Weight Watchers is a popular weight loss program that has been around since 1963.
Compared with many other diet programs, Weight Watchers is known for its effective yet flexible plan in which no foods are off-limits.
While the program isn’t specifically designed for type 2 diabetes, you may wonder whether Weight Watchers is a good option since it may facilitate weight loss and healthier lifestyle habits.
This article reviews how Weight Watchers may be tailored to people with diabetes, its effectiveness for this condition, and any potential downsides.
Weight Watchers is a weight loss program in which members track SmartPoints — a number allotted to foods and beverages based on their nutritional value.
Members log both their food intake and exercise using the Weight Watchers app or website. The base program also offers additional resources, including workout videos, healthy recipes, and online support forums.
For those who need additional support, optional add-ons include weekly workshops and one-on-one health coaching.
The current program, known as myWW, is the most personalized and flexible Weight Watchers plan to date, as you can choose from one of three plans based on your weight loss goals, lifestyle, activity level, and eating habits.
Is there a specific diabetes program?
Historically, some employer health plans offered specific “Weight Watchers for diabetes” programs for employees with prediabetes or type 2 diabetes.
Through these programs, eligible employees could enroll in Weight Watchers and receive additional support from a certified diabetes educator (CDE) — a healthcare professional trained to counsel those with type 2 diabetes.
While some employers may still offer this benefit, no official “Weight Watchers for diabetes” program is currently available for the general public.
Instead, those with type 2 diabetes simply sign up for myWW like any other member by using the self-assessment tool.
Weight Watchers does offer additional educational materials for members with type 2 diabetes. Still, these resources aren’t meant to replace the recommendations made by your doctor or registered dietitian (RD).
While Weight Watchers doesn’t offer a specific program for diabetes, the company provides members who have type 2 diabetes with additional educational materials. The program isn’t a replacement for care from a qualified healthcare provider.
Weight Watchers encourages weight loss by counting SmartPoints, which are assigned to foods and beverages based on their calorie, saturated fat, sugar, and protein content.
There are also ZeroPoint foods, which don’t count toward your daily SmartPoints budget.
The number of SmartPoints allotted depends on several factors, including your age, height, weight, weight loss goals, and myWW plan. Members are given extra points each week to use on special occasions or indulgences.
Users are able to log their food and exercise using the Weight Watchers app or website to make sure that they aren’t exceeding their daily SmartPoint allowance.
Currently, you can choose between three myWW plans, each of which differs in the number of daily SmartPoints and ZeroPoint foods.
The Green Plan, formerly known as Smartpoints Beyond the Scale, offers the highest number of SmartPoints. However, it also has the fewest number of ZeroPoint foods — about 100 — which are primarily fruits and non-starchy vegetables.
As it requires you to track everything you eat and drink, the Green Plan is designed for those who need more accountability to be successful.
The Blue Plan, formerly known as Freestyle Smartpoints, is a middle-of-the-road option with fewer SmartPoints than the Green Plan but more ZeroPoint foods.
It includes about 200 ZeroPoint foods, which include items like lean proteins, non-starchy vegetables, fruits, most seafood and shellfish, lentils, beans, nonfat dairy, and eggs.
Finally, the Purple Plan provides the lowest allotment of SmartPoints per day. It offers over 300 ZeroPoint foods, including lean proteins, eggs, seafood, shellfish, tofu, fruits, starchy and non-starchy vegetables, beans, and some whole grains.
This plan is designed for members who don’t want to track everything they eat or drink and instead simply need help with keeping indulgences like desserts or wine in check.
Members with type 2 diabetes are encouraged to have their healthcare provider review their myWW plan to ensure that they pick the best option for their overall diabetes treatment.
Weight Watchers encourages weight loss and healthier eating using a point-based system. The company’s current program, myWW, includes three plans to choose from based on your needs and preferences.
A 12-month study in 225 people with prediabetes found that those following Weight Watchers lost significantly more weight than those who followed a diet developed by the National Diabetes Education Program (5).
Those in the Weight Watchers group also had significantly greater improvements in HbA1c and HDL (good) cholesterol levels (5).
In another study, 563 adults with type 2 diabetes were assigned to either standard nutrition counseling or Weight Watchers with at least two counseling sessions from a CDE (6).
After 12 months, those in the Weight Watchers plus CDE group lost significantly more weight and had greater improvements in HbA1c levels than those receiving standard care (6).
Yet, the study also found that those in the Weight Watchers group who received fewer than two CDE consultations showed significantly less improvement in HbA1c levels than those who had at least two sessions — suggesting that counseling plays a major role (6).
As myWW doesn’t include counseling from a CDE, this study highlights the importance of combining Weight Watchers with additional diabetes care from an RD or other qualified health professional.
Keep in mind that both studies were funded by Weight Watchers, which may have affected the results.
In addition to weight loss, myWW may help you make healthier food choices and get regular physical activity — both of which have been shown to help manage and reduce complications of type 2 diabetes (2, 7, 8).
Research has shown Weight Watchers helps people with prediabetes or type 2 diabetes lose weight and improve their blood sugar management. Best results were seen when the program was combined with counseling by a CDE.
