It sounds convenient, right? Pick meals for 28 days, and they show up at your door. Heat & eat, add some “grocery store items,” and lose weight. No calorie counting, no “points” to track, no cutting, chopping, or (gasp!) cooking to do.
Of course Nutrisystem isn’t a healthy way to lose weight. The Nutrisystem website claims that it’s users will “Learn Healthy Habits for Life” by doing the following:
Combine Nutrisystem® foods with fresh grocery items for a balanced diet
Indulge in succulent fruit, crisp salads and veggies, and creamy dairy products of your choice
Discover the satisfaction of healthy, well-rounded eating
Harness the power of portion control and eating often throughout the day
Some of this sounds great a balanced diet, being able to eat fresh food, eating often throughout the day. The skills and shopping goals needed to do these things is outlined in the Meal Planner sent along with your food order, so I couldn’t confirm via the website what portion sizes or items consumers would be instructed to buy and eat. A quick look at one day of food from Nutrisystem is, however, interesting:
Breakfast Blueberry Muffin: 170 calories
Lunch Pasta Parmesan with Broccoli: 180 calories
Dinner Italian Herb Flatbread Pizza: 270 calories
Snack Buffalo Wing Pretzel Sticks: 120 calories
Dessert Chocolate Peanut Butter Bar: 170 calories
910 calories total. Most of the vegetarian food options on the Nutrisystem menu would result in a daily caloric intake of about 1000 calories. Not a lot. For the average woman, recommended daily calorie intake is 2000 calories to maintain weight. To lose weight with little exercise, a woman would likely reduce her daily caloric intake to 1500 calories on average. To get to that 1500 calories using the Nutrisystem plan, a woman would have to add an additional 500 calories to her meals, hopefully through fruit, veggies, salads and perhaps some low-fat dairy. Not only is that an additional expense in addition to the cost of the food, but it leaves plenty of open room for making poor diet choices.
A peek at the ingredients in a Nutrisystem Italian Herb Flatbread Pizza are worth a look as well:
The biggest issue here is the clear level of processing this “pizza” has undergone in order to make it to your home. Nutrisystem claims to rely on “good carbs,” which I can only presume means whole grains, yet the very first ingredient in this pizza crust is enriched wheat flour, not at all a whole grain. There are two separate added sugars hiding in the pizza sauce. And the very fact that the cheese is listed as “mozzarella-style cheese” is indicative of the not-very-cheese-like ingredients that follow. This may be lower in calories, somewhat higher in fiber, and lower in fat than most pizzas, but this is not much better than a Red Baron or Lean Cuisine box from your local grocery store.
Programs like Nutrisystem fail to do the two food-related things I personally find to be most important in achieving both long-term weight loss and long-term health: teach consumers to avoid processed meals and make their own instead, and teach consumers how to control portion sizes. Buying prepackaged muffins does not show you how to choose wisely amongst the thousands of grocery store options available to us; instead, it reinforces the idea that our food should come from a box, plastic bag or foil wrap and that our ultimate goals should be measured on the scale and not in our overall health. More processed food solutions to processed food problems.