Here's What You Should Know Before You Try Jenny Craig

The Jenny Craig program includes packaged meals that are portioned to help members lose weight.
Image Credit: LauriPatterson/iStock/GettyImages

Jenny Craig is a weight-loss program that you might associate with something your mom tried in the early '90s. But the diet plan is still popular today — and for good reason.

In fact, Jenny Craig earned third place on U.S. News and World Report's list of the best commercial diet plans of 2022, behind Weight Watchers and the Mayo Clinic Diet. That's a pretty good sign that the diet is effective.

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But is it the right plan for you? Here's how the program works, whether it can help you lose weight and Jenny Craig diet pros and cons.

What Is the Jenny Craig Diet?

The program was created in the mid-1980s in Australia but became a household name in the United States soon after. Here's how Jenny Craig works: The program aims to help people lose weight through a mixture of portion control, calorie control and physical activity, according to the website. Consultants help guide members through the process of weight loss through supportive and motivational counseling.

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The Jenny Craig diet supplies you with all of your main meals and some snacks. Each meal arrives frozen, and members are encouraged to supplement it with fresh fruits and vegetables. Drinks, desserts and snack bars are also available for purchase.

The program's popular Rapid Results program works a bit like intermittent fasting, per the website: Members are encouraged to eat every two to three hours within a 12-hour window (the "Nourishment Period"), and fast the other 12 hours (the "Rejuvenation Period").

Jenny Craig also debuted their new Max Up program in 2021, which likewise harnesses intermittent fasting (along with customizable activity plans and one-on-one coaching).

How Much Weight Can You Lose?

So, does Jenny Craig work? The website indicates that members who follow the Rapid Results program may lose up to 16 pounds in their first four weeks, and then 1 to 2 pounds per week thereafter. The average member, across any of the brand's plans, loses 1 to 2 pounds per week.

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These results are supported by independent research. A February 2017 study in ​Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism​ found that a group of people assigned female at birth with overweight who followed the Jenny Craig diet for 12 weeks lost nearly 12 pounds each on average.

And an April 2015 review of 45 studies in the ​Annals of Internal Medicine​ found that, on average, Jenny Craig members lost about 5 percent more weight over the course of a year than those who didn't follow a weight-loss program.

Keep in mind that a healthy rate of weight loss is typically defined as 1 to 2 pounds per week, according to the Mayo Clinic. Although this may seem like a slow pace, research has shown that you're more likely to maintain your weight loss for the long run if you drop pounds at a slow-and-steady rate. You're also more likely to lose fat at this pace rather than muscle or water weight.

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How Much Does It Cost?

How much the Jenny Craig diet costs depends on which plan you choose (low-sugar or meatless, for example) and the length of your membership, per the website.

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A 12-month premium membership — recommended for those who want to lose more than 16 pounds — may cost several hundred dollars up front, which grants you access to both a weight-loss coach and expert.

The cost of food is additional, and typically averages a little less than $25 per day for a ready-to-eat breakfast, lunch, dinner and two snacks. Members are also encouraged to add some fruits, vegetables and dairy products to their meals, which is an added cost to keep in mind.

The upfront costs are less for a shorter, trial membership, which the company suggests for those who want to lose 16 pounds or less.

Pros of the Jenny Craig Diet

Like any weight-loss program, the Jenny Craig Diet has pros and cons. Here are some of the advantages:

1. No Planning or Prepping Necessary

Because your meals and snacks are delivered to your door, there's no need to meal prep or cook, and the amount of food shopping you need to do is minimal. This makes the plan a convenient option for those who are busy or who don't like to cook.

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2. It Can Help You Lose Weight

Per the ​Annals of Internal Medicine​ review, Jenny Craig can help you lose more weight in a year than people who aren't following a diet — an average of 5 percent more, specifically.

3. You Get Motivation and Support Along the Way

Members are paired with consultants to help them navigate their weight-loss journey, which can be vital to their success. Indeed, a March 2018 analysis in the Journal of Medical Internet Research found that people who received one-on-one coaching were more likely to achieve weight loss.

4. It Encourages Exercise

One of the reasons Jenny Craig is touted as a healthy plan is because it promotes physical activity. While working out isn't required, the program does recommend members get 30 minutes of exercise five days per week, which is in line with the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans set by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

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Cons of the Jenny Craig Diet

There are also some drawbacks to keep in mind, including:

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1. It's Expensive

Of course, this depends on your budget, but the upfront and food costs of the plan may be prohibitive for some people, according to March 2016 research in ​Preventing Chronic Disease​.

