On Channel 4’s Dispatches programme ‘Weight Watchers, How They Make Their Millions‘ in January of this year, presenter Jane Moore raised questions about the diet company, worth £5 billion, how weight loss goes hand in hand with the marketing of their food range, and the effectiveness of its diets. The programme highlighted that:

  • Over the last five years the NHS has spent £4 million on sending patients to Weight Watchers.
  • The majority of the clinical trials resulting in positive outcomes for the diet are funded by Weight Watchers themselves.
  • The ‘points’ system encourages dieters to use Weight Watcher products that have points already calculated despite that these products are often more expensive and may have more calories or sugar than a competitive product.
  • While many Weight Watchers dieters lost weight within the first three months, ‘some’ had put it back on again after five years (the actual amount of people who regained the weight was kept vague, but when Jane asked a group of around 100 dieters to hold up green cards if they had kept the weight off, only about three people responded).
  • The cost of the Weight Watchers diet is around £100 per pound in weight lost (expensive when you consider that most of their customers only regain that pound before shelling out another £100 to lose it again – and again).

A truly independent and rigorous study on the outcome of diets across the board (including Weight Watchers) is that the majority of people regain all the weight lost plus a few pounds more.  “People on diets typically lose 5 to 10 percent of their starting weight in the first six months, the researchers found. However, at least one-third to two-thirds of people on diets regain more weight than they lost within four or five years, and the true number may well be significantly higher”.  

On top of the weight gain, the high food restriction or stress felt on a diet, means dieters get increased levels of cortisol (the stress hormone that encourages an increase in abdominal fat) and when weight is lost quickly, reduced levels of leptin (a hormone that inhibits appetite) and increased levels of grehlin (a hormone that stimulates appetite).  This is an in-built biological function so the body can protect itself from starvation when food is drastically cut.  High sugar / carb foods unbalance blood sugar which encourages cravings and hunger, whereas a regulated eating plan that includes sufficient protein and fats will keep hunger at bay and re-balance the abnormal hormone levels

There is a huge amount of evidence that ‘diets’ don’t work which is why my healthy eating and weight loss plan involves a variety of modules aimed at re-educating eating, exercise and lifestyle for life.  The amount of weight lost is slow and steady, aiming for 5-7 lbs per month.  The success of this and the amount of weight lost depends on what long term changes  the client is prepared to embrace, not easy in a junk food marketing world focused on temptation.

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