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does nutrisystem work doctor

Does Nutrisystem Work? A Doctor’s Thoughts on the Diet (2020)

nutrisystem logo

I was recently asked by a patient: “Does Nutrisystem really work? And if so, how does Nutrisystem work?” I’ve never really examined the merits or nutritional underpinnings of Nutrisystem enough to provide a coherent answer, but in this post I will review the positives and potential negatives that can be seen upon a brief review, so that next time someone asks if Nutrisystem really works I can give a thoughtful answer.

There are multiple ways to lose weight, but among the commercial weight loss programs, Nutrisystem, Weight Watchers, and Jenny Craig stand out. Note that meal delivery diets like Nutrisystem may appeal more to busy people, as the convenience of prepared meals saves you time and effort of meal preparation and proper portioning. (If you enjoy cooking and don’t mind counting points, you’ll probably want to skip meal delivery diets like Nutrisystem and try a DIY diet like WW or the Mayo Clinic Diet instead.)

Anyway, on the Nutrisystem homepage, I clicked on the link for How Nutrisystem Works.” Four central ideas emerge: easy, foods you love, safety, and effective. Hmmm, let’s look at each claim.

Is Nutrisystem an easy diet to follow?

For a weight loss program to be effective for a large number of people, with different lifestyles, work hours, and abilities in the kitchen, constructing a plan founded on simplicity makes sense. Nutrisystem controls the portions and ingredients with breakfasts, lunches, dinners, and snacks.

Rather than sitting down with a book or finding time to learn nutritional science, by eating the smaller portions and calories inherent in each portioned meal, they hope that you naturally recalibrate your expectations of what each meal should be. Gone are the laborious and joyless tasks of counting, measuring, and obsessive weigh-ins (which some data-driven personalities thrive upon, though).

Easy to follow? Meh, Nutrisystem is ranked #17 on U.S. News’ list of Easiest Diets to Follow.

Your favorite foods, made healthier?

nutrisystem meals
You can view the entire Nutrisystem menu here

Nutrisystem has crafted their foods with the input of nutrition experts. Upon a review of the actual foods, it seems like a fairly typical American food diet, which should be tasty for a majority of people. It does not rely upon drastic changes like Atkin’s meat and fat, Paleo’s obsessions with mythical hunter-gatherers, or the draconian cuts of a ketogenic diet.

The example Nutrisystem gives is a good one: compare their hamburger (240 calories, 8g of fat) with one eaten at Five Guys (700 calories, 43g of fat). Perhaps not as satisfying, but it’s still a hamburger, presumably food you like and are used to eating. They have also considered balancing nutrients, lean proteins, high fiber, low glycemic carbs, and not using artificial sweeteners or flavors.

Is Nutrisystem an effective and safe diet?

Nutrisystem is based on calorie restriction, providing about 1500 calories per day, which is in line with the daily recommendation for women on a weight loss diet. That means if you follow their program, the math implies that Nutrisystem should effectively result in weight loss of 1-2 pounds per week as your body burns fat instead of carbs for energy.

More frequent meals: There are several theories on how frequently to eat, with some newer trends advocating for intermittent fasting. This sort of eating may produce low blood sugars, low energy levels, and might not be conducive to everyone’s lifestyle or health conditions/medications such as for those with diabetes. Nutrisystem is built around the premise that eating smaller, balanced meals 5-6 times per day is safer and healthier, citing research from The New England Journal of Medicine.

In terms of the actual ingredients, most seem fairly good, even for processed foods like their bars and packaged foods. They also ask you to mix in fresh grocery items and healthy flex meals outside the Nutrisystem program. In general I don’t like the idea of eating processed foods for the long term, even though Nutrisystem seems processed in a thoughtful manner to incorporate more fiber, lower carbs, and less sugar than other random processed foods on the shelves. It’s way better than a typical Entenmanns ingredient list!

So, does Nutrisystem really work?

In an ideal world, we could prepare delicious meals from scratch ingredients all day. We would follow food writer Michael Pollan’s advice, go to the local farmer’s market and eat real food, less of it, and mostly plants. This remains my overall advice to patients on how to eat most healthfully.

But the reality is that we are increasingly overburdened with life, ordering stuff from Amazon at midnight because we can’t find time to even shop for essential items anymore. We’re consuming over 3400 grams of sodium per day, and more than a third of us are obese. So, the answer to whether or not Nutrisystem is healthy is a relative one. The program does stay within the FDA’s guidelines for levels of sodium, (under 2300 mg/day) saturated fat, and calories so for most people diet is probably a significant improvement over current bad eating habits.

Interestingly, credible review sites show mostly positive reviews with a seemingly high success rate. In fact, the overall satisfaction rating on ConsumerAffairs.com is over 4-stars, with most people inferring that yes, Nutrisystem did work for helping them achieve their weight loss goals.

In our overscheduled, overworked lives, Nutrisystem would provide a decent option, based on the principles above being non-controversial and nutritionally sound within the confines of having someone else prepare your food with the goal of losing weight safely.


Nutrisystem Cost: Per Day, Week, Month, Year?

Nutrisystem isn’t a cheap diet, but it’s relatively inexpensive compared to other meal delivery diets and services. Here’s the cost for Nutrisystem after applying their best coupon: (see below)

Cost of Nutrisystem for WOMEN:

  • Per Day: $10
  • Per Week: $75
  • Per Month: $287 (promotion)
  • One Year: $3550

Cost of Nutrisystem for MEN:

  • Per Day: $11.50
  • Per Week: $85
  • Per Month: $325 (promotion)
  • One Year: $3900

Note that you are expected to supplement their prepared meals with some fresh fruits and vegetables, as well as 3 meals on your own each week which will add to the total expense.

Note that these prices are based on the best new customer promotion available which locks in a lower monthly rate. Here’s the advert:

nutrisystem promotion banner
Well, apparently Nutrisystem worked for Marie!

*New: We found a coupon code for an extra $30 off here! 

*Tip: not all of their deals keep the price at the low signup rate, but the one above does. You should familiarize yourself with Nutrisystem’s cancellation policy, as signing up means committing to at least 2 months of the program.


Is this Diet Effective? Nutrisystem Studies:

*Disclaimer – This review of Nutrisystem does not constitute medical advice. Please consult your doctor before starting any diet, including Nutrisystem. some of the links to Nutrisystem on this page, when followed and resulting in purchases, may result in a small commission being generated.  We don’t expect this to do more than keep the lights on!

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