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Why Weight Watchers May Not Be The Best Diet for PCOS

Why Weight Watchers May Not Be The Best Diet for PCOS

Unfortunately, by the time a lot of women come to The PCOS Nutrition Center, they have already tried -and failed- at least one diet. It is not surprising to hear that many women with PCOS have had a hard time losing weight on commercial diets as many of the diet plans don't address the central cause to the syndrome: insulin resistance.

Weight Watchers, perhaps the most popular commercial diet is one of these. We have had countless women in our office who have said that they have tried Weight Watchers but unlike their friends or family members who were also doing the diet, they weren't having much success at weight loss despite following the diet as prescribed.

In terms of weight loss, there are several reasons why most women with PCOS won't have much success with the Weight Watchers diet:

Focus is on the points, not GI.

While the Weight Watchers diet does advocate the benefits of whole grains, it doesn't focus on the glycemic index (GI). Just because a food is whole grain and low in sugar doesn't mean it will have a low GI. Having a point allowance for the day without much structure could result in a diet that is high in carbohydrates and too low in protein and/or unsaturated fat. When given the choice, most people would rather eat 20 points worth of brownies rather than 20 points worth of turkey.

Unlimited fruits.

Fruits are carbohydrates by nature. Just because fruit contains carbs doesn't make it a "bad" food. Fruits are wonderful for PCOS as they provide numerous health benefits including lowering insulin, blood pressure, cholesterol, and reducing the risk of cancer. The problem with Weight Watchers in regards to PCOS, is that it promotes unlimited fruit. Too much of any food isn't good. Eating too much fruit in your diet, especially high GI fruits or fruit not paired with protein or unsaturated fat will raise insulin levels and affect weight loss efforts.

Promotes overeating.

If points are leftover at the end of the day, even if she isn't hungry, someone may be apt to eat more, just because she doesn't want to waste the points. Same thing with unlimited fruits: some will just want to eat them because they are "free".

Ignores internal regulation.

Like any diet, Weight Watchers ignores our bodies' internal regulation for food. The focus on points pulls one away from internal signals of hunger and fullness. If a person is hungrier one day than the points allow, she either has to "starve" or eat beyond her points. Eating beyond points promotes guilt and the intention to make up the points the next day. This creates a vicious cycle of starving and overeating that leads to eating disorders.

Eating habits are changed forever.

And not for the better. For years after someone gets off of Weight Watchers, the points stay embedded in the brain to haunt him or her. Furthermore, the point system promotes the concept of "good" and "bad" foods (foods that have a low amount of points become the good foods, and vice versa) that will have a lasting impact on eating habits. In fact, much time is given in nutrition counseling sessions to challenge this negative thinking and create a healthier relationship with food.

Ignores individualization.

One diet does not fit all. PCOS is a syndrome that is associated with many other health conditions including insulin resistance, hypothyroidism (low thyroid) and high cholesterol which require more individualized and involved dietary changes that a general commercial diet can provide.

Some women with PCOS may have success following the Weight Watchers diet. In our experience, we have found that Weight Watchers overall isn't the best diet for women with PCOS because of the reasons discussed above. Following a low GI diet with even distribution of carbohydrates are the keys for successful weight loss with PCOS.

What has been your experience with Weight Watchers?

If you are interested in working with our dietitians online or in-person to create an individualized meal plan for you, contact us today at info@PCOSnutrition.com.

COMMENTS (20)

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I had success on WW. Lost 20lbs two years ago and have kept it off. If you attend meetings, the coaches (or whatever they call them)do promote self regulation a lot. In addition, going to the weekly meeting helped me be accoutable and helped me stay on track. I also continue to eat a lot of fruits and vegetables to this day becasue I know through the points system that they are filling w/o a lot of calories.

One down side was that I was replacing a lot of food that I would typically eat with highly processed foods (like frozen meals), that allowed me to lose weight, but I did not feel so great.

Still need to lose another 20lbs though and need motivation to do it the low GI way. Maybe I'll use the Weight watchers meetings for reinforcement while paying closer attention to GI and natural foods.

