NutriSystem Diet: : What You Need to Know

Bananas, for example, are considered good carbs. See more weight loss tips pictures.
iStockphoto.com/Nina Shannon

A diet made of convenience begs the question: Isn't dieting about getting off the couch and working hard to lose weight? NutriSystem, a diet program based on prepackaged meals that contain all the calories and nutrients you need, seems to subtract the hard work from the weight-loss equation. You'll still have to hit the grocery store for fruits, veggies and the like -- which means you'll have to resist the lure of the candy aisle -- but most of the food-preparation work is done for you.

The NutriSystem meal program is basically a delivery diet service -- complete with the burgers, desserts and other foods you love. Everything comes in prepackaged portions, meaning you'll eat enough to sustain your body's dietary needs and avoid overeating. You even get to eat five times a day, which should help squelch those between-meal cravings.

These perks of the program, coupled with television advertising, earned NutriSystem, which pulled out of bankruptcy in 1994, a spot on Fortune Magazine's list of 100 fastest growing companies in 2008 [sources: Fortune, New York Times].

Pennsylvania- based NutriSystem offers all sorts of specials and programs. Are you a senior looking to shed pounds? NutriSystem's got a plan for you. Are you an active woman or a vegetarian? Yep, there's a meal plan designed for you. Looking to regain that manly physique? Yep, there's room in this diet for you, too. Getting into the plan is easy and affordable. Without center memberships or costly equipment, NutriSystem can be less expensive than other weight-loss programs that include meals as part of the plan.

You've seen the ads and heard all the hype. Now this article will take you into the guts of the NutriSystem plan and show you how it's done. From highlighting the diet plan to pointing out important parts of the program, we'll show you how NutriSystem can work for you. Read on to digest the basics.

NutriSystem Diet Plan

After signing on for the program, you'll get all sorts of options based on your lifestyle and the foods you love, including a daily meal planner and an online diary to track your meals and progress. Research has shown that keeping food diaries can help people lose more weight than those who simply watch their weight and don't document food intake [source: Gupta]. NutriSystem's online tools make it easier for you to monitor this on your own.

While you're setting up your program, you'll also create a profile, find articles about healthy eating, gain tips from a team of experts and access a free body mass index, or BMI, chart. Here you can compare height, weight and age ratios and set healthy limits for yourself based on research compiled by the World Health Organization [source: WHO]. Having these health resources at your fingertips will help you succeed with the meal plan that you choose.

The 28-day meal plan is tailored to your interests -- you choose your daily meals (breakfast, lunch and dinner, plus snack/dessert) from NutriSystem's menu options. You'll supplement these meals with some grocery store items, like fruits and vegetables, but there's no need to count calories. All of the portions are measured out for you, since studies show that portion control may be a key factor in losing weight.

So what actually comes in this diet plan? Read on to discover the foods within the NutriSystem diet.

NutriSystem Food

If the words "delicious," "decadent" and "healthy" don't spring to mind when you think of good diet food, think again. NutriSystem's basic plan is to get people to eat healthy, well-balanced meals and consider portion sizes while reducing caloric and fat intake. With this in mind, the hundreds of meal combinations are intended to be filling, with foods that rank low on the glycemic index.

NutriSystem bases its food choices on the glycemic index of carbohydrate breakdown. With more than 120 meals that provide all your nutrients, minerals and good carbohydrates, it's possible to eat five times a day on the NutriSystem plan without calorie or carb counting.

With NutriSystem, you'll never need to quit foods "cold turkey" or risk giving in to the temptation of eating pizza, pancakes or burritos -- they're included in the meal plans. They may not be exactly like that super-gooey deep dish pie you get at your local pizzeria, but you might find it's a good substitute to help you stay on track. You can even order comfort foods like mashed potatoes, lasagna, tacos, burgers and vegetarian chili.

This wide range of food choices represents most of a healthy, well-balanced meal. It's important to note that milk and yogurt are not included with the meals you buy, but are recommended as part of a healthy diet.

On the next page, you'll read about some factors and side effects to consider before diving into the NutriSystem diet.

NutriSystem Side Effects

There are a few factors to consider before starting the NutriSystem program, such as the preservatives and additives in the program's prepared foods, satisfaction with weight loss while on the program, and a lack of instruction on how to maintain a healthy weight.

Approximately one-third of all the foods in the NutriSystem program are made with preservatives, which help to keep prepackaged food fresh [source: NutriSystem]. Many of the foods you'll find on grocery store shelves also contain preservatives like sulfur dioxide and nitrates, among others. These substances must be added to all packaged foods in order to prevent spoilage and are regulated by the Food and Drug Administration [source: FDA/CFSAN, FDA]. So although you'll receive meals that are quick and easy to prepare, you'll also have chemicals you may not get when making your own meals.

It is possible for participants following this diet plan, along with an exercise regimen, to lose 1 to 2 pounds per week [source: OAC]. But after early success on the plan, dieters can become discouraged if the weight loss doesn't occur as quickly, which may cause them to follow the plan less rigorously. It may be beneficial for you to talk with one of the program's online counselors or chat rooms if you find yourself hitting a weight-loss plateau.

NutriSystem does offer these online resources and support, but it doesn't present specific instructions on basic nutrition or healthy eating. Initially positive results from following the meal plans may be a short-term fix if you don't know how to eat healthily on your own. It's important to learn about healthy foods and how to eat them in proper portions.

Now that you have some more information about the NutriSystem program, be sure to talk to your doctor before starting it or any kind of diet or weight-loss program. He or she can advise you about diet and exercise options that can help you successfully lose the weight -- and keep it off.

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