Not Losing Weight on Weight Watchers? 7 Common Mistakes & How to Apply Eating Psychology Instead

not losing weight on weight watchers? 7 Common Mistakes & How to Apply Eating Psychology Instead

Are you feeling frustrated by your weight loss journey on Weight Watchers? I’ve personally worked with many clients that were not losing weight on WW and I have seen through their stories how exhausting it can be. By the time people get to me, they are absolutely fed up with dieting, and for good reason. Weight Watchers, even with its new updated Points system, is not a good fit for everyone.

Clinical evidence has shown that diets don’t work long-term. Even if you have seen success with WW before, it likely didn’t stick — and this is hardly your fault! The body has biological mechanisms1 in place that cause us to crave food when we are experiencing a perceived famine (such as limiting foods or calories). There is an abundance of research2 that illustrates the restrict-binge cycle: when we restrict, we binge.

Still, Weight Watchers is the largest3 weight loss support group in the world, and their marketing dollars make success stories look both inspiring and doable. Yet, we cannot ignore the fact that not everyone experiences success, especially long-term. In fact, I could not find any clinical studies that followed WW participants long-term. Everything was 12 weeks or shorter. It makes you wonder!

In the journey toward weight loss, it’s essential to approach obstacles with empathy and a willingness to explore underlying causes. This is why exploring the psychology behind overeating is my favorite. By understanding the reasons why you’re not losing weight on WW, you can better equip yourself to make informed decisions, adjust your strategies, and ultimately find a path that works best for your unique circumstances.

The Evolution of Weight Watchers: Once Calorie-Based, Now “Flexible”

Weight Watchers was initially established in the 1960s and later evolved into a prominent, global weight loss program. In the early years, WW followed a rigid set of guidelines, including specific food requirements such as eating fish five times a week and completely eliminating certain foods like bacon and peanut butter.

Back then, clinical research had not quite caught up to the ineffectiveness of dieting. Although WW is currently still selling weight loss through dieting, they are at least more mindful of disordered eating — at least, this is my assumption as they have recently (as of 2023) veered away from completely forbidden foods.

When foods are completely off-limits, it increases our psychological preoccupation with them. When cookies aren’t allowed, they’re all we can think about!

The restrictive nature of WW, as you will soon learn, is one reason why you might not be losing weight. Too many dietary restrictions creates a preoccupation with food and increases the likelihood of binge eating.

WW also has a strong history of promoting an obsession with calorie counting, too. In the late 1990s, Weight Watchers introduced a points system that assigned values to foods based primarily on calories. While this marked a departure from the earlier, more-restricted approach, it still placed an emphasis on the weight loss philosophy of ‘calories in, calories out,’ which is now far-outdated.

As time rolled on, WW continued to evolve with the introduction of different plans like the Turnaround Program, the Momentum Plan, the PointsPlus Plan, and now just ‘Points’ as of 2023. Each plan aimed to refine and improve the weight loss experience for participants.

While clinical studies4 have shown the ineffectiveness of dieting, a select number of people see long-term success with WW. These people often become the coaches, spokespeople, and success stories for WW.

Meanwhile, most people are not losing weight on WW and, when compared to the WW success stories online, it heightens our shame around food and weight loss. “Why did they lose weight but I’m not? Why am I broken?”

Why Am I Not Losing Weight on WW?

You are not broken. Countless studies have shown5 that dieting is a predictor of long-term weight gain, not weight loss. The WW success stories are the exception to the rule. For me, eating psychology was far more effective than any diet ever was, and giving up dieting completely is far better for my mental and physical health, too.

I will dig into some tips to address your psychology instead of tracking everything you eat with WW, especially if you’re not losing weight. But first, I will provide some practical troubleshooting tips for anyone struggling with weight loss on WW.

Here are some common issues if you’re not losing weight on WW:

Issue 1: Stress and Obsession with Tracking

troubleshooting not losing weight on WW: tracking every single thing you eat creates stress & preoccupation

One challenge of WW is the constant need to track every morsel of food consumed. As I was researching this article, I was shocked to see that a woman’s blog said verbatim, “Every bite, lick and taste adds up!

While tracking can be helpful for developing awareness and accountability, it can also have a damaging psychological impact. The continuous focus on tracking may create stress and obsession around food, leading to an unhealthy relationship with eating — potentially spiraling into disordered eating or even an eating disorder.

Additionally, tracking can sometimes lead to unnecessary feelings of shame and guilt around food. If you veer off track or exceed your daily Points, it can wear at your self-esteem and confidence. As you will soon learn, this is why I am passionate about giving up dieting for the sake of weight loss and, in particular, for mental health.

