Weight Watchers Quick-Start and Quick-Start Plus Programs (Old Exchange Plans)

Chicken breast and vegetables
Here's everything you need to know about the
Weight Watchers Quick Start and Quick Start Plus plans!

Looking for the old Weight Watchers exchange plans that were popular during the 1980s?

This post outlines the Quick-Start Weight Watchers program, as well as Quick-Start Plus.

Quick-Start Plus was the first plan that introduced floating exchanges, which makes the original Weight Watchers Exchange Plan more versatile and easier to adapt to your lifestyle and tastes.

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 lectures to start over that January as if we were a newbie.

I don't think this was necessary.

It was just easier for corporate and leaders alike if we were all doing the same thing. There wasn't anything magic in that first Quick Start plan. It didn't work any better.

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 Exchange Program, so there was really no sense in forcing us to make the switch that January.

By the end of the month, we were just doing what we were doing before, anyway.

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 I'll give you what you need to know to be able to start Quick-Start Plus right away.

Pinterest Image: Barbecue Chicken and Salad

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 program.

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.

Cookbook Opened
Some of the old Weight Watchers cookbooks
contain the Quick-Start Program details.

Since I don't have any of the old Weight Watchers cookbooks, I have pieced together what people have told me with what I personally remember eating when I was on those plans.
Originally, the exchanges were just a simple way to keep track of the daily calories you eat and give your body the daily nutrients it needed 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 by today's standards (about 120 to 150 carbs) and calories were about 1500 for women. This was more calories 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

On this first 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.

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

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, but ungrounded, 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 and it was thought that saturated fats contributed to heart disease.

Today, there is still no scientific evidence that this is true.

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 the following January.

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 went through my divorce, but I also could have lost them during the move 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 and probably always will be 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 love for carbohydrates, and since calories weren't counted, except for your weekly allotment, it was easy to overeat.

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

If you were to stick to only 6 protein exchanges every day and spend most of your floating exchanges and the increased calorie allotment on carby foods, you would most likely put yourself into a protein deficiency. 

Six ounces of protein is less than 40 grams of protein per day.

How Much Protein Do You Need?

A bowl of baked chicken strips.
Dieters need more protein than the average person,
so six ounces a day won't be enough.

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 enough 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, and less protein, so the diet didn't work very well for me. Protein deficiency can cause your weight loss to stall.

I did much better on the previous plan, as I was hungry all the time with this one, as well as protein deficient. The hunger grew 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

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 needed for raising.

Two Gluten-Free Hamburger Buns
Exchanges make it easier to adapt the program
to fit your lifestyle than it was to use
the Weight Watchers online recipe-counting software.

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. By then, they had learned that 1,500 calories a day would only take you so far to goal.

This newer program, however, was quite deficient in protein since floating exchanges were dropped to only 7 per week.

Because of this, I do not recommend this last plan.

But I'm including it here because many people remember following this plan and had success with it. I'm sure you did, but the amount of protein it contains will cause you to lose lots of muscle tissue along with your body fat, making it more difficult to maintain those losses.

It seems to be an intermediate plan, sitting between exchanges and points, and designed to prepare 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. And with only 7 floating exchanges, 1 per day, the most protein you can get following this plan would be 5 ounces, about 32 grams of protein.

For me, this was a recipe for disaster, so I never went back.

I turned to the SugarBusters! Diet when I needed a safe, moderate-carb diet while going through my divorce.

*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. I did the Quick start program and I still have all my charts and pamphlets.


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