Trying to lose weight is difficult in general. The fact that there are hundreds–probably even thousands–of diet plans, weight-loss supplements and other products vying for your attention makes it even trickier. While investigating today’s most popular weight-loss programs and solutions, Nutrisystem is sure to pop up again and again. Founded in the early 1970s, it is among the oldest and best-known systems out there. Still, just because it has been around for years doesn’t mean that it is right for you. Before investing any time, money or effort into Nutrisystem, do plenty of research. This comprehensive Nutrisystem review includes all of the information that you need to make an informed decision about this wildly popular weight-loss plan.
What Is Nutrisystem?
For all intents and purposes, Nutrisystem is a meal-delivery system first and a weight-loss program second. While the company provides a variety of tools and plenty of support for participants, there are no in-person meetings, formal schedules or structure. More than anything, Nutrisystem’s main claim to fame is its simplicity. One of the top complaints that dieters often have about various weight-loss programs is that they are simply too complicated. Invariably, there are calories or points to count, exercise to track and a lot of other work.
Nutrisystem is different in that you don’t have to do any counting–or any legwork, really. If you aren’t scared off by the cost and are looking for something that is about as straightforward and simple as it gets, Nutrisystem might be right for you.
In the early 1970s, a Philadelphia-area man named Harold Katz, then only 34 years old, decided to devise a convenient weight-loss solution after years of watching his mother struggle with obesity. Initially, Nutrisystem strictly supplied meals to brick-and-mortar centers; the first opened in the Philadelphia area. In 1999, however, the company switched to a direct-to-consumer model. Today, the system is actively sold on QVC and is available in Costco stores. It can also be purchased directly through the Nutrisystem website at www.nutrisystem.com.
So, Nutrisystem is simple, and it is mainly a mail-delivery system. That about covers it, right? Not quite.
Nutrisystem is all about portion control, balanced nutrition and small, frequent meals. Ordinarily, tracking all of these variables would take a lot of work–even with modern devices like smartphones. The reason that Nutrisystem revolves around pre-made meals is because as long as you consume most of your calories through your prescribed meal plan, you will stay on track and should lose weight.
As a general rule, Nutrisystem plans provide anywhere from 1,200 to 1,500 calories of food per day. For most adults, this creates a deficit–as long as they stick with those calorie counts, they should burn more calories than they consume and lose weight. Most plans allow you to enjoy one lunch and one dinner of your own making per week, and you can choose from a long list of extra foods that you can buy at the grocery and prepare alongside your regular meals, or as snacks.
When you sign up with Nutrisystem, you receive a 28-day program of pre-packaged food. Depending on which plan you choose, you will also gain a variety of support tools and other features. We will delve more deeply into the plans later, but they include options for vegetarians and people who have diabetes. Unfortunately, Nutrisystem does not offer options for people with certain allergies, including gluten intolerance. They have also done away with their special plans for seniors.
How it Works
On the face of things, it would seem that Nutrisystem works strictly by providing pre-portioned, pre-packaged, ready-to-eat meals that are then eaten frequently throughout the day. That is the gist of it, to be sure, but a lot more has to go into the plan for it to be effective. Those who do best with the system embrace it fully and take advantage of all of the extras that are included in their plans.
Speaking of effectiveness, there is at least some evidence that Nutrisystem works. There are plenty of success stories online, and a few studies have been done too. Most notably, a Nutrisystem-funded study that was published in Postgraduate Medicine revealed that Nutrisystem participants lost around 24 pounds after six months while the control group lost an average of just 13 pounds during the same period.
Nutrisystem provides a Quick Start Guide–an actual printed brochure–that lets you hit the ground running with the plan. You shouldn’t really need a lot of hand-holding to get going, though, as the first step is simply deciding on a plan and ordering it. We’ll go into greater detail about the various plans later in this review, but it doesn’t take very long to zero in on one. Shipments arrive in four to 10 business days.
The eating part of the plan is pretty easy to grasp. All plans provide four weeks’ worth of food. The first week of each plan is made up of Turbo10, a special one-week ultra low calorie plan that allows you to drop up to 10 pounds and up to five inches right away. Since it isn’t healthy to keep losing weight at that rate, all subsequent weeks consist of either a favorites pack or a custom menu that you build yourself.
The vast majority of research regarding losing weight has shown that when it comes to losing weight for the long haul, you have to be willing to move at least a little. While Nutrisystem has no formal exercise plan, per se, the company does provide tools that make it easier to track your exercise habits as well as workout recommendations based on your fitness level and weight-loss goals. Nutrisystem recommends 30 minutes of exercise per day and points out that the 30 minutes can be broken up into three 10-minute sessions. Even something simple like walking counts, so meeting this daily goal is a lot easier than you probably think.
