The Nutrisystem Diet

Medically Reviewed by Christine Mikstas, RD, LD on March 23, 2023
10 min read

The Nutrisystem diet is a popular weight loss program that delivers high-protein, low-calorie, portion-controlled meals and snacks to your door every 2-4 weeks. The company claims you’ll lose up to 7 pounds in your first week. After that, they claim, you’ll see a 1-2 pound drop in your weight per week. Nutrisystem offers several different meal plans to choose from based on your age, gender, health conditions, and more.

Nutrisystem provides most of your meals and snacks -- preportioned -- for 4 weeks. Some foods arrive frozen, while others are ready to eat. You can also add foods you buy at the grocery store to round out your meal plan.

What they send to you depends on the Nutrisystem plan you pick. Your options are:

Uniquely Yours. This is Nutrisystem's basic plan for adults of all ages.

Complete 50 for women. This plan for women over 50 claims to support women’s heart health and weight loss and help reduce night sweats and hot flashes during menopause. You can opt for high-protein meals with more vegetables. You’ll eat more calories early in the day, potentially leaving you less hungry throughout the day.

Complete 50 for men. Tailored for men over 50, this plan claims to help men manage their weight and fight muscle loss as they age. On this plan, you can opt for meals with higher protein. You also will get protein shakes that, along with exercise, will help you maintain muscle mass, build strength, and improve body composition, the company claims.

Diabetes. This three-tiered plan claims to aid weight loss, help manage your blood sugar, and lower your A1c, a measurement of your average blood sugar level over the previous 3 months.

Partners. This plan is for couples who want to lose weight together. Your meal selections arrive every 2 weeks rather than every 4 weeks. You can each make different food choices. You also can opt to buy larger meals designed for two people to share.

Club Advantage. In addition to meals, this plan offers round-the-clock coaching, meal plans, a flexible delivery schedule, and more.

After you select your plan, you’ve got another choice -- pick your own meals and snacks or let Nutrisystem pick your meals for you, based on their most popular offerings. They recommend this easy option, called Chef’s Choice, for beginners.

Note: Women and men typically have different daily calorie needs. Nutrisystem accounts for this in their different portion sizes and slightly different prices for women and men.

Once you’ve made your food selections or opted to let Nutrisystem choose for you, you sit back and wait until your order arrives in 1-10 days. You will receive breakfast, lunch, and dinner meals, as well as three snacks per day for either 5 or 7 days per week, depending on the plan you choose. Each week, you’ll supplement your Nutrisystem supplies with a trip to the grocery store for foods such as:

  • Fresh or frozen fruit and vegetables
  • Protein-rich foods, such as lean meat, poultry, fish, and tofu
  • Bread and cereal high in fiber and low in sugar
  • Eggs and dairy
  • Nuts and nut butters
  • Canned and dried foods, such as beans, pasta, and rice
  • Cooking oil, salad dressings, and condiments
  • Spices, herbs, and sweeteners

The 5-day plan includes what the company calls Flex meals. These can be meals you make at home or order in a restaurant. Nutrisystem offers recipes so you can make your own meals. It also offers guidance on making healthy restaurant choices. If you choose a 7-day plan, it covers all your meals for the week; no Flex meals are required.

Nutrisystem diet week 1

If you opt for the Uniquely Yours plan, your first week will be different from those that follow. The company calls it a ‘kick start’ that ‘primes your body for weight loss.’ They claim you’ll lose up to 7 pounds in these first 7 days. The company calls it ‘7 in 7.’

Every day, you’ll eat about 1,000 calories. In addition to your regular meal, you'll get a daily shake of a protein bar that Nutrisystem says will help you control your hunger and burn fat. You will supplement what Nutrisystem provides with at least 4 servings of store-bought, non-starchy vegetables per day. Think carrots, bell peppers, and leafy greens rather than potatoes, peas, or corn. A sample menu for a day of your first week includes:

  • Breakfast: A Nutrisystem nut and oat bar
  • Mid-morning snack: A protein shake
  • Lunch: A protein bar
  • Afternoon snack: Nutrisystem popcorn
  • Dinner: Nutrisystem meatloaf
  • At least 4 servings of non-starchy vegetables, either with meals or between them

You’re advised to limit exercise during this first week as your body adjusts to your lower-calorie meal plan.

