We all have our reasons for wanting to lose weight. Whether we strive to simply have our clothes fit better, want to look great for an event, or for more complex health reasons, losing weight is difficult and can be incredibly disheartening when the scale refuses to budge.
This frustration can lead to desperation, which can steer us in the direction of fad diets or other commercially-recognized diet plans. In fact, the average adult tries approximately 126 different diets in their lifetime, which is one of the reasons the diet industry accrues billions of dollars each year. The simple fact is that some of these fad diets or diet plans can work for an individual, although most people will gain the weight back within 5 years. Understanding the pros and cons of different diets, especially those that are often promoted by the media or are currently popular, can help you determine if a certain type of diet or eating plan can be beneficial to you in your quest to lose weight, if it is one that you can fit into your lifestyle, and most importantly, is it safe?
Weight Watchers™ (WW) is a diet that has been around for decades. You may even remember your grandmother talking about being in WW. If not, chances are that you know at least one person in your immediate circle of friends and family who is either currently trying it or has in the past. This diet program was created in the 1960’s and has stuck around for so long because it has worked for many people. It has also been updated and modernized so that it better reflects the current lifestyles and concerns of individuals throughout the years. Several studies have demonstrated that individuals who participate in WW do in fact have modest to significant weight loss and that it may lead to improvements in cardiovascular health as well as blood sugar control.
How it works
Weight Watchers™ is a moderation diet with the philosophy that no food is off limits. The core of the program is to educate individuals on appropriate portion sizes and healthy eating habits. It encourages members to increase their consumption of lean proteins, produce, and whole grains, while reducing added sugars and unhealthy fats, such as saturated fats, as much as possible.
Different foods are given a certain amount of “points” and each individual has a set amount of points they can consume each day plus extra points or “flex points” for the week. There are also “zero point” foods, mainly various fruits and vegetables, that a person can consume freely. Previously, participants had to attend meetings with weigh-ins and diets were not personalized, but the latest version of the program allows participants to access the information online or through the WW app, are still encouraged to record their weight on a weekly basis, and receive more customized meal plans (blue, purple, or green), which are based on a short assessment that includes goals, lifestyle choices, eating habits, and activity levels.
The Benefits of the Weight Watchers™ Diet
The pros of this program are the focus on whole foods and the flexibility to fit with an individual’s needs and lifestyle. Additionally, the “no foods off limit” mentality may be beneficial to those individuals who often feel deprived or engage in unsustainable diet practices that usually include cutting out entire food groups.
This program is designed to hold members accountable for their choices, which is a motivator for some, and provides a social or supportive environment feature for those who need encouragement. Healthy eating behaviors, such as mindful eating and portion control, are lifelong skills that can help a person not only lose weight, but help better maintain any weight that is lost.
The Disadvantages of the Weight Watchers™ Diet
One of the core tenants of this program is weighing and tracking food, which is not a long term solution for many individuals. Skipping tracking meals or not keeping count of food points can quickly lead to inhibition when it comes to which foods are being consumed or less awareness of overall calorie intake.
Furthermore, the point system can be misleading. For example, ½ cup of black beans is equal to 3 WW points, while 2 slices of bread is equal to 4 points. While the points look almost the same, the serving of black beans is much higher in protein and fiber, while the bread is higher in sodium, slightly higher in carbohydrates, and may contain added sugars. Due to the high fiber and protein content, the serving of black beans is also much more likely to keep a person full for longer, which can help prevent over-eating later in the day. Weight Watchers™ can also become costly due to the participation fee and online tools.
Finally, although the plans are recommended based on the self-reported questionnaire a person takes upon sign-up, the actual dietary intake is not personalized to a person’s unique nutrient needs, a point is a point whether it is made up of a carbohydrate, fat, protein, and so on.
How to Do It Better
Each person’s body is unique and finding a diet that works is difficult. The safest approach is to use science as the basis of your decision, no matter which diet you’re considering trying out for yourself.
The philosophy of WW is based on numerous years of trial and error, it has been shown to be successful, and even is approved by many dietitians. A couple of modifications may help a person whose lifestyle is suited for this eating program be even more successful by incorporating an eating for your genes approach.
What Does Eating for Your Genes Entail?
