Can't Afford to Join Weight Watchers? Here's 5 FREE Alternatives!

Tuna Salad with Tomatoes, Olives, Cucumber
Can't afford to join Weight Watchers?
Here are 5 ways you can still ditch those ugly pounds!

Are you looking for a way to do Weight Watchers for FREE? Want a Weight Watchers alternative?

While SmartPoints is copyrighted and the calculation used to come up with those points is hidden, some of the formulas for the older plans are easily available online.

In addition, there are other ways to get those pounds coming off in a healthy manner. Here's five . . .

Let's get real. You can always find an excuse for not starting a diet. Complaining that a particular diet program is too expensive is a nice way to avoid having to change.

However, when the budget is tight and Weight Watchers International expects you to slam down a major portion of your monthly food budget to help them keep their doors open and upper management happily fed, you honestly might not be able to afford to join the Weight Watchers program.

So, what else can you do?

If you desperately want to lose weight, but you can't afford to join Weight Watchers right now, you are not alone. Many people can't afford to pay for meetings, especially since weekly fees and even their promotions can vary greatly depending on where you live. The costs for joining are quite high.

You can get cheaper rates if you sign up in advance for three months worth of classes. That is a nice marketing ploy to suck you into believing that you're getting a good deal, but you have to fork out three times the normal price in advance.

If you quit early, they will charge you the normal rate for the classes you've already attended.

Need personal assistance? No problem! There's a program for that too, but it's going to cost you a heck of a lot more than attending those classes in person.

While Weight Watchers Online is about half the cost of going to physical meetings and gives you access to a few exclusive tools, you still might not be able to afford what Weight Watchers charges.

When I tried Weight Watchers Online myself, I found it not worth the cost.

So if you're too broke to join Weight Watchers, no matter what your reason, you don't have to stay unhappy and fat. You can be as healthy and fit as you want to be. This blog post will show you how to do Weight Watchers for FREE.

5 FREE Alternatives to Weight Watchers SmartPoints Program

SmartPoints are Not Magic

I visited the website for my own area's Weight Watchers franchise yesterday morning and took a look at their online content for Beyond the Scale. I was amused to learn that despite what online bloggers have been saying about points not incorporating calories, SmartPoints uses four numbers in its calculation:
  • calories
  • sugar
  • saturated fats
  • protein
This is because calories have always mattered. Even when the original points program morphed into Points Plus, and you no longer entered the calories into the calculator, it wasn't because calories were not considered.

With protein grams, fat grams, and carbohydrates going into the calculator, the calculator could do the math itself for the calories. You didn't have to tell it how many calories you were eating. The calculator already knew.

SmartPoints are not all that different from Points Plus. Yes, the values have changed, but the Weight Watchers goal is still the same as it's always been:

To trick you into eating less.

To do that, the new SmartPoints program has been designed to focus on eating less sugar and saturated fats. When you eat less of something, no matter what that something is, you tend to lose weight.

ALL dietary programs work the same way.

They create gimmicks to trick you into eating less food. It's the different gimmicks that set one diet scheme apart from another.

Weight Watchers is vitally opposed to fat, while Atkins is vitally opposed to carbohydrates, but the principle is still exactly the same. Remove certain foods from the diet or focus on limiting the types of food you eat, and you'll drop pounds.

Bowl of fresh fruit: Bananas, tangerines, apples, plums
With the advent of the Points Plus program,
fruits and vegetables went to zero points.

Points Plus attempted to move you toward eating more fresh produce, so it removed the points for fruit and told you to be reasonable when you eat it.

Since most fruits were only worth a single point before, the hope was that dieters would reach for an apple in the afternoon, when hungry, instead of a small bag of pretzels.

5 Dietary Alternatives for Those Who Can't Afford to Join Weight Watchers

The good news is that there are many alternatives to joining Weight Watchers. You can also modify old Weight Watchers programs to fall more in line with current nutritional thought, if that's what you want to do.

Weight Watchers doesn't change their programs because the old methods don't work.

Like any business venture, changes have always been about attracting new members and increasing profits.

Graph that Shows Increased Profits
Weight-Loss businesses thrive on you failing your diet.
Changes are always with increased profits in mind.

