Meetings members have collectively lost millions of pounds with Weight Watchers.
-- WeightWatchers.com

Translation: Sales at Weight Watchers (NYSE:WTW) were up 15% to $217.5 million in the third quarter, as worldwide attendance jumped 11%. Operating earnings fell slightly to $74 million, but increased from $0.35 to $0.38 on a per-share basis, reflecting a lower sharecount.

The shares, themselves, have slimmed down to under $40 after briefly hitting $50 last year, prompting the company to announce a $250 million share repurchase program last month. But Weight Watchers looks as if it is firming up.

While U.S. attendance is likely being affected by the same low-carb diet hype that is getting toPanera Bread Co. (NASDAQ:PNRA), meeting attendance in North America still grew 13% to 8.3 million, outpacing overall attendance growth. Worldwide fees from meetings grew 15% to $141 million. On top of that, product sales grew a hefty 19% to $64 million.

As more people find it easier to say "No" to carbs rather than commit to weekly meetings, Weight Watchers is far from impregnable. But the worldwide growth numbers suggest that, at least for the mean time, it's still a "phat" business.

Weight Watchers expects 2004 earnings to come in between $1.90 and $2.12 per share, while analysts expect $1.98 per share. After hitting a 52-week low yesterday leading into earnings, shares of Weight Watchers jumped 5% to $38 in after-hours trading.

For all the excitement, there are probably better businesses to be had at 19 times earnings.

Jeff Hwang can be reached at JHwang@fool.com.