2. It Includes Processed Foods

The plan's pre-packaged meals and snacks may be convenient, but many are also highly processed, which often means more sodium and saturated fat, according to a September 2017 review in ​Preventive Medicine​.

And processed foods have been linked to several serious health risks, like type 2 diabetes and heart disease, per the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

3. Consultant Knowledge and Expertise Varies

Jenny Craig consultants are trained by the program, per June 2015 research in ​BMC Public Health​, which means that while some may be registered dietitians or nutritionists, you are not guaranteed to be paired with one. Some of the consultants are just former members who lost weight and want to support others on the same journey.

4. It May Be Difficult to Sustain Eating Habits After the Program

The plan relies on frozen meals and pre-packaged snacks, according to the ​Preventative Medicine​ review. As a result, it doesn't teach members how to make healthy meals for themselves, which may make long-term weight maintenance a challenge.

5. The Foods Are High in Sodium

Most of the lunch and dinner dishes come in just under 500 milligrams of sodium per serving, but there are some that go over, per the ​Preventative Medicine​ review. Add in the additional snacks and desserts, and you're likely to exceed the American Heart Association's (AHA) ideal limit of 1,500 milligrams per day for most adults.

6. It Doesn't Account for Many Dietary Restrictions

If you follow a specific eating style — like kosher, halal or vegan — there may not be many meal options for you, according to the program's website.

Tip

Talk to your doctor before trying this or any weight-loss program to make sure it's right for you, per the Mayo Clinic.

Sample Jenny Craig Menu

Below is an example of what a day's worth of meals might look like on the Jenny Craig diet:

Breakfast

  • Country Sausage Gravy Scramble (190 calories, 10 grams protein, 450 milligrams sodium, <1 gram added sugar)
  • 1 cup blueberries (70 calories, 1 gram protein, 0 milligrams sodium, 0 grams added sugar)
  • 1 cup non-fat milk (90 calories, 8 grams protein, 135 milligrams sodium, 0 grams added sugar)

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Snack

  • Ranch Snaps (120 calories, 4 grams protein, 200 milligrams sodium, 0 grams added sugar)

Lunch

  • Butternut Squash Ravioli (240 calories, 12 grams protein, 430 milligrams sodium, >5 grams added sugar)
  • 2 cups chopped romaine lettuce (16 calories, 1 gram protein, 7 milligrams sodium, 0 grams added sugar)
  • Creamy Herb Dressing (50 calories, 0 grams protein, 100 milligrams sodium, >2 grams added sugar)

Snack

  • 1 medium apple (150 calories, 0 grams protein, 0 milligrams sodium, 0 milligrams added sugar)

Dinner

  • Italian Style Wedding Soup (200 calories, 12 grams protein, 480 milligrams sodium, 0 grams added sugar)
  • 2 cups cooked broccoli (109 calories, 7 grams protein, 128 milligrams sodium, 0 grams added sugar)

Dessert

  • Chocolate Lava Cake (150 calories, 4 grams protein, 190 milligrams sodium, 17 grams added sugar)

Totals for the Day:​ 1,385 calories, 59 grams protein, 2,120 milligrams sodium, >24 grams added sugar

Note:​ Non-starchy vegetables and condiments, such as mustard, ketchup, hot sauce and vinegar, are considered "free" foods and do not count toward your daily totals.

Who Should Not Join Jenny Craig?

Now that you're familiar with Jenny Craig's pros and cons, should you try it? For most adults, the Jenny Craig diet is perfectly safe. However, there are a few groups of people for whom this diet may not be the best choice, including:

1. People With an Underlying Condition

If you have any medical conditions, you should speak with your doctor before beginning any weight-loss program, according to the Mayo Clinic. Here's why: With any calorie-controlled diet, it can be a challenge to get the right nutrients for your condition, so you'll want to be careful to prevent any deficiencies.

If you have high blood pressure or if you have been told to follow a sodium-restricted diet for other health reasons, you may also need to be mindful with this diet. As mentioned before, many of the meals included have over 500 milligrams of sodium per serving, which means you can exceed the recommended daily limit set by the AHA.

2. Children

Although Jenny Craig's website suggests that the diet can be followed by people ages 13 and up, this (and other weight-loss programs) are not for children, per Michigan State University. Unless they're medically advised to follow a particular program, dieting may not provide kids the nutrients they need.

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