11/19 Update: new myWW Program - the most customizable ever - Launched!
Warning: Serious Weight Loss Rambling ahead; Proceed at Your Own Risk!
I'm taking a break from my regularly scheduled WW Meal Planning this week to provide some food for thought instead...
Did you ever have a nagging thought that you just couldn't get out of your head? Here's one that I've been wrestling with for a while now:
"The old Weight Watchers food based exchange program (Quick Success) from the late 1980s / early 1990s was better for weight loss than counting points or points plus."
This would be quickly followed by: "How could that be?" "You're nuts." "Weight Watchers is a huge public company that knows a lot more than you do." "It's so retro." "It's just because you learned it first, it's the plan you had initial success with and became a lifetime member following." "You're being nostalgic."
I did lose weight and become a lifetime member following, Quick Success, Weight Watchers food based exchange program, long before they switched over to Points.
I followed the plan, learned a ton about healthy balanced eating and portion control and consistently lost weight week after week.
Naive and cocky, I failed to take maintenance seriously. I thought I'd be able to go it alone—a big mistake in retrospect.
Live and learn. I now know that I need systems, discipline, accountability and support to maintain a happy healthy weight.
Martha McKinnon's Weight Watchers Story: Part 1
Martha McKinnon's Weight Watchers Story: Part 2
Martha McKinnon's Weight Watchers Story: Part 3
Recently, I had a lightbulb moment: While I learned the Weight Watchers Points and Points Plus systems, and know how to calculate them, I don't think in terms of Points, I think in terms of numbers of servings of food groups. What I learned way way back in that early 1990s Weight Watchers exchange plan has stuck with me all these years.
I think because it's logical. You eat real food from all the food groups: starch, protein, fat, fruits, vegetables, and dairy. You are allotted so many servings from each food group every day. Once you learn serving sizes and number of servings, it's easy to stay on track.
This way of eating was first developed for diabetics as a way to keep their blood sugar stable. And it worked really well for me. It's a healthy balanced way of eating. It was "clean eating" back before such a term even existed.
Food exchange programs like this have been around for decades and are well tested. There's nothing sexy, flashy or trendy about them, but they work. With exchanges you never forget that you are talking about FOOD.
So, while counting points works for some people, so does counting counting calories or food groups, and I think it's a whole lot simpler, which is important when you are prone to laziness the way I am. When it comes to weight loss, simple is the only thing that has ever worked for me.
Then I read this interesting article in the NYT Article, which agreed with me and essentially said…
Recognizing this new evidence, the scientists on the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, for the first time in 35 years have sent recommendations to the government without any upper limit on total fat. In addition, reduced-fat foods were specifically not recommended for obesity prevention. Instead, the committee encouraged consumption according to healthful food-based diet patterns.
The limit on total fat is an outdated concept, an obstacle to sensible change that promotes harmful low-fat foods, undermines efforts to limit refined grains and added sugars, and discourages the food industry from developing products higher in healthy fats. Fortunately, the people behind the Dietary Guidelines understand that. Will the government, policy makers and the food industry take notice this time?
It turns out the scientists on the 2105 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee for the US, agree with me 🙂 We should learn to eat according to healthful food-based diet patterns, just like I learned to do back with that old Weight Watchers Quick Start Exchange Program.
The sad thing is that US dietary policy and Weight Watchers can't change on a dime. It will take years or decades for this information to make its way out to the masses. In the meantime folks will continue to struggle with low fat diet thinking.
Back to the Future Weight Loss
Everyone does Weight Watchers differently. For me, the best approach to weight management is a hybrid one. I will always love Weight Watchers comprehensive approach to weight loss. As anyone who has ever struggled with weight knows, it's about a lot more than just food and exercise.
Weight Watchers meetings are a great source of accountability and support and help with the myriad challenges of losing weight and keeping it off. In that the regard, the Weight Watchers program is better than ever.
I don't believe that the Program has changed all that much. People are always the same; they'll always care for each other. They'll always need to know first of all, that they're not alone; secondly they're not bad people for being overweight; and third, if they really want something, it's within their power to go and get it.
- Jean Nidetch (Weight Watchers Founder)
If PointsPlus are working for you and you don't find the process cumbersome, that's great. Stick with what is working for you.
