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Weight Watchers makes another point with program overhaul

| Friday, Dec. 3, 2010

Weight Watchers is hoping that an ample fruit bowl and revisions in its eating plan will encourage members to make choices that are healthier and more satisfying.

The Points Plus system that's being introduced at meetings this week is the first major overhaul of Weight Watchers' program in over 10 years.

Weight Watchers' previous system assigned points to food items based on their caloric, fiber and fat content.

Points for the new system are based on the relationship between fat, protein, carbohydrate and fiber grams, plus how hard the body works to process them and how they contribute to feeling full.

It's still the same Weight Watchers program, says Mary Vogliano, a leader at Weight Watchers' Robinson Towne Centre location. Unchanged is the program's group support and education that leads to weight loss through healthier eating habits, behavior modification and increased physical activity.

"What's changed is the formula. It's a more accurate way of looking at how food is processed," says Vogliano, who previewed the program over the past six weeks.

"I tell you it works," she says. "It probably feels like, 'Why do I have to change?' But I say, give it a shot."

There's much to like about both Weight Watchers and its new Points Plus system, says Leslie Bonci, a registered dietician and the director of nutrition at the UPMC Center for Sports Medicine.

She likes that the program focuses on elements such as protein, fiber and fresh fruits and vegetables and that it emphasizes foods that fill you up and stay with you longer.

"If people are satisfied with what they eat, they are going to be more successful (at weight loss) in the long run," says Bonci.

She also likes that the program educates dieters to make choices that can be sustained over a long time.

"Not only is (the Weight Watchers program) long term because you can stay on it, but because it has positive health outcomes. -- not just a number on the scale but (improved) cardiovascular health and lower cholesterol levels," she says.

For Weight Watchers members attending a Thursday afternoon meeting at in Robinson, the most interesting part of the revised plan was that most vegetables and fruits have now been assigned a zero points balance.

Gleeful cries of "Bananas are free?" were frequently heard as members at Thursday's meeting explored the booklets and pamphlets explaining the new program.

The rationale is that, given the choice, dieters who previously chose between spending two of their daily points allowance on a banana or a serving of pretzels or a low-fat ice cream treat, may now satisfy their craving with a no-points banana or apple that has less processing and better nutritional value.

"It's nudging us to say, 'I could have made a better choice here,' " Vogliano says.

Some at the meeting expressed concerns over the alterations in daily points allowances and points values for their favorite foods.

Others struggled with learning new methods for converting nutritional information on packaged foods, recipes and menu items into the new system.

But most were enthusiastic.

"I can't wait to try it out. I like the idea that fruits and vegetables are free," says Tammy Barton of Moon, who lost 106 pounds over two years and seven months with the previous points system. "I understand why some people are scared because it's new. But change is good."

Kathleen Hanzo of McDonald was also upbeat:

"I'm excited to try it," says Hanzo, who has lost 42 pounds since May with the former program. "I can't foresee them steering me wrong."

Additional Information:

Weight Watchers

Weight Watchers International has 1.3 million members around the world and offers 50,000 meetings a week. Weekly meetings cost $12, or members can opt for the monthly pass at $39.95, which includes access to online e-Tools and information. Participation is also available in online memberships for $16.95 a month or $65 for three months.

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