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Can the Weight Watchers Plan Fit in Your Diabetic Meal Plan?

Weight Watchers is a successful weight loss program that is not, by its own admission, “designed for those with diabetes.” However, successful weight loss can have profoundly positive effects on blood glucose control and on risk factors for diabetes complications like heart disease.

Weight Watchers promotes a healthy lifestyle, including regular exercise, and offers programs that include regular, in-person meetings as well as an online program.

A basic Weight Watchers philosophy is that foods are not forbidden. Instead, foods are assigned a specific point value, and the participant budgets for a daily points target. The targets are designed to provide a daily calorie deficit, resulting in weight loss. Foods that are low calorie, low fat, and high fiber are assigned a lower point value than high-calorie, high-fat, low-fiber foods.

The advantage to the participant is in being able to see the relative advantage to choosing healthier foods, even though less healthy options can be freely chosen as long as the higher points are counted.

Additionally, following the Weight Watchers program requires at least some focus on food portion sizes in order to arrive at the points value for any particular food. Diabetes management also requires an understanding of portion sizes.

So, on the positive side, Weight Watchers has the following benefits:

  • Potentially helps some achieve weight loss

  • Encourages healthier foods and physical activity

  • Teaches that all foods can fit into a healthy diet

  • Requires a focus on portion size and the nutritional quality of food to arrive at a point value

On the cautionary side, the points are completely unrelated to the carbohydrate content of food. In practice, that means that tracking Weight Watchers point values is no substitute for tracking carbohydrates in your meals and snacks.

Carbohydrate foods are some of the healthiest foods around, and Weight Watchers often assigns a lower point value based upon the calorie, fiber, and fat content. In fact, a recent attempt to encourage healthier choices left some fruit as 0 point free foods.

For effective diabetes management, eating healthy food is important, but so is managing the volume and timing of your carbohydrates, and you can’t ignore the carbs in a fruit even if Weight Watchers says so.

Secondly, there is, of course, a financial cost to the Weight Watchers program. Expect an initial sign up fee, and a monthly fee for both the traditional and online programs. Weight Watchers doesn’t require the purchase of its branded food products, but should you decide to go for Weight Watchers foods or its Smart Ones brand frozen entrees (found in a store near you) be aware that the cost of food is extra.

Lastly, weight loss is an appropriate goal for many people with diabetes — remember that more than 80 percent of people with type 2 diabetes are overweight or obese. Diabetes is a serious condition and is often joined by other related health problems.

You should discuss any plan to modify your diet with your doctor, and with your registered dietitian. Severely limiting calories or restricting food choices without considering health conditions and your medications shouldn’t be undertaken with consulting your medical team.

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