Jenny Craig Diet
The aim: Weight loss and maintenance.
The claim: You’ll drop up to 2 pounds a week.
The theory: Losing weight is as simple as restricting calories, fat and portions. Jenny’s prepackaged meals and recipes do all three, plus emphasize healthy eating, an active lifestyle and behavior modification. Personal consultants guide members through their journeys from day one. You’ll gain support and motivation, and learn how much you should be eating, what a balanced meal looks like and how to use that knowledge once you graduate from the program.
Jenny Craig Diet is ranked:
Weight Loss Short-Term4.1
Weight Loss Long-Term3.3
Easy to Follow3.6
Scores are based on experts’ reviews.
How does Jenny Craig Diet work?
Dos & Don’ts
You’ll get a personalized meal and exercise plan, plus weekly one-on-one counseling sessions with a Jenny Craig consultant. Note: These are not nutrition professionals – anyone who is “health-oriented and customer-focused” can attend a training course and get certified – but they’re trained in the basics of nutrition, exercise and behavior modification through a curriculum developed by registered dietitians in consultation with a science advisory board. Many consultants are former Jenny Craig members. Your diet, which ranges from 1,200 to 2,300 calories a day, is designed around your current weight, fitness habits and motivation level.
Jenny Craig offers two programs: its standard program and Jenny Craig for Type 2, which is designed for people with Type 2 diabetes by including a lower-carb menu, reinforcement of self-monitoring of blood sugar levels, consistent meals and snacks, and other self-management strategies for weight loss and support for diabetes control.
The diet lasts as long as you need it to, be it three months or two years. For the first half of your weight loss program, you eat three prepackaged Jenny meals and one snack a day – options like cinnamon rolls and meat loaf with barbecue sauce – in addition to five servings of fresh fruits and vegetables and at least two nonfat dairy product equivalents. Once you’re halfway to your goal weight, you’ll begin cooking for yourself again twice a week, using Jenny’s recipes and low-fat food prep strategies. After reaching your goal weight, you’ll spend four weeks transitioning back to making only your own meals, while adjusting to a slightly higher number of daily calories. In monthly consultations, you learn weight regain prevention strategies such as nutritional label reading, exercise and stress management.
Although success hinges on following the menu plan with the Jenny Craig meals, the program isn’t inflexible. A “splurge strategy” is built in from the beginning, allowing up to 250 extra calories for special occasions. It’s even OK to splurge a couple of times a week, if you balance it out with extra physical activity, like walking more each day.
One-on-one support plays a big role, although Jenny participants don’t get together for group meetings, which is a part of some commercial diets. Instead, you’ll typically talk with your personal consultant once a week, either in person at a center or through the Jenny Craig Anywhere program, which offers consultations by phone or via video chat. No matter how you connect with your consultant, you’ll discuss how well you did the previous week, and whether you had trouble sticking to the plan. You’ll also choose the next week’s meals and order your food. On-the-go members who opt for “Jenny Craig Anywhere” have access to the same meals as those who pick up their meals in a center.
How much does it cost?
Jenny Craig is expensive enough to deter some dieters. To become a member, you pay a $99 enrollment fee and at least $19.99 a month for the “Jenny All Access” program. If you’re afraid of commitment and only want one consultation each week, you can skip the enrollment fee but shell out $39.99 a month for the “Jenny As You Go” month-to-month option. Neither price includes food, which costs an average of $15 to $23 each day. Tack on shipping costs, if you plan to have your meals delivered.
Keep your eyes open for deals, however. In October 2015, for instance, the company offered half off its enrollment fee for the “Jenny All Access” option. In October 2016, the company offered a one-time enrollment fee of $299 for the “All Access Premium” option, which would be refunded for dieters who reached their goals.
Will you lose weight?
Probably, if you’re motivated enough to stay on the diet.
- A 2015 review of 45 studies in the Annals of Internal Medicine comparing commercial weight-loss programs (including Jenny Craig, Weight-Watchers, Nutrisystem and Medifast) found that Jenny Craig participants lost the most weight over 12 months – almost 5 percent more than a control group given education and counseling.
- Other promising evidence comes from a Jenny Craig-sponsored 2010 study in the Journal of the American Medical Association that tracked 331 overweight and obese women who got free Jenny Craig meals and weekly counseling sessions. The study compared those women with another 111 women who were on their own other than an initial meeting and a six-month follow-up session with a diet counselor, plus sample diets and monthly phone or email check-ins. After 12 months, the Jenny participants had lost an average of about 10 percent of their initial body weight and after 24 months were still 7 percent under. Average weight loss for the non-Jenny group was 2.6 percent and 2.1 percent, respectively. But keep in mind the thousands of dollars worth of free Jenny products and intensive handholding. And while the study (and the company) noted the unusually high compliance rate – 92 percent of the women were still in the study at the two-year mark, which Consumer Reports called a “remarkable level of adherence” in a diet analysis in its June 2011 issue – the rate actually was slightly higher for the non-Jenny group.
