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: 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 came in at No. 2 on U.S. News and World Report's list of the best commercial diet plans of 2019, right behind Weight Watchers. That's a pretty good sign that the diet is effective. But is it the right plan for you?

So, What Is the Jenny Craig Diet?

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

The Jenny Craig diet supplies you with all of your main meals and some snacks. Each main meal arrives frozen, and members are encouraged to supplement 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: 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").

How Much Weight Can You Lose?

The Jenny Craig 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.

These results are supported by independent research. In one February 2017 study, published in Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism, a group of overweight, sedentary women 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.

How Much Does It Cost?

The total cost of a Jenny Craig diet plan depends on which plan you choose (men's, women's, low-sugar or meatless, for example) and the length of your membership.

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 and Cons of the Jenny Craig Diet

Every diet plan has pros and cons, no matter how well designed it may be. The Jenny Craig diet has some positive aspects that work well for some people. But it also has some potential drawbacks that are good to be aware of before you get started.

Pros

  1. No planning or prepping necessary. Since 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 have minimal cooking skills.
  2. It encourages exercise. 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.
  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 published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research found that people who received one-on-one coaching were more likely to achieve weight loss.

Cons

  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.
  2. It includes a good amount of processed foods. The plan's pre-made meals and snacks may be convenient, but they are also highly processed for the most part, and processed foods have been linked to several serious health risks.
  3. Consultant knowledge and expertise varies. While some Jenny Craig consultants may be dietitians or nutritionists, you are not guaranteed to be paired with one. Some of the consultants are simply former members who lost weight and want to support others on the same journey.
  4. Weight loss may be difficult to maintain in the long run. Because the plan relies on frozen meals and pre-packaged snacks, it doesn't teach members how to make healthy meals for themselves, which can 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. Add in the additional snacks and desserts, and you're likely to exceeded the American Heart Association (AHA)'s recommended limit of 1,500 milligrams per day.

What Does a Typical Day Look Like on the Jenny Craig Diet?

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)

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 (20 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 steamed 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: 1,389 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?

For most healthy adults, the Jenny Craig diet is perfectly safe. However, if you have any medical conditions, you should speak with your doctor before beginning any weight-loss program. The reason? With any calorie-controlled diet, it can be a challenge to get the amount of nutrients you need, so you'll want to be careful to prevent any deficiencies.

Although Jenny Craig's website suggests that the diet can be followed by ages 13 and up, this is not a diet for children, unless they are being medically advised. Growing adolescents may not get enough calcium and vitamin D from this diet, and adolescent girls especially may not get enough iron.

If you have high blood pressure or if you have been told to follow a sodium-restricted diet for other health reasons, you 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 may easily go over the recommended amount set by the AHA.

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