Weight Watcher's Quick-Start Programs (Old Exchange Plans)

Chicken breast with mixed vegetables: Great Old Weight Watcher's Exchange Meal
Here's everything you need to know
about Quick Start and Quick-Start Plus!

When I first became involved in the Old Weight Watchers Exchange Plan, there was no Quick Start Program yet.

Quick Start came out the following year.

Although the weight-loss plan I was doing was working well for me, we were encouraged by the leaders giving the Weight Watchers lecture to start over that January as if we were a newbie.

I don't think this was necessary. It was just easier for them if we were all doing the same thing.

There wasn't anything magic in that first Quick Start plan.

It was simply an advertising gimmick to kick-start your weight loss by drastically lowering your calories for the very first week. Each week thereafter, you added a little bit more food to your Weight Watchers meals.

The additional calories caused weight loss to slow down to a normal pace, and your eating style to evolve into the traditional Weight Watchers Old Exchange Program, so there was really no sense in forcing us to make the switch that January.

Interestingly, this first Quick Start Program isn't the plan that most people remember being on, but to show you how Weight Watchers evolved into what it has become today, I am going to first show you what we were allowed to eat on the very first Quick Start Program, and then give you what you need to start Quick-Start Plus right away.

Original Weight Watchers Quick-Start Program

There is contradiction online about what the Quick-Start Program consisted of.

I think this is because there were actually three Quick-Start Programs, and many more Weight Watchers variations implemented after I left. The three Quick-Start programs were:
  • Original Quick-Start Program
  • Quick-Start Plus
  • and another quick-start program implemented after I left
I don't know what that last program was called. People online just call all three phases of the plan: Quick Start.

I don't have any of the old Weight Watchers cookbooks yet, so I have pieced together what people are saying with what I personally remember eating.

Originally, the exchanges were just a simple way to keep track of the daily calories you eat and give your body the nutrients it needed daily to access your fat stores and burn body fat for fuel, as needed.

By the end of the month, carbohydrates were about half of a standard American Diet (about 120 to 150 carbs) and calories were about 1500 for women.

This was higher than other well-balanced low-fat diets of the time, but it was also much easier to sustain.

Week 1:

3 fruit exchanges
2 vegetable exchanges (minimum)
2 milk exchanges
2 bread/starch exchanges
3 fat exchanges
6 protein exchanges
and 150 weekly calories

Week 2:

3 fruit exchanges
2 vegetable exchanges (minimum)
2 milk exchanges
2 bread/starch exchanges
3 fat exchanges
7 protein exchanges
and 200 weekly calories

Week 3:

3 fruit exchanges
2 vegetable exchanges (minimum)
2 milk exchanges
2 bread/starch exchanges
3 fat exchanges
8 protein exchanges
and 250 weekly calories

Week 4:

3 fruit exchanges
2 vegetable exchanges (minimum)
2 milk exchanges
2 bread/starch exchanges
3 fat exchanges
9 protein exchanges
and 550 weekly calories

Bowl of cold cereal with raspberries
Cereal was handled differently in the beginning.
It was counted as protein.

On this quick-start plan, we had to eat something for breakfast. Breakfast wasn't negotiable, but that year we were also allowed to count a serving of cereal as a protein exchange as long as we ate it with 1/2 cup of non-fat milk.

This would change with the next evolutionary plan, Quick-Start Plus, but it made giving up that extra bread exchange more tolerable for many folks.

In addition to the weird way they had us count our cereal (1 protein exchange plus 1/2 a milk exchange), we had to limit our consumption of eggs, including the egg in recipes, to 4 per week. These limitations were due to the popular fear of cholesterol going on at that time.

Every week, we were required to eat:
  • 3 fish meals
  • 3-4 ounces of liver
Red meat was still limited to 3 times per week for a maximum of 12 ounces, for a similar reason as the egg limitation. Red meat contains more saturated fats than other protein sources.

If you look closely at what Weight Watchers did, compared to their Old Weight Watchers Exchange Program that I talked about in the previous post, they reduced the carbs, proteins, and extra calories for the first week and then slowly added them back in.

Since the diet evolved over that first month into almost the same diet they'd been using for awhile, these were the only changes that the first Quick Start diet made.

Research about how to use foods like corn tortillas and tomato sauce, and how to go out to dinner while still staying on plan had not been figured out yet. Those changes would come later on when floating exchanges and all of those little booklets that people remember were introduced.

Most Popular Weight Watchers Quick-Start Program was Quick-Start Plus

The following year, Weight Watchers introduced something they called Quick-Start Plus. This new program was supposed to be a new-and-improved Quick-Start Program.

Supposedly, this happened in 1994, but I am not that good with dates, so I really don't know.

Quick-Start Plus was the program that included all of those little booklets that people remember having.

I don't remember what happened to mine. I probably threw them all away when I got my divorce, but it could have been after moving from California to Utah with my current hubby.

A lot of things didn't survive that move.

I don't have the information on what the first month looked like, but the basic diet consisted of:
  • 2 milk exchanges
  • 3 fat exchanges
  • 2 fruit exchanges
  • 3 vegetable exchanges
  • 6 protein exchanges
  • 2 bread/starch exchanges
There were 21 floating exchanges per week that you could spend on any of the above exchanges except for fat. Weight Watchers has always been an extremely low-fat diet.

Optional calories for the week: a whopping 700!

