The Original Weight Watchers Plan

Many times I've heard -- and maybe you have, too -- "Forget that crazy low-carb stuff, I'm going on Weight Watchers, and learn how to eat a healthy diet." Personally, I have little patience for the Weight Watchers points system, and no belief that it's inherently healthy. So far as I can tell, it's an algorithm for calculating how much junk you can eat and still lose some weight.

They did have a "Core" program I thought well of; my sister has done very well on the Core plan. It consists of a group of foods that are "core" -- all lean meats, poultry and fish, all fruits and vegetables, all fat-free dairy, a little olive oil, a very few grain products (the only ones I'm aware of are barley, brown rice, and unflavored oatmeal) -- which the member may eat freely, till "satisfied but not stuffed." Apparently the core foods were chosen for nutritional value, satiety, calorie count, and -- and this is interesting -- their lack of binge-worthiness. The dieter is also allowed 35 points per week to spend on non-core foods; my sister spends several of hers on a glass of red wine with supper. The Core program has gone away, though my sister says that the core foods have been relabeled "filling foods", and there is a suggestion of those who find the points system hard to follow or ineffective relying largely on those foods, with 35 points a week, so the idea remains.

But where did the Weight Watchers program start? I happen to know, because I was on Weight Watchers at the age of 11, which would have been 1969. The company was founded in 1963, so those were early days. I happen to have my mother's old Weight Watchers cookbook, the original 1966 edition, which includes the original plan. For daily intake, a woman was allowed:

Breakfast: 1 egg or 1 ounce hard cheese or 2 ounces fish or 1/4 cup cottage or pot cheese
1 slice bread, either enriched or whole wheat (This was back in the day when "enriched" bread was considered the nutritional equal of whole grain. No rolls, bagels, buscuits muffins, crackers, cereals, or special breads were allowed.)

Luncheon: 4 ounces fish or lean meat or poultry, or 2/3 cup cottage cheese or pot cheese or 4 ounces farmer cheese or 2 ounces hard cheese or 2 eggs.
All you want of unlimited vegetables
1 slice bread

Dinner: 6 ounces lean meat or fish or poultry
1 portion limited vegetables
All you want of unlimited vegetables

Must be taken at some time during the day: A total of three fruits, one of them an orange or grapefruit
2 cups skim milk or buttermilk or 1 cup skimmed evaporated milk

May be taken at any time of day: Any unlimited foods, which included many vegetables, calorie free beverages, and bouillon.

It is interesting to note that the permitted fruits were limited to
1 apple
1/2 cantaloupe
1/2 grapefruit
2" wedge of honeydew
1 orange
1/4 medium-sized pineapple

Specifically excluded were bananas, cherries, watermelon, grapes, and all dried fruits. Bananas are among the carbiest and highest-calorie fruits, and of course dried fruits might as well be candy. Watermelon is also fairly high carb. But I wonder about the exclusion of cherries and grapes; I wonder if it had to do with the fact that it's easy to just keep popping them in your mouth.

Interesting, too, is the list of limited vegetables:

Artichokes
bamboo shoots
beets
brussels sprouts
carrots
eggplant
green beans (mature) (I assume this meant with fully-developed beans inside)
okra
onions
oyster plant
parsnips
peas
pumpkin
scallions
squash (yellow) (I assume they meant winter squashes)
tomato
tomato juice
turnips

Most of these are among the carbier vegetables, certainly higher carb than, say, lettuce or celery. The unlimited vegetables are all very low carb, including the leafy stuff like lettuce, cabbage and spinach, cauliflower, broccoli, asparagus, etc.

Fish was to be eaten at least five times per week, liver at least once a week, and beef. frankfurters, lamb, and dark meat turkey no more than three times per week.

It appears to me from this that the original WW program was largely a low calorie diet focused on real, whole foods, and that there was an emphasis not only on calorie and fat restriction, but also on carbohydrate restriction. There was sufficient protein, too -- about 80-100 grams per day. I've worked out a few sample days, and and even with that bread I came up with no more than 100 grams of usable carb -- not super-low carb, but a whole lot lower carb than the average American eats. Too, except for the bread those would be carbs with a pretty gentle blood sugar impact, not as likely as some to spike blood sugar and cause hunger. Furthermore, the program required you to eat that bread at meals, with a protein source, which would gentle the blood sugar curve.

There is, of course, a serious lack of binge-able carbs like chips, candy, cookies and cereal.

It's interesting to note that the inspiration for the original WW plan was Dr. Norman Joliffe's "Prudent Diet," one of the first diets touted as being "heart-healthy" -- this was at the very beginning of the "fat is bad for your heart" craze. The Weight Watchers website specifically states the the protein fraction was reduced and the carbohydrate fraction increased during the '70s, in response to government dictates that fat was bad and carbohydrate good. It was not until the late '90s that the points system was initiated, allowing virtually any food, no matter how nutritionally vacant (and encouraging some, like WW desserts, which are nutritional garbage -- low calorie nutritional garbage, but nutritional garbage nonetheless.)

But there's still a clear echo, in the original plan, of the common wisdom of the previous century, that if you wanted to lose weight, you needed to axe the carbs.

It might be added that I think the best idea Weight Watchers has come up with is the support group meetings. Correspondence from readers tells me that overwhelmingly those who feel supported -- either by their family, by a "diet buddy," or by seeking out internet support -- are the ones most likely to succeed long-term. Perhaps we need a diet club based on a low carb diet? There's a business idea there, I suspect.

Share this

WW calories

I was on the original WW program a long time ago. So the calories were about 1200 total?
The program worked well for me as long as I stayed on it. I've been thinking of getting back on it for life.