But if counting points is not working, if calculating them seems overly complicated, or if you feel like you need more structure, you may want to experiment with the old food based exchange approach, like the one in the Weight Watchers' Quick Success Program Cookbook.
The bottom line is that to lose weight you need to figure out a way to eat less (create a calorie deficit) that you can live with.
Why I Think the Old Weight Watchers Food Based Exchange Plan Was Better for Weight Loss
I learned healthy balanced eating and portion control. It was not as restrictive as the Old Original Weight Watchers Plan from the 1960s, but more so than today's approach which doesn't provide enough structure and discipline for some folks.
I believe that when you are learning a new skill, such as healthy balanced eating, you need to start with the basics. You need clear instructions and guidance. You essentially need to be told what to do. You need training wheels until you learn to find your balance and begin riding without them.
We somehow have gotten to the place in our development where many of us are completely confused about how to feed ourselves in a healthy balanced way. We are overwhelmed by conflicting information. I was lost and confused when I first began WW back in the early 1990s.
WW Quick Success with it's food based exchanges taught me a healthy balanced approach to eating that I've carried with me through to today.
The exchange lists group foods together because they are alike. Foods on each list have about the same amount of carbohydrate, protein, fat and calories.
Basics of the Weight Watchers Food Based Exchange Weight Loss Program
Under the Weight Watchers Quick Success Program, as a woman, I was allowed the following each day:
- 2-3 fruit exchanges
- 3+ vegetable exchanges
- 5-6 protein exchanges
- 2-3 bread/starch exchanges
- 3 fat exchanges
- 2 milk exchanges
- Beginning with the 5th week 1 optional floating exchange
- Optional calories per week: no more than 150 week 1, no more than 200 week 2 no more than 300 week 3, no more than 400 week 4, no more than 500 week 5 and beyond.
Once you had used up your exchanges and optional calories, the only choice was to supplement with vegetables if you were still hungry. There were days when I ate a lot of vegetables 🙂 Green beans and salsa were a particular favorite.
Examples from the Fruit Group
Generally 1 serving is equal to:
- 1 small fruit like an apple or orange (about 4 ounces or ¾ cup)
- 1 cup strawberries
- 1 cup melon
- ½ banana
- ½ medium grapefruit
- ½ cup blueberries, blackberries, raspberries
- 12 large or 20 small grapes
- ½ cup canned unsweetened fruit
- ½ cup fruit juice
- 2 dates
- 4 dried apricot halves
- 2 tablespoons raisins
Examples from the Vegetable Group
Generally 1 serving is equal to:
- 1 cup raw leafy green vegetables like lettuce or spinach
- ½ cup of most other vegetables, raw or cooked
- ½ cup vegetable juice
Examples from the Protein Group
Generally 1 serving is equal to:
- 1 ounce cooked meat, poultry or fish
- 1 egg
- 1 ounce hard or semisoft cheese
- ⅓ cup cottage cheese
- ¼ cup canned tuna or salmon
- 3 ounces tofu
- ¼ cup cooked dried beans, peas or lentils
Examples from the Bread/Starch Group
Generally 1 serving is equal to:
- 1-ounce of bread or crackers
- ½ english muffin
- ½ cup cooked cereal or pasta
- ¾ cup cold cereal
- ½ cup starchy vegetable (potatoes, peas, corn)
Examples from the Fat Group
Generally 1 serving is equal to:
- 1 teaspoon oil or butter or margarine or lard or mayonnaise or animal fat
- 1-½ teaspoons salad dressing
Examples from the Milk Group
Generally 1 serving is equal to:
- 1 cup skim milk or 1% fat milk
- 1 cup soymilk
- ¾ cup buttermilk
- ⅓ cup instant nonfat dry milk
- ½ cup low fat yogurt
- ¾ cup nonfat yogurt
Sample Menu Based on OLD WW Food Exchanges*
- ½ cup Pineapple Chunks
- ⅓ cup Cottage Cheese
- ½ cup Skim Milk
- Coffee or Tea
- Chicken & Swiss on Rye (1-½ ounces sliced chicken and ½ ounce Swiss cheese, lettuce, and 1 teaspoon mayonnaise on 2 slices reduced calorie rye bread)
- 6 Celery Sticks and 3 Cherry Tomatoes
- 1 cup Watermelon Chunks
- Coffee, Tea or Mineral Water
- 3 ounces Baked Chicken Cutlet sprinkled with Lemon Juice and Chopped Parsley
- 1 serving Mozzarella, Tomato and Arugula Salad
- ½ cup each cooked Cauliflower and Green Beans
- ½ cup pudding
- 1 cup Strawberries with ½ cup Plain Yogurt
*Men and Youths add 2 Protein Exchanges, 2 Bread Exchanges, and 1 Fruit Exchange; Youths add 1 Milk Exchange
The system provided much more structure than the current points system which was important because I was clueless about how to nourish myself. It forced me to eat in a balanced way that's effective at keeping hunger at bay.
