Nutrisystem is a commercial weight-loss program based in the Philadelphia area that delivers heat-and-eat foods directly to the customer's home in 28-day packages. Its products have been described as “fast food for weight loss.” Customers select one of several specialized subprograms. In early 2007, Nutrisystem combined its direct online marketing of diet foods with its network division of franchised consultants.
Nutrisystem began in 1972 as a producer of a liquid protein diet, which it abandoned in 1978 as a result of competition from SlimFast, Carnation weight loss products, and other over-the-counter liquid diet drinks. Nutrisystem then started a chain of 1,200 brick-and-mortar weight-loss centers roughly similar to Weight Watchers; dieters came to the centers in person to weigh in and then purchased prepackaged portion-controlled meals to take home. The company went bankrupt in the early 1990s but reinvented itself in 1999 as an online meal-delivery service. As of 2018, customers may order their monthly food assortments by telephone as well as online. Although a free weight-loss counseling service is available by telephone, e-mail, or online chat, fewer than 20% of customers make use of it.
Nutrisystem conducted a survey in 2005 to gather information about customer demographics, in the course of which the company discovered that most of its customers were women between the ages of 20 and 50.
In 2006 it began to target men as customers, using endorsements from well-known professional athletes. To attract male customers, Nutrisystem emphasizes the inclusion of pizza, hamburgers, pasta, and other popular foods among the choices available on the three subprograms designed for men. Last, the company stresses the benefits of privacy in dieting at home in its male-oriented advertising, as its focus groups indicated that many men are embarrassed to admit that they want to lose weight and regard dieters' support groups as an indication of weakness.
Interestingly, the company's advertising that is aimed at women differs from that of its competitors in not hiring celebrities. The company president has been quoted as saying, “Celebrities are risky. If they don't lose the weight, it can work against you.” In spite of its previous deemphasis on celebrities, however, Nutrisystem acquired the South Beach Diet brand— associated with such celebrities as former President Bill Clinton—in 2015.
The other demographics that Nutrisystem seeks to attract as of 2018 are diabetics and vegetarians; however, none of the current Nutrisystem plans will accommodate vegans.
Nutrisystem is available only in Canada and the United States as of 2018. The program is designed primarily for adults; it is not for children below the age of 14, although there is a Nutrisystem program for teens between the ages of 14 and 17.
Nutrisystem does not ask customers to sign a contract. To begin the program, the client either chooses one of the present programs described online and continues to fill out the order form for a 28-day supply of prepackaged foods or calls the company's toll-free number to order over the phone. The various plans have been tweaked and redesigned several times since 2005. As of 2018, the Nutrisystem plan options include the following:
To complete the first order, the dieter selects one breakfast, one lunch, one dinner item, and one dessert (dessert choices include nonsweet snacks like pretzels or nacho chips) for each day of the 28-day package. The total meal plan is designed around eating six times a day—three meals and three snacks. The Nutrisystem foods included in the Basic plan do not require refrigeration; they are prepared by a “soft canning” process and can be stored at room temperature. Some items, such as the snack bars and nacho chips, are ready to eat; the others are prepared on the stovetop or in a microwave oven. Some require the addition of hot water.
Dieters who choose the Uniquely Yours program have the option of frozen foods as well as those that can be stored at room temperature. There are at least 150 different items for the dieter to choose among in the Uniquely Yours program, with new items added from time to time. In addition to predictable standbys such as cinnamon oatmeal, chocolate pudding, and tuna casserole, the food choices include thin-crust pizza with cheese, pot roast, vegetarian chili, chicken cacciatore, fettuccine Alfredo, and almond biscotti.
The prepackaged foods, however, constitute only about 40% of the dieter's total intake; he or she is expected to add yogurt, skim milk, salads, breads, fresh fruit, and similar items to the basic meals. The company recommends an intake of 4-1/2 cups of fresh vegetables and fruits per day. The nutrient ratios in Nutrisystem's prepackaged foods as of 2018 are about 47% carbohydrates, 27% protein, and 27% fats. About 8% of the calories come from saturated fats; trans fats have been eliminated from Nutrisystem food choices. The sodium content is kept below the recommended daily limit for adults. None of the Nutrisystem programs are very low-calorie diets (VLCDs); they allow a total intake of about 1,200 calories per day for women and 1,500 for men. Most dieters will lose one to two pounds per week if they stick to the plan.
Nutrisystem is intended as a moderately paced weight-reduction program for people who prefer the convenience of prepackaged portion-controlled entrees; whose schedules do not fit well with weighins or group meetings; who do not have time to cook or plan diet menus; or who simply prefer to diet at home. It is not a rapid weight-loss program, detoxification diet, or total lifestyle regimen.
