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Nutrisystem Review: Pros, Cons, and Is It Worth It?

Written by Sharon Lehman, RDN

Published on January 22, 2021

Our Expert Rating:

2.7

About This Rating
The average rating of this product is calculated based on the evaluation of the following factors:
  • Evidence-Based:3.0
  • Easy to Follow:3.0
  • Customization:2.0
  • Sustainability:5.0
  • Safety:3.0
  • Value for the Price:2.0
  • Accountability:1.0

Nutrisystem is a meal delivery service and an acceptable starting point for anyone who wants to lose weight but lacks the interest, skills, or time required to grocery shop and cook.

Nutrisystem Review: Pros, Cons, and Is It Worth It?

Pros

  • Pre-made meals are convenient
  • Meal plans can be customized for gender, type 2 diabetes, and vegetarians
  • Encourages fresh fruit and vegetable consumption
  • Encourages physical activity
  • Support line with access to weight loss counselors and registered dietitians available

Cons

  • Costly, especially if you follow the program long-term
  • Foods are highly processed
  • Not compatible with vegan, gluten-free, and dairy-free diets

How Nutrisystem Works

Nutrisystem is a meal-delivery program that provides users with ready-made, portion-controlled meals, snacks, and shakes to support weight loss.

The program promises to help users lose 1–2 pounds each week by eating foods they love. The diet is widely marketed and known for being endorsed by celebrities.

There are several plans to choose from. The Basic plan includes only shelf-stable foods and the “Uniquely Yours” plan includes frozen foods.

There are also plans for vegetarians and people with type 2 diabetes. There are options to receive enough food for five or seven days a week.

Each plan is a 4-week program. The plan delivers approximately 1200–1500 calories per day. The first week of the meal plan is the most restrictive, where users only eat Nutrisystem products.

In the remaining weeks, users eat six small meals a day, including a Nutrisystem breakfast, lunch, dinner, and 1-2 snacks per day. Many menu items contain whey and protein isolates to increase the protein content.

The remaining meals and snacks, called “flex meals” are made up of fresh fruit, vegetables, lean protein, and whole grains users must purchase separately.

When a user reaches their goal weight, maintenance support and plans are available.

Nutrisystem’s Scorecard

The Nutrisystem diet program was objectively evaluated by a dietitian based on the following criteria:

  • Evidence-Based: 3.0
  • Easy to Follow: 3.0
  • Customization: 2.0
  • Sustainability: 5.0
  • Safety: 3.0
  • Value for the Price: 2.0
  • Accountability: 1.0

Overall Rating: 2.7

Learn About the Methodology

Foods to Eat and Avoid

Many foods can be incorporated into the Nutrisystem meal plan. Each day includes a Nutrisystem provided breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snack and the remaining two meals are made up of your own foods.

A grocery guide is included with exact food lists and serving sizes.

Allowed foods include:

  • Nutrisystem provided meals, snacks, and shakes.
  • Additional lean proteins (called “PowerFuels”) not provided by Nutrisystem, like eggs, meat, poultry, fish, shellfish, and protein powder.
  • Additional whole grains, beans and legumes, and starchy vegetables (called “SmartCarbs”) not provided by Nutrisystem, like brown rice, corn, and sweet potatoes.
  • Non-starchy vegetables.
  • Fruit
  • Starchy vegetables, like corn, peas, and sweet potatoes.
  • Low-fat dairy products, like milk, cottage cheese, plain yogurt, and parmesan cheese.
  • Nuts, seeds, and nut butter.
  • “Free” foods, like spices, calorie-free sweetener, salsa, and low sodium broths.
  • Zero or low-calorie drinks like water, tea, coffee, and diet soda.
  • Some condiments, like reduced-fat cream cheese, light salad dressings, and fat-free coffee creamer.
  • Two alcoholic beverages per week are allowed.

No foods are strictly forbidden, although full-fat dairy, some condiments, and alcohol consumption is discouraged.

Sweets, other than Nutrisystem provided desserts, are not part of the plan.

Can It Help You Lose Weight?

Nutrisystem promises to help users lose weight quickly. In their own self-funded trial, the average weight loss was 15.4 pounds in the first two months of following the program.

The same trial found participants following Nutrisystem lost more weight compared to those following a DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet over the course of 16 weeks.

Weight loss attributed to Nutrisystem is due to creating a caloric deficit through portion control—proven and trusted methods for weight loss.

Contrary to popular opinion, eating smaller, more frequent meals doesn’t result in increased weight loss compared to eating a standard 3 meals per day.

Nutrisystem’s menu is full of highly processed foods, which tend to be less filling and cause more of a rise in blood sugar than minimally processed foods.

One systematic review of existing research found overweight and obese adults who follow Nutrisystem lose more weight compared to control groups who only receive weight loss education and counseling.

Another review concluded Nutrisystem reduced A1c levels in individuals with type 2 diabetes more than weight loss counseling alone.

Sustainability

Nutrisystem is easy to follow, which is key for sticking with a weight loss program.

Each four-week plan includes a meal plan and food, which either requires no prep or just needs to be reheated.

