If you can afford it, Jenny Craig is a proven and convenient weight-loss method. The program delivers prepackaged food to your home or office and provides support from counselors and fellow dieters. However, transitioning off packaged meals and to your own food is a challenge, and costs can be prohibitive.
Effective for weight loss. Experts and users agree that Jenny Craig is nutritionally sound and can lead to weight loss, but a review published on WebMD.com warns that the critical point comes when you transition from the prepackaged meals to preparing your own food. This diet is the star of a single clinical study published in a 2010 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association. Researchers found that dieters lost significantly more on Jenny Craig than a "usual care" regimen, but critics say this is hardly a real-life scenario because the prepackaged meals and support were provided free of charge. There are no long-term studies on keeping the weight off, but consumer-reviewers indicate that it's easy to gain the weight back when you stop buying the food.
Your portions are controlled for you. Jenny Craig is structured around prepackaged frozen meals that restrict your fat and calorie intake; you purchase breakfast, lunch and dinner, then supplement meals with fresh produce and yogurt or purchased Jenny Craig snacks. All meals are delivered to your door on a weekly basis. Consumer-reviewers say the food is tasty, but the portions are skimpy. There is also an exercise component and plenty of support from Jenny Craig counselors and fellow dieters, as well as online. The diet is designed for your specific dietary needs, both physical and emotional. Experts and consumer-reviewers praise the level of support that's available.
No-hassle dieting. When you strictly follow the Jenny Craig plan, you know what you're going to have for every meal, every day. The meals come cooked and either frozen or packaged ready-to-eat. Just open a packet, heat it up, and eat. Some items don't even need to be heated. Calories are counted for you. Once you make it halfway to your goal weight, the amount of Jenny Craig food you eat diminishes and counselors begin helping you plan your own meals one to two days per week, which makes it less convenient.
A pricey weight loss solution. The most popular component of Jenny Craig is its convenience, but you pay dearly for it. CBS MoneyWatch estimates a cost of $18 to $22 per day for three meals and two snacks and a total cost (including membership fees and meals) of $1,910 to lose 20 pounds over 13 weeks. Another source estimates a cost of $1,600 for 13 weeks. Users on Jenny Craig's forums say weekly food costs range from $90 to $170. It's not a viable option at some income levels, say experts. Others say for what you pay, you could hire a personal trainer and nutritionist.
1. U.S. News & World Report
Angela Haupt offers a thorough overview of the Jenny Craig Diet. U.S. News & World Report's annual roundup of the best diets names Jenny Craig No. 2 in the category of easiest-to-follow diet, No. 8 for best diet overall, and it ties for second, with The Biggest Loser Diet, as the best weight loss diet overall.
Review: Jenny Craig Diet, Angela Haupt, Jan. 2, 2013
Four commercial weight-loss programs, including Jenny Craig, are evaluated and rated. Ratings are based upon feedback from 9,376 subscribers. Each plan receives an overall score for initial weight loss, maintenance, calorie awareness, food variety, inclusion of fruits and vegetables, and exercise integration and encouragement.
Review: Diet Plans Ratings, Editors of ConsumerReports.org, Not Dated
3. The Daily Beast
By analyzing clinical studies and published research, The Daily Beast chooses the best diets for both short- and long-term weight loss. They also assign points (or not) for promoting cardiovascular health and diabetes control. Jenny Craig comes in third behind Volumetrics and Weight Watchers.
Review: 14 Best Diets for 2013: See What Topped Weight Watchers, Lauren Streib, December 2012
4. The Journal of the American Medical Association
Researchers observe more than 400 overweight or obese women for two years as they either follow a Jenny Craig protocol provided free of charge or receive "usual care." Although the Jenny Craig participants lost more weight than the usual-care subjects, researchers say the high retention rate may be unrealistic once you factor in the program's high cost.
Review: Effect of a Free Prepared Meal and Incentivized Weight Loss Program on Weight Loss and Weight Loss Maintenance in Obese and Overweight Women: A Randomized Controlled Trial, C.L. Rock, et al., Oct. 27, 2010
5. CBS Moneywatch
MoneyWatch interviews nutritionists and weight-loss professionals, and analyzes clinical studies to evaluate eight commercial diets. The estimated cost of losing 20 pounds in 13 weeks with Jenny Craig is $1,910, which includes food.
Review: Diet Plan Review: Best Ways to Lose Weight, Jeanne Lee, Jan. 7, 2011
6. Health Magazine
Health magazine recommends skipping Jenny Craig. "If you have this much money to spend, fork it over to a registered dietitian and a personal trainer instead," the writer says. One weight-loss expert interviewed says he prefers Weight Watchers.
Review: Jenny Craig, Maureen Callahan, MS, RD, April 18, 2008
WebMD.com interviews Leslie Bonci, MPH, RD, director of sports nutrition at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, about the Jenny Craig program. She says the diet is useful for short-term weight loss, but doesn't do enough to teach users how to eat over the long term.
Review: Jenny Craig, Editors of WebMD.com, As of November 2012
Jenny Craig earns a score of 72 out of 100 from more than 60 user reviews. Many users love the simplicity of not having to cook or plan meals, but others say the food is simply too expensive. Some also report regaining weight easily after they stopped eating the prepackaged meals.
Review: Jenny Craig Weight Loss Program Reviews, Contributors to Viewpoints.com, As of December 2013