Weight Watchers and other fad diets

A fad by definition is “an intense and widely shared enthusiasm for something, especially one that is short-lived and without basis in the object’s qualities; a craze.”

When Weight Watchers founder, Jean Nidetch opened her first Weight Watchers meeting in the loft over a pizza shop in Queens, NY, it looked like a fad for sure. Imagine, Nidetch rented a loft and 50 chairs and advertised her first ever Weight Watchers meeting. 50 People didn’t show up; 400 did.

Certainly the intense and widely shared enthusiasm for Weight Watchers made it look like a fad, but more than 50 years later Weight Watchers is still going strong. Rarely do fads last even a full year and no successful 55-year-old business can be called a fad.

I was amused to read Lillian Lake wrote in the Franklin Journal wrote about her experience with “Weight Watchers and other fad diets.” Ms. Lake must have a unique definition of “fad.” Weight Watchers may have looked like a fad based on its intense popularity at its inception, but that’s where the similarity ends.

How to spot a fad diet

  • Promises quick weight loss: 

Weight Watchers advises members to expect to lose on average 1 to 2 pounds a week after the first 3 weeks on the program. No quick weight loss


  • Sounds too good to be true:

Weight Watchers doesn’t promise effortless weight loss. Weight Watchers meetings reinforce healthier behaviors in an environment of group support. Despite the amazing success millions of people have had worldwide with Weight Watchers, the company doesn’t promise effortless results in its TV, print, and online advertising. No too good to be true claims


  • Necessitates buying special products such as supplements or special food in order to follow the plan:

Weight Watchers sells no supplements and although there are Weight Watchers brand frozen entrees and other products purchase isn’t required or even particularly helpful. Success isn’t predicated on eating Weight Watchers foods. No special foods or supplements to purchase


  • Lacks valid scientific research to support its claims: 

For 7 years in a row US News and World Report ranked Weight Watchers #1 weight loss diets, and #1 in commercial weight loss companies, and #1 in 2 other categories. In April 2003 the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) published a study that showed people following Weight Watchers lost 3 times more weight than people who dieted on their own. In February 2016, the CDC approved Weight Watchers as an effective program to help people diagnosed with pre diabetes avoid developing type 2 diabetes. Many third party, unsolicited scientific studies proving efficacy


  • Diet gives lists of “good” (eat these) and “bad” (never eat these) foods: 

Members use Weight Watchers proprietary formula to make their food choices according to their personal preferences. Every food is assigned a SmartPoints value based on calories per serving, saturated fat, sugar and protein content. Foods that are more nutritious has a lower SmartPoints value per serving for the same calories as foods that are less nutritious (higher in sat. fat and sugar content). No must eat foods; no foods off limits

By every criteria, Weight Watchers isn’t a fad diet. It’s a healthy and effective way to lose weight and learn new habits to support maintaining weight loss and a healthier lifestyle.

Jackie Conn

About Jackie Conn

Jackie Conn is married and has four grown daughters and four grandchildren. She is a Weight Watchers success story. She's a weight loss expert with 25 years of experience guiding women and men to their weight-related goals. Her articles on weight management have been published in health, family and women's magazines. She has been a regular guest on Channel 5 WABI news, FOX network morning program Good Day Maine and 207 on WCSH.