If you’re looking to lose some weight, you might want to consider trying one of the established, commercial weight-loss programs available today. Both Jenny Craig and WW (formerly Weight Watchers) can help people lose weight and keep it off. But they use different approaches to achieve that goal.
Overview: Jenny Craig vs. WW (formerly Weight Watchers)
Jenny Craig Overview
Founded in 1983 in Melbourne, Australia, the Jenny Craig company made its U.S. debut in 1985. The company focuses on a “food-body-mind approach to help members lose weight and keep it off,” says Briana Rodriquez, a registered dietitian with Jenny Craig. The company offers a nutritionally balanced menu of prepared meals and snacks with nearly 100 options that have been developed by dietitians, nutritionists and personal chefs.
One of Jenny Craig’s signature features, what Rodriquez calls the “backbone” of the program, is the one-on-one personal support offered to members by counselors. This direct support means the program is tailored for each individual. These meetings can take place in person, over the phone or via the web, and consultants help educate members about portion control strategies.
Consultants also coach people through the process of losing weight. A longer initial consultation helps members get oriented around the plan and set goals, followed by subsequent check-in counseling sessions to help members stay on track. Counselors can help members make adjustments as they progress on their weight-loss journey. Once dieters have reached their goal weight, they can transition into a long-term maintenance approach.
Jenny Craig seeks to help members lose about one to two pounds per week, which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends as safe and sustainable. Rodriquez says the company also seeks to help people lead healthier lifestyles and develop better relationships with food.
Formerly known as Weight Watchers, WW is the largest commercial weight-loss program in the United States today. It rebranded in 2018 to better reflect the company’s evolution away from simply focusing on the number on a scale to embracing an overall healthy lifestyle.
“WW is more than a program, it’s a community of people motivated to improve their health,” says Jaclyn London, a registered dietitian in New York City and author of “Dressing on the Side (and Other Diet Myths Debunked).” She also served as head of nutrition and wellness for WW until September 2021.
The company got its start in the 1960s, when founder Jean Nidetch began inviting friends to her New York home on a weekly basis to discuss weight-loss strategies. The support group approach to losing weight worked, and soon, it expanded well beyond Nidetch’s living room. In 1963, Weight Watchers incorporated, and by 1967, the company had more than 100 franchises around the world.
Over the years, the WW program has evolved to reflect advances in nutritional science and an interest in eating to prevent or control chronic disease, rather than simply to lose weight. What hasn’t changed is the idea of ongoing support for members as they work to better manage their food choices. Today, WW has more than 3,000 locations where members can meet with coaches and guides to help them stay on track. But in the digital age, many weight-loss tools and resources are also available online and through a smartphone app.
“WW uses a personalized point system to track calories in a way that doesn’t actually make you count the calories in each item, says Emily Rice, a registered dietitian with the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center in Columbus. “They emphasize ‘nothing is off-limits.'”
WW aims to tailor weight-loss strategies for each individual. London says research has shown that “customized approaches lead to greater engagement and more behavior change than generic approaches. And research also shows that greater engagement in a behavior-change weight-loss program leads to weight loss.”
The company’s PersonalPoints program offers dieters flexibility on their weight-loss journey to help meet clients where they are. More than just counting calories, this approach considers calories, saturated fat, protein and sugar for a more holistic approach to healthy eating.
Health Benefits and Weight Loss
The health benefits of losing weight for those who have overweight or obesity are well documented. The CDC reports that “even a modest weight loss, such as 5% to 10% of your total body weight, is likely to produce health benefits, such as improvements in blood pressure, blood cholesterol and blood sugars.” Keeping your weight down is also associated with lower incidence of Type 2 diabetes, stroke and some types of cancer.
In terms of effectiveness, both diets help people lose weight. One 2015 study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine found that dieters using the Jenny Craig program experienced at least 4.9% or greater weight loss at 12 months than the control group. That same 2015 study found that WW participants achieved at least 2.6% greater weight loss than the control group, and also the group that had education only.
“The benefits of WW’s science-backed approach have been studied for years,” London says, “with 100-plus studies underscoring the program’s efficacy.” Most of these studies have been published in peer-reviewed journals, she says. “Of note, a 2019 survey by Kantar Health of 500 doctors who recommend weight-loss programs to patients ranked WW as the number one doctor-recommended weight loss program.”
