Jenny Craig Diet Overview

Scorecard

Overall
Weight Loss Short-term
Weight Loss Long-term
Easy to Follow
Nutrition
Safety
For Diabetes
For Heart Health

Scores are based on experts' reviews

Pros & Cons

  • No guesswork
  • Prepackaged meals, delivered
  • Home-cooked and restaurant meals largely off-limits
  • Budget-buster

Do's & Don'ts

Do: Indulge once in a while See more Do's & Don'ts

Overview

Type:

Balanced.

Resembles these U.S. News-rated diets:

Weight Watchers, Nutrisystem, Volumetrics, Slim-Fast, Medifast

The aim:

Weight loss.

The claim:

You’ll drop up to 2 pounds a week.

The theory:

Losing weight is as simple as restricting calories, fat, and portions. Jenny's prepackaged meals and recipes do all three. You’ll learn how much you should be eating, what a balanced meal looks like, and how to use that knowledge once you graduate from the program.

How does the Jenny Craig Diet work?

You’ll get a personalized meal and exercise plan, plus weekly one-on-one counseling sessions with a Jenny Craig consultant. Note: These are not nutrition professionals—anyone who is “health-oriented and customer-focused” can attend a training course and get certified—but when consultants have questions, they seek advice from one of Jenny’s registered dietitians. Your diet, which ranges from 1,200 to 2,300 calories a day, is designed around your current weight, fitness habits, motivation level, and tendencies to chow down when stressed.

Jenny Craig offers several program variations, including Jenny Craig For Men, Jenny Craig Silver, and Jenny Craig Type 2. The difference: Weekly one-on-one counseling sessions are tailored to the people who sign up for each program; if you have diabetes, for example, and you join the Jenny Craig Type 2 program, you’ll be assigned to a counselor who is more knowledgeable about the disease.

The diet lasts as long as you need it to, be it three months or two years. During stage 1, you eat three prepackaged Jenny meals and one snack a day—options like apple cinnamon waffles and three-cheese ziti marinara—in addition to two to three servings of fresh fruits, vegetables, and non-fat dairy products. Once you’re halfway to your goal weight, you’ll begin cooking for yourself again twice a week, using Jenny’s recipes. After reaching your goal weight, you’ll spend four weeks transitioning back to making only your own meals, while adjusting to a slightly higher number of daily calories.

Although success hinges on Jenny Cuisine, the program isn’t inflexible. A “splurge strategy” is built in from the beginning, allowing up to 250 extra calories for special occasions. It’s even OK to splurge a couple of times a week, if you balance it out with extra physical activity, like walking more each day.

One-on-one support plays a big role, although Jenny participants don’t get together for group meetings, which is part of some commercial diets. You’ll typically talk with your consultant once a week, either in person or by phone, and discuss how well you did the previous week, and whether you had trouble sticking to the plan. You’ll also choose the next week’s meals and order your food.

Will you lose weight?

Probably, if you’re motivated enough to stay on the diet.

  • The most promising evidence comes from a Jenny Craig-sponsored 2010 study in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) that tracked 331 overweight and obese women who got free Jenny Craig meals and weekly counseling sessions. The study compared those women with another 111 women who were on their own other than an initial meeting and a six-month followup session with a diet counselor, plus sample diets and monthly phone or E-mail check-ins. After 12 months, the Jenny participants had lost an average of about 10 percent of their initial body weight and after 24 months were still 7 percent under. Average weight loss for the non-Jenny group was 2.6 percent and 2.1 percent, respectively. But keep in mind the thousands of dollars worth of free Jenny products and intensive handholding. And while the study (and the company) noted the unusually high compliance rate—92 percent of the women were still in the study at the two-year mark, which Consumer Reports called a “remarkable level of adherence” in a diet analysis in its June 2011 issue—the rate actually was slightly higher for the non-Jenny group.
  • In another study, published in Obesity in 2007, participants who stuck with the plan for about a year shed 12 percent of their initial body weight, while those who quit in the first month lost just 1 percent.
  • Keys to Jenny’s success may be the prepackaged food and the psychological support of connecting with trained consultants, concluded a 2004 study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners. But that same research warned that the program’s high cost may be a roadblock for some.

Does it have cardiovascular benefits?

Jenny Craig appears to have some benefit to the heart.

  • The authors of the 2010 JAMA study described above noted that the diet’s apparent ability to enable significant weight loss reduced the study participants’ risk of heart disease and stroke. Other research suggests moderate-fat, calorie-restricted diets can reduce blood pressure, a risk factor for both stroke and heart disease.

Can it prevent or control diabetes?

Some evidence suggests that it might help. The authors of the previously described 2010 JAMA study noted that weight loss reduces the risk of diabetes.

