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.
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. Nursing mothers may require an adjusted meal plan. Men weighing in excess of 450 lbs. and women weighing in excess of 400 lbs. require doctor approval to be on the Nutrisystem program. The diet is not for children under age 14, though Nutrisystem offers programs for teens ages 14 to 17, with their doctor's approval.
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:
A variety of nutrients. About 45% – 55% of calories come from carbohydrates, 25% – 30% of calories come from protein, and less than 30% of calories come from fat.
"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) and emphasize whole grains, beans, legumes, fruit, and starchy vegetables.
Limited calories. The company's website claims that women can lose up to 13 pounds and 7 inches in the first month and men can lose up to 18 pounds and 8 inches in the first month on Nutrisystem for Men. After that, dieters can lose an average of 1 to 2 pounds per week.
Limited sodium. According to the company, the programs provide about 2,000 milligrams of sodium daily (the USDA recommends no more than 2,300 mg of sodium daily). The actual sodium level may vary based on which weight loss program you choose and which grocery food items you add to your diet plan.
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 menu choices to choose from their most extensive plan "Uniquely Yours Ultimate." There is also a plan called the "Partner Plan" for two people. 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, or people with diabetes.
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.
Exercise: Nutrisystem suggests you get at least 30 minutes of physical activity daily. You can break this up into three 10-minute periods throughout the day.
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.
And it doesn't allow for certain food allergies (including soy or peanut allergies), and it's not gluten-free. However, there are gluten- and wheat-free items available.
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.