Eating for your genes utilizes your unique DNA and genotype as a science-based blueprint for what you eat based on how you metabolize certain macronutrients, micronutrients, and substances. It is rooted in the understanding that you are an individual and as an individual, your body is unique and therefore there is no “one-fits-all” approach to dieting.
How Does Eating for Your Genes Work?
You are one of a kind. Our bodies each have at least slightly varying needs, as we all respond differently to the world around us and metabolize nutrients differently. Studies demonstrate we can personalize nutrition by taking a look at our individual genetic variations and use this information to construct a solid dietary foundation.
Those genetic variants and their related nutrition outcomes have been thoroughly researched. Once we know our genetic variations, we have a better idea of which foods can help us optimize our diet. For example, you may have a genetic variant that indicates you are predisposed to a lower BMI if you consume a diet higher in protein or you have a decreased ability to convert beta-carotene to active vitamin A. In this case, it may be helpful to consume more vitamin A-rich foods—such as seafood, full-fat milk, or fortified dairy products.
Benefits of Eating for Your Genes
Why does the concept of implementing a DNA-based eating program seem so novel? It is because the innovative nature of nutrigenomics creates a science-based roadmap for us when it comes to our food choices. With information about your genetic makeup, you can start to pinpoint which foods should be included in your diet and how much.
Eating for your genes is not a specific diet per se, it instead is a true eating plan. If you do like a more traditional or structured weight loss approach, as many people do since they can help our brain compartmentalize information, using your DNA as a guide you can begin to better tailor a structured or commercial program to your needs and may increase your odds of success. Nutrigenomics gives us the insights we need to make specific, thoughtful, and strategic choices about what we put into our bodies to prevent chronic diseases and gain optimal nutrition.
DNA testing companies like GenoPalate can help you interpret and understand your genotype and nutritional recommendations to make truly informed decisions on how to distribute your calories wisely and to choose foods that will nourish your body and help to achieve prime health.
Disadvantages of Eating for Your Genes
The biggest shortcoming that comes with eating for your genes is that DNA test reports do not account for epigenetics or medical conditions. Thus, you should combine the eating for your genes method with any additional medical information you have—such as blood test results—to determine your ideal diet. We recommend working with your healthcare provider to fill in any missing pieces so you end up with a holistic plan and know exactly how to achieve your health and wellness goals.
How to Determine the Right Way to Eat for Your Body
The great thing about eating for your genes is it is not a FAD diet, it is simply understanding how your body responds to both macronutrients and micronutrients and adjusting your intake to better align with those parameters. Additionally, it is personalized to your unique needs and it can be incorporated into your everyday life in numerous ways. In fact, eating for your genes can help prevent you from engaging in fad diets, which are often not sustainable and result in the regaining of any weight that may have been lost. Moreover, for those eating programs that have withstood the test of time and have evidence that they can help people lose weight, an eating for your genes approach can be incorporated and may help individuals achieve their goals successfully.
The first step to this DNA based eating approach is educating yourself further. To do so, you can learn more by reading this article about how to personalize your weight loss experience or check out this FREE resource to see what personalized nutrition based on your DNA might look like and what it can do for you! You may be surprised at how fast you start to see results when you select the right path for your body and what makes you unique.
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3. Marrero, D. G., Palmer, K. N., Phillips, E. O., Miller-Kovach, K., Foster, G. D., & Saha, C. K. (2016). Comparison of commercial and self-initiated weight loss programs in people with prediabetes: a randomized control trial. American journal of public health, 106(5), 949-956.
4. Arkadianos, I., Valdes, A. M., Marinos, E., Florou, A., Gill, R. D., & Grimaldi, K. A. (2007). Improved weight management using genetic information to personalize a calorie controlled diet. Nutrition journal, 6(1), 29.
5. Gardner, C. D., et al. (2018). Effect of low-fat vs low-carbohydrate diet on 12-month weight loss in overweight adults and the association with genotype pattern or insulin secretion: the DIETFITS randomized clinical trial. Jama, 319(7), 667-679.
6. Forum, F., & National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. (2018). Nutrigenomics and the Future of Nutrition.
7. Tanaka, T., et. al. (2013). Genome-wide meta-analysis of observational studies shows common genetic variants associated with macronutrient intake. The American journal of clinical nutrition, 97(6), 1395-1402.
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