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Jun 16, 2021
5 min read

How does the Nutrisystem weight loss program work?

Nutrisystem is a subscription service that delivers pre-made, portioned meals to your door. The aim is to take in fewer calories than you lose each day, which results in weight loss.

chelsea boyd

Reviewed by Yael Cooperman, MD

Written by Chelsea Boyd

Disclaimer

If you have any medical questions or concerns, please talk to your healthcare provider. The articles on Health Guide are underpinned by peer-reviewed research and information drawn from medical societies and governmental agencies. However, they are not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.

We’ve all heard the rule: if you want to lose weight, eat fewer calories than you burn. While this reality is inescapable, it’s also easier said than done.

The Nutrisystem weight loss program provides pre-made meals that take the guesswork out of calorie restriction. Delivering just the right portion of food for each meal, Nutrisystem is a meal plan service that can help you meet your weight loss goals––and potentially control blood sugar and cholesterol, too.

What is the Nutrisystem weight loss program?

Nutrisystem is a subscription service that sends subscribers pre-made, low-calorie meals. 

They also provide on-demand coaching and a weight loss app to track your progress. The Nutrisystem program offers a variety of menu choices to meet users’ food preferences. Some meals are non-perishable and don’t require refrigeration, while others must be kept in the freezer.

Nutrisystem has several plans to choose from that provide up to six meals per day. Each includes five to seven weekly breakfasts, lunches, dinners, and snacks or protein shakes. There are also options for people with diabetes and those who follow a vegetarian diet.

Nutrisystem includes recipes so that you can make meals on days you don’t use pre-made one. These are called flex meals and include lean proteins, nutritious vegetables, and high-fiber carbs.

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How does Nutrisystem help you lose weight?

Nutrisystem works through portion control and calorie restriction. The pre-made meals are designed to limit the number of calories a person consumes per meal.

To lose one pound, a person must consume roughly 3,500 fewer calories than is used through physical activity and normal bodily functions. If you have excess weight, losing one to two pounds per week is considered a healthy rate of weight loss. Nutrisystem makes this formula easier to navigate since it doesn’t require counting calories.

Nutrisystem focuses on low glycemic index foods, which are less likely to spike blood sugar levels. When you eat foods with a high glycemic index, your blood sugar rises sharply, and the pancreas releases a large amount of insulin. This tells cells to take in sugar, which results in a rapid drop in blood sugar, leaving you feeling very hungry quickly.

If you eat foods with a low glycemic index, you can avoid blood sugar spikes and feel full for longer (Baetge, 2017). Nutrisystem meals are designed to include a balance of protein, carbohydrates, and fats.

Does Nutrisystem work?

Studies evaluating various weight loss programs found Nutrisystem led to almost 4% greater weight loss than behavioral counseling alone. None of the studies lasted more than six months, so it’s unclear how successful Nutrisystem is at helping people keep weight off long term (Gudzune, 2015).

Another clinical trial compared Nutrisystem to other commercial weight loss programs that didn’t change diet or physical activity levels. Those who used Nutrisystem lost an average of 11 pounds and 1.13 inches off their waist. These losses were more significant than those seen in the control group (Baetge, 2017).

As with most products, Nutrisystem reviews are mixed. Some say the program has delicious food, while others are less enthusiastic. Many reviewers report weight loss success stories, but some warn that getting used to smaller portions is difficult.

Health benefits of Nutrisystem

Weight loss is the primary goal of Nutrisystem, but the weight loss service has other benefits too.

For people with type 2 diabetes and obesity, the Nutrisystem plan for diabetics lowered what’s called hemoglobin A1c (HbA1c) in the short term (Foster, 2009). HbA1c is an approximate measure of blood sugar levels; a higher HbA1c indicates diabetes.

Another study showed that Nutrisystem decreased the use of hypoglycemic medications over six months among diabetics (Chaudhry, 2016; Foster, 2013). Those using Nutrisystem also saw a significant decrease in cholesterol compared with those who didn’t change their diet or add physical activity to their routine (Baetge, 2017).

In general, losing weight decreases the risk of diabetes, lowers cholesterol, reduces inflammation, and lowers blood pressure. Improving all these areas also reduces the risk of heart disease (Magkos, 2016).