The old system taught me about what foods are categorized as proteins, starches, fats, fruits, vegetables and milk. And what amount makes a serving. I learned that ½ a medium banana or 12 large grapes was equal to 1 fruit exchange and that ½ cup of cooked rice or pasta or one one ounce slice of bread equaled one starch exchange.
Sample of Old Weight Watchers Quick Start Food Tracker
These days when I want to track/food journal for a few days, I tend to use a small notebook. I just jot down what I ate for breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks. And I use check marks to keep track of my exchanges:
B) ⅓ cup cottage cheese (1 Protein), ½ cup pineapple chunks (1 fruit), 1 slice wheat toast (1 bread)
Watch Martha Tell Her Own Weight Watchers Story
- Martha McKinnon's Weight Watchers Story: Part 1
- Martha McKinnon's Weight Watchers Story: Part 2
- Martha McKinnon's Weight Watchers Story: Part 3
My first big realization came right away when I discovered how super-sized my portions had been. It was a HUGE wake up call that I've never forgotten.
The first few weeks on a plan like this can be really challenging. Especially if you are used to loading up on whatever is convenient whenever you want.
But, then you begin to notice how good you feel. I never feel too full or bloated or get stomach aches or headaches when I eat according to this plan. And my cravings subside because the truth is that we tend to crave what we eat regularly.
When I'm eating greasy pizza and Chinese food once or twice a week, I find myself craving greasy pizza and Chinese food. When I stopped eating it all the time, I craved it less. Honest!
Weight loss takes time and practice and patience to achieve lasting results. I'm glad the scientists on the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee are encouraging us to eat according to healthful food-based diet patterns. It feels like a big step back in the right direction.
Have you had experience with the Old Weight Watchers Food Based Exchange Plan? Did it work for you? Are you happy with Points Plus?
Have you ever considered going back to the Old Weight Watchers way or would that seem crazy?
I'd love to get your thoughts.
If you are interested in following the old WW Program you can buy the Weight Watchers' Quick Success Program Cookbook, which includes plan/program details and 5 weeks of Meal Plans on Amazon.
More Interesting Reading About Food Exchange Plans
- Healthy Slice of Life
- Frugal Fat Loss Exchange Plan
- Diet to Go Meal Delivery: Healthy Eating Made Easy
Martha is the founder and main content writer for Simple-Nourished-Living.
A longtime lifetime WW at goal, she is committed to balancing her love of food and desire to stay slim while savoring life and helping others do the same.
She is the author of the Smart Start 28-Day Weight Loss Challenge.
A huge fan of the slow cooker and confessed cookbook addict, when she's not experimenting in the kitchen, you're likely to find Martha on her yoga mat.
This post contains affiliate links to products I like. When you buy something through one of my Amazon links or other (affiliate links), I receive a small commission that helps support this site. Thank you for your purchase!
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Someone on a Facebook WW group linked this article! I did this 20 years ago as well. After reading this, I made a spreadsheet to look like the old log sheets. I’m going to go back to this. It makes so much more sense to me. Thank you for posting this!
I bought that book about 5 years ago on Ebay, I think. I never really had any success with the points program. Just took it out again and noticed how close it is to the Golo Plan. Have a certain portion of all these groups at every meal. Made my own log sheet also and will follow this again. The old "I've had too many starches today never left my head. Sometimes the only way to go forward is to go backwards.
Hi Helen, Well said! The basics will always work. Best of luck. ~Martha
When WW came out with the point system…they lost me. It was way easier to follow the original very healthy eating plan from the 60’s. Just look, see, follow and LOSE! No counting points.
I became Lifetime in 1985. The Exchange based plans were easy and taught us a healthy way to eat. This most recent 2022 plan made no sense. Drink water and get more food...what the heck?! Felt like a game. Hopefully the 2023 plan will be better. But yes, I would prefer to go back to the Exchange plans!!
In 1995, I was was successful with Weight Watchers after the birth of my first child. Then I became pregnant again and have NEVER been able to ditch the weight. I have enrolled in WW at least 6 times only to become frustrated with the program tracking, the cost and VERY little weight loss and none that I was able to maintain.
Last night, again, I told my husband that I was going to try to create my own version of the food exchange program...and then is searched for it and found your article!
Thank you. I am encouraged for the first time is a very long time.
Thank you so much for sharing the old WWs program. I had great success on it and have been looking for it for years. I have tried the points, etc., newer programs with no luck! I appreciate all your comments and thoughts on the plan and plan on getting back on it!
Thanks so much for posting this. I used this method. Mine was written down on a piece of notebook paper. I was in college and another girl had used this method to lose weight. She helped out about three of us with the list. I had vaguely remembered her saying something about weight watchers. So glad to find this. I went to a size 3 from a 10 on this diet. Of course, I am nowhere near even the size 10. I thought I was fat then..... Ugh! Anyway, thanks again.
Lora, Happy to be able to help! ~Martha
I was on weight watchers in 1995 and reached my goal in February 1996. Until about the past two years I always stayed within a few pounds that goal. Over the past couple of years, I have not been getting as much activity as I had and that’s causing me to getting a little weight. Now I’m about 8 pounds over to which may not sound like a lot, but any weight watcher knows that it slowly starts in, creeps up again, and at this point, I have not been able to
Take it off. I think that I’m eating all the right foods but I’m obviously over eating. So tonight I decided I need to go back on my own plan from 1995 and did a Google search and son of a gun if I didn’t find it here. I agree with you that that was the best plan for eating and losing weight. Can you let me be much more conscious, eating all the right foods. Half the time My husband went on the plan with me because he also needed to lose 45 pounds so we lost it together. I was never hungry on that, and he loved the food. Years after when I was on maintenance, before he passed away, whenever he came how home and I’ve had a weight watcher meal ready he was thrilled. So after reading your article
And making a list of the different categories, and how much was allowed in each category I just made my own little chart that I’m going make copies of so I can start back on this and gain back control of what I am eating. I can’t believe that after all these years it’s been so easy to go astray. So thank you so much for this article at all of the information.
So happy to be able to help!! ~Martha
I took a weight loss class at a hospital in the early 80s and was successful with it. It was based on the diabetic diet. I always loved that program. I just recently was looking at some 1990s Weight Watches cookbooks and realized it had to be the same diet. I was thrilled to see your blog confirms it. I look forward to starting it again, now that I have found so many WW recipes that list exchanges. I've joined WW in the past, and have been reading about the recent points system, but would much rather do the old WW/diabetic exchange program. Thanks for posting.
So happy to be able to help! Best of luck on your journey. Any old WW cookbooks from the 1980s and 1990s will have the Exchange Information. ~Martha
I have thought this for YEARS. The WW program from the 80s rocked! One of my parental units from a young age had a problem with my weight, I was a little chubby in 2nd and 4th grade when living with my Dad. I was just a happy little kid according to my then stepmom. From an early teenager, WW was put upon me. I will say that the old program was great in teaching people how to eat, balance meals and make room for treats so not to feel deprived. I so wish I had all the old literature. I have used the "bubble system" for years to track when needed. Dating myself that would be from the late 80s, I just turned 50. I never understood the whole point thing, seems like it had a lot to do with marketing and selling packaged food. I learned nutrition from the old plan, too bad the 90s ruined us all by demonizing fat, butter, eggs and sold us on fat free everything. Happy to report that I finally am not on a diet, eat whole foods and have no contact with the parental diet police person. :)Thank you for your post!
This is exactly spot on! The exchanges system of WW were the way to go….you did learn a balanced way of eating and after awhile you kind of knew it by heart! I loved it and loved getting a new booklet each week to see what they added as the weeks went by. The recipes were so good and frankly weight watchers recipes are the no nonsense healthy way to eat! We should start a fb group of people following this plan to exchange? information and success while we do this !
I've sent a request to join your group.
I have started a FB group called Weight Watchers exchange plan followers . There we can swap recipes, ideas and helpful tips to those of us who are dyed in the wool exchange plan people! It is a plan we know works and easy to follow. Join us!