Nutrisystem diet weeks 2-4

After your first week, you’ll get into the next phase, which will remain the same for the rest of your time on the Nutrisystem plan. Rather than bars and shakes, you’ll eat full meals that include those prepared and provided by Nutrisystem, along with supplemental food you purchase on your own. On a typical day, you’ll eat the following Nutrisystem-provided foods:

  • 1 Nutrisystem Breakfast
  • 1 Nutrisystem Lunch
  • 1 Nutrisystem Dinner
  • 1-2 Nutrisystem Snacks (the number varies by plan)

Here’s a sample menu for men for a day on week 2 and beyond:

  • Breakfast: Nutrisystem entree, along with 2 tablespoons of almonds
  • Mid-morning snack: Nutrisystem chocolate nut bar
  • Lunch: Nutrisystem entree, along with 2 ounces of chicken breast and a cup of cooked broccoli
  • Afternoon snack: 2/3 cup low-fat yogurt and a banana
  • Dinner: Nutrisystem entree, along with 2 cups of salad topped with 1/4 cup shredded cheese and 1 tablespoon reduced-fat dressing

Nutrisystem foods list

In addition to what the company sends, your daily diet will include foods you buy yourself. These are:

Non-starchy vegetables, such as:

  • Carrots 
  • Bell peppers
  • Leafy greens
  • Broccoli
  • Tomatoes
  • Asparagus 

SmartCarbs, Nutrisystem’s name for high-fiber carbohydrates, which include: 

  • Fruit 
  • Starchy vegetables such as potatoes 
  • Whole-grain foods, such as brown rice and whole wheat bread and pasta

PowerFuels, Nutrisystem’s name for lean proteins and healthy fats, such as:

  • Meat
  • Fish
  • Dairy
  • Meat substitutes, such as tofu
  • Nuts
  • Avocado

Extras, including condiments such as:

  • Ketchup
  • Salad dressing
  • Coffee creamer

The Nutrisystem diet also includes “Free Foods,” which are low- or no-calorie flavor boosters and beverages such as:

  • Spices including black pepper, cumin, and curry powder
  • Herbs such as cilantro and chives
  • Vanilla extract and other extracts
  • Tea
  • Coffee
  • Lemon and lime juice
  • Salsa or salsa verde without added fruit
  • Vinegar

No eating plan is perfect, and the Nutrisystem diet is no exception. It has its share of benefits and drawbacks.

Nutrisystem diet pros

It's convenient. You get most -- but not all -- of your food sent right to your door, ready to eat in minutes.

It can be effective for weight loss. Because you are cutting calories, you will shed pounds, as long as you can stick with it.

It's nutritious. Professional dietitians design the meals that you receive as well as the recipes and meal plans.

Nutrisystem diet cons

It's not sustainable for everyone. The low-calorie diet may be hard for some people to stick with.

You still have to shop and cook. You supplement your Nutrisystem meals with store-bought foods you prepare yourself, so you still have to put in some time every day. The extra purchases add to your food budget.

Lots of processed foods. You can’t avoid this with premade, prepackaged meals, and it’s hard to know just how processed the foods are. Some could be more processed than others.

Price. It can be expensive, depending on your budget.

The Nutrisystem diet pairs with a smartphone app for your iOS or Android device. It has several features aimed at aiding your weight loss:

Food, activity, and weight trackers. This feature allows you to log your meals, how much water you drink, and the exercise that you get. It will connect to your Fitbit if you use one or to the step counter on your cell phone. Tracking the progress of your weight loss may help keep you motivated.

Personalized meal planning. As you reach your weight goals, the app will respond by changing your daily calorie goal. This is supposed to help you avoid weight loss plateaus.

Reminders. Need help remembering when to take a snack break or start your daily walk or other exercise? The app provides an alarm feature that will keep you from forgetting these essential parts of the Nutrisystem plan.

