N^ idetch was born in Brooklyn, New York and grew up with a weight problem that continued into her late thirties. Nidetch tried various weight-loss approaches, ranging from diets to diet pills, but she seemed to always gain her weight back. Then, Nidetch joined a weight-loss program sponsored by the New York City Board of Health and followed a diet program for ten weeks. She lost about 20 pounds, but her enthusiasm to keep to the diet was slowly fading. Nidetch felt she needed support and encouragement from her friends to give her feedback on progress and keep her going. She began holding meetings with several friends, and the original group grew to about forty people within three months. Word spread rapidly about the meetings, since there were no existing self-help movements for the overweight. Within the next year, Nidetch agreed to lead similar groups throughout the area.
In May 1963, Nidetch rented a loft and held the first
Weight Watchers meeting, which boasted 400 participants. As the program developed, members of Weight Watchers were required to weigh in at each meeting to keep track of weight loss progress. Nidetch's particular diet consisted of a low-fat regimen to reduce the number of calories being consumed, and she also proposed an upper limit on the total number of calories that a person could consume. Rather than have people count calories, she developed a point system to help participants keep track of how much food they were eating (Womble and Wadden 2002).
The Weight Watchers Diet is favored among nutritionists because it is not as restrictive as other commercial diet plans, making dieters more likely to maintain the lifestyle (Low et al. 2001). Today, more than 37 million worldwide have joined the Weight Watchers program, perhaps in part because the diet has been shown to reduce weight in a randomized clinic trial (Heshka et al. 2000).
However, the amount of weight that people lost on Weight Watchers was shown, in this trial, to be similar to that lost on the Zone, Ornish, and Atkins diets (Dansinger et al. 2005). Today, people interested in dieting with the help of Weight Watchers can attend meetings all over the U.S.A. and can also use the Internet rather than actually attending meetings. Due to the overwhelming success and popularity of the program, Nidetch rose from a housewife struggling with her weight to a national celebrity.
SLG/Rakhi Patel and Suzanne Judd See also Atkins; Internet; Ornish; Self-help; Zone Diet
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