Experts and users agree that Jenny Craig is nutritionally sound and can lead to weight loss. The diet is structured around program-specific prepackaged frozen meals; you purchase breakfast, lunch and dinner, then supplement the diet with fresh produce and yogurt. 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. However, one expert review warns that this consultant "is not a dietitian and earns commissions from selling you products." Still, the diet gets high marks for support, since dieters can take advantage of in-person or telephone counseling, as well as get advice from fellow dieters on the Jenny Craig website.
Jenny Craig is the star of a single clinical study published in 2010. 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 Jenny Craig regimen and prepackaged meals were provided free of charge. One expert estimates that you'd pay almost $2,000 to lose 20 pounds in 13 weeks with Jenny Craig, including meal costs. Another points out that the retention rate and success of the Jenny Craig study group would have been much lower if dieters had to pay their own costs.
In a reputable taste test, frozen Jenny Craig meals barely edged out another prepackaged diet program; a separate test ranked Jenny Craig meals the lowest for too little fiber and too much sugar. Users say the meals are hit or miss in terms of flavor, and can become monotonous after several months. Many complain that the prepackaged items are too expensive; users on Jenny Craig's forums say weekly food costs range from $90 to $170. In fact, the Better Business Bureau gives the diet center an "F" rating, with nearly 80 complaints filed in the last three years. Overall, experts prefer Weight Watchers (*Est. $30 to join, plus weekly fees), which has been more thoroughly researched in a clinical setting and doesn't require expensive prepackaged meals.
The best reviews of Jenny Craig come from studies published in The Journal of the American Medical Association, ConsumerReports.org, U.S. News & World Report, Health magazine and WebMD. The non-clinical sources consult with health and nutrition experts, and include lengthy summaries of how the diet works. Epicurious.com has a useful taste test of Jenny Craig's food, and there are a good number of user reviews at Viewpoints.com.
1. 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, 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
Editors discuss and rate seven weight-loss programs, including Jenny Craig. Diets are assessed on their nutritional soundness and the results of clinical studies.
Review: Diet Ratings, Editors of ConsumerReports.org, May 2011
3. U.S. News & World Report
U.S. News & World Report asks a panel of health and diet experts to review and rank 20 diets. Jenny Craig comes in second for best weight-loss diet and best commercial diet plan. It also receives good marks for short-term weight loss, safety and nutrition.
Review: Jenny Craig Diet, Editors of U.S. News & World Report, June 2011
4. 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
5. 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 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 has both pros and cons and is useful for short-term weight loss, but doesn't do enough to teach users how to eat over the long term. WebMD concludes: "To take full advantage of the Jenny Craig method, you must make full use of the counseling support the company offers as you transition from packaged food to your own healthy menu planning and meal preparation."
Review: The Jenny Craig Weight Loss Program, Editors of WebMD
Two sensory testers evaluate a week's worth of food from two prepackaged diet plans. Foods are assessed for taste only, not nutrition or cost.
Review: Taste-Test Results of Jenny Craig and Nutrisystem, Editors of ConsumerReports.org, Jan. 2011
Epicurious.com tests diet meals from five companies, including Jenny Craig. The meals get a very low 1-fork rating (out of 4) due to their low fiber content and also contain too much sugar. However, Jenny Craig does get high marks for customer service.
Review: Prepared Diet Food: The Good, the Bad and the Unhealthy, Megan O. Steintrager, Heather Tyree, March 2007
Jenny Craig earns 3.6 stars out of 5 in more than 50 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
10. Better Business Bureau
Jenny Craig gets an "F" (worst possible) rating from the Better Business Bureau. Nearly 80 complaints have been filed against Jenny Craig in the past 36 months, and not all have been successfully resolved. Most complaints are filed under the somewhat vague "Problems with Product/Service" category.
Review: Jenny Craig, Inc, Editors of the Better Business Bureau