Weight Watchers Program Vs. a Traditional Exercise Program: Which Is Best For Busting Belly Fat?

Weight Watchers and the Gym Face Off in a Research Study

The Journal of Exercise Physiology has published the findings of a study about two popular weight loss programs: counting Weight Watchers points and working out at the gym. This study compared the two to see which one worked best to help:

  1. Lose weight
  2. Lose total body fat
  3. Lose belly fat
  4. Lower cholesterol and triglycerides

Study Overview

A total of 43 women got a 12 week membership to either the Weight Watchers program or a local fitness center. The Weight Watchers program involves weekly weigh-ins, counseling sessions, and counting points to track calories.

The traditional exercise program group had to follow the weight loss recommendations set forth by the American College of Sports Medicine.

The study measured the following changes:

  1. Abdominal fat
  2. Total cholesterol
  3. HDL (good cholesterol)
  4. Triglycerides

Which One Won? Points Program or Exercise Program?

The Weight Watchers group lost a significant amount of weight but the fitness center group did not. The Weight Watchers group also fared better at losing abdominal fat. However, neither Weight Watchers nor the exercise program helped total body fat percentage nor cholesterol change significantly.

The study concluded that overweight or obese women that join a gym to lose weight or lower their body fat will probably fail. They also recommended that an exercise professional should consider the findings of this study before she points people towards one weight loss program versus another.

Abdominal fat is associated with metabolic syndrome and diabetes. When we lose abdominal fat using a diet or exercise or program, our cholesterol levels are improved. Since having high cholesterol makes it more likely that you will develop diabetes and heart disease, it’s very important to find ways to lower abdominal fat.

The study points out the fact that exercising, whether you lose fat or not, has health benefits. Weight Watchers is the largest weight loss program in the U.S., yet little research has been done to find out how effective the program is for weight loss and improving other health indicators.

Many studies that are available on Weight Watchers have either been done by Weight Watchers or paid for by the company, which affects how well the findings can be trusted.

Does Weight Watchers Help You Lose Fat or Muscle?

The most compelling information in the study points to the fact that while Weight Watchers may help people lose weight, no one knows whether this weight is fat or muscle. If they are losing muscle and not fat, they are effectively lowering their metabolism which can have a detrimental effect on their ability to lose weight in the future.

Basically, when they lose muscle, they lose their ability to burn calories, which defeats the purpose of trying to lose weight in the first place.


The Journal of Exercise Physiology, June 2008.