Other options for weight loss

There are several other commercial weight loss diets available. Jenny Craig and WW (Weight Watchers) are popular alternatives to Nutrisystem. Jenny Craig provides pre-made meals as Nutrisystem does, and WW uses a point-based system to help people maintain healthy eating habits.

Self-directed diets, like intermittent fasting, also decrease calorie consumption and leads to weight loss. Counting calories by determining is another way to monitor your nutritional intake, but it can be inaccurate and hard to maintain.

One limitation of the Nutrisystem plan is that it doesn’t incorporate––although it does encourage it. Physical activity isn’t as effective for weight loss than diet, but exercise with a healthy diet is more effective than either one alone. In addition to weight loss and weight management, exercise has a whole host of health benefits, so it’s worth including movement in your plan.

Losing weight can be hard. Diet plans like Nutrisystem offer an uncomplicated way to restrict calories and lose weight. Talk to a healthcare provider if you’re trying to lose weight, and they can help you choose the method best for your needs.

References

  1. Baetge, C., Earnest, C. P., Lockard, B., Coletta, A. M., Galvan, E., Rasmussen, C., Levers, K., Simbo, S. Y., Jung, Y. P., Koozehchian, M., Oliver, J., Dalton, R., Sanchez, B., Byrd, M. J., Khanna, D., Jagim, A., Kresta, J., Greenwood, M., & Kreider, R. B. (2017). Efficacy of a Randomized Trial Examining Commercial Weight Loss Programs and Exercise on Metabolic Syndrome in Overweight and Obese Women. Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism, 42(2), 216–227. DOI: 10.1139/apnm-2016-0456. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28044449/
  2. Chaudhry, Z. W., Doshi, R. S., Mehta, A. K., Jacobs, D. K., Vakil, R. M., Lee, C. J., Bleich, S. N., Kalyani, R. R., Clark, J. M., & Gudzune, K. A. (2016). A Systematic Review of Commercial Weight Loss Programmes’ Effect on Glycemic Outcomes Among Overweight and Obese Adults With and Without Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus. Obesity Reviews, 17(8), 758–769. DOI: 10.1111/obr.12423. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5512172/
  3. Foster, G. D., Borradaile, K. E., Vander Veur, S. S., Leh Shantz, K., Dilks, R. J., Goldbacher, E. M., Oliver, T. L., Lagrotte, C. A., Homko, C., & Satz, W. (2009). The Effects of a Commercially Available Weight Loss Program Among Obese Patients with Type 2 Diabetes: A Randomized Study. Postgraduate Medicine, 121(5), 113–118. DOI: 10.3810/pgm.2009.09.2046 Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19820280/
  4. Foster, G. D., Wadden, T. A., Lagrotte, C. A., Vander Veur, S. S., Hesson, L. A., Homko, C. J., Maschak-Carey, B. J., Barbor, N. R., Bailer, B., Diewald, L., Komaroff, E., Herring, S. J., & Vetter, M. L. (2013). A Randomized Comparison of a Commercially Available Portion-Controlled Weight-Loss Intervention with a Diabetes Self-Management Education Program. Nutrition & Diabetes, 3(3), e63. DOI: 10.1038/nutd.2013.3 Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3608893/
  5. Gudzune, K. A., Doshi, R. S., Mehta, A. K., Chaudhry, Z. W., Jacobs, D. K., Vakil, R. M., Lee, C. J., Bleich, S. N., & Clark, J. M. (2015). Efficacy of Commercial Weight-loss Programs: an Updated Systematic Review. Annals of Internal Medicine, 162(7), 501–512. DOI: 10.7326/M14-2238. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4446719/
  6. Magkos, F., Fraterrigo, G., Yoshino, J., Luecking, C., Kirbach, K., Kelly, S. C., de Las Fuentes, L., He, S., Okunade, A. L., Patterson, B. W., & Klein, S. (2016). Effects of Moderate and Subsequent Progressive Weight Loss on Metabolic Function and Adipose Tissue Biology in Humans with Obesity. Cell Metabolism, 23(4), 591–601. DOI: 10.1016/j.cmet.2016.02.005. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4833627/