Jenny Craig vs. Nutrisystem. Which Is Better?
America has had a weight problem for many years. Between 1960 and 1962, about 45% of Americans were considered overweight or obese, according to figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But those rates have steadily climbed. By 2016, the most recent year for which data is available, nearly 72% of American adults were considered overweight or obese, the CDC reports.
In response to the expanding national waistline, various diets and companies have come and gone. But amid the sometimes-faddish environment that defines dieting in America, two companies have stood the test of time as popular options when trying to lose weight.
Nutrisystem was founded in 1972 and is based in Fort Washington, Pennsylvania. It started out as a brick-and-mortar operation – clients would meet with weight-loss counselors at their locations across the country and purchase food products directly from those locations. By 1999, the company had moved online, selling products and providing counseling via phone and the internet.
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“Nutrisystem is a program that looks at balanced nutrition,” says Courtney McCormick, a registered dietitian and manager of clinical research and nutrition with Nutrisystem. The program focuses on portion control and managing blood sugars by understanding the glycemic index – values assigned to foods based on how they impact blood sugar levels. A lower carb, higher protein ratio can help support weight loss, and that principle guides the company’s approach to nutrition.
Clients purchase pre-made food items directly from the company, but are also encouraged to supplement these ready-to-eat meals with fresh foods and their own meals. “We provide about 60% of the person’s calories for the day, and then we provide guidance for them to add in fresh grocery additions,” McCormick says. Clients can select from a variety of shelf-stable and frozen prepared options.
In response to user feedback that the diet could be a little too rigid, especially when dieters were faced with social events or other food-centric experiences where they couldn’t be in full control of what was being presented, Nutrisystem has built in more flexibility. “We have more flex meals, and that gives the customer the opportunity to learn how to make their own meals or go out to dinner and still be following the program and be successful on it,” McCormick says.
Web-based resources, including a new app and lifestyle blog, are also intended to support today’s dieter. But the company still emphasizes personal counseling and support. “Everyone who’s on our program has access to nutritional counselors,” McCormick explains. “They can call in anytime they have questions or need motivation.” For dieters with diabetes, these resources include certified diabetes counselors. “They can help those individuals personalize their meal plans,” she says.
Beginning in January 2020, the company will be rolling out new programs that are even more personalized and customizable. “One of the things that we recognize is that body type can influence how we process certain macronutrients like fat and carbs,” McCormick says. To address this emerging approach to dieting, the company will be offering at-home DNA testing kits to help consumers better understand their unique biology and how it might be impacting their ability to lose weight. “When it comes to weight loss, it’s not just one-size-fits-all,” McCormick says.
Eleven years after Nutrisystem came onto the scene, another diet company was founded in Melbourne, Australia, by a woman named Jenny Craig and her husband Sidney. By 1985, their approach to weight loss had migrated to the United States, expanding rapidly across the country. Using a similar model to Nutrisystem with brick-and-mortar locations where dieters could meet with counselors and pick up food items, Jenny Craig also had a lot of success helping dieters lose weight. The company still has in-person locations, but also has a robust internet presence and options for dieters to work with counselors remotely.
Briana Rodriquez, a registered dietitian with Jenny Craig, says the company focuses on a “food-body-mind approach to help members lose weight and keep it off.” It offers a nutritionally balanced menu with “100 great, delicious entrees developed by dietitians, nutritionists and personal chefs. It all comes with one-to-one personal support. That personal support is the cornerstone of Jenny Craig” and is offered in person, over the phone or via the web.
“These consultants really help with education on portion control strategies, but they also really take into account the strengths, challenges and goals of each member,” Rodriquez says. The program “is tailored to the individual. We want each member to get what they’re coming here for.”
The aim is for members to lose the CDC-recommended safe and sustainable level of weight loss of one to two pounds per week. But beyond that, the overall goal is to help people lead healthier lifestyles and learn about how to feed their bodies better, she explains.
