Eat Empowered, Healthy Eating Tips, Weight Loss

Is the Weight Watchers “Freestyle” Diet Healthy?

By Sarah Sarway

We’re going to let you in on a little secret. Most popular healthy diets that are touted for weight loss—from Paleo to Mediterranean and vegetarian—share many of the same basic principles.

All involve eating whole foods (as opposed to packaged and processed) and filling your plate with quality sources of protein, healthy fats, complex carbohydrates, and vitamin-, mineral-, and fiber-rich vegetables. (Again, we’re talking about the ones that fall somewhere on the healthy spectrum, not unhealthy fad diets like, ahem, the Grapefruit Diet.)

However, each proposes a slightly different path that leads to fulfilling those principles.

In this column, we’ll be breaking them down for you one by one so you can figure out which (if any!) is right for you. We’ll quickly explain the facts and then provide quick, actionable tips on how to follow the diet as part of a Nutritious Life.

Weight Watchers Freestyle: What It Is

If you don’t know about Weight Watchers, it’s possible you’ve been living under a rock.

Since launching in the 1960s, Weight Watchers has become a super popular diet for those looking to lose weight without totally eliminating entire food groups. Today, over 3.4 million people are subscribed to the program, which has been rated the #1 Diet for Weight Loss by U.S. News & World Report. Some of the diet’s more notable fans include spokespeople Oprah Winfrey (a part owner) and DJ Khaled, both of whom tout their success in ads. (Remember Winfrey’s “I LOVE bread!” commercials?)

The basic program relies on a point counting system now called SmartPoints (and there’s an app that makes it super easy). It gives subscribers a point budget based on their current weight and goals. Different foods clock in at different points based on their nutritional makeup, and point counting is supplemented by IRL weigh-ins and meetings at local centers, which offer a supportive environment filled with like-minded people.

Recently, the brand announced an upgrade to the program called Weight Watchers Freestyle. This version of the diet is designed to give subscribers even more flexibility and freedom by offering over 200 zero SmartPoint foods, along with a rollover option. While veggies and fruits were always “free foods,” this new list includes tons of protein-rich options like unlimited chicken, seafood, and beans.

RELATED: How Much Protein Should You Really Be Eating?

To account for the extra calories that may accumulate with these unlimited foods, Weight Watchers has adjusted the SmartPoints budgets accordingly; subscribers who had 30 points will now have 23, while those who had 40 will now have 31.

The rollover feature allows users to save up to four leftover points per day each week for special occasions, like a birthday celebration or weekend getaway.

What You Eat

Just like the original program, all foods are technically allowed on Weight Watchers Freestyle; only quantities are limited. The update to the points system, however, encourages you to eat more of the zero-point foods, like fruits and veggies, yogurt, eggs, turkey, beans, tofu, and lentils. You can still eat treats and yes, drink your glass of Pinot Noir, via the rollover option.

What You Don’t Eat

There aren’t really any foods that are off-limits, as long as they fit into your SmartPoints budget. In other words, if you want to have a slice of pizza for dinner, you’ll probably have to cut down on the butter in your breakfast omelette. If you’re planning a GNO with lots of margaritas and fish tacos, you’ll have to adjust your weekly diet accordingly.

RELATED: Is the Raw Food Diet Healthy?

Pros and Cons

Now that the emphasis has shifted further away from straight-up calorie counts and takes into account the benefits of whole foods, the Weight Watchers Freestyle diet is a great way for people to learn how to eat well while exercising portion control.

On the flip side, allowing people to eat unlimited food in any capacity can be tricky, especially when it comes to foods like yogurt and carb-heavy beans. It’s still possible to go overboard. And just because you’re allowed to eat anything doesn’t mean you should use all your rollover points to chug Diet Coke. Saying “absolutely not” to certain foods isn’t always a bad thing.

The Bottom Line

When it comes to weight-loss diets, Weight Watchers Freestyle is easy to follow, affordable, and offers community support that other programs may not. It’s a great plan for those looking to eat better without making super drastic changes to their lifestyle. Just remember: While your budget may have room for a slice of pizza every single day, you’ll need to use a bit of common sense if you want to see results. And spending your precious time counting up points could turn into a drag. If you can exercise portion control by tuning into your body and learning to assess your hunger quotient, you might be able to achieve the same healthy diet without the extra work.

(Featured Photo: Shutterstock)