Some people who have tried Nutrisystem are pleased with the range of food choices available as well as the taste of the foods. On a general diet weblog (not one sponsored by Nutrisystem), one customer said, “I find the food very good and actually good value considering all—I am never hungry and enjoy this diet very much.” Another benefit mentioned by some customers is that the food choices are well within mainstream tastes; those who would feel intimidated by a diet designed for “upscale” clients like the familiarity of the Nutrisystem options. One customer remarked, “I do not have a sophisticated palate… I am a happy camper, and I can afford [Nutrisystem].”
Many customers state that the convenience of the prepackaged foods is what appeals to them most. One person acknowledged, “I am lazy… I love the box arriving; the prep without thinking; the learning to eat small portions.” The ready-to-eat Nutrisystem items can be easily taken to work and consumed during lunch hour since they do not require refrigeration. People who cook only for themselves also mention the convenience of not having a refrigerator full of leftovers, since the Nutrisystem items are one-meal portions.
A common criticism of the Nutrisystem program is that dieters do not learn to plan meals, gauge portion size, or cook for themselves after they have lost the desired amount of weight on the program. To counter this criticism, the company published a book in 2004 that contains recipes, tips for sizing portions, and other advice about maintaining weight loss for Nutrisystem clients who are making the transition to their own cooking and calorie counting. In addition, the company recently introduced what it calls Nutrisystem Success plans to help dieters to make the transition from weight loss to weight maintenance. Clients can choose from plans that provide all meals and snacks except dinner; plans that provide meals and snacks for all days except weekends; or plans that provide only lunches and snacks. All Nutrisystem Success plans include premeasured food containers to assist the dieter in recognizing healthful portion sizes and a “customized meal plan to help you stay on track.”
An additional drawback for some dieters is the monthly cost of the program. The Basic plan costs $9.96 per day as of early 2018, the Core plan $10.68, and the Uniquely Yours Plan $12.29. The Diabetes Basic, Core, and Uniquely Yours plans cost the same per day as their nondiabetic counterparts. The Vegetarian plan costs $344.00 on a monthly basis. The three plans for men cost $11.39 per day for Basic, $12.11 per day for the Core plan, and $13.71 per day for the Uniquely Yours plan. When the dieter considers that she or he must still purchase fresh foods from the grocery store in addition to the Nutrisystem foods, the monthly cost of the plan will be close to or over $500.00 per month for many people.
The Nutrisystem program seems safe from a nutritional standpoint for most dieters who have had a medical checkup for previously undiagnosed conditions or food allergies. It does not depend on appetite suppressants, fasting, or other practices that may be dangerous to health. It is not, however, recommended for pregnant women or for people with chronic kidney disease, soy or peanut allergies, or other special dietary needs. In addition, Nutrisystem food choices are neither gluten-free nor appropriate for dieters who follow kosher dietary regulations. And as noted earlier, the plans are not designed to be used by children.
As of 2018, Nutrisystem has not yet been rated or evaluated by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. It has, however, been evaluated in eight different clinical trials registered with the National Institutes of Health; about half of the trials were or are being conducted in the Philadelphia area. Some of the clinical trials are intended to evaluate the effectiveness of Nutrisystem in treating patients with polycystic ovary syndrome or diabetes in addition to assisting weight loss in those who are obese.
As of 2018 have been two articles published in mainstream medical journals since 2015 that evaluated Nutrisystem in comparison to behavioral interventions or selfdirected diets; the article published in 2017 was sponsored by the company. A third article rated Nutrisystem in addition to other commercial weight-loss programs in terms of claims regarding weight loss and reported that testimonials from these programs invariably reported greater rates of weight loss than dieters who were enrolled in randomized controlled trials and used the same commercial products. The researchers concluded that “Future studies should examine whether commercial programs' advertising practices influence patients' expectations or satisfaction with modest weight-loss results.” Furthermore, long-term study to evaluate the outcomes is needed.
General acceptance of the Nutrisystem program is mixed. According to the U.S. News and World Report Health website, dieters who have used Nutrisystem give it three points out of a possible five; the website rates it as #19 in “Best Diets Overall.” and #5 in “Best Commercial Diet Plans.” The website's summary: “Experts found Nutrisystem effective for short-term weight loss but gave it only average scores in other categories.”
See also Jenny Craig diet ; SlimFast ; Sodium ; Weight Watchers .
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Nutrisystem. “How Nutrisystem Works.” http://www.nutrisystem.com/jsps_hmr/how_it_works/index.jsp (accessed January 18, 2018).
U.S. News and World Report Health. “Nutrisystem Diet.” https://health.usnews.com/best-diet/nutrisystem-diet (accessed January 18, 2018).
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Nutrisystem, Inc., 600 Office Center Drive, Fort Washington, PA, United States, 19034, (800) 585-5483, dietary email@example.com, https://www.nutrisystem.com/jsps_hmr/home/index.jsp .
Rebecca J. Frey, PhD