If the changes were really about health, the Weight Watchers Exchange Program from the mid '80s would still be alive and well.

Although the nutritional aspects of the older exchange plans are slightly out of whack with what we know today – they are too low in essential fatty acids and protein – the current Weight Watchers nutritional advice is even worse.


You aren't missing out if you can't afford to join Weight Watchers.

While the program started out as a strict, highly structured plan and evolved into a healthy exchange program, today's Point system tries to stay neck-and-neck with the outdated, scientifically unproven Dietary Guidelines for Americans that are issued every 5 years.

It was the latest Dietary Guidelines, mostly fueled by conflicts of interest, marketing, and cherry-picked studies, that brought the change into the current points system.

You are much better off following one of the 5 following alternatives. Within each option, I'll explain why.

Weight Watchers Alternative #1: Counting Calories

I know this sounds old-school boring, but most of the people who leave the Weight Watchers program, or can't afford to go back, have chosen to simply start counting calories instead of points. Those who have admitted to doing this have also shared that counting calories worked better for them than counting points did.

It's not hard to see why.

Points use calories as only a part of the equation for generating point values, so your daily calorie count might be too high. While points attempt to take:
  • age
  • height
  • current weight
  • and gender
into consideration, the minimum point level might honestly be more calories than you can eat and still lose weight.

When I was playing around with some online point calculators yesterday, I determined that an average point contains about 40 calories.

This sets the calories for the minimum daily point allotment of 26 (what the original points program allowed) at 1,040 calories. At first glance, this is an acceptable amount for someone who is short and perhaps post-menopausal, but keep in mind that these minimum points don't include vegetables, fruits, or weekly flex points.

Fruits, Vegetables, and Weekly Points Bump Up Calories
Fruit, vegetables, and weekly points
might make calories too high to lose weight.

By the time you add:
  • 100 calories for vegetables
  • 50 to 150 calories for fruit
  • and the 49 extra weekly points you're allowed
the LOWEST calorie count for the minimum diet comes out at a whopping 1500 calories, or more. Most dieters are getting far more calories than 1500 if they are eating all of those weekly flex points.

When you count calories, there is no one standing over you to tell you what to eat, but then, points are the same way. While Weight Watchers does have a set of dietary guidelines, I'm not sure just how many dieters actually follow them.

I know, I didn't.

While health and nutrition is a passion of mine, I disagreed with the nutritional guidance I was given when I tried to do Weight Watchers Online a few years ago.

For a low-calorie diet to work, you have to take your current maintenance level of calories and deduct 300 to 1,000 calories to determine how many calories you can eat per day and still hit your weight-loss target.

General recommendation is to subtract 500 calories per day from your maintenance calories to get one pound of fat loss per week, but it doesn't work as well in real life.

  • health condition
  • age
  • daily activity
  • weight you need to lose
  • body's reaction to calorie deprivation
  • body's specific metabolic adaptions
all play into how quickly you can drop the pounds.

The heavier you are, the larger the deficit can be because the body won't get anxious about giving up its fat stores until you have lost a decent amount of body fat.

If you're a yo-yo dieter, like me, you'll be better off starting slow, with a smaller deficit, so the body won't panic and start adapting to what you're doing right away.

The downside to a small deficit is that you might only lose about ½ pound of body fat per week, if that. When weight loss is that slow, water fluctuations and undigested food can make it look like you aren't losing weight, when you are, so you'll also need to be patient.

However, if you're not losing weight quick enough, it's easy to adjust the rate at which the pounds come off. Simply subtract another 100 to 200 calories per day and see how you do.

Setting maintenance calories can be a bit of a challenge because it varies from individual to individual, so the easiest method I know is to just use 14 times your current body weight as a starting point. Obviously, if you have a full-time sit-down job, like me, your maintenance might be less.

Maybe closer to 12, or even 10.

So, just use a bit of common sense when setting up your diet, and adjust the calorie number as needed.

Weight Watchers Alternative #2: Want to be Involved in Weight Watchers? Use the Old Points Systems!

If you want to learn how to do Weight Watchers for free, there are two older point systems to choose from, and most websites who feature these systems will share how to implement both of them.