A key factor in successfully losing weight is holding yourself accountable. Eating the meals as prescribed isn’t enough. It is important to track your progress along the way. Nutrisystem provides an array of online tools that allow you to track your progress, including logging your meals and your workouts. Some plans include unlimited counseling from registered nutritionists and dieticians, and that can be immensely helpful–especially if you don’t seem to be getting any results or are having other issues. The official site also includes a blog, The Leaf Blog, which provides daily doses of motivation to keep you inspired and on track.
One of the biggest mistakes that people make when dieting is reaching their goal weight and then reverting back to their old habits. Needless to say, this is exactly why so many people gain the weight right back and become yo-yo dieters. The Nutrisystem system itself instills many crucial habits that allow you to adopt a new, healthier lifestyle. Along the way, you learn about portion control and realize how small recommended portion sizes really are. You also learn about making appropriate food choices and workout routines. On its blog, the company also states that it offers four maintenance and transition plans–Weekends My Way, Dinners My Way, Just Lunch and Snacks and Success a la Carte. From what we can tell, you have to call the toll-free number to sign up for these plans.
Since Nutrisystem primarily revolves around the delivery of carefully portioned meals directly to your home, the first and most important decision that you must make is which plan to follow. For most people, this mostly boils down to affordability. The main difference between the plans is the variety of foods that you have at your disposal. The more varied the offerings are, the more expensive the plan tends to be.
Here’s a quick rundown of each plan that is currently offered by Nutrisystem:
Monthly price: $274.99
The most affordable plan, the Basic Plan is a four-week plan that offers four meals per day for women and five meals per day for men–men get one additional snack per day, which is why they get more meals.
As with all Nutrisystem plans, the first week of the Basic Plan is Turbo10, an ultra-low-calorie plan that allows you to lose up to 10 pounds and up to five inches right off the bat. Unlike the other plans, custom menus are not an option; you must stick with whatever you receive in the Favorites Pack. Counseling and other services are not included with this plan.
Daily price: $10.54
Monthly price: $294.99
The most popular Nutrisystem plan, the Core Plan is a four-week plan that offers four meals per day for women and five meals per day for men.
It kicks off with Turbo10, so you can hit the ground running on your weight-loss adventure. With this plan, you can either select the convenience of the Favorites Pack, which includes pre-selected meals that tend to be the most popular, or you can design your own custom menu. Choose from more than 100 foods.
This plan adds unlimited support, including trackers, tools and counseling from dieticians, nutritionists and other professionals.
Uniquely Yours Plan
Daily price: $11.90
Monthly price: $334.99
One of the main drawbacks of the otherwise very flexible Core Plan is that there are limits on how many frozen meals you can add per month. The menu is also somewhat restricted.
By upgrading to the Uniquely Yours Plan, you gain access to more than 150 foods, and you can add an unlimited number of frozen meals. If you want all frozen meals, nothing is stopping you. You have complete freedom to mix and match meals from a vast array of options.
As with the Core Plan, the Uniquely Yours Plan includes unlimited support and access to a wide array of helpful tools and other resources.
Known also as Nutrisystem D, this plan is geared toward people who suffer from diabetes. The daily and monthly price of this plan varies depending on the exact one that you choose. Basically, all of the plans that are highlighted above are available in diabetic friendly versions. Therefore, there’s a Nutrisystem D Basic Plan, a Nutrisystem D Core Plan and a Nutrisystem D Uniquely Yours Plan.
As you might have surmised, the main difference between Nutrisystem D plans and other plans is that the menu is designed to help stabilize blood sugar while losing weight. It emphasizes low-glycemic-index, or low GI, foods that help you to avoid blood glucose spikes and low-fat foods that help to keep blood glucose levels steady.
Happily, Nutrisystem offers a vegetarian plan, so if you avoid meat, you won’t be left out. However, this plan is vegetarian, so it includes eggs and dairy and is decidedly not vegan. Currently, Nutrisystem does not offer a vegan plan, which seems a little short-sighted.
As with the Nutrisystem D plans, the vegetarian plans are offered in Basic, Core and Uniquely Yours versions. Unfortunately, Nutrisystem doesn’t really add anything extra for vegetarians. With this plan, you basically have access to all of the menu items minus those that contain meat. No meat alternatives are offered.
Turbo10 – Does it Really Work?