Posted by: BJS | April 27, 2011, 2:52 pm

While I agree that Weight Watchers may not be the best diet, it certainly isn't a bad option. I have known for years that I needed to go on a low carb, low sugar diet. It wasn't until I joined Weight Watchers that I really had the motivation for it. If someone with PCOS joins WW in hopes that just following their plan will work, then they are in for a big surprise. However, if you join WW knowing that you need something to hold you accountable, then it works. Knowing that I have to go weigh in every week gives me more motivation to follow my diet.

Although WW recently changed the points plan to say that fruits are now 0 points, they frequently bring up in the meetings that even though they are 0 points, you shouldn't go overboard and stuff yourself with them, specifically because of the high amount of natural sugars.

Eating beyond your daily points is not recommended, but there is a 49 point weekly buffer specifically for that situation. If you are still hungry, then use some of your weekly points. They promote the use of lean meats, veggies and fruits as 'Power Foods' - ones that will keep you fuller longer. They are also lower in points, so eating these Power Foods fights the hunger, and keeps your daily point intake low, so you don't risk going over.

And WW does have a diabetic WW plan, which is a better option for us PCOSers.

Essentially it's all up to the person joining WW. The plan is general enough that you can fit it to your specific needs and lose weight. The problem, though, is that you have to care about what you are doing. If you are just making sure that what you eat stays in the point range instead of makign sure that the food is good for you, then you'll fail.

Posted by: Lynne Wallace | April 28, 2011, 2:43 pm

I had the same experience as written in the article. I did weight watchers twice in the last two years, with two different plans, and both times I didn't lose anything. It was shocking, as I had done weight watchers when I was younger, and lost weight, and I weigh much more now. I worked with a dietician to eat low GI, and I have lost 4 pounds. Can you imagine not losing ANY weight on weight watchers and learning that full fat dairy and peanut butter are okay to eat and LOSING weight. It's like a little miracle. I can honestly say that for the first time in my life I'm not hungry after meals and don't have sugar cravings. Plus, I'm enjoying food SO much more. How great that I can have half and half in my decaf, and real cheese. I don't count anything. Diets were hellish for me...this is a pretty good way to live. My two cents.

Posted by: LSR | June 1, 2011, 2:25 pm

Thank you so much for this article on Weight Watchers. First of all, congrats to those who have had success on WW! It use to work for me, too. WW and I have had a long history together. I like the fact that all foods are allowed within moderation on WW, and it seems to be a little more balanced than some of the crazy fad diets out there today that exclude food groups! But at the same time, I've tried it 6 times. The first time when I was 12. That's when I was diagnosed with PCOS. I lost weight, but eventually I developed an eating disorder. It wasn't the diet's fault, but I developed very restrictive eating behaviors at a very young age, and figured out which foods were good vs. bad. It's taken many years to overcome these food lies...I turned into a yo-yo dieter and WW became my best friend. I often wonder if eating disorders and PCOS can feed off eachother. I've done WW on and off for years thinking "it will work this time!" "I'll just try harder, work out harder!" And it did sometimes, but recently I just got done with another round of WW fun, and did everything I was suppose to...I even worked out more. Since I was given free pts(fruits,vege's) and weekly allowance pts(37), I found myself having periods of overeatting, just trying to fit them all in. I could also eat more pts if I worked out and earned "activity pts." This fed into the lie that I need to work out to give myself permission to eat. Even though WW wasn't saying this, that's how my brain took it. They were just encouraging people to exercise. I didn't use the activity pts, and I cut back on my allowance pts. but I still didn't lose a pound. Obviously, someone with past eating disorders shouldn't even be trying something like this, but I felt like I could "get away" with it since I'm wasn't skin and bones anymore and 30lbs. overweight. I think Angela knows what she's talking about here when it comes to following a LOW GI nutrition plan, and if WW is what someone still wants to follow, than incorporate LOW GI foods for most of the pts and add "play foods"(hi in sugar,carbs,fat)in moderation. They aren't bad foods. Also, being aware of body signals is important. Sometimes I wasn't hungry, but having so many pts leftover encouraged me to eat more and get too full. I found myself obsessed with pts. I wouldn't eat anything unless I knew the value of pts the food contained. For goodness sakes! So I'm ending my long-time relationship with WW. But again, it may be beneficial for some people. I don't condemn it at all. WW is nothing compared to some of the crazy things I've tried to lose weight! So thanks for this article Angela. Now I don't feel like it's my fault that I'm not losing these 30 stubborn lbs. on WW. It's not that I'm not trying hard enough, it's the fact it doesn't go with the condition of PCOS/nor does it go with the fact I've struggled with eating disoders.