With 150+ items on the menu, there is plenty of food variety. Variety is important on any diet to meet nutrient needs and provide an assortment of flavors and textures to prevent boredom.

There are a lot of comfort foods on the menu, like pizza, pasta, cookies, cupcakes, and muffins. These foods are not the foundation of a healthy diet.

I worry that users who get used to eating these foods will have a hard time making healthy food choices off the program.

Each 4-week plan can be customized to choose your own meals and snacks or you can select the “Chef’s Choice” option which chooses the foods for you.

Finding Nutrisystem foods you enjoy eating is also essential for sticking with the program.

Technically, the program is sustainable if you like the food and can afford it.

I don’t think a meal delivery program is a long-term solution for most people, nor do I recommend it.

Learning to shop for, prepare, and portion healthy home-cooked meals are necessary for long-term weight loss and maintenance.

Accountability

Accountability is not built into the Nutrisystem plan. Once your meals are delivered, you’re pretty much on your own to follow the meal plan, exercise, and monitor your progress.

Access to Nutrisystem’s app, NuMi, lets you track your progress and participate in challenges, which may provide extra motivation to some.

There are weight loss counselors and registered dietitians available to speak with online or by phone, but it’s up to the user to reach out if needed. I get the impression the staff mostly answers basic questions and helps customize meal plans.

There are no check-ins or follow-up and you aren’t assigned a personal coach or counselor.

If you’re organized and motivated, the lack of follow-up might not matter. If you need more support, I’d recommend partnering with a buddy or trying a different weight loss program.

Value for the Price

The exact price of Nutrisystem depends on which plan you select and the length of time you sign up for.

There are also frequent sales and promotions to increase the perceived value. There is a 14-day money-back guarantee on all plans.

Basic plans start at $8.93 per day, while plans that include frozen foods range roughly $11–$13 per day. These per day costs are somewhat misleading, though, since they only apply if you sign up for auto-delivery.

The retail price for a one-time four-week plan that includes frozen foods is $545.44, which equates to just under $20 per day. This plan doesn’t include meals for every day of the month.

While $10–$20 per day for food may sound reasonable compared to what a single person would spend on a day’s worth of restaurant food, it’s much more expensive than purchasing your own groceries—which you’ll still have to do to some degree on the plan.

The price does not account for weekly “flex meals” and the additional meat, dairy, fruit, and vegetables they recommend you also consume on the plan.

I don’t think the basic plan that includes only shelf-stable food items is worth the cost.

The plans that include frozen items offer more variety, reportedly taste better, and maybe worth paying for if you value the convenience and simplicity of done-for-you meals.

Safety

Nutrisystem is a safe diet plan for most healthy people who want to lose weight.

There are some individuals who should not use the program. Nutrisystem is not a safe option for individuals with food allergies, eating disorders, anyone who medically requires a gluten-free diet, and children.

Nutrisystem allows teenagers 14–17 years old on the plan, but I don’t think prepackaged foods are the best fit for a teenager’s lifestyle.

Although the company clearly states the program isn’t appropriate for pregnant women, they suggest a modified version with additional calories is safe for breastfeeding women.

As a registered dietitian, I would advise breastfeeding women to seek an alternative diet that encompasses more whole, fresh foods to lose pregnancy weight.

It is essential that anyone with diabetes check with their healthcare provider before beginning this or any weight loss program. As people with diabetes follow a low-calorie meal plan and lose weight, blood sugar medications may need to be adjusted to prevent severe low blood sugar.

How It Compares

Other popular weight loss meal delivery programs include Jenny Craig and BistroMD.

Jenny Craig provides three meals and two snacks per day and also allows other foods, like fruit, vegetables, and dairy.

The packaged food can be shipped or picked up from a local storefront and costs roughly $15–$20 per day.

Jenny Craig offers more accountability than Nutrisystem, with one-on-one support from an assigned weight loss counselor and weekly weigh-ins.

But those extras cost more with monthly membership fees on top of the cost of food.

BistroMD has an extensive menu with over 150 frozen options for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

Plans can be customized week to week depending on food preferences and they offer more specialized menus for dietary restrictions, including diabetes-friendly, heart-healthy, and menopause plans.

The menu includes many high-protein foods and restricts calories to 1200–1400 per day. The cost averages around $20–30 per day, which is much more expensive than Nutrisystem.

The Bottom Line

Nutrisystem’s pre-packaged foods are convenient, simple to prepare, and take the guesswork out of choosing what and how much to eat.

The meals and snacks are portion-controlled to keep calorie intake low to promote weight loss without any need for counting calories or other nutrients.

Although the Nutrisystem plan is expensive and isn’t a long-term solution for most people, I think it’s a decent, temporary option if you value convenience or are looking for a simple way to jumpstart weight loss.

As a registered dietitian, I encourage anyone who wants to maintain weight loss to learn how to shop for and prepare simple, healthy recipes.

Incorporating regular physical activity and learning how to make smart food choices in a variety of settings—grocery stores, restaurants, social events—is key to lasting weight loss.

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