Nutrisystem spends a lot of time hyping its Turbo10 feature, which is supposed to be followed during the first week of any plan to jump-start weight loss. Regardless of which plan you choose, the first week will consist of the Turbo10 Takeoff kit, which includes foods and meals that are designed to help you start dropping pounds quickly.
The website touts a study that shows that on average, people lose 8.3 pounds and 4.2 inches while following Turbo10. This study is funded by Nutrisystem, however, so your results may vary. As long as you stick with the precise plan–especially during that first week–you should notice at least some results.
While shopping for meals on the Nutrisystem site, you will notice that there are many types of “favorites packs.” One of the most popular is the Fast5 Weight Loss Kit, which is designed to help you drop five pounds in a single week.
Technically, this kit is supposed to be used at the beginning of your weight-loss journey, but it might be handy for times when you feel like your progress has plateaued. It costs $100 and includes seven breakfasts, lunches and dinners as well as 14 weight-loss shakes.
Nutrisystem may mostly revolve around meal delivery, but the company consistently reminds clients of its food philosophy as a way of developing a healthier relationship with food. Again and again, you will be reminded of the importance of small, frequent meals; healthy portion sizes; and balanced nutrition. While you can certainly just eat the meals without giving the matter any extra thought, you should try to learn about what goes into each and why it is healthy. That way, if and when you decide to transition off of the plan, you will know how to keep up your momentum on your own.
Given the fact that following the Nutrisystem plan will set you back by anywhere from around $275 to around $335 per month, it isn’t exactly cheap. However, you must remember that the price includes almost all of the meals that you will need for the month, other than one lunch and dinner per week. If you can get away with only spending that much to feed yourself in a month, that isn’t too bad.
Nutrisystem is fairly mid-range in terms of affordability among diet plans, but the convenience factor is huge. As far as which plan provides the best value, it is generally best to go ahead and “splurge” on the Uniquely Yours plan. For an extra $60 per month (over what you would pay for the Basic Plan), you gain access to a much broader array of meals and foods as well as unlimited support and tools.
The meals that Nutrisystem offers are nutritionally balanced and properly portioned to help you lose weight. As far as how they taste, well, reviews are all over the place. Some people really enjoy Nutrisystem meals while others find them to be too bland, too salty or to have weird consistencies and textures.
The main thing that people worry about when enrolling in a Nutrisystem plan is that they will get tired of the food. With more than 150 items, that shouldn’t happen right away. If you are on the plan for extended periods of time, though, you may start getting bored. Luckily, you can enhance your meals with extras from the grocery store.
Conveniently, Nutrisystem offers sampler packs of various types of foods and meals, so you can try out different things to zero in on the ones that you really like. These include the Grab n Go Breakfast Pack, the Best Lunch Break 7-Pack, the Snack N Go Pack and even a Chocolate Lover’s Pack.
A few examples of the types of meals that you can choose from in each category include:
- Breakfast – The Nutrisystem menu includes a wide array of healthy breakfast options. Choose from favorites like buttermilk waffles, turkey sausage and egg muffins, chocolate-frosted donuts and even cinnamon rolls.
- Lunch – People tend to be pleasant surprised by the variety that they encounter in the Nutrisystem menu. For lunches, for example, you can choose from tasty options like southwest fiesta melt, arroz con pollo, tuna salad and even a hamburger. The plan is good about including options that let you maintain control of your cravings. By occasionally enjoying something like a hamburger, you won’t feel deprived.
- Dinner – Nutrisystem allows for six dinners per week; you are responsible for coming up with and preparing one yourself one time per week. If you choose a plan with a customizable menu, you can choose from dinner options like a meatloaf sandwich, pizza, roasted turkey and lasagna. As you will find from reading details about your plan, you can include sides from the grocery store or from the Nutrisystem meal store. Pay attention to what is included in these meals and their nutritional profiles so that you can keep eating sensibly even after going off the plan.
- Snacks – One of the main tenets of the Nutrisystem diet plan is consuming small, frequent meals around the day. This is supposed to keep your metabolism charged and firing on all pistons. Between meals, then, you can enjoy an occasional snack. Take your pick from a broad array of snacks, including premade shakes that taste great and include the right amounts of vitamins, minerals and nutrients. Popular snacks include white cheddar popcorn, milk chocolate flavored pretzels, chocolate cupcakes and ice cream sandwiches. Be sure to follow the appropriate schedule, and take care not to accidentally eat too many snacks, or your daily calorie intake may be too high to allow you to lose weight effectively.
Like many people, you may decide to start out by sticking strictly to Nutrisystem foods and meals. Even if you do, you will be responsible for making one lunch and dinner per week yourself, so trips to the grocery store will still be necessary. It’s easy to be afraid of buying your own groceries, since it’s all too easy to purchase things that will impede your weight-loss progress.