Low calorie

Before you say that this is a "starvation" diet, remember that in the 1960s, this diet was primarily aimed at stay at home wives who did little activity beyond housework. It is literally a diet by which you can lose weight without exercise. (Let's not get into muscle retention and cardiac health, either. Those things weren't much talked about either in terms of women of the 60s.) WW didn't start advocating and including exercise as a part of their regimen until the 80s with the "pep step" program. At this time, maybe a little before, they increased the caloric intake for women to around 1400-1600.

Original Weight Watchers Still Great

Dana,
We met on alt.support.diet a Usenet Group, back in the 1990's. After losing eighty six pounds I next followed the SCD diet for thirteen years as I developed celiac like symptoms.. And I did hold the toast. I work hard to maintain the loss. Back in 1968 I originally had great success on the first WW program (Dr. Norman Joliffe's cardio plan, which propelled Jean Nieiditch to success and fame). I liked that better than any other diet I have ever followed for weight control. I gave away my WW cookbook last year and thank you for making it possible to recover the original instructions. I agree that the weekly meetings were amazing, inspiring and highly motivating. I actually went on to a full time job at my area WW franchise, lecturing, training lecturers and creating recipes. Recently I moved and met someone I inspired all those years ago and she has kept her weight off. We renewed a friendship that began forty four years ago. My question: What do you suggest as a substitute for the bread for me if I want to follow the original WW again??

<Sigh>

My sister is on the points plan and has lost 20 pounds. Today she was thrilled to note that her "low-fat" cool whip was 0 points. I pointed out that the 2nd and 3rd ingredients were corn syrup solids and hydrogenated oil, and she said, "Oh, we don't count that stuff. It doesn't matter."

Ohhhhkay. So I left it alone.

"Diet plate"

I wasn't on Weight Watchers at the time - but I do remember my local Big Boy restaurant having a "Dieter's Plate" that was a plain burger patty, some cottage cheese, a small tossed salad, and maybe a pineapple ring! This would have been in the mid- to late '70s.

Sadly, I think the low-carb diet support group is probably a non-starter as a business unless the person starting it could get by without a bank loan; you'd have to convince a bank that there was enough demand for the service, and low-carb is just so 2002...

Diet Plate

Yep, every diner and corner coffee shop had something similar. You might get a packet of Rye Crisps with it, but might not.

As for the low carb diet club, maybe private investors would be interested. Not that I really want to try to start a national business, thanks.

fat/starch

I remember the first time I heard it was fat that made you fat, 72-73. I was surprised when I heard it, I had thought until then that it was common knowledge that starch was what made you fat.

I, too, was on the original

I, too, was on the original WW program when I was 13 (1968), along with my grandmother, mother, and aunt. Being a kid, I was at the mercy of my mother's culinary skills and I can attest that ocean perch poached in diet orange soda is gross. The one thing that made me crazy, though, was the initial ban on fat. After a few years 1 tablespoon of oil, margarine, butter, or mayonnaise was permitted, but we were advised that if we wanted to lose weight faster, we should omit the fat (oh yeah, 120 cals. of fat will make you fat!). My grandmother was the only one of us who refused to go without oil on her salad, and she was the only one of us who did not have to have her gallbladder removed (within 5-10 years afterward). I was only 19 years old when mine had to go! I wish I had replaced the bread with fat!! I remember my grandmother being amazed that anyone could lose weight eating so much food and proclaiming that it had to be some kind of chemical reaction in the body.

So Much Food

So much food my butt. None of the menus I worked out from the original WW plan came to more than 1200 calories, and some were less than 1000. The medical world considers that a starvation diet.

I think she referring to the

I think she referring to the quantities of food that was permitted, not the calorie counts. The unlimited (#3) non-starchy vegetables(such as a head of iceberg lettuce, cans of mushrooms, etc.) along with the nightly serving of the starchy vegetable filled her up. She used to blend her 2/3 c. of powdered milk into a 'milkshake' made with diet pop and frozen strawberries, which filled her blender container. Coming from a liquid diet (Metrecal), 10+ oz. of protein/day and three servings of fruit was pretty good to her. Of course, starving to death metabolically while happily believing you're doing the right thing is tragic.

#3

Ah, yes, #3 versus #4 veggies. Didn't bring that up, but I always wondered why they were #3 and #4, not #1 and #2?

I need to try making "Weight Watchers Peanuts" again. You take canned whole mushrooms, drain 'em, and roast 'em till they're all shriveled and crispy, to use as a snack. Actually sounds like it might be reasonably tasty, and seriously low-carb.

Did I hear low carb diet

Did I hear low carb diet club? Count me in.

Weight watchers

I was also on WW back in the 60s....would have been 67-68 for me...but I was also a bit older, around 13 I think.

Remember the super thin bread? 1/2 the thickness of regular bread....so you could make a sandwich! LOL It was very carb light!! Worked for me then!

Super-thin bread

My mother developed the knack of sawing a slice of bread in half horizontally. Oh, and I have a cookbook from the early '60s (by my cookbook idol,Peg Bracken) in which it is suggested that one serve sandwiches open-faced, because if you put the second slice on they're only starchier. She also stated at one point that if you felt the need to diet, it was nice if you felt rich at the same time, because then you could eat steak and strawberries out of season, and no one would realize you were dieting.

Boy, would I love a low carb

Boy, would I love a low carb diet club! I have little to no support in terms of eating low carb, and it's *sooo* hard, especially with a lot of people I know not even really understanding or respecting it the way they would if I said I was just reducing calories or even eating low fat. Not only would a low carb club offer the support people need, but it would help give low carb the appearance of validity to go along with its actual validity, thus helping low carbers even more.