What is it?
The Nutrisystem diet is a prepaid meal plan with 28 days worth of meals (breakfast, lunch, dinner, and dessert) delivered to your door. Menus provide a mix of low-glycemic carbohydrates, plenty of fiber, and lean protein. The plan encourages dieters to supplement the provided meals with fresh produce and dairy products and eat the meals provided by Nutrisystem's Advanced Programs five times per day. Daily caloric allowances are restricted to 1,200 for women and 1,500 for men. The meals contain soluble fiber and omega-3 fatty acids that promote heart health and feelings of fullness.
Nutrisystem promises "easy weight loss that works" by providing nutritionally balanced meals that are formulated to help control hunger. The diet also promises plenty of support throughout the program — from a community of other dieters to nutritional advice from registered dietitians.
Pros & Cons
Simplicity and convenience. These are the most attractive commodities that Nutrisystem sells. There is no meal planning, cooking, or thinking about portion sizes. The meals come in prepackaged containers that are microwavable (for hot meals). There is also a variety of meal programs — including ones specifically for women and men, subdivided into seniors, diabetics, and vegetarians. The diet plan includes free weight loss counseling as well as free membership with access to online tools and articles. The program features online weight loss diaries, bulletin boards, and chat rooms. Registered dieticians offer nutrition classes two times a week online.
Membership is free, but the diet itself is relatively expensive (although not as pricey as other prepackaged diets). A month's worth of meals cost an average of $300. Many experts agree that the diet is acceptable for short-term weight loss, but because of its simplicity, dieters are not educated on the principles of proper nutrition and do not learn how to plan and prepare healthy meals for themselves. Therefore, when they stop the diet, they aren't equipped to continue eating in a healthy manner.
In addition, one major drawback of this plan is that it pretty much discounts the health benefits of fresh produce, which are significant.
The expense of prepackaged meals may be a deterrent to some dieters. But with some simple mathematics, the cost comes out to roughly $3.50 per meal. Unless you frequent McDonald's dollar menu or have a pantry stocked with ramen noodles, you will have a difficult time eating for that price otherwise. If you are foodie who scoffs at the idea of microwavable lasagna, then this diet probably isn't for you. That being said, we've actually tried some of Nutrisystem's food (specifically, the microwavable lasagna), and it's actually not bad at all. And if you are single or a busy person always on the go, this diet plan is a convenient way to eat healthy food. A great (and economic) way for couples to test the Nutrisystem waters is to buy a month's worth of food and split it up into a two-week trial for each person.
Our biggest concern is the potential lack of education and exercise. Sure, if you are motivated enough to take advantage of all the online support, seek out nutritional information, and create your own exercise regimen, then you should be fine in the long run. But let's be honest; many quick-fix seekers are just going to buy the meals, eat them, and wait for the pounds to fall off. The problem is that an integral part of weight control involves learning the nutrition behind healthy eating—why omega-3 fats are important or how whole grains affect the digestive system—and also learning how to shop for healthy foods and prepare meals in a healthy way. You probably aren't going to eat prepackaged meals forever, so the best thing to do (after you talk to your doctor, of course, and see if this plan is right for you) is to pay attention to the nutrition behind the meals, the portion sizes, and the ingredients. After you say goodbye to Nutrisystem, try to mimic the eating habits and create similar meals on your own or by using frozen meals readily available in your grocer's freezer. To ensure long-term weight management, it is important to learn how to choose, shop for, and prepare healthy food and eat in moderation. And don't forget to exercise!