Nutrisystems Diet vs. Weight Watchers

Introduction

Yes, we all know that dieting is a total drag… but in some way, shape, or form, it is quickly becoming a necessary step for almost every American… young, middle aged, or those benefiting from Senior discounts. As we look in the mirror, we wonder…how did we get here? When did the shape of an hour glass morph into the shape of a pear? “I don’t even really eat that badly…and I get to the gym somewhat regularly…so how is it that my clothes are bursting at the seams?” It has become a three-headed  obsession… caloric intake, lifestyle, and the shape of our bodies. Whether it is maintaining the perfect body or trying to get back to where we used to be… society is against us! Unhealthy choices outnumber healthy choices by at least fifty to one! Think about it… Drive down Main Street and look at the number of fast food restaurants pedaling crap vs. the number of healthy choices… One better, look where the healthy choices are listed on the menu at most restaurants (if they are there at all)… Two better, have a walk through the grocery store and see how much space is devoted to ‘healthy choices’ vs. food your grandma would not have given to the stray dogs that once roamed the neighborhoods.

In this review, we look at the two diet programs that seem to have done the best job of withstanding the test of time. Over the past few decades, both programs have masterfully made the necessary adjustments to stay on top. From a business perspective, these companies have utilized the machine that is the government affiliated health organizations like the American Medical Association and the FDA in combination with mainstream media to their full advantage. While other well researched, science-based diet programs have struggled for decades to change the public perception of ‘healthy eating’ and a ‘healthy lifestyle’, these two companies have utilized the perception of ‘healthy eating’ in the media and done a remarkable job of riding the wave… not getting too far in front nor falling too far behind. By incorporating rather than opposing mainstream health media messaging into their programs, they have made their business work. Is this at the expense of their customers? Well it really depends on the long term goals of program participants. The truth is there are hundreds of thousands, perhaps even millions of people who have changed their lives as a result of program participation in one of these two programs.  They may not be the most efficient and/or healthiest weight loss methods in the marketplace but surely they work so the question we will try to help you answer is, ‘which of the two diet programs might be most suitable for you?’

Contestant #1: Nutrisystems

Nutrisystems strategically pulled a couple of, for lack of a better description, fading stars in Dan Marino and Marie Osmund to essentially create living case studies that those growing up in the 70’s and 80’s can identify with. As the majority of thirty to seventy some-things today are all seemingly making a valiant effort to extend their partying ways from their glory days…sooner or later everyone realizes that it is increasingly difficult to ignore the perpetually expanding mid-riff that accompanies that kind of lifestyle for a sustained period of time. If the expanding mid-riff didn’t skip one of the best quarterbacks of all time, nor the pop-star on everyone’s tv screen and radio in the late 70-80’s, and if you are reading this review… there’s a good chance it didn’t skip you either.

The Nutrisystem’s angle is unique… They are trail-blazers for sure… They have made and continue to make the process of weight loss easy for the general public. They have morphed from weight loss shakes to a company that prefers to provide all of the food you require…especially early on in the program. It’s a system based around convenience… you don’t have to read books, understand the scientific reasons why it is good to stabilize your blood sugar level, or even worry about daily menus and meal preparation as their new system provides for every meal and every snack over the first 28 days or forever! Upon choosing your menu, or even going the standard meal plan route…within four to ten days you will receive your menu for the next four weeks. Of course the immediate questions that come to mind center on food quality and quantity. Is the pre-packaged food edible, tasty even? Is there enough designated food per meal such that one will not be paralyzed by hunger for 28 straight days.

The Food

The menu boasts of more than 150 food items from which you can choose so variety is certainly sufficient. They have included everything from muffins to pancakes to egg sandwiches and omelets for breakfast… pasta, sandwiches, and nutrition bars for lunch, and pizza, stuffed chicken, burgers, and fish with vegetables and rice for dinner. Where things start to get a little dicey is portion size…Granted, this is about weight loss and therefore portion control is necessary… but a single Turkey Sausage, egg, and cheese muffin or a single slice of French toast may prove well insufficient to satiate until snack time. The quantity of food for the items on the lunch and dinner menus also fall a little short… Perhaps an unforeseen benefit is to properly adjust your sleep schedule…because if you don’t go to bed early, you will likely go to bed hungry.

