Keto vs Weight Watchers: What’s the Difference?
The ketogenic diet and Weight Watchers are two of the most popular diets in the world.
And both of them are backed by credible scientific research regarding weight loss results, but that’s where the similarities end.
On Weight Watchers, you count points, but on keto you count carbohydrates.
Keto followers avoid sugar to maximize fat burning and gain extra health benefits, while Weight Watchers claims users can eat their favorite foods and still lose weight.
In this article, we’ll take a closer look at what research says about each diet, their pros and cons, and their biggest differences.
By the end, you’ll have a clear idea of the best diet for you–Keto or Weight Watchers. But first, let’s begin by looking at the basics of each diet and their origins.
A Keto Diet Overview
The ketogenic diet, keto for short, is a low-carb, high-fat diet. Scientific evidence shows it can boost fat-burning, aid weight loss, lower inflammation, and decrease blood sugar and insulin resistance[*][*].
Doctors first used the keto diet for children with epileptic seizures that didn’t respond to drugs about 100 years ago[*]. Physicians still prescribe keto today for kids with seizures, but researchers have also discovered numerous other uses and health benefits since the 1920s[*][*].
People who go keto usually eat 30 grams or less of net carbs per day to stay in a state of ketosis and ramp up fat-burning.
During ketosis, your liver produces ketones, high-energy molecules that act as brain fuel and help reduce inflammation in your body[*].
Because it’s extremely low in carbohydrates, the majority of calories on keto come from healthy fats and protein.
A Weight Watchers Overview
Weight Watchers is the name of a commercial diet program owned by the global company WW International, Inc. Jean Nidetch, a female entrepreneur, founded it in 1963.
Although it mainly focused on weight loss early on, Weight Watchers has changed over the years. Today, the program offers plans for weight loss, weight maintenance, and overall health.
The hallmark of Weight Watchers is its “points” system. People who follow a Weight Watchers diet tally up points at every meal that relate to the calorie content and healthfulness of their food choices. The weight loss programs work by limiting users to a certain number of points each day.
In addition to counting points, Weight Watchers also uses counseling, regular group meetings, and pre-made meals or meal replacements.
Pros of Keto
- Keto helps people lose weight without calorie-counting: multiple studies show that by simply eliminating most carbs and focusing on protein and fats instead, many people can lose weight without tracking calories or food intake[*][*][*]. One reason is that keto may reduce your appetite, which automatically leads to less food intake[*].
- Maximum fat-burning on keto: eating carbs on a typical diet causes insulin release, which temporarily shuts down fat-burning[*]. But because you eat far fewer carbs on keto, your body burns more fat–and the longer you stay keto, the better you become at using fat for fuel[*][*]. That’s why keto paired with exercise and intermittent fasting is the most potent combo of all time for burning fat.
- Ketones fuel your body and brain: the high-energy molecules your body produces during ketosis are a clean, anti-inflammatory energy source for your cells[*]. These ketones are one reason why people experience more energy, less brain fog, and clearer thinking on keto.
- Cutting carbs reduces inflammation, lowers blood sugar, and may reverse insulin resistance: if you’ve got carb-related problems like inflammation, high blood sugar, or poor insulin sensitivity, there’s a good chance going keto can help solve them–not to mention reduce your risk of health problems in the future[*][*].
In reality, there are dozens of proven health benefits and other reasons to consider going keto. However, most of them come from a few underlying causes, which we’ve covered above.
Check out The Biggest Ketogenic Diet Benefits if you want to learn more details of how keto can transform your physique and enhance your wellness.
Cons of Keto
- The keto flu is real: some (not all) keto beginners experience brain fog, lethargy, diarrhea, sugar cravings and other symptoms of “keto flu” when they first go keto. Learn more here.
- Dirty keto temptations: if you were to adopt keto macros but eat lots of fast food and junk food, you’d be following a dirty keto diet plan. Don’t let that happen.
- Fiber intake challenges on keto: some people focus on protein and fat so much that they miss out on healthy sources of fiber. And critics of the keto diet often assume all keto diets are deficient in fiber, but they’re wrong.
- Athletic performance may suffer without carbs: research suggests that athletes and people who train extra-hard can benefit from carbs, in which case carb restriction on the keto diet may temporarily reduce athletic performance at higher intensities[*]. The cyclical keto diet is one approach that can solve this issue.
Fortunately, for all of the above issues, there are easy, simple solutions.
Drinking electrolytes and taking MCT or BHB supplements can prevent or reduce keto flu symptoms. Regardless, even if you do nothing, they go away on their own in 2-3 weeks.
Avoiding junk food and eating healthy whole foods instead is a much better idea than dirty keto. And a proper meal prep strategy can make a huge difference if you’re short on time.