To figure out how many points to eat per day, you can use the calculator for Points Plus at Tripod.

For every 10 pounds that comes off, you'll need to recalculate your points because points will go down as your weight does. The same thing goes for age. When your birthday comes around, you'll need to do another calculation again.

For those who prefer the original points system, the following chart explains how you find your points:

Gender: female 2 points; male 8 points; nursing 12 points

Age: 17-26 gets 4 points; 27-37 gets 3 points; 38-47 gets 2 points; 48-58 gets 1 point. If you're over 58, you don't get any points

Current Weight in Pounds: Take the first two digits of your weight and that represents your points. Example: 216 pounds = 21 points

Height: Under 5-ft, 1-in tall, you don't get any points; if 5-ft 1-in tall to 5-ft 10-in tall, you get 1 point; If over 5-ft 10-in tall, you get 2 points

Activity: If you have a sit-down job, you don't get any points. If you sit occasionally, you get 2 points. If you're on your feet most of the day, you get 4 points. If you do physically hard work most of the day, you can add 6 points.

You add all of the points together that you scored on the above, and those are your points for the day.

A Word of Caution:

Recipe Card

If you can't afford to pay for the authentic materials, be careful when using recipes and online calculators to determine point values for foods and personal recipes.

Today, there are 3 different types of Weight Watchers Points. You need to make sure you are using the correct calculation and point values.

Most recipe sites I've seen, including blogs, have updated their calculations to reflect the SmartPoints system. While some still carry the older values, not all of them do, so make sure you're counting those points according to the actual diet you're doing.
So even if you can't afford to join Weight Watchers, you can still do the points program yourself.

Activity Points

One of the oddities about counting points is the added idea of being able to spend your activity points on more food. Until recently, activity points were yours to do what you wanted with. Points were calculated according to how many calories you burn while performing the exercise, then you were free to cash in half of those calories for extra food if you wanted to.

Apparently, the idea was to get you to exercise more, so you would burn off the extra calories they were giving you in the diet. Because of that fact, many members decided to not cash in their activity points.

It is my current understanding that Weight Watchers no longer allows you to do this. You earn activity points as a goal, but you cannot trade them in for food. Since the Weight Watchers program allows so many calories, this makes much more sense to me.

Weight Watchers Alternative #3: Use the Old Weight Watchers Exchange Plan (or Quick-Start Diets)

Exchanges are easier than counting points. Instead of having to do a specific calculation, you simply count the number of servings you eat on any given day.

Exchanges also offer better nutritional balance, depending on how you spend your floating exchanges, if any. The original Weight Watchers Exchange Plan didn't come with floating exchanges. It was much more rigid and balanced than what the exchange diet morphed into later on.

However, I have been playing around with the exchanges a bit lately, and I can see the value of using floating exchanges when it comes to meal prep, especially if funds are tight and you need the flexibility to eat whatever you have in the house.

My previous posts on the Old Weight Watchers Exchange Plan and the details from the Quick-Start Plans I was able to collect are pretty straightforward. They will give you the basics on the different diabetic exchange plans I am personally familiar with.

But keep in mind that Weight Watchers changed their program almost every single year, so there are dozens of names for these programs and just as many variations to what I have posted so far.

One of our readers shared the details of how she decided to tweak the basic program to fit her own lifestyle and nutritional requirements, but I haven't really done that yet. The original exchange plans, though balanced and better at improving health than a lot of other moderate-carb diets out there, still has its problems in terms of protein and essential fats.

If you want to do Weight Watchers, but can't afford it, using the Old Weight Watchers exchanges is a sound, nutritional way to go.

