Why Weight Watchers is losing so much money

Oprah is Midas no more. The TV and lifestyle guru followed by scores of people has built a successful empire over several decades, but even the touch of gold can't solve every problem. Those same devotees apparently aren't following her to the scales — or at least not to the products and support groups that promise to help them shed the extra pounds. Weight Watchers is floundering, losing cash instead of gaining subscribers who are hoping to slim down.

In late 2015, Oprah Winfrey announced she would be purchasing a 10% stake in the company that became famous for its points system of essentially counting calories. That buy-in netted her a board position as well, and the stock prices for shares of the company surged. From October to November 2015 after the announcement, shares of the company grew from $5.98 a share to a high of $26.61 — an increase of 345% in just a month and a half.

However, Oprah's golden touch didn't last long. By early 2016 the company was losing money in big ways. By mid-September 2016, the stock price is just $10.12. Granted, it's still an increase compared to where it was a year ago. But the prognosis isn't good, especially since Weight Watchers CEO Jim Chambers resigned at the beginning of September. However, the failure can't be placed at Oprah's feet alone. The TV magnate is known for putting books on bestseller lists and holiday giveaways, but might not be able to save a failing company. To be fair, the company's issues might be bigger than any celebrity partnership could solve.

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Oprah Winfrey speaks during the unveiling ceremony of the Maya Angelou Forever Stamp at the Warner Theater in Washington, DC, on April 7, 2015. AFP PHOTO/NICHOLAS KAMM (Photo credit should read NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images)
HOLLYWOOD, CA - FEBRUARY 22: Oprah Winfrey attends the 87th Annual Academy Awards at Dolby Theatre on February 22, 2015 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Christopher Polk/Getty Images)
SANTA MONICA, CA - FEBRUARY 21: Oprah Winfrey speaks onstage during the 2015 Film Independent Spirit Awards at Santa Monica Beach on February 21, 2015 in Santa Monica, California. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
PASADENA, CA - FEBRUARY 06: (L-R) Actress Carmen Ejogo, actress/producer Oprah Winfrey and director/producer Ava DuVernay accept the award for Outstanding Motion Picture for 'Selma', onstage during the 46th NAACP Image Awards presented by TV One at Pasadena Civic Auditorium on February 6, 2015 in Pasadena, California. (Photo by Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images for NAACP Image Awards)
Actress/producer Oprah Winfrey arrives for the Oscars Nominees' Luncheon hosted by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, February 2, 2015 at the Beverly Hilton Hotel in Beverly Hills, California. The 87th Oscars will take place in Hollywood, California February 22, 2015. AFP PHOTO / ROBYN BECK (Photo credit should read ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images)
SELMA, AL - JANUARY 18: 'Selma' director Ava DuVernay, actor David Oyelowo, and producer/actress Oprah Winfrey participate in the ceremony to commemorate the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on January 18, 2015 in Selma, Alabama. (Photo by David A. Smith/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - JANUARY 15: (EXCLUSIVE COVERAGE) Actors David Oyelowo (L) and Oprah Winfrey attend the 20th annual Critics' Choice Movie Awards at the Hollywood Palladium on January 15, 2015 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Jason Kempin/Getty Images for A&E Network)
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - JANUARY 09: (EDITORS NOTE: IMAGE WAS SHOT IN BLACK AND WHITE) Actors Miles Teller (L) and Oprah Winfrey attend the 15th Annual AFI Awards at Four Seasons Hotel Los Angeles at Beverly Hills on January 9, 2015 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images for AFI)
SANTA BARBARA, CA - DECEMBER 06: Oprah Winfrey attends the 'Selma' and the Legends Who Paved the Way gala at Bacara Resort on December 6, 2014 in Goleta, California. (Photo by Jason Merritt/Getty Images)
NEWARK, NJ - SEPTEMBER 27: Oprah Winfrey attends the Oprah's The Life You Want Weekend - Day 2 at Prudential Center on September 27, 2014 in Newark, New Jersey. (Photo by Dave Kotinsky/Getty Images)
NEWARK, NJ - SEPTEMBER 26: Oprah Winfrey speaks at the Oprah's The Life You Want Weekend - Day 1 at Prudential Center on September 26, 2014 in Newark, New Jersey. (Photo by Dave Kotinsky/Getty Images)
PASADENA, CA - FEBRUARY 22: Oprah Winfrey speaks onstage during the 45th NAACP Image Awards presented by TV One at Pasadena Civic Auditorium on February 22, 2014 in Pasadena, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images for NAACP Image Awards)
LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 16: Presentater Oprah Winfrey poses in the winners room at the EE British Academy Film Awards 2014 at The Royal Opera House on February 16, 2014 in London, England. (Photo by Anthony Harvey/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - JANUARY 18: Actress-TV personality Oprah Winfrey in the audience during the 20th Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards at The Shrine Auditorium on January 18, 2014 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
SANTA MONICA, CA - JANUARY 16: Actress Oprah Winfrey attends the 19th Annual Critics' Choice Movie Awards at Barker Hangar on January 16, 2014 in Santa Monica, California. (Photo by Christopher Polk/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 20: Oprah Winfrey attends a dinner in honor of the Medal of Freedom awardees at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History on November 20, 2013 in Washington, DC. The Presidential Medal of Freedom is the nation's highest civilian honor, presented to individuals who have made meritorious contributions to the security or national interests of the United States, to world peace, or to cultural or other significant public or private endeavors. (Photo by Kevin Dietsch-Pool/Getty Images)
US President Barack Obama chats with broadcast journalist Oprah Winfrey before presenting her with the Presidential Medal of Freedom during a ceremony in the East Room of the White House on November 20, 2013 in Washington, DC. The Medal of Freedom is the country's foremost civilian honor. AFP PHOTO/Mandel NGAN (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
Oprah Winfrey waves as she speaks during the Let Freedom Ring Commemoration and Call to Action to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC on August 28, 2013. Thousands gathered on the mall on the anniversary of the march and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s famous 'I Have a Dream' speech. AFP PHOTO / Saul LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - AUGUST 12: Oprah Winfrey attends LEE DANIELS' THE BUTLER Los Angeles premiere, hosted by TWC, Budweiser and FIJI Water, Purity Vodka and Stack Wines, held at Regal Cinemas L.A. Live on August 12, 2013 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Mike Windle/Getty Images for TWC)
NEW YORK, NY - AUGUST 05: Oprah Winfrey attends the press conference for The Weinstein Company's LEE DANIELS' THE BUTLER at Waldorf Astoria Hotel on August 5, 2013 in New York City. (Photo by Ben Gabbe/Getty Images for Lee Daniel's THE BUTLER)
CAMBRIDGE, MA - MAY 30: Oprah Winfrey receives an Honorary Doctor of Laws Degree at 2013 Harvard University 362nd Commencement EXercises at Harvard University on May 30, 2013 in Cambridge, Massachusetts. (Photo by Paul Marotta/Getty Images)
COLLEGE PARK, GA - MAY 20: Oprah Winfrey attends the Spelman College Commencement at Georgia International Convention Center on May 20, 2012 in College Park, Georgia. (Photo by Rick Diamond/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 09: Oprah Winfrey attends at the 3rd annual Diane Von Furstenberg awards at the United Nations on March 9, 2012 in New York City. (Photo by Andrew H. Walker/Getty Images)
US television talkshow Queen Oprah Winfrey gestures during an interview at Jaipur Literature Festival (JLF) in Jaipur on January 22, 2012. Television chatshow queen Oprah Winfrey received a rock star's welcome when she spoke on Sunday to a heaving audience of thousands of fans at the Jaipur Literature Festival in India. Winfrey, wearing a gold and red Indian outfit, told the packed crowd that her love of books had helped her education and enabled her to rise from a poor childhood in Mississippi to become one of the world's most influential women. AFP PHOTO / Prakash SINGH (Photo credit should read PRAKASH SINGH/AFP/Getty Images)
MEYERTON, HENLEY ON KLIP - JANUARY 14: Oprah Winfrey poses with the Graduates at the inaugural graduation of the class of 2011 at Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls on January 14, 2012 in Henley on Klip, South Africa. (Photo by Michelly Rall/Getty Images)
US talk show queen Oprah Winfrey looks on as she answers to journalist's questions at her South African girls' academy on January 13, 2012 in Henley on Klip. Winfrey founded the $40-million school for girls in 2007. AFP PHOTO/ STEPHANE DE SAKUTIN (Photo credit should read STEPHANE DE SAKUTIN/AFP/Getty Images)
Oprah Winfrey winner for Favorite Talk Show Host during The 30th Annual People's Choice Awards - Press Room at Pasadena Civic Auditorium in Pasadena, California, United States. (Photo by Jeffrey Mayer/WireImage)
NASHVILLE, TN - MAY 2: Oprah Winfrey arrives at the opening of Charlie's War at the Nashville Film Festival at the Green Hills Regal Cinema May 2, 2003 in Nashville, Tennessee. Her father Vernon Winfrey has a role in the film. (Photo by Adriane Jaeckle/ Getty Images)