Preoccupation with food and low self-esteem is a byproduct of dieting. When we give up the food rules and listen to our bodies to inform what we eat, it not only helps us reach our natural weight, but it also improves our mental health too.

Issue 2: Potential Loopholes and Overconsumption of Zero-Point Foods

troubleshooting not losing weight on WW: zero-point foods may encourage loopholes

Weight Watchers incorporates the concept of zero-point foods, which means specific foods can be eaten without tracking or measuring. While these foods are nutrient-dense and can support a healthy eating pattern, it can create a psychological ‘game’ of overeating zero-point foods and, as a result, not losing weight.

Someone eating a healthy amount of zero-point foods can still struggle with losing weight if they are stressed out. Stress does not make weight loss easy as the body prefers to store energy instead of releasing its energy reserves (body fat).

These are the mind games of dieting. Robyn Lawley, a famous Australian supermodel, summarized it perfectly in one of her interviews:

“The funny thing about starving yourself is you crave the wrong foods. When you're starving your body is in free fall because it's freaking out. When you eat normally and don't worry about those things, you never think about it. The worst part about dieting was the mind games, it was just constantly thinking and berating and starving and ruining... That was the biggest struggle [with dieting] for me, the mind games and the waste of time I spent on it. I wish I could take it back.”

What Robyn said here is supported by clinical research.6 When we restrict our diets and eat less food than our body needs (which is something that programs like WW promote in order to lose weight) the body responds1 by increasing the desire for hyper-palatable foods (i.e. foods high in carbs, fat, salt, or sugar).

The more we restrict, the more we are biologically wired to crave high-fat, high-carb, high-sugar foods. This is what causes the dieting mind-games.

Perhaps in an effort to avoid eating these “high Point” foods, people may opt for zero-point foods. Still, stress or overconsumption of zero-point foods can become a loophole and may explain why someone is not losing weight on WW.

Issue 3: The Sustainability and Long-Term Effectiveness of Weight Watchers

troubleshooting not losing weight on WW: all clinical research is short-term

While Weight Watchers can yield successful weight loss results in the short term, the long-term sustainability may pose challenges. Once again, studies have shown that dieting is a predictor of long-term weight gain, not weight loss. When I went searching for clinical studies that followed WW participants long-term, I couldn’t find any. All the research8 that supports WW only demonstrates success in the short-term.

Issue 4: WW Does Not Address Emotional Eating

troubleshooting not losing weight on WW: point-counting overlooks the root cause of eating past fullness

Another reason for not losing weight on WW is that the program fails to effectively address emotional eating. Instead of eating for hunger, emotional eating is the act of eating in response to uncomfortable emotions.

Emotional eating encompasses various types, such as hedonic eating, avoidance eating, boredom eating, and more. By solely focusing on counting points and restricting food choices, WW overlooks the emotional triggers and behaviors associated with eating.

While WW heavily revolves around support groups, these groups are not led by facilitators experienced with eating psychology. They are led by coaches that have successfully lost weight with WW (the exceptions to the rule) and are grounded in diet culture.

Addressing the psychological and emotional reasons for reaching for food without hunger is crucial to develop a healthier relationship with food. Building emotional resilience and developing non-food coping strategies are essential in overcoming emotional eating.

Issue 5: Limitations of Coaching Expertise

troubleshooting not losing weight on WW: WW coaches are the exception to the rule

Weight Watchers provides coaching support to its members, and it’s important to recognize that these coaches are individuals who have gone through the program themselves. As I previously mentioned, Weight Watchers coaches are likely the exception to the rule. They were able to lose weight on a diet long-term. This is atypical.

From my own experience as an eating psychology coach, I’ve noticed that people who lose weight on a diet long-term have often had a coinciding dramatic shift in life circumstances at the exact same time.

For example, when someone goes through a divorce (a divorce that is relieving, not depleting) or quits a high-stress job, these circumstances can make it easier for someone to lose weight naturally.

I personally believe that these people likely would have lost weight without WW or any diet simply by listening to their body to inform what and when they eat. When stress goes down, it is incredible how quickly the body adapts all on its own. Your body is smart and wired for homeostasis.

The body is biologically wired to want to keep energy reserves (body fat) around while under stress; and it is also wired to reach homeostasis under normal circumstances such as “normal eating” (i.e. eating when you’re hungry, stopping when you’re full).

Issue 6: Lack of Sleep Affects Hunger Hormones

troubleshooting not losing weight on WW: lack of sleep releases hormones that increase hunger

A lack of sleep can significantly impact weight loss progress, even when following a program like Weight Watchers. Insufficient sleep can disrupt various hormonal processes in the body, leading to increased appetite, cravings for unhealthy foods, and a slower metabolism.