Weight Watchers Alternative #4: Modify the Weight Watchers Core Program

The Weight Watchers Core Program was introduced just before I left the Weight Watchers program. It was a low-glycemic plan, rather than exchanges. It lists a variety of foods that you can eat, without giving you an exact amount. These whole foods included:
  • fruits and vegetables, including corn
  • whole grain cereals (without sugar)
  • lean meats, poultry, fish, and whole eggs
  • fat-free dairy products like sour cream, yogurt, and cheese
  • whole-grain pasta
  • 100 percent whole-grain bread
  • brown rice, quinoa, and other grains
  • beans and other legumes
  • white and sweet potatoes
  • air-popped pop corn
  • healthy oils (fat limited to 2 tsp day)
  • fat-free mayonnaise or margarine (limited to 2 tsp day)
  • tomato paste, puree, and sauce
  • bouillon cubes or paste
  • herbs and spices without sugar
  • fat-free salad dressings
  • flavorings and extracts
  • coffee, tea, and sugar-free drinks
As you can see, this is a low-glycemic, non-fat, very high-carb plan, similar to the Sugarbusters Diet. Except that Sugarbusters was higher in essential fatty acids, recommending low-fat products instead of non-fat products, and didn't include corn. Sugarbusters also limited starchy carbs to 2 servings a day.

You Can Make Risotto with Brown Rice on Weight Watchers Core Diet
Heavy grains like brown rice were limited on
the old Weight Watchers Core program.

The number one rule for this original Weight Watchers core diet was that you do not eat if you are not hungry, and you stop eating when you're satisfied and before you actually feel full.

I don't remember there being any restriction on limiting heavy starches like potatoes, brown rice, and whole-wheat pasta, but I've read other people state there was.

This may or may not have been a later twist to the plan, but what I've read is that heavier starches should only be eaten once a day. To have heavy starches at two meals, you'd have to use some of your weekly points.

In addition to the foods listed above, dieters got 35 flexible points to use throughout the week. These were the original points, not Points Plus, but you were free to spend the points on non-core foods.

This might be why I don't remember any of the limitations or extra points being given. When I was at Weight Watchers, there was no points.

The only experience I have with trying to calculate points was the one time that I joined Weight Watchers Online, but I found it greatly overpriced and didn't find the recipe tool valuable because it couldn't support my homemade gluten-free flour mix.

Like all of the Weight Watchers diets, fats are kept ultra low on this plan. You can only eat a bare minimum of fat, and it has to be polyunsaturated oils.

Today, we know that polyunsaturated oils are not as healthy as they were originally thought to be, so if you choose this Core Diet option, go with the healthiest fats that you like. Monosaturated fats, for example, are neutral.

Non-fat dairy was also encouraged, which means that Parmesan and even partially-skimmed milk mozzarella cheeses are not allowed. To use low-fat cheese, you have to spend your weekly flex points on them.

Ground beef must be extra-lean, chicken and turkey must be skinned, and ground poultry was limited to one serving a day. Eggs also had to be prepared without using any fat.

When I first joined Weight Watchers, we were allowed three teaspoons of fat a day, or 6 teaspoons of salad dressing, but when the Quick Start plans came into being, the amount of fat was dropped to only two teaspoons.

While floating exchanges could be spent on anything you wanted, it could not be spent on extra fat, so the skimpy two teaspoons of polyunsaturated oil per day have pretty much stuck over the years, though I have no clue as to why.

A high-carb diet does need to be low in fats, but how low in fat you go depends on how high your carb count is. A moderate carb diet, such as the Original Weight Watchers Exchange Plan, requires a bit more fat to make it healthy. When you combine moderate carbs with low fat, you wind up with an unbalanced diet.

For the original exchange program, even 1 tablespoon a day was too low, so in essence, Weight Watchers took a healthy low-glycemic plan for their Core Diet, which was designed to be low-fat rather than non-fat, and made it less healthy, but that's a minor point that you can easily correct.

Just up your fats and lower the carbs to something more moderate.

Weight Watchers Alternative #5: Use Mindful Eating (Sometimes, Called Intuitive Eating)

Mindful eating is similar to the Weight Watchers Core Diet, but you are not limited or restricted in the types of food you can eat. If you don't like whole grains, don't eat them. If you can't stand low-fat dairy, go with full-fat instead. There are no rules here.

Instead of being dictated to, you just choose wholesome foods, according to your own interpretation of what's wholesome or not, eat lots of produce, get plenty of protein, and cut down on all of the rest – naturally.

You can implement a mindful eating program all at once, or you can do what I did, and just make small adjustments to your eating patterns and lifestyle with the mindset that those changes will be permanent.

Mindful eating is not a diet.

To kick-start your new lifestyle, eat only when hungry, stop when full, and go back for a protein-rich snack if you stopped eating too soon.

