In 1972, it was maxi-dresses, Easy Bake Ovens, Watergate, half a dollar for a gallon of gas, and Nutrisystem was born. Then a weight loss counseling service in brick-and-mortar centers in Pennsylvania, it was successful from the start.
But by 2000 Nutrisystem had taken to the Web, using the Internet as well as toll-free phone numbers, even home shopping TV to promote and sell their program. Nutrisystem is also sold in big-box stores, has a mobile app, and recently bought out the South Beach Diet. A publicly traded company, Nutrisystem serves the U. S. and Canada. In 2014, Americans spent about $2.5 billion on weight loss programs. Nutrisystem took 14 percent of that market. 
So how popular is Nutrisystem? The other nationally known home-delivery meal plan diet came in at just under 14 percent, so Nutrisystem’s claim to be America’s top home-delivery weight loss system seems accurate; at least in 2014 it was.
NutriSystem’s plan includes users eating up to six nutritional, portion-controlled meals a day. Nutrisystem says it combines the right nutrition mix for each meal, doing all the calorie, carb, protein, and fat counting for you, and delivering those pre-packaged meals to your door. The Nutrisystem cost per day ranges from $10 to $12. 
Nutrisystem claims you will lose up to 13 pounds and 7 inches “overall in your first month,” guaranteed—although its own study found average loss is 11.6 pounds and 8 inches.  And it also notes that, like every weight loss program, results will vary person to person and depend on how well you follow the average 1250-calorie-a-day diet.
Currently, Nutrisystem is promoting its “Lean 13” program (reflecting the 13-pound weight loss claim) that is supposed to kick-start weight loss for the first week you’re on the diet. Dubbed the “Turbo Takeoff,” Nutrisystem says its team of nutrition experts and dietitians design meals with lots of lean protein and fiber, and any carbs are low-glycemic to help keep your blood sugar stabilized. Most of their pre-packaged foods contain no preservatives and all are free of artificial sweeteners or flavors. Nutrisystem believes that consuming several small meals over the course of your day “promotes greater weight loss and maintenance.”
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*Individual results will vary.
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With Nutrisystem you literally eat every two or three hours—breakfast, snack (fruit or a Nutrisystem snack), lunch, a Nutrisystem-approved snack in the afternoon, dinner and dessert. The three main meals and at least one or more of the snacks are prepared Nutrisystem foods. You can also choose from a vegetarian plan or a diabetes-specific plan.
You can supplement throughout the day with Nutrisystem-approved veggies and fruits (ones neither too starchy or sugary). So, adding fresh “grocery store” foods to the Nutrisystem meals is okay as long as that food is simpatico—in other words, no freshly made cheesecake or just-baked double chocolate chip muffins from the bakery section of your market.
The average cost of Nutrisystem is $280 per month, with three daily cost plan options:
- the $9.82 Basic plan comes with foods selected for you;
- the $10.54 Core plan allows you to choose from 100 foods; and
- the $11.96 Uniquely Yours plan allows users to choose from all Nutrisystem foods—150 of them—plus any of the frozen meals they offer.
The Basic, at $275 a month, is good for first-timers; the Basic plan includes pre-selected, ready-to-go meals including burgers, pasta, and chocolate—customer favorites. Nutrisystem says their plan is “affordable guaranteed weight loss.”
A typical day might include a Nutrisystem granola-like bar for breakfast, one of the brand’s shakes for mid-morning snack, its chicken noodle soup for lunch, a serving of low-fat yogurt with fresh blueberries for mid-afternoon (you’re on your own with this one), a Nutrisystem lasagna for dinner, and one of the brand’s cookies for dessert or nighttime snack. This plan also includes access to the Nutrisystem app, which provides tools, tips, and tracking.
On their Core plan, which costs $295 a month, meals might include pizza, chocolate muffins, and loaded baked potatoes—all their creations and all calorie, carb, fat and portion-controlled. The Core plan allows you to choose your food and have unlimited access to “expert counselors and dieticians.” 
And finally the Uniquely Yours, at $335 per month, has a much more varied choice of foods including myriad frozen selections. On this plan users can order Spinach Stuffed Shells and Red Velvet Whoopie Pies. The Uniquely Yours plan also has the app feature and access to expert support.
Nutrisystem guarantees results, but the money-back guarantee is tricky: It must be a new or first-time 4-week order, with all foods sent back within the first 14 days, and you cover shipping. 
Nutrisystem encourages customers to incorporate at least 30 minutes of exercise daily.
All Nutrisystem meals are created to count your calories, carbs, and fats in a well-balanced, nutritious meal—albeit some say not always the tastiest. So we’re talking lean protein, high-fiber, low-glycemic with majority preservative-free and all without artificial sweeteners, colors or flavors.
According to WebMD, a typical Nutrisystem meal is half “smart” carbs—ones that don’t raise blood sugar—with the other half equal parts protein and good fats. Nutrisystem also limits sodium (salt) to about 2,000 milligrams a day. 
For example, Nutrisystem compares its blueberry muffin against a very popular doughnut chain’s reduced-fat blueberry muffin: 
Sounds healthy, but taste-wise? Hmm.
The Science (or Lack Thereof) Behind Nutrisystem
A Nutrisystem-sponsored study, conducted by an independent contract research organization, claims the average loss is 11.6 pounds and 8 inches. 
Let’s see what actual independent research—not funded by Nutrisystem or similar weight-loss industry-related programs—has to say about that claim and also, about the science behind the Nutrisystem way of eating: frequent, small meals daily.
First though, about sustainability. While healthy portion-controlled meals combined with exercise is the secret sauce for weight loss, with Nutrisystem doing the work for you, once you’re off the program, can you sustain that? Annals of Internal Medicine says Nutrisystem “show(s) promising weight loss results; however, additional studies evaluating long-term outcomes are needed.” 
The New England Journal of Medicine concluded in 2013 that a portion-controlled and calorie-restricted diet is pretty tried and true. And while it does not comment specifically on Nutrisystem, the point is made. 
The American Journal of Hypertension in a 2013 study reported that participants, postmenopausal women, lost more than 10 pounds in three months. It is not until you reach the very end of the voluminous study that you learn that one of the researchers actually works for Nutrisystem and the company helped fund the study.
In fact, it’s nearly impossible to locate a completely independent study specific to Nutrisystem.
- K. A. Gudzuneet al., “Efficacy of Commercial Weight Loss Programs: An Updated Systematic Review,” Annals of Internal Medicine, 2015 Apr 7; 162(7): 501-12, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4446719/.
- K. Casazza et al., “Myths, Presumptions, and Facts about Obesity,” New England Journal of Medicine, 2013 Jan; 368:446-54, http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMsa1208051.