- A 2013 study in the Journal of the American Heart Association, funded by Jenny Craig, found that overweight and obese middle-aged women on the plan significantly reduced their weight and waist circumference after two years.
- In another study, published in Obesity in 2007, participants who stuck with the plan for about a year shed 12 percent of their initial body weight, while those who quit in the first month lost just 1 percent.
- Keys to Jenny’s success may be the prepackaged food and the psychological support of connecting with trained consultants, concluded a 2004 study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners. But that same research warned that the program’s high cost may be a roadblock for some.
How easy is it to follow?
Jenny’s nearly 100 entrees, desserts and snacks run the gamut, from “new global flavors” like cheesy chicken enchiladas to desserts that feel like splurges (chocolate lava cake, anyone?). Though portions are small, you’ll eat three meals and two snacks a day, and dinner comes with dessert. Plus, there’s no carb-cutting or elimination of entire food groups. But save for the occasional splurge, you’ll have an exclusive affair with Jenny’s packaged meals until you lose half the weight you want to lose.
Convenience: What’s not to like about meals delivered to your doorstep or picked up at a center? Alcohol is allowed in moderation, as is caffeine, and your consultant will help you determine appropriate amounts. The company’s online resources may be helpful.
Recipes: Hundreds of free, low-fat recipes live on Jenny’s website, searchable by meal type, preparation time and whether they’re intended for a special occasion, like a birthday party or holiday feast. You can save your favorites and review user ratings, too. All provide details on calories, carbs, protein, fat, cholesterol and sodium. Choices include Tuscan bean soup, beef Wellington and peach cobbler. Just remember: These won’t come into play until you’re halfway through the diet.
Eating out: Jenny allows for the occasional restaurant meal. If your dining out choice exceeds the calories for the menu you’ve preplanned with your consultant, you’re encouraged to compensate with extra exercise. Your consultant will help you decide what to order ahead of time. Jenny’s “Weight Loss Manual” also offers dining-out tips, like taking one piece of bread, then asking the waiter to remove the basket.
Alcohol: Moderation is key. Though there’s no hard-and-fast rule, the company suggests limiting alcohol, especially in the beginning of your program. If you want more, say an extra 5-ounce glass of wine or a light beer, you can skip two servings of fat that day, or make sure you cut out or burn off an additional 100 calories. Sugar-free gin and tonics and white wine spritzers are among the most Jenny-friendly drinks.
Timesavers: The diet itself is a time-saver, since it emphasizes prepackaged meals.
Extras: Jenny clients can access an online meal planner, progress tracker, activity tracker and food journal tool, as well as a mobile app that helps you track on the go.
Fullness: Nutrition experts emphasize the importance of satiety, the satisfied feeling that you’ve had enough. Hunger shouldn’t be a problem on this diet. Since 2008, Jenny Craig has incorporated the so-called Volumetrics approach, devised by Penn State University nutritionist Barbara Rolls, which involves choosing the least “energy-dense foods” so you’ll feel fuller for longer. Foods low in fat and rich in water, fiber and protein are the least energy-dense. Before a meal, for example, you might down a “Soupitizer” to keep your appetite in check. Members are also free to add as many vegetables to each meal as their stomachs desire.
Taste: In February 2011, Consumer Reports pitted Jenny’s packaged meals against those of its rival, Nutrisystem, and concluded that Jenny took the cake.
Testers sampled 32 Jenny products, including entrees and snacks, and rated them overall at the high end of the “good” scale, while Nutrisystem’s meals landed on the low end of “good.” Still, of the 59 total items tested, only five (all Jenny meals) were rated “very good.” And although Jenny was the clear winner, don’t expect a gourmet spread: The folks at Consumer Reports described a salad dressing as “chalky, sour, slightly sweet.”
What is the role of exercise?
When you sign up, you’ll get a tailored activity plan based on your fitness level and motivation.
The point is weaving activity into your daily life rather than embarking on a rigorous exercise plan. (If you’re already very active, your consultant will analyze your routine to see if you can kick it up a notch, with weight training, say.) You may start by wearing a pedometer, for example, or parking farther away from the mall. Natural activities are emphasized, like walking around while watching a baseball game instead of sitting in the bleachers. So are playful ways to burn calories, such as dancing at home. Fitness isn’t strenuous; it’s part of the pursuit of a healthy, active lifestyle. The goal is to work up to about 30 minutes of moderate activity five days a week.