Your Health

WeightWatchers Points Plan Stretching To Help Splurgers

Apple and measuring tape

WeightWatchers UK says fruits and vegetables don't accrue any points in its new system. Irina Yun/iStockphoto.com hide caption

itoggle caption Irina Yun/iStockphoto.com

Anyone who has ever tried or dined with someone on a WeightWatchers diet knows that obsessing over the points it assigns to food and drink becomes a way of life.

A big part of the company's weight-loss premise seems to be that by turning the act of eating into a math assignment, temptation will be easier to tame.

Now, WeightWatchers' British division is trying to make life a little easier for its members with a new points system to accommodate occasional indulgences that you might think would constitute behavior unbecoming of a dieter.

The ProPoints Plan, announced this week, is supposed to accommodate late night outings to the bar, office doughnuts, or holiday smorgasbords — whatever calorie-loaded hurdle a person might encounter in the course of the week. It's regulated through an allotment of 29 ProPoints per day and 49 ProPoints per week to use anytime.

"You can spread out those 49 points evenly throughout the week, or if you know you have a special occasion, you can save them up," Angharad Massie, spokeswoman for Weight Watchers (UK) Ltd., tells Shots. "It's like a back-pocket allowance."

Massie calls ProPoints the company’s "biggest innovation in 15 years." The plan, quietly launched in Europe a year ago, also includes revisions to the point system to reflect the latest science on satiety, mainly to beat what it calls the "calorie delusion."

Straight calorie counts on food labels aren't the be-all and end-all for dieting, it seems. Some nutrients like fiber and protein actually require more energy to break down than other foods, so their ultimate caloric burden may not be quite as much you'd think.

WeightWatchers handles this by assigning foods with more protein and fiber lower values than they used to. And the lower the ProPoints value, the more satisfying it's supposed to be for the eater, too. Fruits and vegetables have also been relieved of any guilty association with a value of 0.

New York University's Lisa Sasson, a professor of nutrition and food studies, tells Shots she's glad WeightWatchers is encouraging its members to eat more whole foods, especially lean protein and fiber. But she also wonders how much WeightWatchers plans to alter its prepackaged food offerings, which generated $280 million in revenue for the company in 2009.

"My biggest problem with WeightWatchers is that they sell so many processed products, frozen foods, and beverages, with so many ingredients on the label," Sasson says. "With their point system they make it so easy for a member to spend 6 points on a chocolate truffle cake that's essentially fake food."

So far the company hasn't revealed any plans to revamp its food product line. Nor is there any sure indication that ProPoints is on the way for the United States.

The Yankee branch of the company is tight-lipped so far, but a WeightWatchers' US spokeswoman did tell CNN that "a new launch is planned," though it won’t be called ProPoints.

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