Want something sweet? Go ahead and have it, but be realistic about portion sizes and how much you are eating. When I make hubby gluten-free chocolate chip cookies, for example, I have ONE cookie. I don't sit there and eat six. If I'm craving candy, I'll eat ONE or TWO fruit-flavored Tootsie Rolls. No more.

Keep in mind that this type of behavior change only works if you have a certain amount of self-control and you are willing and able to be practical about what you eat. You can't eat all you want or everything you want, whenever you want, and still lose weight.

Even when counting Weight Watchers points you have to make choices and sacrifices to get yourself back to a healthy weight.

Mindless habit is probably how you're already eating.

But that isn't working, or you wouldn't be reading this right now, so if you can't afford the cost of the Weight Watchers program, you need to come up with a clever idea, personalized just for you, to get yourself to eat less.

For example, I used to divide up the scrambled eggs in the morning between hubby and I equally. Since the eggs often have diced meats, leftover baked potato, and vegetables (like green onion and peppers) in them, I'm not talking about just eggs.

Scrambled Eggs with Green Onion, Peppers, Bacon, and Cheese
I started cutting down on the amount of scrambled
eggs I now put on my plate.

I wanted to start eating less than I normally do, so I divided the scrambled eggs into three portions instead of two. I serve one portion for me and give the rest to hubby. Since hubby isn't overweight, and eats to appetite, he just started snacking less when I did this.

When we're having bacon and eggs or ham and eggs for breakfast, I give hubby gluten-free toast and just skip the bread. I do the same thing when eating hamburgers. I plop the burger on my plate, top it with a slice of melted cheese and mustard, and just eat it with a fork.

Most people eat mindlessly.

They habitually stuff things into their mouth without thinking. You get an urge to eat and you just fulfill that urge without questioning where it's coming from or why.

Eating mindfully, staying aware of everything you eat, can help you stop the little food habits that you don't realize you have and enable you to only eat when you consciously know you are doing so.

Since last July, I have dropped 20 pounds by eating this way. I did stop drinking sugary soda before then, and switched back to diet sodas, but I started mindlessly making up for the missing calories in other ways. I'd eat more often during the day or I'd choose higher fat foods without realizing that's what I was doing.

When I started to watch what I was eating, I was able to stop a lot of the mindless habits I didn't realize I had.

While mindful eating might not take me all the way to the weight I want to be, this is working for me at the moment, so when the body reaches equilibrium (energy coming in by way of food equals energy used), I'll have to cut out or change something else.

What About the Social Aspect of Weight Watchers? The Weigh-Ins? And Support?

I can hear you in my mind, right now.

Weight Watchers isn't just about the food. What about the weigh-in each week? The support that you don't get when you go it alone?

Weight Watchers offers accountability because you have to weigh in at your weekly meetings in front of Weight Watchers staff. It offers a social connection with others who are struggling with their weight, the same as you. Weight Watchers also gives you attention and support from both staff and membership, when you're sticking to the plan.

You can also get a personal boost of courage and strength to help you keep going if the scale just won't budge.

Weight-loss forums give you similar benefits.

Ever joined one?

Three-Fat Chicks, Low-Carb Friends (they have a Weight Watchers section), and Reddit all offer support and encouragement for dieters, regardless of the plan you're following. And that's just three of the dozens of available choices.

If a forum setting makes you feel uncomfortable, there's nothing stopping you from holding your own personal weigh-in right here on this blog. Just use the comment section below any post to record your weigh-in and stay accountable to yourself!

We can all do that together if you like.

There are many people who cannot afford to join Weight Watchers, but that doesn't mean we can't grow into a community of like-minded adults right here!

While I realize that I've been dragging my feet over the past couple of years, I'm more on top of the celiac disease now and found where the hidden gluten was coming from, so I'm ready to take charge of my diet and my health.

How about you?

Are you ready to make 2017 the best year ever?


  1. This is an informative post. When I tried WW, I was thinking about food too much. I never got to the memorization stage. LOL.
    I like your new website design.
    Thanks Vickie.

  2. Thank you. This was very helpful.

    1. You're welcome. Glad you found it useful.


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