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The Promise

Jenny Craig has quite the diet package, and we're not just talking about the food.

With this plan, you'll get prepackaged low-calorie food, a consultant to offer support in person or on the phone (if you want), online tools to help you plan and track meals, and an exercise plan.

There are no banned foods, "detox" potions, or menus loaded with exotic foods that claim to melt fat.

You'll mostly eat Jenny Craig's weekly menus of 70 different prepackaged foods, at least at first. You'll get about 1,200 calories a day, depending on your height and weight.

In one study, Jenny Craig clients lost an average of 10% of their body weight the first year on the plan.

What You Can Eat and What You Can't

Besides Jenny Craig prepackaged meals, you can also have fresh fruits and vegetables, and reduced-fat dairy products.

Jenny Craig’s approach focuses on choosing low-fat foods that are rich in water, fiber, and protein to fill you up. In general, you can eat as many nonstarchy vegetables (like tomatoes, broccoli, and peppers) as you want.

You can also have occasional splurges like alcoholic beverages. No food is ever completely off-limits.

Level of Effort: Medium

You won't need to cook at first. When you're halfway to your weight loss goal, you'll start eating a few meals made at home. Once you reach your target weight, you spend 4 weeks transitioning to home-cooked meals.

Limitations: You'll be eating a lot of Jenny Craig's foods until you get close to your goal.

Cooking and shopping: Prepackaged meals make meal planning and preparation easy and cut down on temptation at the grocery store.

Packaged foods and meals: Required.

In-person meetings: Optional. There are more than 600 nationwide Jenny Craig Weight Loss Centers.

Exercise: You work with a consultant to reach a goal of 30 minutes or more of moderate activity at least 5 days a week.

Does It Allow for Dietary Restrictions or Preferences?

Vegetarians and vegans: There aren't a lot of prepackaged meatless meal options. If you're vegan, the plan wouldn't work for you, since all of the vegetarian entrees are made with dairy.

Low-fat diet: All of the prepackaged meals are low in fat.

Low-salt diet: Jenny Craig's meals have no more than 2,000 milligrams of sodium per day.

Gluten-free: Gluten is not off-limits. If you have celiac disease or are avoiding gluten for other reasons, you would need to ask Jenny Craig if the company has any options that would work for you.

What Else You Should Know

Costs: You'll pay a monthly fee, plus the cost of your food. The monthly fee can be:

  • $14.99 plus a $25 enrollment fee, with no access to health consultants
  • $19.99 plus $99 enrollment fee, with up to three consultations a week
  • $39.99 a month, no enrollment fee, with a weekly consultation

Regardless of your plan, the prepackaged meals and associated shipping charges are extra. Meal prices can range from $2.50 for a bowl of breakfast cereal to $6.99 for one serving of chicken parmesan.

Support: Depending on your membership level, health consultants are available at Jenny Craig centers, by phone, or online. Members-only forums, chat rooms, and blogs also are available, as well as online journaling tools to track what you eat and how active you are.

What Dr. Hansa Bhargava Says:

Does It Work?

Many people swear by this diet, and there is research to show that it works. The good news is also that from a nutrition standpoint, it meets most of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

This diet helps you get enough fiber, potassium, and calcium -- which is great, because many Americans don’t. The prepackaged foods make it easy to follow, although it may become expensive for some people.

Is It Good for Certain Conditions?

This is a balanced diet, and eating well helps prevent a chronic disease. If you already have conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, or high cholesterol, be sure to check with your doctor before starting any diet.

The Final Word

This is a good program because it offers a balanced diet that is based upon current dietary recommendations for adults. It seems easy, since you don’t need to cook and the food is prepackaged.

Some of the levels even have support systems built in, in case you have questions.

The downside is that it is expensive. The cost of the food is in addition to the cost of the diet program, about $100 per week, and this may be hard for some people to maintain. But if you stick with it, you will probably lose weight gradually, which is a healthy way to lose weight in general.

Remember, though, that to prevent disease and stay active for life, you do need to exercise. So be sure to add this into your new lifestyle!

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