Members typically start out with a longer initial consultation to set goals and get oriented around the new plan. Subsequent counseling sessions serve to keep members on track or to let them bring challenges to the counselor, who can recommend tweaks and changes to keep the person losing weight. “We adjust every week to make sure they’re continually losing weight,” Rodriquez says. Counselors can also help members learn how to navigate eating out and social gatherings.
“The main pillar is that one-on-one support. The counselors are the backbone” of the program and its success, Rodriquez says. “If you don’t have any idea where to start, they are there to help guide you the entire time. Ready-made food takes the guesswork and stress out and allows you to focus on reaching those health goals.”
The company conducts regular food satisfaction surveys with members. According to Rodriquez, a recent survey found that 86% of members are happy with the taste of Jenny Craig’s food and over 95% are happy with the convenience the food offers. She adds that the company is continually customizing its programs to “really give the experience members are looking for while staying on top of cutting-edge nutritional science.”
To that end, the company is rolling out a new DNA Decoder Plan, which debuts Nov. 22 in select markets and across the county in mid-December. That program offers users an at-home DNA test that can help provide insight into how certain foods might affect an individual’s body. “It’s a simple cheek swab that looks at the genetic markers for sleep quality, eating behaviors, how the body processes food and how it responds to exercise,” Rodriquez explains. That information can guide food selections and optimization of meal timing to support weight loss.
The company is also looking to the emerging science around circadian rhythm and how sleep and stress can impact weight loss and incorporates that into its Rapid Results program. That claims to help dieters lose up to 16 pounds in the first four weeks on the program.
Both companies can help members lose weight and reduce their risk of chronic diseases, such as diabetes, heart disease and cancer. Liz Weinandy, a registered dietitian with the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, says she’s had a number of patients use these programs over the years. “They’re similar,” she says, with both offering frozen and shelf-stable prepared food options in controlled portions. “The menu is set, but you can make some additions, mostly fruits and veggies.”
She says some people have found these programs to be especially helpful because “there’s no food tracking and very little or no cooking or meal prep time. They take a lot of the work off the dieter.” That can help dieters get off to a quick start with weight loss. Such early results can help make weight loss more sustainable in the long run for some people.
The risk with any diet comes with the challenge of maintaining weight loss long term. To help clients do this, Nutrisystem offers a transition and maintenance program called Nutrisystem Success. “If someone has hit their goal, they graduate to portion-controlled containers and a meal plan that supports those containers,” McCormick explains. Counselors help clients learn how to build balanced meals that fit the parameters of maintaining their weight loss.
“If they follow that plan and use the recipes in that system for maintenance, they’ll still be aligning with weight maintenance caloric goals.” The company also encourages clients to get enough exercise to support weight-loss goals and long-term maintenance.
Jenny Craig also helps successful dieters transition out of the weight-loss program and into long-term maintenance. “One of the things I like to say is that maintenance starts on day one,” Rodriquez says. When members hit the halfway point in their weight loss journey, counselors begin having them incorporate their own meals more frequently to help them build skills for after they transition out of active weight loss.
Pricing is one of the main differences between the two programs, with Jenny Craig typically being more expensive than Nutrisystem.
Nutrisystem. The four-week basic plan starts at $8.10 per day (for women; $9.20 per day for men). It includes five Nutrisystem breakfasts, lunches, dinners and snacks each week and free FedEx shipping. The top-rated Uniquely Yours program starts at $9.89 a day ($10.99 for men) and includes everything in the basic plan plus a choice of over 160 menu items, unlimited frozen meals and snacks and freedom to pick the frozen and non-frozen foods you want. The top of the line plan, called Uniquely Yours Ultimate, starts at $10.99 per day ($12.09 for men) and includes all the Uniquely Yours benefits plus seven Nutrisystem breakfasts, lunches, dinners and snacks each week. It’s the best option for people who need additional structure and convenience throughout the week. The company also customizes plans for those with diabetes and those who prefer to eat a vegetarian diet. The company often runs incentives to make getting started a little cheaper.
