Mike Mozart, Flickr // CC BY 2.0
Mike Mozart, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

12 Things You Might Not Know About Weight Watchers

Mike Mozart, Flickr // CC BY 2.0
Mike Mozart, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

Though devices like the Fitbit have chewed into their market share, Weight Watchers remains a formidable presence in the $60 billion weight loss industry—so much so that Oprah Winfrey just purchased a 10 percent stake in the company. Unlike many fad diets and dubious supplements, there’s actual scientific evidence that says the program—which combines caloric control with social support—works. Take a look at these 12 facts about points, spokespeople, and the role of animal organs in a balanced diet.

1. THE FOUNDER WAS MISTAKEN FOR A PREGNANT WOMAN.

YouTube

When 37-year-old Queens housewife Jean Nidetch walked into a supermarket in 1962, she ran into a neighbor who complimented her on her appearance. Before Nidetch could thank her, the neighbor asked when she was due. Unsatisfied with both the social faux pas and her weight of 214 pounds, Nidetch decided to go on a diet and visited the New York Board of Health for advice. After cutting out soda and eating more protein, Nidetch lost 20 pounds in 10 weeks. To help stay motivated, she began meeting with friends to exchange stories about food temptations. One confessed to eating a donut out of a garbage can. A movement was born.

2. THE FIRST MEETINGS WERE HELD OVER A PIZZA PARLOR.

Once Nidetch (who eventually lost 70 pounds and kept it off) realized there was a demand for meetings beyond her circle of friends, she started Weight Watchers as an incorporated business in 1963. Those early meetings were held in an empty space over a New York pizza parlor; the owner was puzzled as to why there was a line of people outside who never stopped in for a slice.

3. THE ORIGINAL PLAN CALLED FOR LIVER AND BRAINS.

Weight Watchers spent its first decades endorsing a limited-quantities program, which didn’t count calories but restricted members to certain kinds of foods. “Group A” meats included organs like liver, brains, and kidneys, as well as white-meat turkey and chicken. The diet also welcomed frankfurters. It excluded bananas, avocados, and pancakes, however.

4. THEY USED TO BE OWNED BY HEINZ KETCHUP.

When you think of shedding pounds, you probably don’t think about slathering your meals in sugar-laden condiments. But when Nidetch’s meetings grew from neighborhood chats to public assemblies, it caught the attention of the H.J. Heinz company, the ketchup manufacturer. Heinz purchased Weight Watchers for $71 million in 1978; they sold the business off to a European investment firm in 1999, but maintained a small stake and still distribute frozen foods bearing the Weight Watchers brand.   

5. THEIR MAGAZINE WAS FOR “ATTRACTIVE PEOPLE.”

The Weight Watchers movement has bled into frozen foods, apps, and other licensed products, but one of their most enduring tie-ins has been Weight Watchers magazine. When the publication first appeared on newsstands in 1968, it presented simple food tips and lifestyle suggestions. In 1975, editors (including Matty Simmons, who would later found National Lampoon) added the subtitle Magazine For Attractive People.

6. THEY MESSED WITH SUCCESS. TWICE.

Weight Watchers had long been a program based on social support and dietary recommendations. It wasn’t until 1997, when the company debuted its “Points” system, that the brand became a cultural phenomenon. By assigning points to a large variety of store-bought and restaurant foods, program members regarded choices like a banana (now allowed) or cupcake as being worth a certain number of points. As long as they didn’t exceed their total allowance for the day, they’d lose weight. The revamped PointsPlus, introduced in 2010, recognized 200 calories of protein and 200 calories of baked goods were indeed different and shifted their numerical values accordingly.

7. NOT EVERYONE WAS HAPPY ABOUT THE CHANGE.

On then-CEO David Kirchhoff’s blog, posters complained that the new system upended their comfort level with what had come before. “I hate it,” one member wrote. “I hate learning the new points and losing all my foods that I’ve put in over the last three years. I’m completely annoyed that microwave popcorn is three points now!!!!”   

8. THE SERVICE MIGHT COST YOU $75 A POUND.

Judit Klein, Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0

Duke-National University of Singapore did a little number-crunching in 2014 and discovered that, with an average of $377 in annual membership fees and roughly five pounds lost per year, Weight Watchers costs members about $75 for every disappearing pound. But it’s still a much cheaper alternative than Jenny Craig, which requests members buy the company's own food at a cost of roughly $2,500 per year. At an average 16 pounds lost, that's roughly double the cost.

9. THEY DON’T THINK YOU’LL ABUSE YOUR FREE FRUIT PRIVILEGES.

Under the PointsPlus system, members get a free pass with fruits and vegetables: they equate to zero points. While some dieticians and nutritionists argue that eating too much fruit could literally tip the scales, Kirchhoff explained that "There’s so little evidence that people abuse fruit. It takes a while to eat. It’s filling. Could you eat 12 bananas and count it as zero points? Yes. But how would you feel afterward?"