When sleep-deprived,9 the body produces more ghrelin, the hormone responsible for stimulating hunger, while reducing levels of leptin, the hormone that signals feelings of fullness. As a result, individuals may find themselves eating more and making less healthy food choices, hindering their weight loss efforts.

Furthermore, when the body is tired, it craves quick sources of energy, often in the form of sugary or high-calorie foods. Although added sugars “drive up the Points” on WW, sleep-deprived individuals may find themselves reaching for sugar anyways.

While individuals are restricting foods on WW, which can also increase stress, subsequent binges on sugar or carbs can cause the body to prefer storing it in adipose tissue (body fat) instead of using it as fuel. If you’re not losing weight on WW, biology is a powerful factor.

Issue 7: Inadequate Physical Activity or Variation in Exercise

troubleshooting not losing weight on WW: exercise helps boost your metabolism — just don't let it create excessive stress

Another possible reason for not losing weight on WW could be insufficient physical activity. Weight Watchers encourages members to incorporate physical activity into their routines, as it contributes to overall wellness and helps boost metabolism. Keep in mind that exercise should always strike a balance.

I have seen many clients make the mistake of over-exercising for weight loss. Although exercise is good for a healthy metabolism, exercising in a stressful way (i.e. working out after a long day even when you’re physically spent) is counterproductive to weight loss. Again, the body does not like to release energy reserves under stress.

Another aspect to consider is the lack of variation in exercise routines. Repeating the same workouts or sticking to a single type of exercise can lead to plateaus and diminished results over time. The body adapts to repetitive movements, resulting in fewer caloric expenditures and reduced fitness gains.

However, instead of focusing on exercising to lose weight, it is better for both physical and mental health to focus on exercising in ways that intuitively feel good. This is known as intuitive movement, and it emphasizes listening to your body’s needs and finding joy in movement. More on this soon.

Exploring Other Ways to Lose Weight Without WW

If you’re frustrated from not losing weight on WW, perhaps it’s time to explore alternative ways of losing weight without dieting or WW. Instead of perpetuating the restrict-binge cycle, let’s break free from traditional diets.

Dieting involves strict rules, calorie counting, and food restrictions, which can lead to feelings of deprivation and ultimately result in overeating. By seeking an alternative approach, you can establish a healthier and more sustainable relationship with food, focusing on nourishing their bodies rather than depriving themselves.

Allow All Foods

troubleshooting not losing weight on WW: removing the restrictions gets food off your brain

When it comes to achieving and maintaining a healthy weight, one approach that challenges traditional dieting is the concept of allowing all foods. This perspective emphasizes giving yourself permission to eat the foods you desire, including those that may be considered “forbidden” or restricted in conventional weight loss programs.

When you remove restrictions around certain foods, you decrease preoccupation with them, decrease the amount of “air time” you give to them, and reduce the psychological desire for what you can’t have.

By allowing all foods, you eliminate the notion of labeling foods as “good” or “bad.” This allows you to nourish your body with the nutrients it needs while still enjoying the foods you love. Although WW promises that you can still eat the foods you love, one scrumptious dessert will usually cost all the Points you have for the entire day.

Stop Dieting Behaviors that Create Stress

troubleshooting not losing weight on WW: giving up dieting is not giving up on health — it's a reclamation of mental and physical health

Contrary to common belief, giving up dieting doesn’t mean gaining weight; in fact, it can release the stress and obsession associated with dieting, leading to a healthier relationship with food and ultimately supporting weight loss.

By giving up dieting, you remove the constant rules, restrictions, and calorie counting that often lead to feelings of deprivation and the subsequent tendency to overeat or binge on forbidden foods. Instead, you can focus on listening to your body’s natural hunger and fullness cues and eat according to your intuition.

Dieting often creates a heightened sense of pressure and anxiety around food, which can have negative impacts on both physical and mental well-being. By releasing this stress and embracing a more intuitive and relaxed approach to eating, you can support your body’s natural ability to find its natural weight.

Remember, the goal of giving up dieting is not to give up on your health or weight loss goals but rather to find a more sustainable and balanced approach.

It’s about finding freedom from the restrict-binge cycle and cultivating a positive and intuitive connection with your body and food. Embracing this new mindset can lead to a sense of empowerment, improved well-being, and a healthier weight that is sustainable in the long run.