Posted by: Melody Mathews | June 4, 2011, 2:40 pm

Well...I've was diagnosed with PCOS about 3 1/2 years ago and let me tell you it has been a battle! I gained 30 lbs (from the birth control) in 3 months and haven't been able to lose any of it...even after I stopped the birth control 2 years ago! It's so frustrating when you work out regularly (1 hour 5x's a week), eat healthy and nothing is changing! My doctor basically told me that everything I was doing was just keeping me from weighing 200lbs and that I would have to work 10x harder to actually lose weight. I was so discouraged and got kind of depressed. And it didn't help that people didn't really believe me when I said I was weight-loss resistant. They thought it was an excuse :( But I am encouraged reading these blogs and hope that following a low GI plan will help move me in the right direction. It's hard being petite and overweight!!!

Posted by: Lynn | June 7, 2011, 11:50 am

I have been diagnosed with PCOS for almost 10 years now. I have tried EVER diet under the sun. I have finally tried the Weight Watchers Online program. It has changed my life. The reasons that people seem to be failing is due their own faults. You have to find the program that fits perfect for you regardless of what you choose. But if you go on WW and don't stick to the guidelines, it won't work. You are NOT supposed to eat all your points all at once. You are supposed to separate and even out what you eat over the course of your entire day. And if you have to watch EVERYTHING you eat, including the free point foods. It is one of the few diets that holds you COMPLETELY responsible for what and how much you eat. If you are still eating within your points and NOT losing weight, look at your calorie intake. You are taking in WAY TOO many calories. For once, I have found a program that holds me accountable and has helped me to lose weight. I have already lost 38 lbs in 4 months. I have lost 2 pants sizes and 3 shirt sizes. Its amazing!!! I also host a group of women with PCOS who are trying to lose weight on WW. It is hard but if you are sticking to the program, the way that it was designed, you should lose weight. If you are not, SEE YOUR DOCTOR. There may be other issues other than just PCOS. WW is about a LIFESTYLE change for me NOT a diet. I will PCOS my entire life which means that weight gain will always be a problem. I need to do this for me and my future family. I suggest WW to anyone who is ready to put in the time and the work to lose weight.

Posted by: Gigi | August 6, 2011, 8:49 pm

I have PCOS and on Weight Watchers. All was good until I got to the part about Ignores internal regulation makes me feel as though the person who write this isn't entirely educated about the WW program. This section is misguided and misleading... basically just untrue. I stopped reading the article after that. I don't want to go into what is off about this article, but I hope this website will talk to a WW representative about the article and make the appropriate corrections.

My experience was as follows: I had had success on the WW program while on birth control, but when I went off of it, the program didn't work like it did before. All it did was slow down then halt my weight loss. I was maintaining but not losing weight. I was told I might have had PCOS and started to focus on low GI foods while still tracking points. I started to lose weight again, about a pound per week. It's possible to overeat on low GI foods to I kept tracking the points.

Posted by: Elizabeth | July 29, 2013, 9:04 pm

Several years ago (before the Points Plus program) I lost over 50 pounds with WW. Once the program changed to Points Plus, like many others my weight loss slowed and then stopped. I went off of WW and began counting calories and tracking food through a free app. I was able to maintain, but not really lose.

About 3 months ago I thought I'd give WW Points Plus a try again. Same thing. Total stagnation. For 3 months I have lost and gained the same 3 pounds - and I'm still not below my starting weight. I just thought that the issue was my metabolism. I hadn't really considered PCOS as an issue until I was at a conference last week where the medical faculty knew right away when I said PCOS and WW in the same sentence what was probably happening.

I agree that there are some misunderstandings of the WW program in this article. But after doing further research, I am pretty convinced that the current WW program is not the best for me.

Posted by: Beth | September 19, 2013, 9:32 pm

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