Nutrisystem aims to simplify weight loss. You don’t have to decide whether foods will fit your diet. You don’t have to count calories or carbs. For the most part, you don’t have to make sure you’re eating proper portion sizes. But you also can't eat whatever you want to.
That's because you buy most of your food from Nutrisystem. The company ships it to your door. Each day, you eat a Nutrisystem breakfast, lunch, dinner, and dessert. You also add side items like fresh fruits and veggies and snacks that you buy from the grocery store.
The downside: You're discouraged from eating out, and advised to mostly avoid alcohol.
The plan is not for pregnant women, people with chronic kidney disease, or anyone with certain allergies or diet needs. It’s not for children under age 14, though Nutrisystem offers programs for teens ages 14 to 17.
What You Can Eat and What You Can't
Nutrisystem is a 28-day program that offers prepackaged foods.
Breakfast options include oatmeal, muffins, granola, and pancakes.
Lunches and dinners include selections like tacos; chicken and pasta; soup, stew, and chili; and pizza.
For desserts and snacks, you might have brownies, cake, or cookies.
The program provides a long list of fruits, vegetables, nuts, fresh meat and dairy, and other foods that you can eat along with your Nutrisystem foods.
Overall, the foods and meal plans focus on:
"Smart" carbohydrates. These don't raise your blood sugar as much as other foods. On the plan, you’ll need to limit or avoid high-GI foods (like white bread, white rice, and certain fruits).
Limited calories. The calorie count is designed to help you lose a pound or two each week on this diet program. The exception is the "Lean 13" plan on which women can lose up to 13 pounds and 7 inches in the first month while men can expect to lose 15 pounds and 7 inches..
Limited sodium. According to the company, the programs provide about 2,000 milligrams of sodium daily. The foods you buy on your own may add to the total.
Level of Effort: Medium
Ordering a month’s worth of food is easy, and the items are already made for you. But you won’t have your usual degree of control over what foods you choose to eat. And you may get fewer calories than you're used to.
Limitations: You pick your foods from the choices Nutrisystem offers. There are 150 foods to choose from their most extensive plan "Uniquely Yours." You can also choose from dozens of items to buy on your own at the grocery store.
Cooking and shopping: You can buy a 28-day shipment of food that the company selects, or you can choose each individual item yourself. You can sign up for a meal plan intended for women, men, vegetarians, people with diabetes, or anyone older than 60.
You hardly have to cook, since most Nutrisystem foods either are ready to eat or only need heating. But some items that you buy from the grocery store, like vegetables and fish, may involve more preparation.
Packaged foods or meals: Required.
In-person meetings: None.
Does It Allow for Dietary Restrictions or Preferences?
Yes. There are meal plans for vegetarians and people with diabetes.
But the program does not have plans for people following a vegan diet.
What Else You Should Know
Cost: The cost varies based on things like the plan you choose -- such as for women or men, vegetarians, older adults, or people with diabetes.
In general, expect to pay from about $230 to the mid $300s a month for the Nutrisystem foods, plus whatever you buy from the grocery store.
Support: The program has an online community and web-based tools, as well as help by phone.
Other: You may face a challenge when you go off the program and have to make more food choices on your own. The program provides information on how to do this.
What Kathleen Zelman, MPH, RD, Says:
Does It Work?
Controlling calories and portions and eating regular meals is a healthy formula that should result in weight loss while on the plan.
If you can stick to the prepackaged meals and add only healthy foods, research to support the program suggests you will lose weight. The meals you'll eat are good for you, nutrition-wise. It can be harder to make the transition to eating "real food" when you get closer to your weight-loss goal and don't rely on meals already made for you.
Is It Good for Certain Conditions?
Overall the diet is healthy for people with conditions like heart disease, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes. Meals are low in sodium, saturated fats, and trans fats, and include high-fiber whole grains, smart carbs, healthy fats, lean protein, and a wide variety of foods.
If you have a medical condition, be sure to talk to your doctor before starting the program.
The Final Word
The Nutrisystem diet is the ultimate in convenience. If you don’t want to think about portion sizes, planning, shopping, or cooking and are happy to have meals delivered to your doorstep in microwave-ready pouches, then you’re going to love this plan.
If you like to cook or eat out, or you have a tight food budget, this plan is not for you.
The real question is whether you can continue to lose weight or maintain your weight when you are no longer relying on the prepackaged foods.