Signing up for Jenny Craig Type 2 means working closely with your Jenny consultant to design an eating and exercise plan that fits your lifestyle. All menus meet the American Diabetes Association's nutrition recommendations: 50 to 60 percent of daily calories from carbohydrates, 20 to 30 percent from fat, and 20 to 30 percent from protein. The plan allows for three meals and three snacks a day.

  • Moderate-fat, calorie-restricted diets can reduce levels of the hormone insulin, according to a 2001 study published in Obesity Research. High insulin levels increase the risk for heart disease and diabetes, but can typically be improved with healthy eating and exercise.

Are there health risks?

No indications of serious risks or side effects have surfaced.

But keep in mind Jenny Craig isn’t safe for everyone:

  • Children under 13 cannot participate, since they are still growing and weight-loss diets often aren’t appropriate. Once 13, they can sign up.
  • People with milk, soy, or wheat allergies also can’t sign up, since those ingredients are used in many Jenny products.

How well does it conform to accepted dietary guidelines?

Fat. In the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, the government recommends that 20 to 35 percent of daily calories come from fat. Jenny Craig stays within or below that range.

Protein. It’s within the acceptable range for protein consumption.

Carbohydrates. About 50 to 60 percent of daily calories come from carbs, which meets the government’s recommendations.

Salt. The majority of Americans eat too much salt. Jenny’s prepackaged meals and recipes will keep you between 2,000 to 4,000 milligrams a day, compared with the recommended daily maximum, for most people, of 2,300 milligrams. You can check nutrition labels and opt for meals with less salt to stay around that level. However, if you’re 51 or older, African American, or have hypertension, diabetes, or chronic kidney disease, you may have trouble adhering to the government’s recommended daily sodium cap for you, which is 1,500 mg.

Other key nutrients. The 2010 Dietary Guidelines call these “nutrients of concern” because many Americans get too little of one or more of them:

  • Fiber. Jenny Craig menus provide 20 to 40 grams of fiber each day. Dieters can check nutrition labels to select meals that reach an acceptable amount. The government recommends 22 to 28 grams of fiber a day for women, depending on age, and 28 to 34 grams daily for men.
  • Potassium. A sufficient amount of this important nutrient, according to the 2010 Dietary Guidelines, counters salt’s ability to raise blood pressure, decreases bone loss, and reduces the risk of developing kidney stones. It’s not that easy to get the recommended daily 4,700 mg. from food. (Bananas are high in potassium, but you’d have to eat 11 a day.) Most Americans take in far too little. Jenny meals provide 2,000 to 5,000 mg., so you may often fall short on this diet.
  • Calcium. This mineral is essential not only to build and maintain bones but to make blood vessels and muscles function properly. Many Americans don’t get enough. Women and anyone older than 50 should try especially hard to meet the government’s recommendation of 1,000 to 1,300 mg. You shouldn’t have a problem on this diet;a typical daily menu on Jenny Craig provides between 1,000 and 2,000 mg.
  • Vitamin B-12. Adults should shoot for 2.4 micrograms of this nutrient, which is critical for proper cell metabolism. Fish like salmon and trout, along with yogurt and fortified cereals, are good sources.
  • Vitamin D. Adults who don’t get enough sunlight need to meet the government’s 15 microgram recommendation with food or a supplement to lower the risk of bone fractures. Just 3 ounces of sockeye salmon, which packs almost 20 micrograms of vitamin D, will satisfy the requirement. Low-fat dairy and fortified cereals will also help.

Supplement recommended? Yes. Jenny Craig literature stresses that it’s difficult to get all the vitamins, minerals, and nutrients you need on a reduced-calorie diet, and recommends taking a multivitamin. Past research suggests moderate-fat, calorie-restricted diets often skimp on calcium, zinc, magnesium, iron, vitamin B-12, and dietary fiber.

How easy is it to follow?

Jenny’s packaged meals run the gamut, from tasty breakfasts to desserts that feel like splurges (chocolate fudge cookies, anyone?). Though portions are small, you’ll eat three meals and two snacks a day, and dinner comes with dessert. Plus, there’s no carb cutting or elimination of entire food groups. But save for the occasional splurge, you’ll have an exclusive affair with Jenny’s packaged meals until you lose half the weight you want to lose.

Convenience:

What’s not to like about meals delivered to your doorstep? Alcohol is allowed in moderation, as is caffeine, and your consultant will help you determine appropriate amounts. The company’s online resources may be helpful.

Recipes. Hundreds of free, low-fat recipes live on Jenny’s website, searchable by meal type, preparation time, and whether they’re intended for a special occasion, like a birthday party or holiday feast. You can save your favorites and review user ratings, too. All provide details on calories, carbs, protein, fat, cholesterol, and sodium. Choices include Tuscan bean soup, beef Wellington, and peach cobbler. Just remember: These won’t come into play until you’re halfway through the diet.

