I'm on the final day of my trial of the NutriSystem diet and my conclusion is that it works and is not as terrible as many of our readers think, but it may not be right for everyone.
I think it's best to let you judge for yourself. I'll list all the pros and cons as I see them.
• Weight loss: I dove head first into this diet, only breaking from it once, and briefly, to celebrate at a birthday party which I helped plan. In total, I lost 13 pounds. In a 28-day period, that's fantastic and it has felt great having people ask me if I've lost weight.
• Hunger: I was hungry when I first started the diet, but as my stomach and life molded to its confines, the hunger mostly evaporated. None of the portions are large, but I think that's its success. Because there are so many tiny portions, you're stomach is never empty. While rarely full, it was better than feeling emaciated.
• Energy: Because of all the fruits, vegetables and healthy carbs, I often had more energy than I did when I was consuming nearly double the calories. Occasionally I would feel drained, particularly the day after a really long run, but my counselor said I could add a few more calories to compensate.
• Food: The food wasn't as bad as many of our readers said. Some items were better than others, but overall the food was edible. The food also came in handy packaging that was easily and quickly prepared. That's key for someone like myself who loves to cook but rarely has the time or ingredients to do so. Like all new customers, NutriSystem sent me a free week of food which is now sitting in my apartment. I don't plan on throwing any of it away.
• Counseling: Every dieter is assigned a counselor to help track their goals and answer any questions. My counselor, Jamie, was very friendly and called to check up on me every week. I found the counseling to be useless after all my questions had been answered. It was easy for me to stay focused since I was both being paid to follow the diet and because I had thousands of readers rooting for me. But Jamie said that many of her clients that have a harder time keeping away from extra calories, need her both for positive reinforcement and for oversight.
Strict Regimen: Never have I eaten so healthily in my entire life. I emptied a refrigerator full of fresh fruits and vegetables, nonfat and low-fat milk and milk products and whole-wheat bread.
• Price: NutriSystem is expensive. Especially considering how little you get and its quality. In the best of circumstances, the monthly total came out to $460.
• Internal Workings: I'm going to put on my maturity cap for a moment while I discuss the sometimes embarrassing gas and diarrhea the diet gave me. Jamie said that often when people first get on the diet, their body has an abnormal reaction to the new regimen. But the gas and diarrhea persisted off and on throughout. I'm convinced it was my body's reaction to their strange foods rather than the fewer calories. Other dieters on NutriSystem's forums complain of the same symptoms. While it wasn't harsh enough to completely scare me off the diet, it was unpleasant to be sure. NutriSystem may want to consider the calories found in Pepto-Bismol for future consumers.
• Food: This is both a pro and a con. While the food was edible, almost none of it was excellent. I wouldn't encourage anyone not on a diet or not committed to losing weight to try any dish. The foods also lacked any sort of freshness. If you enjoy the finer flavors of fresh fish and other lean meats or home-cooked nutrition, this is not the diet for you. While NutriSystem's meals are healthy and well-balanced, they are all pre-packaged and have mammoth ingredient lists that contain countless unpronounceables. While many of those strange ingredients are no doubt used to keep the unfrozen foods from spoiling, they don't appear to be doing much in the freshness department.
I should also note that this diet is not very ecologically friendly. Because everything comes in wrappers and handy plastic and cardboard containers, my trash output for the last month easily tripled.
• Food Orders: As many readers have complained, NutriSystem often swaps meals in their orders. Because people are surely going to hate some of NutriSystem's foods, this can be very annoying. But Jamie said that if anything is swapped and you don't like NutriSystem's replacement, to call your counselor and NutriSystem will send it to you free of charge, and even let you keep the food you didn't order.
She said she had one customer who had all 54 of her monthly desserts swapped because she wanted just one every day of the diet and the warehouse happened to be out of it. Jamie said NutriSystem sent her a box of 54 of the desserts she had originally requested.
Overall, the diet definitely works. I surpassed my weight loss goal and I feel good. If one follows this diet closely, they will be eating healthy and surely lose significant weight. The diet also taught me a lot about eating healthy, portion control and good kinds of calories versus bad.
For the right people, I would suggest this diet. First, you need fairly deep pockets since it costs so much. You also have to be committed, which I suppose the payment for the plan already indicates. Finally, you have to be willing to cut out alcohol and dining which in my case meant much of my social life.
The diet would probably also be good for people who have shown prior commitment to diets but because of no real boundaries, didn't achieve their goals. With NutriSystem, your daily calorie intake fluctuates very little and as long as you follow their strictly defined daily planner, you're sure to burn off some calories.
However, because the diet is so strict, there's almost no adjustment for different lifestyles. Being young and automobile-less, I have a very active lifestyle. I walk at least four miles everyday, jog regularly throughout the week and am rarely sedentary. I am sure I am a more active dieter than many others, yet regardless, I was taking in the same 1200-1500 daily calories like all the other men in the diet.
My counselor said that if a customer is 100 pounds overweight, he or she should add a few more daily servings. But other than that, there is little room for flexibility.
However, my personal example helps make the case for NutriSystem's strict diet. Despite my very active life, I was rarely hungry and sometimes wouldn't even need my final dessert or other serving.
If you have tried other forms of dieting and have been unsuccessful and can afford NutriSystem, it may not be a bad choice. However, I would suggest only buying two weeks worth to begin the diet. There is an option on NutriSystem.com that allows you to choose how many weeks rather than a whole month at a time. Most of the conclusions I've come to in this final entry I have known since the second week. So give it two honest weeks before and then decide.
If you don't have the extra cash to burn every month and quality food is important, the cheaper solution is to try controlling your calorie intake and to exercise plenty, Goulda Downer, Ph.D., a registered dietician who heads Metroplex Health and Nutrition Services in Washington, D.C. wrote in an e-mail for a story we published last year.
"If you follow the 1200-1500 calorie diet stipulated by NutriSystem most people may lose some weight," Downer wrote. "However, the average individual eating the same amount of calories, without the high cost could achieve the same results. While NutriSystem prepackaged meals is a convenience for some there are better and healthier alternatives to weight loss."
The problem, one dietician on Health.com warned, is that once a person gets off the NutriSystem diet, he or she may quickly put the weight back on. But now that I've dropped down to 178, I plan to stay at that weight using normal portion control and loads of exercise. I plan to use my gym to exercise my upper body a lot more and continue to run as much as I currently do.
I will also use many of tricks I picked up on my 28 days of NutriSystem and see if at the end of another month, I can maintain my weight via less expensive means.
While I've learned so much about dieting over the past month, and am so happy to have lost all this weight, I'm really looking forward to sitting down at a restaurant with some buddies tomorrow night to have burgers and a few beers.
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