10. CHARLES BARKLEY WAS CAUGHT DISSING THEM.

One of many celebrity endorsers, Charles Barkley (a.k.a. “The Round Mound of Rebound”) became a spokesman in 2011. According to the New York Daily News, he was announcing an NBA game in January 2012 and—not realizing his microphone was still live—declared his deal with Weight Watchers to be a “scam.” He was apparently referring to getting paid to lose weight, not the program itself; the company later said in a statement they “love Charles … he’s unfiltered.”

11. THEY HAD TO REALLY WORK FOR CHINA.

Kirchhoff visited China in 2011 to see how the culture was embracing the Points system. Because pre-packaged food has confusing, spare labeling, and because the Chinese frequently eat out, the company had to stand by while chefs made nearly 20,000 common dishes and then measured their nutritional content.

12. SOME PEOPLE ARE BANNED.

Not from eating sensibly, obviously, but from actively participating in the Weight Watchers community. Demographics that are not welcome at meetings: anyone under the age of 10; anyone suffering from bulimia nervosa; anyone five pounds or less above their minimum-weight chart; and anyone pregnant.

nextArticle.image_alt|e
iStock
The Hidden Benefits of Your Health Insurance Plan
iStock
iStock

When we talk about health insurance, it’s usually in the context of a complaint. While it’s true that insurance companies often fight tooth and nail to keep their financial exposure limited, they’re also making moves to offer benefits beyond standard health care—and you might not even know about these perks.

A prime example is the recent trend for companies to offer a discount savings card on groceries. United Healthcare, Humana, and Medica are just a few of the insurers who have issued cards that can be used for an instant price reduction when checking out at participating stores. The catch? The programs typically cover healthy or organic foods. Along with discounted gym memberships, the benefit is an effort to keep policy holders fit and—at least theoretically—to reduce the need for medical interventions.

If you’re surprised to hear about it, you’re not alone. Here are some other programs offered by the nation's largest insurance companies that you might be missing out on. (Bear in mind that each company has various tiers of coverage and not all perks may apply to all levels.)

UNITED HEALTHCARE

The company’s Healthy Savings program for groceries allows shoppers to save on select items that change on a weekly basis. Each Sunday, the cards will recognize between $40 and $50 in deals on healthier grocery options. It’s only good at participating retailers, including Shop ‘n’ Save, Giant, and others. You can search for locations on their website.

Through UnitedHealth Allies, the company also offers discounts on weight loss programs like NutriSystem and Jenny Craig, as well as gym memberships and even active footwear [PDF].

CIGNA

The Northeast-based insurance company provides an umbrella discount service, Healthy Rewards, that offers savings on eye exams and up to 25 percent off alternative health therapies like acupuncture, chiropractic, and massage appointments [PDF]. They also offer fitness membership discounts. More information can be found at MyCigna.com.

AETNA

It’s hard to know what the pending acquisition of Aetna by pharmacy giant CVS will mean for health care perks moving forward. Currently, the company offers discounted memberships and trial passes to more than 10,000 gyms nationally, as well as discounts on home fitness equipment like treadmills [PDF]. You can also find discounts on meal home delivery subscriptions. Logged-in members can go to the Aetna website and select “Health Programs” then “Discounts” to determine your eligibility.

ANTHEM BLUECROSS

In addition to savings on groceries, gym memberships, and weight loss programs, Anthem BlueCross offers savings for members on DNA ancestry kits, pet insurance, and even baby-proofing.

HUMANA

Humana offers an impressive array of “lifestyle discounts” that range from basic wellness perks to teeth whitening, identity theft services, and 15 percent off in-network LASIK procedures. They also offer discounts on over-the-counter medications like Claritin and Advil. You can register at MyHumana.com to find out more.

nextArticle.image_alt|e
Bose
Bose's New 'Sleepbuds' Are Designed to Help You Doze Off Faster
Bose
Bose

If you’re the kind of person who can’t fall asleep without the whir of a fan or some other ambient noise in the background, then Bose has a product for you. As spotted by The Verge, the audio equipment company’s new wireless noise-masking Sleepbuds are designed to fit comfortably into your ears and help you doze off faster.

The Bose sleepbuds
Bose

Unlike other Bose earbuds—and, well, most headphones in general—the Sleepbuds don’t actually play music or allow audio to be streamed from external devices. Instead, they come equipped with 10 soothing audio tracks, including brown noise, rain, ocean waves, a running stream, and more.

The earbuds aren’t noise-canceling, but their audio tracks are specifically engineered to mask certain outside sounds like traffic and, perhaps most impressively, your partner’s snoring. The rechargeable battery lasts for 16 hours, and at just 1 centimeter in width and height, they’re Bose’s tiniest product yet.

For early risers whose partners like to sleep in, the Bose Sleep app can sound off an alarm in your ear that only you can hear. The app can also be used to adjust your sleep settings, including your noise of choice, volume levels, and how long you want the sound to play for.

Bose spent a couple of years developing the product and raised over $450,000 in an Indiegogo campaign to help improve the Sleepbuds by getting backers to test them out and provide feedback. The Sleepbuds are now available for purchase on Amazon for $249.

[h/t The Verge]

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios