“One pound of fat contains 3,500 calories. To lose 1lb a week you would need to cut out 3,500 calories from your overall weekly nutritional requirements, this equates to needing a deficit of 500 calories a day.”[i] (Zoe Hellman, Weight Watchers dietician)
This is the formula believed by Weight Watchers, NICE, the NHS, the Department of Health, the National Obesity Forum, British Dietetic Association, the Association for the Study of Obesity (the organisation of which Susan Jebb is the chair) and 99% of public and private health diet advisors.
I have two points to make:
1) None of these organisations even know from whence this formula came and none can prove that it is true[ii];
2) This study has beautifully proven the formula wrong – as has every study of calorie restriction since 1917.
Weight Watchers sets out to create a deficit of approximately 1,000 calories a day (a typical female needs 2,000 calories, but is ‘allowed’ 18-20 points. One point is roughly 50 calories, so this is an approximate 900-1,000 calories a day diet). Weight loss, with a 1,000 calorie deficit, over one year, should be 104 pounds in fat alone (more in lean tissue and water)[iii].
The Medical Research Council (MRC) presentation for the results of the study[iv], contain a graph for weight loss over the 12 months for the GP vs. WW groups (slide 8). (Please note the regain starting at 9 months with WW). Jebb says that the GP group lost an average of 2.8kg and the WW group lost an average of 5.2kg. Slide 10 confirms the difference between the two weight loss approaches as 2.4kg at 12 months.
This means, however, that the Weight Watchers group lost an average of 11 pounds in one year – less than one pound a month. According to Weight Watchers own dietician (Zoe Hellman) and the ASO’s believed formula (Susan Jebb), they should all have lost 104 pounds (in fat alone) and there should have been no difference between people, with the same deficit – a formula is a formula.
In my experience of working purely in the field of obesity – two pounds a week is the minimum that people want and expect to lose. One woman said to me “With nearly half my current weight to lose, I can’t cope with two pounds a week”. Why was I the first person to be honest and tell this 60 year old woman that, if she lost two pounds a week, week in week out until she reached target weight, she would be the first person in the world ever to do so.
Weight Watchers have just admitted – you will be considered a success, worthy of the headline “Weight Watchers works”, if you lose one tenth of what you have been led to believe you will lose.
The headline should have been:
“Weight Watchers works better than just going to the GP, says study funded by weight watchers; but you will be lucky to lose one tenth of your lowest expectation.”
Maybe not as catchy, but far more honest.
p.s. Susan Jebb points out that she has not been paid for her involvement. a) Her involvement has likely been small (slide 7 suggests that she has not even been the key advisor to the study group). b) The MRC employs over 4000 people[v]. They need work to do and it would be interesting to know how much Weight Watchers have paid towards their employment costs for this endorsement. c) Susan Jebb is presenting at the Weight Watchers Symposium in Stockholm tonight[vi], expenses paid?
[iii] 1000 calories deficit multiplied by 365 days and divided by 3500 = 104 pounds
(the original reference to (vi) expired)