Luckily, Nutrisystem offers a very informative Grocery Guide that makes it easy to make smart choices while roaming the aisles. In addition to listing the kinds of foods that can safely be included in your Nutrisystem diet, this guide helps to educate you about what makes some foods healthy and others not so healthy.
The Grocery Guide breaks foods down into five categories: SmartCarbs, PowerFuels, vegetables, extras and free foods. Familiarize yourself with each category to gain a better understanding of what a healthy, balanced diet looks like.
Nutrisystem defines SmartCarbs as carbohydrates that rank medium to low on the glycemic index scale and that are chock full of essential nutrients. These types of carbs take longer to digest, so they help you to feel full longer. A single serving of SmartCarbs should total 80 to 100 calories and contain at least 1 gram of fiber. SmartCarbs include hummus, cherries, oatmeal and beans.
Like SmartCarbs, PowerFuels take longer to digest and can help to ward off cravings. They consist of high-quality proteins that are full of essential amino acids and healthy fats. They include around 80 to 120 calories and contain at least five grams of protein per serving. You will find that many Nutrisystem meals include foods from this list, so you will quickly become familiar with many of these items.
PowerFuels include things like turkey breast, cottage cheese and shrimp. Vegetarians are covered here too, as veggie burgers are included in this section.
With the exception of starchy vegetables like potatoes, peas and corn, virtually all vegetables are fair game on any Nutrisystem plan. Indeed, all plans include at least four servings per day and allow for unlimited vegetables, so if you find yourself feeling hungry, you can always reach for a handful. Fresh veggies are ideal, but frozen are fine too. Canned are okay as well, but stick with low- or reduced-sodium veggies for best results.
Examples of the types of vegetables that you will find on the list include tomatoes, kale, zucchini and broccoli. This is a great opportunity to broaden your dietary horizons and to find veggies that you can nosh on whenever you feel cravings strike.
Think of extras as supplementary items that are designed to enhance whatever foods you are enjoying. Many people treat extras as side dishes and refer to the list when trying to add sides to their meals. Nutrisystem defines extras as low-calorie options that are designed to spice up meals and to ward off cravings. All plans allow for three servings of extras per day, which is pretty generous. Extras contain anywhere from 10 to 35 calories per serving.
Examples of extras on the Nutrisystem plan include avocados, popcorn, shredded coconut and almond milk. Given how small meal portions are, make sure to use the maximum amount of extras allowed per day to feel full and ready to go all day.
One of the biggest advantages of Nutrisystem is not having to count calories or points. You still must stick with the plan, of course, and that means only having a certain number of servings of different types of foods per day. In the free foods section, however, you’ll find foods that can be enjoyed on an unlimited basis every day. These are mostly things like spices and condiments that help to make food taste better, but there are others as well.
Examples of free foods that you can add to enhance your meal plan include black coffee, salsa and garlic.
Other than the meals that are delivered to your home each week, you don’t need much else to stick with the Nutrisystem plan. However, some people find that they do better by investing in certain accessories from the company, which are available through the main website. The Meal Measure tool, for example, lets you easily check to see whether or not you are portioning your foods properly. This comes in handy for situations where you aren’t able to enjoy a Nutrisystem meal. There are also food storage solutions, shakers for blending protein shakes, water bottles and more.
Some people are reluctant to try Nutrisystem because it seems too much like going it alone. After all, there are no weekly meetings to attend to help to hold you accountable. Where do you turn for help? Nutrisystem addresses this, to some extent, with its informative knowledgebase, which includes in-depth FAQs, articles and other resources to help you along through your weight-loss journey.
If you ever have questions about the plan that you are following or about any other aspect of following Nutrisystem, check the knowledgebase first. Odds are that your question is addressed in the FAQs. In the unlikely event that you can’t find the answers that you need, you can always call customer support for assistance.
Another way in which Nutrisystem provides support to those who follow its plans is by offering an array of free online and mobile tools. For best results, download the free smartphone app so that you have access to help and support wherever you go.
A variety of NuMi tools are available, including:
- Nutrisystem entree database with a scanner for quickly logging foods–just scan the bar code of your Nutrisystem meal
- recipe ideas
- dining out suggestions and advice
- fitness recommendations personalized to suit your level
NuMi tools sync with many popular fitness apps, including Jawbone and Apple Health, which is a nice touch.