Listen to Your Natural Hunger and Fullness

troubleshooting not losing weight on WW: hunger sensations will return after you give up dieting

One of the key aspects of giving up dieting and embracing a healthier relationship with food is learning to listen to your body’s natural hunger and fullness cues. Tune into physical hunger, which typically manifests as physical sensations in your body such as a gnawing or empty feeling in your stomach, hunger pangs, or growling/rumbling noises.

If you don’t know what hunger feels like anymore, you’re not alone. This is a common side effect of excessive dieting. As you work to distance yourself from diet culture and practice listening to your body, it will reemerge.

Equally important is honoring your body’s fullness signals. Pay attention to the moment when you feel satisfied but not overly stuffed. Pause during your meals, check in with yourself, and stop eating when you’ve reached this point.

Stopping when you’re full can be the hardest part, in my opinion. If you struggle with this, my next tool can help.

Practice the Stop, Drop, & Feel®️ to Stop Emotional Eating

how to stop a binge in its tracks with the Stop, Drop, & Feel®️

The Stop, Drop, & Feel is a powerful tool to stop overeating and address the hidden emotions behind compulsive eating. Some people are aware that they are eating to numb their emotions while others have no idea. No matter which camp you are in, the Stop, Drop, & Feel can help.

Follow these steps to practice it effectively:

  1. Stop: Pause and give yourself permission to eat the desired food later if you still want it after practicing the Stop, Drop, & Feel. If you skip this step, it will not work. Permission to Eat is critical.
  2. Drop: Find a quiet space, set a timer for 2 minutes, and get curious about how you’re feeling in that moment. Don’t force it or intellectualize it. Just get curious and compassionate with what comes up.
  3. Feel: Allow yourself to feel your emotions without resistance or judgment for the entire 2 minutes. When the timer goes up, assess whether or not you want to eat. Nine times out of ten, you won’t. When you still have the desire to eat, it’s important to eat and eat guilt-free to avoid unnecessary stress.

The Stop, Drop, & Feel helps you develop emotional awareness and emotional tolerance, building resilience in the face of uncomfortable emotions. Remember, it’s not about avoiding or restricting food but addressing the underlying emotions.

Although this tool is simple, it is a big ask to feel your feelings in the precise moment that you want to reach for food instead. That’s why I encourage you to do it for just 2 minutes. It’s short enough to actually do without procrastination taking over.

Choose Intuitive Movement Over Stressful Exercise

troubleshooting not losing weight on WW: stretch, yoga, walk, or run — do whatever intuitively feels good

Now that you have tools to stop dieting and address the moments when you want to eat without hunger, let’s talk about exercise. While diet culture pushes exercise for weight loss, it’s important to prioritize intuitive movement that feels good to you.

Instead of engaging in stressful and rigid exercise routines, focus on activities that bring you joy and support your overall well-being. It’s worth repeating that a common problem I see in my eating psychology coaching practice is people pushing exercise too hard.

People are making themselves run when they don’t even like running. These are usually high-performing individuals who are already working hard in their careers. Suffice to say: their stress levels are already high. In this case, running is a source of stress, not joy.

Intuitive movement is about listening to your body’s needs and honoring your energy levels. It means finding activities that you genuinely enjoy and that align with your physical and mental state on any given day. This could include walking in nature, dancing, practicing yoga, swimming, or engaging in any other form of movement that brings you pleasure.

Allow Your Self-Trust to Reemerge Over Time

troubleshooting not losing weight on WW: dieting diminishes self-trust, and it will reemerge in due time

If you’ve been dieting for decades or consistently eating past fullness, it can erode your self-esteem and self-trust. After years of following external rules and restrictions, we may doubt our ability to make sound decisions about what and when to eat.

However, by practicing the art of listening to your body, you can rebuild this trust and regain confidence in your own innate wisdom. It does require practice and patience, but it is fully worth it.

Setting Realistic Expectations for Weight Loss

When it comes to weight loss, it’s important to set realistic expectations to maintain a healthy and sustainable approach. Often, we are bombarded with promises of rapid weight loss or drastic transformations, but the truth is that slow and steady progress is more beneficial in the long run.

On the official WW website they say:

People following the PointsPlus program can expect to lose between .5 and 2 pounds per week. But for some — especially those closer to goal — it can be at the bottom of that range, if not a little below it. Give it time. Even .2 of a pound per week adds up to more than 10 pounds in a year.”

In my opinion, tracking every single thing you eat and adding up points for an entire year just to lose 10 pounds – maybe – is ludicrous. It is a big ask with little return. It erodes self-trust and connection to your inner wisdom that already knows what and when to eat to reach a healthy weight.

Instead of focusing on a goal weight, it can help to get curious about your “natural weight” or “set point weight.”10

Set point weight refers to the weight range that your body naturally gravitates toward when you're living a healthy, balanced lifestyle.