As for quality and taste… this is an interesting issue… Better than expected for pre-packaged meals…but certainly not comparable to mom’s homemade pasta and meatballs or roast beef dinners…but maybe that’s what got you into this predicament in the first place. Surely everyone has different tastes and everyone’s mother is not a great cook…so for some…who were raised on canned vegetables and overcooked meat, you will actually be pleased with the meals. For those on the other end of the spectrum, realize that you are not required to eat the prepackaged meals for the rest of your life. It is aggressively recommended that you buy the first 28 days worth of food and snacks to get started but there is a transition phase at which time you will likely re-introduce yourself to the supermarket and fresh food…Proceed with caution!

The area where the program will help you is portion control… If you are dieting, it is likely because you were eating a little more than what you should have been or just never stopped… The Nutrisystems program, if followed, will put an end to this quickly… For the first 28 days the plan calls for a daily intake of about 750 calories which is not a lot. The fear here is that one could easily eat their 28 day supply of food in 14 days and still lose weight…but then have nothing to eat for the remaining two weeks. Slight modification is recommended.

This leads to another area of concern.  Many of today’s science-based diet programs subscribe to a philosophy such that you will have to go through a two to four week hell period to train your body to not crave baked goods, desserts, pasta etc. Nutrisystems seemingly does not subscribe to this philosophy in that it has what most would consider junk food all over their 28 day menu and strongly encourages you to drink their shakes seemingly daily. Surely, there is a good and bad side to this method. The good is that you can continue to eat sweets and lose weight at the same time. The bad is two-fold. Because you are regularly eating food that would be considered less than nutritious, the quantity of food per meal becomes an issue. For most, a snack bar doesn’t suffice for lunch…and a muffin is not usually enough for breakfast, but this is the way to stay within the daily recommended caloric intake and still eat most of the same foods you presumably did pre-diet. The second area of fuzziness is the program’s inability to reduce cravings. Ultimately, 95%+ of the general population caves when it comes to cravings whether it be sugar, baked goods, pasta, soda etc. If we keep eating sweets and refined grains (bread and pasta), we keep craving and this program doesn’t really do anything to break the cycle.  

The Price

Okay, so let’s talk price… In the grand scheme of things the price points are pretty reasonable if you consider that you don’t have to do any additional food shopping. For the gentlemen…you are looking at spending as little as $294 for 28 days worth of food (auto-delivery and favorites menu) up to $408 for 28 days via the Month to Month delivery and custom menu. For the ladies, the range is from $265 to $377.  These programs all come with a 5 lb. weight loss guarantee in week one. So, you can continue to eat ‘junk food’ like bagels, muffins, and burgers, spend between $60- 100 per week for your total food bill, and lose five lbs in week one!? Where is the down side?…why isn’t everyone doing this? Well it has to do with hunger… and functioning at full mental and physical capacity. Lack of substance and nutrition…or in KD Lang’s words, ‘Constant Cravings’ can become quite a distraction.

Contestant #2: Weight Watchers

How does Weight Watchers compare?

