Nutrisystem

Losing weight can be easier if you outsource meal-management chores. Nutrisystem determines portions, prepares and delivers your meals, and tells you what to eat and when. It makes for guaranteed calorie restriction, the tried-and-true weight-loss tactic.

Balanced Diet

These diets fall within accepted ranges for the amount of protein, carbs, fat and other nutrients they provide.

Pros & Cons

  • Heat and eat
  • No foods off limits (not even carbs)
  • Comeback of the TV dinner
  • Eating out is limited

How does Nutrisystem Diet work?

DOS & DON’TS

Do: Supplement Nutrisystem meals.

Jump-start your weight loss with “Turbo Take Off Week,” during which you’ll eat about 1,000 calories each day from Nutrisystem entrees and protein- and fiber-packed shakes. After that, you make a few key decisions, the most difficult of which may be “breakfast burrito or Italian herb flatbread pizza?” and “red velvet whoopee pie or thin mint crisp bar?” Just wait for the breakfasts, lunches, dinners and desserts to show up at your doorstep, then dig in. You can’t completely avoid the supermarket, though. You’ll have to swing by to pick up the mandatory fruits, veggies, protein and dairy products of your liking to supplement Nutrisystem’s packaged meals. A glossy pamphlet tells you how much and when to add your grocery items. Depending on your plan – there are gender-specific tracks for adults, seniors, diabetics and vegetarians – you’ll eat four to five times a day. The program can also be customized to align with DASH diet recommendations for increased intake of fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy and whole grains. In 2014, Nutrisystem created new programs, including NuMi, a digital product for do-it-yourself dieters that integrates with wearable fitness devices and health platforms. The company is also testing Simply Fresh, a new fresh food diet delivery program.

You may tire of heat-and-eat. When you’re ready to wean yourself off the program, you’ll chat online or by phone with a counselor for tips on how to get back in the kitchen and in front of the stove without sabotaging your weight loss. You might start, for example, by whipping up only dinners from Nutrisystem.com, gradually adding other meals to the mix. NuMi also helps ease the transition to eating out and using recipes.

How much does it cost?

A “basic” four-week plan, which includes a pre-picked selection of popular foods plus shipping, starts at just under $10 each day. You can pay a dollar or two more each day if you want more selection and access to expert counselors and dietitians. Remember: You’ve still got a monthly grocery bill to add to that. Your tab will vary depending on what produce you buy (go for anything in-season) and your protein choices (chicken and turkey are generally pretty affordable).

Nutrisystem still may be a bargain compared to competitor Jenny Craig. Unless you catch them during a promotion, Jenny Craig charges a registration fee on top of its meals, which generally run at least $100 a week.

Will you lose weight?

Research – the vast majority of it company-funded – suggests you probably will.

A 2015 study in the Annals of Internal Medicine comparing various commercial weight-loss programs found that Nutrisystem participants lost at least 3.8 percent more weight after three months on the program than a control group that received education and counseling. The authors call diets like Nutrisystem “promising,” but say more research is needed on their long-term outcomes.

In a Nutrisystem-funded study of 69 obese Type 2 diabetics, published in the journal Postgraduate Medicine in 2009, researchers reported that those assigned to eat meals on the Nutrisystem D diabetic track lost an average of 18 pounds after three months compared with 1 pound for the control group, who attended educational sessions on diabetes management and nutrition. At six months, the Nutrisystem dieters were down an average of 24 pounds, while the controls – who were switched to Nutrisystem meals halfway through the six-month study – were down 13 pounds. In a similar study published in 2013 in Nutrition Diabetes, 50 Nutrisystem dieters lost an average of about 22 pounds in six months, while the 50 control dieters lost only about five.

In another unpublished study that was funded and led by Nutrisystem, researchers reviewed self-reported weight diaries of overweight and obese Nutrisystem customers who started the program between 2008 and 2010 and used an online tracking tool to record their weight. Data from more than 100,000 customers showed that at 3 months about 79 percent of them had lost at least 5 percent of their initial weight and 33 percent had lost 10 percent or more. (Even a 5 percent loss can help stave off some diseases.) By 6 months, when 32,000 of the dieters were still recording their weight loss, 86 percent had lost 5 percent of their initial weight; 63 percent had lost 10 percent.

A 2013 study in the American Journal of Hypertension found that, among 41 postmenopausal women, participants on a Nutrisystem diet lost an average of 12 pounds in three months, including nearly 10 pounds of belly fat.

Another study, also funded by Nutrisystem but designed and conducted independently, compared weight lost by dieters in an unnamed Internet weight-loss program (the control group) and by dieters in the Internet program with Nutrisystem meals. At 12 weeks, 22 Nutrisystem dieters lost an average of about 14 pounds while the 25 control dieters lost an average of about 9.