Jenny Craig. Jenny Craig has several different programs for members depending on how much weight you have to lose. All plans include coaching and consulting and menu planning. Plan fees can be split into a membership fee and food costs. You can start with a 12-week trial for $16. This plan is recommended for those who have 16 pounds or less to lose. The premium program, for those who need to lose more weight, includes a 12-month membership with a $99 enrollment fee and a $19 monthly subscription fee. The cost of food is added to these fees and costs less than $25 per day. This cost includes breakfast, lunch, dinner and two snacks. Enrollment fees are frequently discounted to entice new clients.
Which One Is Better?
From her perspective, Weinandy says the difference is mostly in the types and quality of food offered by each company. “The main differences I saw are in nutritional quality. Jenny Craig looks better” from a healthy foods perspective. On the Nutrisystem plan, there’s “ice cream sandwiches, cupcakes, bacon and sausage,” which raise flags for her because processed meat products are considered a “category 1 carcinogen” that can elevate risk of several types of cancer, specifically colorectal cancer. “Jenny Craig looks to have a higher quality menu and ingredients,” but it’s difficult to say for sure which is better.
In terms of efficacy, one 2015 study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine found that dieters using the Jenny Craig program experienced at least 4.9% or greater weight loss at 12 months than the control group. Nutrisystem resulted in at least 3.8% greater weight loss at three months than the control group. In this particular analysis, the researchers noted that Jenny Craig came out ahead of Nutrisystem.
Another study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that dieters using the Jenny Craig Classic programs lost three times more weight than dieting on their own and had an average weight loss of 10% after one year. These reductions translated to reduced risk for several chronic diseases including depression, diabetes, cancer and stroke. The weight loss also improved cardiopulmonary function.
A third study looking at Jenny Craig’s type 2 program for people with Type 2 diabetes was published in 2014 in the journal Diabetes Care. It found that people with type 2 diabetes who followed the Jenny Craig type 2 program for one year lost more weight, had significantly lowered blood sugar levels and reduced heart-related risk factors than people who received the typical standard of care.
All that said, the best diet for any dieter is the one that’s sustainable. Sticking with a diet comes down to individual preferences, resources and in the case of these two programs, how much you like the taste of the food provided.
The similarities between the two programs are many, but McCormick says that “the main difference comes down to the meal plan itself.” Nutrisystem seeks to keep carbohydrate intake consistent throughout the day to eliminate spikes and crashes in blood sugar that can lead some people to overeat to compensate. Taste also factors in, McCormick says. “Anecdotally, the quality and taste of the food – people love (Nutrisystem).”
These subjective elements aside, Jenny Craig may work better for people looking for one-on-one counseling with a dedicated coach in an in-person setting. Nutrisystem doesn’t have any remaining walk-in centers, so their coaching and counseling is all done remotely. However, Nutrisystem tends to be less expensive yet provides similar results, and may represent the more economical choice.
Consider All Your Options
If you’re considering trying either of these programs, discuss your options with a health care provider and do your own homework to find the right fit for your situation. For her part, Weinandy recommends that even if you do follow one of these programs, you should meet with a registered dietitian to make sure you’re covering all your nutritional bases and building the skills you need to adopt healthy eating plans for life.
“The skill set to lose weight is different from maintaining weight loss. A lot of people on these programs can get bored or tired of the program, so actually maintaining that weight loss becomes my concern,” Weinandy says. Because so much of the work is removed, it can be difficult for dieters to build the cooking and meal-planning skills they need to maintain their results after they leave either program.
“Behavioral change is the No. 1 goal that we’re going for” when talking about weight loss, Weinandy says. It takes a lot of work and dedication to make those changes, and even more effort to make them stick for life, but introducing gradual change – making one swap for a few weeks before introducing another small change that builds over time – may be the best way to go. For some people, getting a jump start with a program like Nutrisystem or Jenny Craig can be an enormous help. “But they need to make sure that they are learning those tips” for healthier eating and “can transition off and follow a healthy eating plan that they’re in control of.”
Eat for Your Personality
Elaine K. Howley, Contributor
Elaine Howley began writing for U.S. News in 2017, covering breast cancer and COPD. Since … Read more
Courtney McCormick, RD; Liz Weinandy, RD; Briana Rodriquez, RD
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