Hi Laura, I just sent a request to join. Thanks. ~Martha
Thanks! It’s so new…I don’t see your request….I’ll add you once I see it or can find where it is (:
Hi Laura. I just sent a request to join. I have been looking for something like this. I too lost lots of weight with the old plan. Structure works best for me.
I just sent a request, too.
Thank you for writing about the old program. I loved that program and lost 35lbs with it. I have since went back to WW many times but did not like it. I did the keto diet lost weight. I lost with keto but in the back of my mind was the old WW plan that I liked. Thank you for posting this.
I loved the old program! I lost 75 pounds on it and maintained it for 30 years. Now I tried the new one and I can see how easy it is to eat more hidden calories with it. I think I'll get back to the old ways... thank you for reminding me!
I just replied to a Facebook post which I decided was too lengthily an answer to “do we earn points for drinking water…. I deleted it but here is my lengthy response (which sent me on a Google search to find this post!): “yes there has always been a water tally because you should drink water. But it has no points either way. So back to points just being points. WW keeps trying to have us make healthier choices and I commend the 2022 plan for trying to do so. Apparently it was just too much…. Older WW had you check off food groups and portions sizes. It was the best well rounded but very tight. No room for dairy free or vegetarian for example. But you HAD to have your 4 vegetables and three fruits a day. And 2 proteins, 2 dairy, etc. This was 40 years ago! Switching to points was huge. It offered more flexibility but also lends itself to “points are points”. You can have 23 healthy points or 23 points of Cheetos. And then WW get complaints like “why do avocados have points? They are healthy”. Yes, eat avocados please. But count the points. Not all points are equal but still they are points. The zero points food were added to at least encourage some healthy choices. WW keeps researching and trying to make the plan both “doable” and “healthier”. Last year was a valiant attempt but sadly failed. Some of us have a hard time with hunger ques and eat without hunger. That’s where those zero point foods fail. And earning points back gave a mindset of “if I eat 3 pounds of spinach I’ll earn enough points for this brownie”, ?. Sigh. So now we are back to just drinking water. On our own. Because we should. I think the move away from in person meetings makes it harder. Going to a meeting every week was a continuing education as well as support. Definitely in person meetings and weigh ins (encouraged NOT to weigh at home) has the most success. But it’s a business and people want to have lower cost and do it at home only. PS WW always became free after lifetime. So with sooner achievements of goal and maintenance the cost could potentially be cheaper in the long run. But I digress.” A few funnies- I recall my WW leader back then saying “all grapes as small” lol. And that ketchup didn’t count. Also I never could wrap my head around bananas not having points. I think if WW in 3 phases for me. Phase 1 the exchanges from my first lifetime achieved in 1985. Phase 2 a points program where I achieved again in 2000 and Phase 3 the points program most closely to the current plan where chicken and bananas are zero points! Made and maintained for 5 years. I attribute my early learning back in the 80’s to my overall success and understanding of the goal. And I’ve shared at meetings (pre Covid) about the danger of just points and trying to work the system instead of eating well. I’m struggling now due to a debilitating disease and have not used points in a healthy way. I might get that book to reacquaint myself to real food. Track points (I value their place and effectiveness) but also with the exchanges in mind. THANK YOU!!!
Thanks for your thoughtful comment. ~Martha
Thank you so much for this article and posting the exchanges! I got to lifetime way back then and then got to goal again following points. I was also a very successful WW leader for 12 years. Flash forward 30 years and weight loss is a struggle with points. Losing weight while learning the proper nutrition was basic and it worked. I’m back on track to relearn portions. I’d love to be part of a group pursuing this way of losing weight! Thanks again!
i have used the selection plan list including two extra lists at the bottom to tell you how tocount things like pizza, tamales etc in terms of fats bread protein on your daily count. it gave you 3 personal selections, 700 extra points a week and i make little boxes every day for milk, fruit, fat, protein and bread. i call this my life eating plan but i really need those selection plan lists. can you send it to me via email.
Here's a link to a form that you can modify and print that I think might work for you: https://www.pdffiller.com/208341851-ExchangeRecordFoodDiarypdf-weight-watchers-exchange-plan-pdf-
The “Old” WW PLAN is the only plan that works for me! I can eat and still lose weight!