While myWW may aid weight loss, the program doesn’t include counseling by a CDE and isn’t specifically designed for those with type 2 diabetes.
As a result, members with diabetes should keep in mind that while SmartPoints take sugar content into account, they don’t limit the number of carbs you eat per day.
In fact, depending on your myWW plan, many high carb foods are considered ZeroPoint items. For example, fruits are considered to have zero points on all three plans.
Therefore, if you’re only paying attention to your number of SmartPoints, you may still eat more carbs per meal or snack than your healthcare provider recommends.
As a result, Weight Watchers may not be the best option for those who need a diet that’s stricter in carbs, nor those who struggle to limit their intake of carb-heavy ZeroPoint foods.
Additionally, Weight Watchers may not be ideal for people who are newly diagnosed with type 2 diabetes and require more specific education on the role of diet in blood sugar management.
Furthermore, as the program’s health coaches aren’t CDEs, any questions or concerns you have regarding your blood sugar levels and diabetes medications need to be discussed with your healthcare provider.
What’s more, plans cost $12–$30 per month, depending on whether you opt for add-ons. Thus, Weight Watchers may be unnecessarily expensive, especially if your insurance already covers nutritional counseling from an RD.
Finally, tracking and recording what you eat may be time-consuming and make compliance difficult for some people.
Weight Watchers is not a diabetes-specific program and shouldn’t replace care or recommendations from a qualified healthcare provider. It may not be a good fit for those who are newly diagnosed with type 2 diabetes or on a tight budget.
No foods are banned on myWW. Instead, certain foods are encouraged over others. In particular, foods that are high in calories, saturated fat, and added sugar are often assigned higher SmartPoints.
Generally, foods that are encouraged on myWW are also recommended for people with type 2 diabetes. Still, it’s important to discuss the appropriate portion sizes of these foods with a CDE or your endocrinologist.
Foods to eat
On Weight Watchers, ZeroPoint foods don’t contribute to your daily allotment of SmartPoints.
While the number and types of ZeroPoints foods vary depending on the myWW plan you choose, these foods are generally high in protein and fiber and low in added sugars and saturated fat.
If you’re following Weight Watchers for diabetes, you’re encouraged to focus on these foods:
- Non-starchy vegetables: broccoli, cauliflower, asparagus, eggplant, leafy greens, carrots, peppers, onions
- Low sugar fruits: berries, apples, pears, oranges, plums, peaches
- Proteins: chicken, turkey, fish, shellfish, eggs, tofu, tempeh, lean cuts of beef and pork
- Legumes: beans, lentils, edamame
- Whole grains: oats, quinoa, brown rice, barley, buckwheat, freekeh
- Dairy products: low fat milk, plain Greek yogurt, plain soy yogurt
- Beverages: water, unsweetened tea and coffee, sugar-free drinks
While some carb-rich foods are considered ZeroPoint items, it’s important to be mindful of how many of these foods you eat for optimal blood sugar management.
Foods to limit
While Weight Watchers doesn’t ban foods, you’re encouraged to limit foods that are high in SmartPoints, as they contain more sugar, saturated fat, and calories.
Examples of foods to limit include:
- Sweets: candy, cake, cookies, baked goods, pastries, ice cream
- Highly processed snack foods: chips, crackers, microwave popcorn
- Processed meats: hot dogs, sausages, bologna, salami, prepackaged deli meats, bacon, beef jerky
- Sugar-sweetened beverages: soda, sweetened fruit juice, sports drinks, energy drinks, sweet tea, sweetened coffee shop drinks
There are no off-limit foods on Weight Watchers for diabetes. In general, whole foods like veggies and lean proteins are encouraged, while foods high in calories, saturated fat, and added sugars are discouraged.
Weight Watchers may be a good option for those with type 2 diabetes looking to lose weight and learn more about healthy eating habits.
Additionally, with three plans to choose from, myWW allows you to pick a plan that fits your lifestyle and needs, which may help support long-term compliance.
Still, it’s important to know that Weight Watchers is designed as a weight loss program for the general population. As a result, those with type 2 diabetes should continue to receive regular care from their healthcare provider.
Furthermore, research suggests that combining the program with regular counseling from a CDE is more beneficial for managing diabetes than following Weight Watchers on its own.
Especially as carbs aren’t specifically counted — and some high carb foods are considered ZeroPoint foods — working with a CDE may further personalize your myWW plan to support optimal blood sugar management.
Weight Watchers may be a good option for those with diabetes who are already receiving care from a qualified healthcare provider and looking for additional help with their weight and blood sugar management.
While no specific Weight Watchers plan for type 2 diabetes exists, research suggests that the program may aid weight loss and blood sugar management, especially when combined with additional counseling from a CDE.
The program uses a point-based system to help you make healthier food choices that are low in calories, saturated fat, and added sugars.
Overall, it may be a good option for those looking to better manage their diabetes through weight loss and healthier lifestyle habits. Still, before starting Weight Watchers, make sure to discuss any dietary changes with your healthcare provider.