Rather than fixating on a goal weight, it can be more helpful to focus on achieving a state of overall well-being. This includes nourishing your body with nutritious foods, engaging in intuitive movement that feels good, and prioritizing rest and self-care. By shifting the focus to holistic health, weight loss becomes a byproduct of living a healthy and fulfilling life.

What to Do When You’re Not Losing Weight on WW

If you’re feeling frustrated by your weight loss journey on Weight Watchers, know that you’re not alone. Many individuals struggle with not losing weight on WW, and it can be an incredibly disheartening experience. The reality is that Weight Watchers, like many other diets, may not be a good fit for everyone.

Clinical evidence has shown that diets don’t work in the long term, and the body’s biological mechanisms often lead to cravings and overeating when we restrict food or calories. It’s important to understand that not achieving weight loss on WW is hardly your fault. The restrict-binge cycle is a common phenomenon that arises from the body’s response to perceived famine.

If you want to address the psychology of eating instead, check out my free ebook below. It comes with a free 5 day email course on Psycho-Spiritual Wellness, which is my approach to stopping compulsive eating rooted in psychology and spirituality. The ebook below explains everything.

  1. Thomas, Elizabeth A et al. “Eating-related behaviors and appetite during energy imbalance in obese-prone and obese-resistant individuals.” Appetite vol. 65 (2013): 96-102. doi:10.1016/j.appet.2013.01.015
  2. Masheb, R M, and C M Grilo. “On the relation of attempting to lose weight, restraint, and binge eating in outpatients with binge eating disorder.” Obesity research vol. 8,9 (2000): 638-45. doi:10.1038/oby.2000.82
  3. Risto Moisio , Mariam Beruchashvili, Questing for Well-Being at Weight Watchers: The Role of the Spiritual-Therapeutic Model in a Support Group, Journal of Consumer Research, Volume 36, Issue 5, February 2010, Pages 857–875, https://doi.org/10.1086/605590
  4. Dulloo, Abdul G. “Physiology of weight regain: Lessons from the classic Minnesota Starvation Experiment on human body composition regulation.” Obesity reviews : an official journal of the International Association for the Study of Obesity vol. 22 Suppl 2 (2021): e13189. doi:10.1111/obr.13189
  5. Lowe, Michael R et al. “Dieting and restrained eating as prospective predictors of weight gain.” Frontiers in psychology vol. 4 577. 2 Sep. 2013, doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2013.00577
  6. Cameron, Jameason D et al. “Energy depletion by diet or aerobic exercise alone: impact of energy deficit modality on appetite parameters.” The American journal of clinical nutrition vol. 103,4 (2016): 1008-16. doi:10.3945/ajcn.115.115584
  7. Thomas, Elizabeth A et al. “Eating-related behaviors and appetite during energy imbalance in obese-prone and obese-resistant individuals.” Appetite vol. 65 (2013): 96-102. doi:10.1016/j.appet.2013.01.015
  8. Ahern, A.L., Olson, A.D., Aston, L.M. et al. Weight Watchers on prescription: An observational study of weight change among adults referred to Weight Watchers by the NHS. BMC Public Health 11, 434 (2011). https://doi.org/10.1186/1471-2458-11-434
  9. Mosavat, Maryam et al. “The Role of Sleep Curtailment on Leptin Levels in Obesity and Diabetes Mellitus.” Obesity facts vol. 14,2 (2021): 214-221. doi:10.1159/000514095
  10. Müller, Manfred J et al. “Is there evidence for a set point that regulates human body weight?.” F1000 medicine reports vol. 2 59. 9 Aug. 2010, doi:10.3410/M2-59

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The Spiritual Seeker's Guide to Stop Binge Eating

The Spiritual Seeker’s Guide to Stop Binge Eating will show you even more insight into the subconscious reasons why we eat past fullness — even when we really don’t want to! (It’s a free, 13-page, beautifully-illustrated PDF.)

When you sign up, you’ll also get a free 5-part crash course in Psycho-Spiritual Wellness to catch you up to speed. It’s perfect if you’re new to my blog. Sign up below:

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If you think food is your weakness, take the quiz and give me the chance to change your mind. There are just 8 questions.

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Bestseller: Why We Do the Things We Do

If you’re ready to take things even deeper, check out my most popular workbook, Why We Do the Things We Do: A Workbook to Curb Self-Sabotage.

By actually putting pen to paper, you’ll be surprised by what comes up. This is how you can discover your unique psychological blocks to compulsive eating.

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If you like everything you’ve read so far, this is the perfect place to make massive progress. (It’s my bestseller, after all!)

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