Weight Watchers and the Gluten-Free Diet

Can You Do Weight Watchers If You're Also Gluten-Free?

Weight Watchers, which can work gluten-free, emphasizes lower-fat, high-fiber food choices. Getty Images/Brett Stevens

Weight Watchers, one of the most popular structured weight-loss programs, doesn't specify any foods you must eat or must avoid, so you can include any mix of foods that suits you, including gluten-free foods.

Therefore, the program can work — and potentially may work well for you — if you're following a gluten-free diet because you have celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity. It also can work if you want to avoid gluten as another way to lose weight, in addition to following the Weight Watchers program.

Weight Watchers encourages slow weight loss, not crash dieting, and the program urges participants to reach their goals by adapting healthier eating habits and increasing their physical activity levels. Program members can attend the traditional weekly Weight Watchers meetings (complete with the weigh-ins), or participate entirely online.

How Will Weight Watchers Work Gluten-Free?

Weight Watchers works on a points system for the foods you eat. Everyone who joins is given a daily allowance of points, based on their current weight, activity level and target weight, and every food or ingredient is assigned a value under the system.

Therefore, to follow the program, you'll need to track the points value of the foods you eat. This can be more of a challenge when you're cooking lots of meals from scratch (as those of us who are gluten-free often must do), but Weight Watchers includes apps and other tracking tools that make the task easier.

It's true in theory that you can eat whatever you want while on Weight Watchers ... including a huge slice of gooey, sugary gluten-free chocolate cake.

But in reality, the program's PointsPlus system, introduced in 2011, discourages simple carb-laden junk food (yes, including gluten-free junk food), and it also penalizes high-fat food choices.

The PointsPlus system does this by assigning lower points values to what Weight Watchers considers healthier options — mainly protein-rich and fiber-full foods, many of which are lower in fat.

Will I Be Limited in Food Selection?

No, you shouldn't be any more limited in your selection of foods while on Weight Watchers than you are in general while following the gluten-free diet.

Weight Watchers caters to the gluten-free crowd by supplying lists of gluten-free recipes, together with point values. Also, you actually get unlimited quantities of fresh fruits and non-starchy vegetables on the Weight Watchers diet ... and since those are gluten-free in their natural states, you can enjoy them without worry.

You might run into a bit of trouble with gluten-free baked goods — for example, it can be tough to find a higher-fiber gluten-free bread, although several gluten-free manufacturers have stepped up in recent months to increase the fiber content in their products. But you can have brownies — on Weight Watchers' list of favorite gluten-free products, Udi's Dark Chocolate Brownie Bites come in at two points each.

Is Gluten-Free Weight Watchers for You?

Weight Watchers' points system is proprietary and carefully guarded, so you'll find it difficult or impossible to follow the program without paying for membership. In the U.S., a monthly pass that gives you access to meetings and online tools costs $42.95, while online membership (program and tools but no meetings) costs $18.95, plus a one-time $29.95 sign-up fee (prices may vary in some areas).

But will the system work for you?

Weight Watchers requires you to shop and prepare the majority of your own food. Since this emphasis on careful shopping and frequent cooking is pretty common on the gluten-free diet, too, it makes the two diets a decent match.

Ultimately, Weight Watchers works by cutting calories in the form of simple carbs and fat (although you'll still get at least 1,200 calories each day). If you tend to lose weight more easily on a lower-fat diet, then this might be a good choice for you.

If on the other hand, you lose weight faster on a low-carb diet that restricts carbohydrates (such as Atkins or South Beach), Weight Watchers might not be the best match for you. You can tweak the PointsPlus program so that it's lower in carbs, but the program's not really well-designed for the low-carb approach to weight loss.

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