Eating out. Jenny allows for the occasional restaurant meal, though you’re encouraged to compensate with extra exercise. Your consultant will help you decide what to order ahead of time. Jenny’s Weight Loss Manual also offers dining-out tips, like taking one piece of bread, then asking the waiter to remove the basket.

Alcohol. Moderation is key. Though there’s no hard-and-fast rule, the company suggests a limit of two drinks per week. If you want more, say an extra 5-ounce glass of wine or a light beer, you can skip two servings of fat that day, or make sure you cut out or burn off an additional 100 calories. Sugar-free gin and tonics and white wine spritzers are among the most Jenny-friendly drinks.

Time-savers. The diet itself is a time-saver, since it emphasizes prepackaged meals.

Extras. Jenny clients can access an online meal planner, progress tracker, activity tracker, and food journal tool.

Fullness:

Nutrition experts emphasize the importance of satiety, the satisfied feeling that you’ve had enough. Hunger shouldn’t be a problem on this diet. Since 2008, Jenny Craig has incorporated the so-called Volumetrics approach, devised by Penn State University nutritionist Barbara Rolls, which involves choosing the least “energy-dense foods” so you’ll feel fuller for longer. Foods low in fat and rich in water, fiber, and protein are the least energy-dense. Before a meal, for example, you might down a “Soupitizer” to keep your appetite in check.

Taste:

In February 2011, Consumer Reports pitted Jenny’s packaged meals against those of its rival, Nutrisystem, and concluded that Jenny took the cake.

Testers sampled 32 Jenny products, including entrees and snacks, and rated them overall at the high end of the “good” scale, while Nutrisystem’s meals landed on the low end of “good.” Still, of the 59 total items tested, only five (all Jenny meals) were rated “very good.” And although Jenny was the clear winner, don’t expect a gourmet spread: The folks at Consumer Reports called its Vanilla Chocolate Crisp Anytime Bar “dense, chewy, and tough,” and described a salad dressing as “chalky, sour, slightly sweet.”

How much does it cost?

Jenny Craig is expensive enough to deter some dieters, though exact cost varies from city to city. The initial registration fee can exceed $400, and a week’s worth of Jenny’s Cuisine can set you back at least $100. But you get half your initial registration fee back if you stay within five pounds of your goal weight for one year.

Does the diet allow for restrictions and preferences?

Customizing Jenny Craig to fit your needs can be tricky. Choose your preference for more information.

Jenny Craig offers prepackaged vegetarian meals and recipes. But the options are not vegan; they contain dairy products like milk and cheese, as well as animal-derived enzymes.

Jenny Craig does not offer gluten-free meals. People with celiac disease, who can’t tolerate gluten, are not allowed to sign up for the program.

Jenny Craig doesn’t have designated low-sodium meal plans. If you’re determined, you can make Jenny Craig work by paying special attention to nutrition labels when choosing meals. Apple cinnamon waffles, for example, have 420 milligrams of sodium and sweet and sour chicken has 500 milligrams, while chocolate cake has 200 milligrams.

None of Jenny’s meals qualify as kosher.

Jenny Craig doesn’t offer options or guidance.

What is the role of exercise?

When you sign up, you’ll get a tailored activity plan. Jenny Craig developed its fitness philosophy with the Cooper Institute, a nonprofit that researches and provides education about preventive medicine.

The point is weaving activity into your daily life rather than embarking on a rigorous exercise plan. (If you’re already very active, your consultant will analyze your routine to see if you can kick it up a notch, with weight training, say.) You may start by wearing a pedometer, for example, or parking farther away from the mall. Natural activities are emphasized, like walking around while watching a baseball game instead of sitting in the bleachers. So are playful ways to burn calories, such as dancing at home. Fitness isn’t strenuous; it’s part of the pursuit of a healthy, active lifestyle. The goal is to work up to about 30 minutes of moderate activity five days a week.


Last updated by Angela Haupt | December 12, 2013

Best Diets Rankings

Best Diets Overall
Diets ranked by across-the-board effectiveness.

Best Weight-Loss Diets
Diets ranked by effectiveness for both quick and lasting weight loss.

Best Diabetes Diets
Diets that can prevent diabetes or help diabetics.

Best Heart-Healthy Diets
Diets that lower cholesterol, blood pressure or triglycerides.

Best Diets for Healthy Eating
Diets ranked by how safe and nutritionally complete they are.

Best Commercial Diet Plans
Brand-name diets ranked by overall effectiveness.

Easiest Diets to Follow
Diets ranked on whether they're a snap to stick to.

Best Plant-Based Diets
Plant-based diets ranked by overall effectiveness.

Connect with U.S. News Health

Do Not Eat Clay, OK?

Thanks to the diet antics of Shailene Woodley and Zoe Kravitz, we have to talk about this.

See more Eat + Run posts »