Critics say one of the biggest reasons why Weight Watchers is hurting is because it simply can't compete like it once did. The program is arguably still a titan in the $60 billion weight loss industry, but it's losing influence quickly. Competitors like Nutrisystem continue to grow in popularity, drawing customers away despite its high cost. The proof is in the company's health: Nutrisystem stock prices are at more than $29 a share, and have been growing steadily over the past year.

On the other side of the cost spectrum, there are hundreds of low-cost or even free apps that can help you to monitor your calories, track your weight, or get extra support with your fitness goals. No matter your preferences, there's probably an app for it. Weight Watchers has its own app and check-in options online, but it wasn't ahead of the curve fast enough to ward off the other free offerings. Who wants to pay for an app when there's an equally good option that's free?

Weight-loss goals changing

In addition to the onslaught of free resources, many people's attitudes about health are also changing. For the most part, people tend to forgo calorie counting in favor of a program that's more lifestyle-based, like the Paleo diet, Business Insider reports. It's not just about the number on the scale anymore: It's about nutrition and feeling better, not just fitting into your dream pair of jeans.

Weight Watchers has evolved over the years. It's not using the same points system it originally started with, but that doesn't mean it's caught up with the trends in fitness now. Kevin Geary, founder of fitness-forward Rebooted Body, explained in a blog post why the diet program isn't effective long term. "Weight Watchers knows that by restricting how much you eat you're going to lose weight and see some semblance of success," Geary began. "They also know that they're setting you up for further disordered eating (usually emotional eating binges — driven by the psychological impact of restriction)." In other words, the program itself ends up promoting yo-yo dieting — whether it's intentional or not.

By now, we know that yo-yo dieting is a problem, and overall isn't healthy. What's more, it's a signifier of failure to reach our goals, or at least keep them intact. Losing weight only to gain it back again isn't ideal, but it's what keeps people enrolled in diet programs like Weight Watchers.

Oprah had undeniable marketing powers, but even that might not be enough, some analysts said when she first bought stock in the company. "Regardless of how much Ms. Winfrey contributes to the marketing of Weight Watchers, a well-designed new program is necessary for the company's success," Barclays analyst Meredith Adler wrote in a note to clients. Almost a year after Oprah's involvement, we're seeing the wheels continue to come loose.

And that may be the biggest problem of all. Oprah's own struggles with weight loss and gain have been well documented over the years. It makes her genuine and relatable, but it automatically equates the yo-yo tendency to the brand even more. "Tapping into that idea and then leaving your customers unhappy ... is exactly why that business is not surviving. If you're going to tap into those insecurities of the yo yo dieter, that business is not going to be around for long because fundamentally, today people who make sacrifices want to see result," University of Southern California marketing professor Jeetendr Sehdev told Business Insider.

Essentially, the model betrays ultimate success, which in turn becomes unattractive for potential members. Midas on your side or not, that's quite the hurdle to overcome.

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