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Jenny Craig is a calorie-based three-stage lifestyle weight-loss program that incorporates pre-packaged food, transition to regular food, and long-term weight maintenance.
Jenny Craig and her husband Sig Craig founded Jenny Craig Weight Management Program in Australia in 1983. The program has since expanded to the United States, Canada, New Zealand, and Puerto Rico and offers both a center-based program and an at-home program. Craig, who has no training as a nutritionist, based her program on her own successful experience with personalized weight loss. The program has a medical advisory board consisting of at least one physician, nutritionist, and behaviorist. Prepackaged meals are planned by a registered dietitian.
The Jenny Craig program is a three-stage program. In the first stage, dieters eat only Jenny Craig prepackaged foods that are supplemented with approved fruits, vegetables, and non-fat dairy products. These meals contain 50–60% carbohydrates, 20-25% protein, and 20–25% fats, and contain between 1,200 and 2,500 calories daily. This generally is in line with the federal Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2005. Vegetarian options are available. However, no other food is permitted during the first stage of the program, which can make eating away from home difficult. The prepackaged meals are intended to model healthy eating and portion control. In the United States in 2007, the cost of one month of pre-packaged meals was about $500. A personalized exercise program supplemented by optional workout videos and workout equipment encourage the dieter to become more active.
Once dieters have used the pre-packaged meals to become familiar with healthy foods and correct portion sizes, they move to the second stage of the program in which written material supported by consultants teach techniques for healthy meal planning, cooking, and eating out. This stage of the program is designed to develop lifelong habits of moderation and good food choices. The consultant also addresses behavioral issues such as handling stress and emotional triggers for eating.
The final stage of the Jenny Craig program is a maintenance stage. Dieters move into this stage when their weight-loss goal is met. This final stage is designed to keep weight off for life.
Dieters can join the Jenny Craig program in one of two ways. Jenny Craig Weight Loss Centers are physical locations that the dieter visits weekly for individual consultations with a Jenny Craig counselor. Unlike some other center-based weight-loss programs (e.g. Weight Watchers), Jenny Craig centers do not offer group meetings. The philosophy behind the Jenny Craig program is one-on-one weight loss help.
Dieters who live too far from a Jenny Craig center or who do not wish to attend one can join Jenny Direct. This is a complete at-home weight-loss program. In the Jenny Direct program, pre-packaged meals and weight-loss literature are delivered to the dieter’s home. The dieter is supported by online tools accessed through the Jenny Craig Web site and a required private 15-minute telephone consultation with a Jenny Craig consultant once a week. Consultants do not have formal training in nutrition.
The Jenny TuneUp is targeted at people who have fewer than 20 lb (10 kg) to lose. It is an entry-level program with a low enrollment fee. In 2007, the Jenny TuneUp was advertised in the United States as “Lose 20 lb for $20.” JennyOnTrack is a six-month program, and Jenny Rewards is a long-term program. Jenny Craig does not reveal the enrollment costs of the OnTrack and Rewards programs on its Web site, but they amount to several hundred dollars plus the cost of food. Lifetime memberships are available, as are programs for 13-17 year olds and breastfeeding women. All Jenny Craig advertising is geared toward getting the dieter to call a toll-free telephone number for additional information.
The stated goals of the Jenny Craig program are to help the dieter:
- develop a healthy relationship with food
- live an active lifestyle
- achieve a balanced approach to living
The dieter is supported in reaching these goals by a 24-hour 7-day-a-week customer care telephone line, personalized meals and activity plans, one-on-one consultant support, online e-tools, and weight-loss manuals. By achieving these goals, the dieter learns to eat healthy foods in appropriate portions, incorporate exercise into the daily routine, and nurture her (90% of Jenny Craig clients are female) mental and physical well being.
Jenny Craig promises dieters that if they follow her program, they will lose 1-2 pounds or 1% of their body weight weekly. Once the weight-loss goal is met, a maintenance program is designed to solidify lifestyle changes and keep the weight off. Jenny Craig does not make any claims about the percentage of people who successfully keep weight off for an extended period.
The Jenny Craig program appeals to dieters who want low-calorie meals without having to weigh and measure or dieters who are embarrassed to attend group weight-loss programs. They may be a good solution for single people who do not want to cook. However dieters with families may find that the prepackaged approach is less convenient if they still have to cook for family members.
Jenny Craig is a diet and exercise program that meets the basic nutritional needs of most people. As with all diet and exercise programs, individuals should check with their healthcare provider to make sure the program is suitable for them.
Meals on the Jenny Craig plan fall within the federal Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2005, and dietary supplements provided with the pre-packaged meals assure that the dieter of getting an adequate supply of vitamins and minerals. The greatest risk to this diet program is that people do not learn how to shop and prepare healthy meals on their own. They lose weight eating the pre-packaged meals, but when they transition to the next stage of the diet, they go back to their old eating habits and gain the weight back. This type of weight cycling or yo-yo dieting can cause potential health problems.
The main client complaint about the Jenny Craig program is cost. Prepackaged food can cost around $500 per month in addition to steep enrollment fees and optional extras such as exercise videos and equipment. Some clients complain that the Jenny Craig personal consultants do not have any formal training in nutrition, and are more like sales people than counselors. Clients also criticize the taste and selection of meals. There is no way try Jenny Craig meals before committing to the program.
The Jenny Craig Web site offers many testimonials and inspiring success stories, but is thin on results from independently conducted research studies. One preliminary study that looked at weight loss, triglyceride levels (an indication of the amount of fats in the blood) and carotenoid levels (an indication of vegetable intake) was paid for by Jenny Craig and performed by a former Jenny Craig advisory board member.
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Tish Davidson, A.M.