The Weight Watchers ActiveLink, a physical activity monitor, costs $40 plus a $5 monthly charge to convert physical activities into PointsPlus values. It i?s an accelerometer, a motion sensor, that measures all movement.
(Photo: Weight Watchers International Inc.)
Nanci Hellmich, USA TODAY
Weight Watchers, one the nation's largest commercial weight-loss companies, is rounding out its program to help members focus as much on lifestyle changes as counting the points in the foods they eat.
On Monday, the company is unveiling Weight Watchers 360, a plan that offers a range of healthy lifestyle techniques and technology to help people not only lose weight but to also keep it off, says company CEO David Kirchhoff.
It builds on the basic plan, which involves monitoring the foods you eat to produce weight loss. Members will still continue track their food intake with PointsPlus values - numbers assigned to foods based on the content of protein, fiber, carbohydrates and fat.
The company decided to add new dimensions to its program in light of the latest scientific research, Kirchhoff says. One study found that people make more than 200 food-related decisions a day, far more than the 15 decisions they are cognizant of, he says.
"So many of our food decisions are mindless," says Karen Miller-Kovach, chief scientific officer for the company. One goal of the new program is to help members automatically make the healthier choices, she says.
But nutrition experts say that people will still have to put in the hard work of losing weight.
The new plan includes:
• Offering an optional physical activity monitor, called ActiveLink, which costs $40 plus a $5 monthly charge to convert physical activities into PointsPlus values. It's an accelerometer, a motion sensor, that measures all movement.
• Making the company's classic meetings more interactive, with hands-on demonstrations like learning to estimate portion sizes. Plus, members will use more of the Weight Watchers smartphone apps and website tools in the meetings. Research, sponsored by the company, shows that the more tools members use, the more they lose.
• Incorporating more guidance on establishing healthy routines and habits, such as eating a healthy breakfast daily, eating a fruit or vegetable with every snack, consuming all your meals at the table and getting seven to eight hours of quality sleep a night, says Miller-Kovach.
• Teaching people to manage the food environments while they're at home, at work, traveling or at restaurants. Some tips: Take healthy food on the airplane, review the menu before you eat out at restaurants, have a healthy snack drawer at your workplace, keep food temptations out of sight and off the counters at home and off your desktop at work, she says.
The cost of the basic membership fee is not going up, Miller-Kovach says. A monthly pass is $42.95 and includes unlimited access to meetings, online tools and mobile applications. (Prices may vary depending on location.)
The emphasis on controlling food in the spaces where you live and work is based on research on "hedonic hunger - the desire to seek out high-sugar, high-fat foods that bring pleasure," Miller-Kovach says. "It can drive a person to overeat when those types of foods are available. You have to control your environment to avoid that drive."
Elizabeth Ward, a registered dietitian in Boston, says, "It's tempting to eat the wrong foods and skip exercise, so it's useful to have tools and services to support weight control. But, ultimately, it's up to you to make the smarter choices."
Others agree. "Sustaining a healthy eating environment is a challenge, because it requires us to monitor ourselves constantly and that means we have to stop making so many impulsive food decisions," says Keith Ayoob, a nutrition expert at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York.
Elizabeth Cullen, 43, of Wallingford, Conn., who lost 120 pounds on Weight Watchers and has kept off 63 pounds, thinks it's good that the company is giving more attention to areas other than tracking food intake. "I've always thought that the lifestyle portions of the program deserved a bigger share of the spotlight.
"Making lasting weight loss means changing not just what you eat, but understanding why you eat, what routines or behaviors are sabotaging you, how you think about food and yourself," she says. "There's just so much more to weight loss than the food. Food is just a place to start."
About 1.3 million members attend over 45,000 Weight Watchers meetings around the world each week, and as of 2011, the company had more than 1.5 million active online subscribers.