Weight Watchers is famous for the points system. Don’t worry about calories, eat whatever you want, but just remember… if you want to lose weight, your total points per day has to fall within a certain prescribed number based on your goals. The point system was developed to be simple… It makes the program simple to get started, it’s easily customizable, and you don’t have to wait a week to get your food in the mail. In the new technology age, you don’t even have to study the labels of everything you eat nor do you have to figure out portion sizes, calorie counts per portion or total grams of carbs vs. protein etc… Via the mathematical formula built into the point system, and the new Weight Watchers Apps, they have done all of that for you.
The short term goal of the program is to help you measure and manage your ingestion without making things overly complicated as it would relate to calorie counting vs. nutrition. You might want to think of it as a game… stay within a designated points total and you win(lose weight)… You can win on a daily, weekly, or even monthly basis, (but don’t celebrate your wins with food or beverage!). As there is no doubt that a feeling of achievement and accomplishment accompanies wins, be careful because the flip side is also true. For those who strayed from the daily allotted point totals or struggle every day to stay within… a feeling of being overwhelmed or constant feeling of failure may de-motivate really quickly. This is where experience helps. Prevalent in the older Weight Watchers system, but even more so in the new system… becoming part of their tight knit community is strongly encouraged. Whether it is attending regularly scheduled meetings, live chat, or personal coaching, the folks at Weight Watchers seem to understand the psychological warfare that is dieting.
The ultimate hope for the program is to shape your eating habits such that over time, you will realize that you can lose weight, feel better, and remain satiated longer by eating more points-friendly foods. For quite some time…like decades… Weight Watchers philosophy towards shaping eating behavior was based on assigning lower point totals to low fat and lower calorie foods… again swimming with the tide when high fat foods were considered to be the ultimate evil!… As science has advanced considerably in this area, those behind the green curtain at Weight Watchers have prudently factored the new findings into their point system formula. The philosophy is moving closer to the source of calories vs the nutritional value of those calories vs. the total number of calories.
So I can play a game and win every day, I don’t have to be a mathematician to determine my daily meals, I can meet new friends, and lose weight… So where is the downside?…why isn’t everyone doing this? From a logistical viewpoint it comes down to time and money. Although it is quick to start, and there is limited extra effort as it relates to shopping and meal planning from what you would ordinarily do, time spent commuting to and from meetings as well as attending the meetings themselves is a commitment… a change of life pattern that some aren’t ready for. This is also where money comes into play.

The Price

Although Weight Watchers does have brand name foods that you can purchase in the super market, the cost to you really comes in the form of membership fees. Pricing does vary from region to region but ballpark would range from $19.95/month for the ‘Essentials’ Package to $69.95/month for the ‘Total Access’ Package. The Essentials Package provides you with digital access… to the points system, to the community, to coaches via chat, tools and recipes etc. The next package up (priced at $44.95/month in my region) would add the ability to attend the weekly meetings. Undoubtedly a better sense of support from the community and increased motivation. A level up from the ‘Meetings and Essentials’ Package is the customizable one to one program called the (Personal Coaching and Essentials). This is priced at $54.95/month but you should know that this program would preclude you from going to the meetings. The ‘Total Access’ Package allows you to do it all.

Conclusion

From a more philosophical perspective, this program as well, kind of tap dances around the heart of the matter. Yes you can eat anything but what is the true cost? The underlying cost beyond money and time that could well manifest itself in mental performance or physical performance or both depending on how you utilize your daily allotment of points.
Both programs, to a certain extent are still routed in old time dieting methods. Limit calories, limit fat, limit carbs, and you will lose weight. The new school of thought is that five hundred calories from meat and vegetables is considerably more beneficial to you from a nutritional standpoint than five hundred calories from a blueberry muffin or a milk/protein shake… so you may be able to ingest more calories than has been prescribed in the past as long as they are the right calories. So the big question becomes, will these diets supply sufficient nutrients such that you are capable of performing at your pique mental and physical capacity or will it become a distraction that disallows the maximum potential in both areas?
The other fundamental question is… will the cravings for the foods that added most to your waste line ever subside? Not likely but maybe that is okay. It all depends on your goals, your lifestyle, and your level of commitment. In the end, both systems have proven to work. I am not sure that either would be the best choice for the more athletic types but they are really interesting options for those who are less active, or less interested in making the ultimate food sacrifices that accompany many other diet and wellness plans. Both weight-loss systems have cleverly manipulated their programs in a taste-friendly way to ensure you don’t have to sacrifice all of your gustatory vices but can still succeed in losing weight. That being said, if you are a finicky eater, I would be hard pressed to recommend Nutrisystems before Weight Watchers. Weightwatchers allows you to control your own food destiny. On the flip side, if time is more important than taste, then Nutrisystems has everything all packaged up for you… the only thing you need is your utensils and a glass of water or unsweetened ice tea…Stay away from soda!