Preventing Diabetes With Weight Watchers

How the Popular Lifestyle Program Supports People With Prediabetes

If you have prediabetes, losing weight can help prevent type 2 diabetes. If you've never dieted before, you might find it easier to follow a program like Weight Watchers, which was rebranded as WW in 2018.

Window of the Weight Watchers Store
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WW is a well-known weight-management program. It is recognized by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as a diabetes prevention program. It also offers a dedicated curriculum for managing prediabetes, the Weight Watchers Diabetes Prevention Plan (PDD).

This article looks at how following the Weight Watchers program might help prevent diabetes. It also discusses how the program works and what its specific guidelines are for people with diabetes.

Benefits of WW for Prediabetes

When you have prediabetes, your blood sugar levels are higher than normal but still too low for a diabetes diagnosis. Having prediabetes increases your risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

After you're diagnosed with prediabetes, your healthcare provider will probably recommend weight loss and exercise. That's because losing just 5% to 7% of your total body weight can significantly lower your risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

One way to do this is through diet, exercise, and healthy lifestyle programs like WW. A 2016 study found that WW helped people at risk for diabetes lose weight and improve both blood glucose and cholesterol levels. It is important to note, however, that the study was funded by WW International.

A 2017 study also found similar results, but again, WW International provided funding for the study's publication. 

WW was developed more than 50 years ago before diabetes or prediabetes were well understood. This means it wasn't originally designed for people with these conditions. Over the years, though, it has developed a more scientific-based approach. Today, the program encourages both weight loss and an overall healthier lifestyle.

Simple Ways of Tracking Food Intake

WW uses a "points" system instead of asking members to track calories. Each individual food is assigned points based on calories, saturated fat, sugar, and protein. The number of points a member is allowed per day is personalized based on height, weight, age, and gender.

This system is designed to optimize nutrition as well as weight loss. Because cutting down on sugar and other carbohydrates is vital for managing diabetes, the points system can be particularly helpful for people who have diabetes or prediabetes.

Many members also find the points system easier to stick with than calorie counting. Members can track points manually, on the website, or by using the WW app.

Slow, Steady Weight Loss

The goal of the WW program is a healthy and maintainable loss of no more than two pounds per week. This type of slow weight loss is considered optimal for most people. It could be particularly helpful for people with prediabetes since keeping blood sugar levels steady is so important.

Multiple Sources of Support

WW members are encouraged to attend weekly workshops (formerly called "meetings"). The workshops are facilitated by a WW employee and are intended to help members share experiences and support one another. Members can also find support in the WW online community and through personal, app-based coaching.

A Focus on Fitness

Exercise is important for managing prediabetes. The WW program also uses points to encourage exercise. Specific physical activities are assigned point values based on the intensity and length of the activity. Through exercise, members can accrue points they can exchange for extra food points to use throughout the day.

WW Guidelines for Preventing Diabetes

Being on WW does not require eating or avoiding specific foods. You can eat whatever you like, as long as you stay within your individual points parameters.

If you have prediabetes, though, you also need to keep an eye on your carb intake. WW doesn't have a system for counting carbs, but it does provide smart food choice guidelines for members who are prediabetic or have type 2 diabetes.

What to Eat What to Limit
Non-starchy veggies such as broccoli, cauliflower, leafy greens, mushrooms, onions Starchy veggies such as potatoes, plantains, parsnips, pumpkin, squash, beans, legumes
Low-glycemic fruits such as apples, berries, plum, grapefruit, pears High-glycemic fruits such as pineapple, banana, watermelon, pineapples
Lean protein such as skinless chicken, fish, egg whites, tofu High-carb foods such as baked goods, white bread, pasta
Whole grains such as wild and brown rice, quinoa, oats, millet, buckwheat noodles Sugary beverages such as fruit drinks and sugar-sweetened soft drinks

They also provide some healthy eating tips:

  • Be aware of portion sizes. Learn how to estimate portion size by sight so you don't have to measure everything.
  • Variety is important. Try not to eat too much of any one type of food.
  • Eat regularly. Space meals evenly and never skip meals.

WW Drawbacks

You can join WW independently and choose not to attend workshops, but the system is heavily slanted towards encouraging group participation. This is not for everyone. The system also includes weekly weigh-ins, which can be discouraging especially if you're not consistently meeting your goals.

Because the program lets you eat whatever you want, it is possible to make poor choices. You might be tempted to eat too many unhealthy foods or overindulge on zero points foods.

Some employer health care plans offer a Weight Watchers program for people with diabetes. If you join this way, you can get support from a certified diabetes educator (CDE). However, this service isn't available through the regular WW program.

Summary

WW (formerly Weight Watchers) is one of many plans that can help people with prediabetes and type 2 diabetes lose weight and adopt a healthy lifestyle.

Instead of tracking calories, the system tracks your nutrition with an easier-to-follow points system. If you have prediabetes, WW offers guidelines for limiting your intake of carbohydrates.

The goal of WW is to help you lose weight in a slow, maintainable way. The program also offers personal support and encourages exercise.

A Word From Verywell

WW is a proven way to prevent diabetes, but the program isn't free. Fees vary depending on how you want to follow the program. For example, you can attend workshops only, become an online member, or enlist the help of a personal coach.

Membership is sometimes is covered by health insurance, so if you're interested in joining, check with your provider first.

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10 Sources
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