Men were counseled to add:

2 protein exchanges
2 bread/starch exchanges
1 fat exchange
1 to 2 more fruit exchanges

Young teens added another milk exchange

Eggs were still limited to 4 per week, liver was still required for 1 meal, and red meats and cheese were limited to 16 ounces per week.

Today, I can see the wisdom in going to a more flexible exchange plan. It gives you the ability to plan for special occasions or take advantage of last minute inconveniences and times when your meals might not be as well-balanced as they should be.

At the time, however, all I saw was a way to give into my craving for carbohydrates.

The 21 floating exchanges work out to about 3 exchanges per day.

If you were to stick to only 4 protein exchanges everyday and spend most of those floating exchanges and the increased calorie allotment on carby foods, you would most likely put yourself into a protein deficiency.

How Much Protein Do You Need?

Chicken strips in a bowl
Chicken strips make a great Weight Watchers meal.

Most people need .6 grams of protein per pound of lean body mass to maintain their protein structures in the body and make needed repairs. This is for those on balanced diets (not low-carb ones) and isn't what you need for optimal health.

The .6 grams of protein per pound of lean body mass is just what you need to keep from aging quickly or burning those muscles up for fuel.

Optimal health requires closer to 1 gram of protein per pound of lean body mass, with a minimum amount of about .8 grams.

But I didn't know that back then.

I just saw a way to eat more carbs, so the diet didn't work very well for me.

I did much better on their previous plan, as I was hungry all the time with this one. It only got worse when I got down to 160 pounds. That seems to be the lower limit that my body is willing to go before it starts to tell me that my fat cells are empty, and I need fuel.

Lots of fuel.

If I'd spent those extra floating exchanges on protein foods, instead of bread and Weight Watchers ice cream sandwiches, I most likely would have had different results. 

I've read the testimonies of dozens of people who had great success with this Quick-Start Plus program, and I'm sure they did, but the freedom it offered back then was deadly for me.

Quick-Start Plus Booklets

One of the biggest selling points for the Quick-Start Plus Program was the booklets.

We were given a booklet per week, I think it was, and the information in the booklets broadened our eating possibilities tremendously.

The booklets taught members how to count foods that had never been allowed on the Weight Watchers Diet before, such as:
  • restaurant foods
  • fast foods
  • eating at a friends house
  • personal recipes
If you didn't have access to recipes for muffins, pancakes, or chili, the charts in the booklets taught you how to count those foods, too.

These booklets are no longer available, but you can do something similar yourself by using the calorie counts attached to each exchange:

fruit exchange = 60 calories
vegetable exchange = 25 calories
milk exchange = 90 calories
bread exchange = 80 calories
fat exchange = 40 calories
protein exchange = 70 calories

Homemade Gluten-Free Hamburger Buns
Weight Watchers' Quick-Start Program
taught you how to tweak your own diet.

For example:

I am now gluten free, so I am going to need a way to count my gluten-free flour mix and baked goods.

While I could just ignore the extra calories and fat that gluten-free breads and crackers have, that wouldn't be to my advantage. A homemade gluten-free hamburger roll is a whopping 300 calories each (when made in a 5-inch custard cup) due to the extra fat and sugar.

Looking at the above chart, those buns would weigh in at 3-3/4 bread exchanges.

Since gluten-free bread contains extra fat and sugar, an alternative way to count those buns and still get them to fit into the Weight Watchers Program, would be:
  • 3 bread exchanges (240 calories)
  • 1 fat exchange (40 calories)
  • 20 weekly calories
Those are subjective values, however. This is how I would count the buns. Someone else might decide to count them differently. And that's okay.

As long as you stay within the calorie limits for each exchange and make sure to get adequate protein every day, how you count your own recipes won't matter. You will still be eating at a calorie deficit, and it's the deficit that matters when it comes to weight loss.

Latest Quick-Start Program

The last Weight Watchers Quick-Start Program, before they went to counting Points, reduced calories to about 1300 per day.

It was quite deficient in protein, since floating exchanges also dropped to only 7 per week.

Because of that, I don't recommend this plan.

But I'm including it here because many people remember following this plan and had success with it. It seems to be an intermediate plan, between exchanges and point, designed to prepare its members for the Points system.
  • 4 protein exchanges
  • 2 milk exchanges
  • 4 bread/starch exchanges
  • 2 fat exchanges
  • 3 vegetable exchanges (unlimited if not starchy)
  • 2 fruit exchanges
  • 7 floating exchanges per week
  • 750 weekly optional calories
As you can see from glancing down the list, protein exchanges dropped and bread/starch exchanges went up. For me, that was a recipe for disaster, so I never went back.

I turned to the SugarBusters! Diet instead.

*For basic help in counting exchanges and an online checklist you can download from Google Docs, check out my Old Weight Watcher's Exchange Program post. It goes through a lot of the plan in much more detail and is a much easier program to stick with.


  1. Dear Vickie Ewell,
    My email address is cynthiab_77504@yahoo.com. I would be happy to send you what I have as attachments. Eating like this again has allowed me to not feel guilty. I feel safe again. I too do NOT do well with a lot of diet freedom. I need structure.

    1. Cynthia i will be emailing you~thank you!

  2. Quick start started in 1984 and Quick start plus in 1985. I have most of my original booklets yet.

    1. Thank you. I appreciate you sharing that.

    2. Anonymous are you willing to share them with us? I lost weight in '86 on WW successfully, I would like to use that program.


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