If Nutrisystem does encourage weight loss, it may be attributable to calorie restriction and portion control, a well-supported mechanism of weight loss. A 2013 article in the New England Journal of Medicine, for example, concluded that provision of meals and meal-replacement products promote greater weight loss than “seemingly holistic” programs based on balance, variety and moderation. While Nutrisystem once touted low-GI foods as a key element of the program, the company says it no longer claims GI to be the mechanism of weight loss.

An advisory committee to the government’s 2010 Dietary Guidelines recently concluded that evidence overwhelmingly shows that diets based on the glycemic index do slightly or no better at weight loss than other types and aren’t markedly superior at keeping off pounds already lost. In 2009, the independent, nonprofit Cochrane Collaboration reviewed six small, randomized controlled trials of low-GI diets tested over periods from several months to a year. Overall, low-GI dieters lost about 2 more pounds than comparison diets on average. Researchers found similar results in a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2010. They examined weight-loss maintenance of 773 overweight adults on high- and low-GI diets. After 26 weeks, the low-GI dieters had regained 2 pounds less on average than their high-GI counterparts had.

How easy is it to follow?

Can you cut back on dining out? Can you withstand the temptation to eat what the rest of the family is eating most nights of the week? While Nutrisystem certainly makes dieting simple – you don’t count calories, pre-portioned food comes right to your doorstep and you know exactly what and when to eat – you may still need to muster up willpower to stick to it. Fortunately, you get a “flex” lunch and dinner each week, which can help you keep your social engagements or answer occasional cravings. At least in the short-term, you shouldn’t tire of your menu choices – Nutrisystem offers over 150 foods to choose from on its most extensive plan, “Uniquely Yours.”

In one study, mentioned in the above weight-loss and diabetes sections, there wasn’t a significant difference in the dropout rate of Nutrisystem versus control dieters.

Convenience. Main entrées can be ordered with the click of a mouse, but restaurant meals are only occasionally allowed. Alcohol is discouraged. Time spent at the grocery store is limited. When you’re ready to wean yourself off the program, recipes are offered. Online resources are free and helpful.

Recipes. If you crave a break from frozen and pantry foods, Nutrisystem has a smattering of member- and company-generated recipes online. You can also purchase Nutrisystem cookbooks.

Eating out. Discouraged and challenging, but possible – particularly for your two “flex” meals each week. The company provides a “dining out guide” with recommendations categorized by cuisine such as Thai, Italian and French.  The guide also suggests diet-friendly foods at 30 of the most popular eateries nationwide.

Alcohol. The empty calories generally make it a dieting no-no. But after making some headway toward your weight-loss goal, an occasional beer or glass of wine can be worked in.

Time-savers. The diet itself is a time-saver, since it emphasizes packaged meals.

Choosing a meal plan and ordering meals is simple. While you can hand-pick each and every meal you eat, the predetermined “favorites package” is just a couple of clicks away, if you’re not picky. You can also sign up for automatic billing and shipping of your food packages.

Trips to the grocery store to stock up on fresh produce, dairy, and protein should be quick. Nutrisystem provides a list of popular choices and their recommended servings.

Extras. You can track your meals, exercise and weight loss online; start a blog; connect with other members in Nutrisystem chat rooms; and talk with a Nutrisystem counselor for support. You can even sync some wearable fitness devices with NuMi, a digital product for do-it-yourself dieters.

Fullness. Hunger shouldn’t be a problem. Entrées will likely be smaller than what you’re used to, but you supplement them with protein and fiber-packed produce – some veggies even in unlimited amounts – which generally keep you feeling fuller longer. Eating at regular intervals throughout the day should also keep tummy growls at bay.
In a 2009 National Business Research Institute survey of 9,600 Nutrisystem dieters, four of every five said the program satisfied their hunger.

Taste. Nutrisystem products should be palatable for most. A 2011 Consumer Reports taste test that pitted Nutrisystem’s packaged meals against those of its rival, Jenny Craig, deemed Jenny the winner by a slight margin. While Jenny’s meals were slightly tastier, Nutrisystem’s fare was rated “good” overall. (A side test of frozen Nutrisystem entrées did much better than pantry ones, according to the review.) A company survey of 3,500 customers conducted in 2010 found that nine out of every 10 were happy with the quality and taste of their food. In 2014, Nutrisystem introduced 40 new items and reformulated another 32 products to remove artificial flavors and sweeteners. It also phased out 19 products based on customer feedback. It now has no artifical sweeteners, colors or flavors.

Health & Nutrition

How much potassium and vitamins B-12 and D the diet supplies is unclear, but the expert panel deemed the packaged meals, supplemented with snacks of fresh produce, nonfat dairy, and protein sources, generally nutritionally complete and safe.

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