Over the years, I’ve worked with countless numbers of women who’d previously followed Weight Watchers or who’d been members at Curves. If you’ve been looking for a good weight loss program, you’ve no doubt come across one, or both of these. While there are much better approaches to weight loss than either one, a recent study compared the effects of the two, which led to some interesting findings.
In this blog post, I’ll review the study and tease out some of the valuable findings.
At the end, I’ll give you my advice about whether either one is a good option, and if not, what would be better.
Two Different Approaches to Weight Loss
Weight Watchers Momentum™ is a social support-based diet program that encourages exercise. Curves® Complete is a program offered at Curves, a gym exclusively for women. Members at Curves start with exercise as a foundation and add a diet program, whereas Weight Watchers is a diet program that just suggests people exercise. That’s a distinct difference.
It’s this difference that led a research group to study the effects of the two programs with 24 women who followed Curves Complete, and 27 who followed Weight Watchers Momentum. All women were overweight, with BMIs over 25 kg/m², and ages 18-50 years old.
Those in the Curves Complete program followed a three-phase diet, as follows:
- Phase I: 1200 calories/day coming from 30% carbohydrates, 45% protein, 25% fat for 7 days
- Phase II: 1500 calories/day coming from 30% carbohydrates, 45% protein, 25% fat for 21 days
- Phase III: 2000-2500 calories per day coming from 45% carbohydrates, 30% protein, 25% fat for 14 days. During this phase, if a woman gained three pounds or more, they went back to 1200 calories per day for 2-3 days.
The phases were cycled, with the women completing Phase 1 and Phase 2 three times, and Phase 3 twice.
Weight Watchers Momentum
Though Weight Watchers has moved on from Momentum to Personal Points, many similarities still exist, making the new study relevant today.
Participants had to attend one weekly meeting, on-site at a franchise location. There, they weighed in, participated in coaching sessions and group discussions, and received their support materials and recommended points by which to measure their food intake.
Curves is a gym first, a diet program second. The gyms have a variety of hydraulic resistance machines, which are to be used in a circuit style. Each set last 30 seconds, during which participants complete as many reps as possible, then rest for 30 seconds during which they perform calisthenics, in-place aerobic exercise, or Zumba, to maintain an elevated heart rate. Each circuit consists of 26 exercises and the women did this exercise format three times per week.
Again, the Weight Watchers group was encouraged to exercise, just as they are in all other Weight Watchers programs. But there’s no gym at a Weight Watchers facility unless that facility sits within a gym setting.
Results: Weight Watchers vs. Curves
Both groups lost the same amount of body weight.
So, that means both programs are equally effective, right? No. Not at all.
The following table details the differences in results between the two groups.
|Average Change||Weight Watchers||Curves|
|Body Weight||-13.42 lbs||-10.78 lbs|
|Fat Mass||-6.38 lbs||-14.08|
|Lean Mass||-5.5 lbs||+2.86 lbs|
|Body Fat %||-1.4%||-4.7%|
Those in the Curves group also experienced a drop in insulin, whereas the Weight Watchers group did not, and the Curves group saw a rise in HDL cholesterol (good cholesterol), whereas the Weight Watchers group saw a slight decrease.
According to the study’s authors:
Results revealed that over time, both groups lost a similar amount of body weight. However, the CV (Curves) intervention led to a greater decrease in fat mass and a greater increase in lean mass, resulting in a significant improvement in body fat percentage.
This is such an important point; one I’ve been beating like a drum for years.
My Thoughts and Comments
This study reinforces what I’ve consistently seen over the past two decades. Those who follow a Weight Watchers plan tend to lose as much muscle as they lose body fat.
Skinny Fat Isn’t Lean
Weight Watchers members might lose weight and look better in casual clothes, but by losing so much muscle, and so little fat, they don’t become that much healthier. In fact, the loss of muscle can have serious long-term consequences.
That becomes obvious in people who follow Weight Watchers, or any other low-calorie, insufficient protein, lack of strength training type of weight loss program.
They initially lose muscle and fat. Then they fall off the diet and gain back the body fat, and then some, but don’t regain the muscle. The next time they try to diet, they’re starting off at a higher weight but with a slower metabolism. Each time they go through that process, they do more damage to their metabolic health.
The bottom line is this: If you want to successfully, and healthfully lose weight, you must shed body fat while preserving muscle mass.
The Curves Complete did a better job of leading to weight loss while building some lean mass. But, that doesn’t mean I’d send someone to Curves to lose weight. I’m only pointing out what the data (and my experience from working with clients over the past 20 years) shows: Curves is way better than Weight Watchers.
Long-Term Fat Loss Must Be About Fitness, Not Weight Loss
Curves has a huge advantage over Weight Watchers because it starts with an exercise program, and then adds a diet. Their circuit-style setup is adequate for someone who’s just getting started, but won’t be nearly as effective as a strength training program using free weights and standard resistance machines.
For example, I was part of the team that launched Life Time Weight Loss for Life Time over 10 years ago. Like Curves, you find it in a fitness center. The difference is that the workouts you’ll get a facility like Life Time are far superior to those at Curves. That also explains why the program has such a significant success rate. You follow professionally-designed programming with far superior strength training equipment (dumbbells, barbells, cables, and some cardio equipment). You also get the accountability and camaraderie of a group of fitness-focused members and fitness professionals.
In addition, the nutrition program if far superior as well, focusing on higher-protein intake along with moderating carbs and eating whole foods.
It sounds like I’m an affiliate trying to sell you the program. I’m not. Instead, I want you to understand:
- A low-calorie diet alone, no matter how appealing the weekly meetings might be, is a far inferior approach to weight loss
- A fat loss program that has strength and conditioning at its foundation will be far superior for developing a healthy, lean, fit body (and mind)
What if I want to follow a good fat loss program on my own?
Of course, not everyone likes the idea of working out or meeting with a group of people. That probably wouldn’t appeal to me either.
If I have a good program to follow, I’d prefer to follow it on my own and show up at the gym when it fits my schedule, not on a schedule.
That’s what I had in mind when I started VIGOR Training. You have access to great programming, and you actually follow along in your program with other people all over the continent. But you show up when you want to and be as social as you’d like to be.
Once you’re following the program consistently, it only requires minor changes in your diet to see major changes in your body.
In fact, most people only need to do three things on top of sticking to their VIGOR Training workouts:
For most people, they’ll be healthier, leaner, and fitter than ever with those simple guidelines. Strict diets and complicated supplement protocols are more for those dealing more serious metabolic dysfunction or who are getting ultra-lean or jacked for something like a physique competition.
For everyone else, the strength and conditioning, sleep, protein, and Foundational Five are usually all they need.
Train your body like you care about it.
Join VIGOR Training, my strength and conditioning program. Professionally-designed programs that’ll make you stronger, fitter, and healthier in your second half of life than you were in your first.