There are plenty of great sources of fiber that are low in carbs and keto-friendly.
And athletes can get away with eating carbs before training, then go back into ketosis for the fat-burning and health benefits.
Pros of Weight Watchers
- Studies show Weight Watchers works: when it comes to losing weight, researchers say that Weight Watchers is similar to other popular commercial diets such as Zone, South Beach, or Atkins (but not quite as effective as Jenny Craig or Nutrisystem)[*][*].
- Weight Watchers is flexible: as long as you track your points, all food and drinks are allowed on this diet. So if you’re reluctant to give up your favorite foods to lose weight, the flexibility of Weight Watchers could be attractive.
- Points make more sense than calories: the biggest strength of Weight Watchers is that it encourages calorie restriction and healthy eating. The points system takes into account calories as well as the healthfulness of foods, which takes a lot of guesswork out of the diet.
Cons of Weight Watchers
- Weight regain may occur over time on WW: according to a 2014 systematic review, “Twenty-four-month data suggest that weight lost with…WW is partially regained over time”[*].
- Weight Watchers’ points can get complicated quickly: although points are Weight Watchers’ biggest strength, they can be confusing or complex. Unless you have an above-average memory or eat the same things every day, expect to spend lots of time looking up whatever you’re eating–and then doing the math to make sure you’re on track.
- Hunger may be an issue on WW: hunger is the biggest problem with most weight-loss diets. It’s one of the main reasons people stop dieting or regain weight[*][*]. Unfortunately, Weight Watchers is no exception. You can experiment with different food choices or use a WW support group, but there’s no magic bullet to prevent hunger on the diet.
- The cost could be a problem: rumor has it that Weight Watchers ranges from about $3-14 per week, or $150-700 per year, depending on what features you select and whether you attend meetings. For some people, the costs of eating healthy and joining a gym are already daunting, let alone paying a subscription fee to follow a commercial diet.
- Insufficient protein: according to their website, Weight Watchers recommends 10-35% protein as a percentage of calories. But studies show that for weight loss, eating around 25-35% of calories from protein reduces appetite, boosts metabolism, and preserves muscle mass[*][*]. If you aren’t careful, you could end up eating too little protein on Weight Watchers.
At a basic level, keto and Weight Watchers have a few things in common:
- Effective for losing weight: both diets are research-proven to work for weight loss[*].
- Health benefits from weight loss: losing excess weight has wellness benefits, and each diet is capable of enhancing your health in this manner[*].
- You’ll be counting either way: on keto you count and limit carbs, and on WW, you count points. With either diet, you’ll be doing some counting each day.
- Healthy choices are encouraged: both diets work best when you choose healthy foods and follow a healthy lifestyle.
But beneath the surface, keto and Weight Watchers are two entirely different diets.
- Hunger and cravings: one superpower of keto is that it automatically reduces your appetite, meaning you may lose weight without counting calories[*]. Weight Watchers can also work for weight loss, but it doesn’t address hunger issues as effectively as keto, which is why you have to track points.
- Food selection: the keto diet has one major restriction: most people should eat fewer than 30 grams of carbs per day. In contrast, WW is less restrictive, because it allows you to eat any food (although unhealthy foods do cost more points).
- Simplicity and ease of use: keto is simpler and easier, hands-down. You have to count and limit carbs on keto, but there are no points, meetings, or other requirements to achieve ketosis and burn fat.
- Weight regain: evidence shows that most people who follow Weight Watchers will regain at least some of their lost weight within two years[*]. On the other hand, numerous studies suggest keto may keep the weight off permanently[*][*].
- Cost: keto is free–all you need is a little bit of time to educate yourself. But Weight Watchers requires a paid subscription to remain active in the program.
- Support: Weight Watchers comes with built-in support. However, you can also find or make your own support groups on the keto diet (at no cost!) using social media or with your friends and family.
- Health benefits: there’s no doubt losing fat on Weight Watchers can improve your wellness[*]. But so can other diets. Because keto cuts carbs and raises ketone levels, it offers unique health benefits not found with any other diet, period[*][*].
Keto wins over Weight Watchers in terms of reducing hunger, preventing weight regain, lower cost, and more health benefits.
Weight Watchers has the edge when it comes to built-in support and allowing more flexibility with eating.
Either diet can work for weight loss, and they both encourage healthy eating. So which should you choose?
WW is worth considering if you’re unwilling to avoid sugar, or enjoy counting points, or need some accountability but don’t want to build your own support group or hire a coach or nutritionist.
However, as long as you’re willing to adopt a very low-carb diet, the keto diet is simpler, cheaper, and probably easier to follow than Weight Watchers. And because it helps eliminate cravings, you might also get better long-term results by going keto.