encourage people to eat more fruits and veggies — disease-prevention superfoods that we are sorely under-consumed in this country.

Although WW does provide “Good Health Guidelines” recommendations, many people may still find it difficult to eat healthfully as WW does not specify which unhealthy foods to avoid. Therefore, one could easily eat an artery-clogging diet and still lose weight on WW-a fact that vividly illustrates that losing weight and eating a heart-healthy diet are two separate endeavors, and that one must practice separate strategies to attain success in each. Case in point: you could very easily use up your PointsPlus™ values on junk foods (although not recommended) and lose weight as long as you attained your daily PointsPlus™ target number.

In short, your best bet for losing weight AND eating to prevent heart disease is to track your foods (and portion sizes) using the WW plan in addition to following the specific eating suggestions outlined in my book Prevent a Second Heart Attack. The book presents foods to avoid eating (foods that harm the arteries) as well as the eight foods and food groups that have been scientifically proven to heal the arteries and prevent atherosclerosis (the process of plaque buildup and the root cause of heart disease). Combine these eating strategies with daily exercise and you will be doing what it takes to prevent heart disease, the number one killer of American men and women.

©2011, Dr. Janet Brill Janet Bond Brill, Ph.D., R.D., LDN is author of the new book, “Prevent a Second Heart Attack, 8 Foods, 8 Weeks to Reverse Heart Disease” (Random House/Crown Publishing; 2011; $15.00) and “Cholesterol Down: 10 Simple Steps to Lower Your Cholesterol in 4 Weeks Without Prescription Drugs” (Random House/Crown Publishing; 2006; $13.95). Dr. Brill is a leading diet and nutrition author, educator and practitioner. She consults for the health and fitness industry specializing in cardiovascular disease prevention. She is the nutrition expert for the national television show, The Balancing Act. For more info on her books, please visit: www.DrJanet.com or www.PreventaSecondHeartAttack.com

Dr. Janet is a nationally recognized expert in the field of health, wellness and cardiovascular disease prevention and is frequently sought after by the media as a trusted source of nutrition and fitness information. Janet holds master’s degrees in both nutrition and exercise physiology and a doctorate in exercise physiology. She is a registered dietitian and certified by the American College of Sports Medicine, National Strength and Conditioning Association, and Wellcoaches, Inc.