Education. The app provides recipes, meal plans, a guide to grocery shopping, and weight loss tips. Much of the info it provides will be tailored to your particular plan.

There’s no question that if you follow this plan, you will lose weight, as long as you stick to it, says registered dietitian Kathleen Zelman, MPH, RD, LD. The diet claims you’ll lose 1-2 pounds a week, which is pretty serious weight loss, she says. Although the portion sizes seem small, the meals you eat on the diet will help fill you up. That’s because they focus on filling, high-fiber carbohydrates, such as whole grains, and high-protein lean meats, such as poultry and fish. “That provides an extra fullness factor, so you can get away with eating fewer calories,” says Zelman.

But the big question is: Will you be able to maintain this diet over a long period rather than just a few months? “It works for some people, but I don’t think I could do it!” Zelman says. “It’s low in calories and just not enough for me.”

She also points out that there’s limited research on the diet that is not funded by Nutrisystem. A 2015 review of research in Annals of Internal Medicine reported that people on the Nutrisystem diet lost an average of 3.8% more weight than people trying to lose weight with counseling or weight loss education alone. That’s promising, the authors conclude, but they note that the research they reviewed focused only on short-term weight loss. “There is no long-term data on the diet,” says Zelman.

Is it good for certain conditions?

Nutrisystem has a plan tailored to people who have diabetes and need to manage their blood sugar and insulin levels. It claims that you will lose 7.8% of your body weight and lower your A1c by up to 1% in 6 months. Your A1c is your average blood sugar level over the previous 3 months.

Independent research does not fully back up this claim, however. A 2017 research review in Obesity Reviews found that people with diabetes lowered their A1c by 0.3% over 6 months. The researchers do say that this is a significant reduction in A1c and call it a “promising” short-term reduction. However, it’s less than a third of what Nutrisystem claims. There’s no evidence that it’s helpful for people at increased risk of diabetes, such as those with prediabetes.

Who shouldn’t try Nutrisystem?

Zelman says you should not sign up for the Nutrisystem diet if you:

  • Are pregnant or breastfeeding. The diet will not adequately support your nutritional needs.
  • Have heart disease. The diet, Zelman says, does not meet American Heart Association dietary guidelines.
  • Have celiac disease or follow a gluten-free diet for other reasons.
  • Have a peanut allergy. Though not all Nutrisystem foods contain peanuts, they may be made in facilities that process peanuts.
  • Have a soy allergy.

The final word

Zelman likes many aspects of the Nutrisystem diet. Topping her list are its convenience and balanced diet.

“I can’t overplay the convenience factor,” she says. “It takes all the guesswork out of it, if you don’t want to count calories or track your nutrients.”

Other highlights for Zelman include:

  • Its encouragement of exercise (as part of a successful whole-lifestyle approach to weight loss)
  • Its app and the education support it offers
  • Its diabetes-friendly food choices

Zelman does have some reservations. She says that some people won’t be able to afford the Nutrisystem plan. But her real concern is about the long term. While this diet does produce solid results in the short term, Zelman worries that many people won’t be able to sustain it. “I don’t like the short-term fix because you have to get back to reality at some point,” she says. “I think the numbers are just too low for the long term.”

If you want to try this diet, here is her recommendation: Use it to kickstart your weight loss while you think ahead to how you will keep eating well once you are off the plan. Talk to a registered dietitian nutritionist along the way if you need guidance planning for that transition.

Is the Nutrisystem diet healthy?

Yes. It provides a good balance of nutrition. However, it may not meet your calorie needs if you are very active.

How fast can I lose weight on the Nutrisystem diet?

The company says you can lose up to 7 pounds in the first week on certain plans and 1-2 pounds every week after that.

What is the downside to Nutrisystem?

While it can be good for short-term weight loss, it may not be sustainable over a long period.

What foods you can't eat on a Nutrisystem diet?

No foods are excluded.

What do I eat in a day on Nutrisystem?

You’ll eat three meals and three snacks per day. These are a combination of foods provided by Nutrisystem and those you buy yourself.