All plans besides the Basic Plan include unlimited support from qualified nutritionists and dieticians. As you adopt the Nutrisystem plan, you may hit bumps in the road. If so, the help that you need is just a call or a few clicks away. Dieticians, nutritionists and other counselors can help you customize your plan even more to ensure optimal results. If you get stuck in a rut, they can provide suggestions for getting on track again. It isn’t quite the same as having someone there to help you in person, but it is a nice, useful feature that many folks should get a lot out of.
Nutrisystem offers several guides that address various issues that you may encounter while on the Nutrisystem plan. We’ve already explored the Grocery Guide, which breaks down foods into convenient categories and provides in-depth lists of which ones can safely be included in your Nutrisystem plan. Start exploring that guide right away to familiarize yourself with the kinds of foods that can be enjoyed along with your regular Nutrisystem meals.
Another guide, the Daily Tracker, provides a place where you can log meals, track water consumption and keep notes about your fitness activities. Sometimes, putting pen to paper is more effective than doing everything on a computer, so keep this guide handy.
The Quick Start Guide lets you get going quickly with your new plan, so read it thoroughly before officially starting on the plan.
Finally, Nutrisystem also offers a very useful Eating Out Guide. In general, you should only dine out very occasionally. When you do, use the guide to make smart choices. It is incredibly thorough and includes a number of tips and tricks for sticking to your diet while dining out. There is even a section, Pick This, Not That, that highlights sensible choices by cuisine. If you feel like Indian takeout, consult your guide first to ensure that you order something suitable.
The Leaf Blog
Another area where you can get support and motivation is the Leaf Blog, which is updated regularly. Access is free, as the blog is available right through the Nutrisystem website. You will find that the blog focuses on a variety of topics, including making the most of your Nutrisystem plan and general tips for eating healthily. There is also a wealth of information about incorporating exercise and physical activity into your plan. On days where everything seems like a struggle, check the blog for inspiring posts that will help you to stay on track.
As long as you are enrolled in either a Core or Uniquely Yours plan, you will enjoy unlimited support from nutritionists, dieticians and other professionals. They are they to help you stay on track with your plan.
For issues concerning your account or other problems, Nutrisystem offers live telephone support. It is available Monday through Sunday from 7 a.m. until 12 a.m. EST. You can also access support via live chat, which is available Monday through Sunday from 8 a.m. until 11 p.m. The company also offers support via email, and they seem to be pretty responsive. You can find out special holiday hours and other information through their Contact Us page.
Promos and Coupons
Don’t complete the signup process with Nutrisystem before checking for promos and special offers. At any given time, the company has many promo codes and coupons available. For example, they sometimes offer a promo that adds 14 free shakes to any plan. Other times, they run a special that slashes $20 from the total price of the Uniquely Yours Plan. Special offers change regularly, so check back on the site from time to time to see what is available.
It’s a real shame that Nutrisystem doesn’t offer any type of free trial, as it probably keeps many people from trying the program. The company does offer a money-back guarantee, but it only applies to the first order of a new, four-week plan. If you are unsatisfied with your plan, send the remaining food back within 14 days of receipt for a full refund–you are responsible for return shipping charges, however. Only one money-back guarantee is available per customer. This is a bit short-sighted, as you are basically out of luck if you try a new meal and don’t like it.
There is a lot to love about Nutrisystem. Some of the top advantages of this diet plan include:
- Free shipping for all meal deliveries
- Good selection of foods and meals–especially if you opt for a pricier plan
- Informative guides help you make the most of your plan
- Unlimited counseling and support on all plans besides the Basic Plan
- Can customize most plans
- Vegetarian and diabetes plans available
- Convenient – no counting points or calories
All diet plans have their downsides. What causes issues for one person may not matter at all to the next, though, so consider these points carefully:
- Can be expensive–especially if you add extras to the plan
- Portion sizes are extremely small
- Plan works well while you are on it but transitioning off of it can be problematic
- Lackluster money-back guarantee
- Limited support options for those who are signed up for Basic Plan
- No vegan option
- Some may find the plan to be too hands-off due to a lack of meetings
Nutrisystem: The Bottom Line
So, is Nutrisystem right for you? The only way to find out for sure is by signing up and giving it a whirl. Since there’s no free trial, you pretty much have to pay for at least one month to try it. If you really don’t like it, you can get your money back by returning the remaining food within 14 days.
Nutrisystem has a lot of checks in the “plus” column, but some of its minuses–the cost, the hands-off style and even the way the food tastes sometimes–can be significant to many people. Also, if you want a more well-rounded plan that incorporates a lot of physical activity, Nutrisystem may not be right for you. If you’re all about convenience and the path of least resistance, however, and are willing to stick with the program for the long haul, you could lose a lot of weight with this diet plan.