Though neither program has any specific health risks, it’s important to make sure you’re meeting all of your nutritional dietary needs. When trying to lose weight, cutting out or cutting back on certain foods could lead to deficiencies of some nutrients.
London notes that pregnant women are excluded from participating in WW, “as they should be guided by their physician on nutrition and healthy weight management, and children under 18 are not allowed to sign up for WW.” That said, in summer 2019, the company launched a food and physical activity tracking app called Kurbo, aimed at teens and kids as young as 8.
Maintaining weight loss over the long term is often a challenge for dieters. To assist with this, the Jenny Craig program begins having members add in more of their own meals once they’ve reached the halfway point to their weight loss goal.
One aspect of WW that many nutritionists like is that no food is off limits, and members are empowered to learn how to plan for treats and special occasions. Also, because dieters are already responsible for planning and making their own food, they have practice with managing meal prep and planning right from the beginning for sustainable behavioral change.
It’s worth mentioning that any diet that’s intended for weight loss can trigger an eating disorder or a relapse of an eating disorder in persons who’ve battled these issues in the past. Talk to your doctor before starting any weight-loss program if you have a history of eating disorders.
Pricing: Jenny Craig vs. WW
Jenny Craig Pricing
“Jenny Craig provides food based on the package you choose,” Rice explains. These packages range from a few meals and snacks each week to a full day of eating. “They emphasize meeting with a health coach weekly to address food choices, goals, activity level and to keep accountability.”
Currently, the company offers three plans:
— Simple Meal Plan. $12.99 per day. This is the company’s “most flexible meal plan.” The two-week plan option includes 14 breakfasts and 14 lunches shipped free; or you can opt to receive meals one week at a time that includes 7 breakfasts and 7 lunches, with paid shipping. No membership fee is required.
— Essential Meal Plan. $20.78 per day. This is company’s “most convenient meal plan.” It includes 7 breakfasts, 7 lunches and 7 dinners. You can add snacks and desserts for $3 per day. No membership fee is required.
— Max Up Weight Loss Plan. $26.49 per day (as of Mar. 8, 2022, on sale for $22.52 per day, a savings of 15%). This is the company’s “most effective and holistic program” which combines the company’s food with personal coaching. Desserts and snacks are included with the plan, along with 7 Recharge Bars per week and an activity plan to encourage exercise. No membership fees are required.
WW offers different levels with a range of plan. WW’s prices do not include the cost of food. The program options are:
— Digital, which is a self-guided experience that includes the company’s app and a 24/7 live coaching chat service. This option starts at $10 per month.
— Digital 360, which includes all the benefits of the digital membership plus it offers more guided support on your own schedule. This option starts at $10 per month.
— Unlimited Workshops + Digital, which includes face-to-face accountability with in-person or virtual workshops along with all the benefits of the digital membership. This option starts at $10 per month at participating locations.
— 1-on-1 Coaching + Digital, which includes personal guidance plus unlimited phone or video check-ins, from a WW Coach. This starts at $11.08 per week.
“WW has different options when you purchase in bulk,” says Antonette Hardie, a registered dietitian also at the Wexner Medical Center. What’s more, “some insurance companies will cover some of your plan.”
Rice adds that while “WW has their own branded food items, these are not included in the monthly costs. The company focuses more on planning and prepping your own food.”
Jenny Craig vs. WW: Which Is Better?
“If you’re deciding to start a weight-loss program like Jenny Craig or WW, you first need to assess what your needs are,” Rice says. For example, “if you’re looking for convenience, then Jenny Craig might be best because they supply food for you. If you’re looking for a tool to aid weight loss while planning and prepping foods you enjoy, then WW may be a better option.”
In 2022, WW tied for 5th place in U.S. News’ Best Diets Overall ranking. The plan tied for first in Best Diets for Weight Loss and tied for first in the Best Diet Programs category. London says those distinctions “are consistent with the decades of clinical evidence on the program’s effectiveness.”
Jenny Craig was right behind WW in the Best Diet Programs category, landing in 3rd place. It tied for 5th in the Best Weight-Loss Diets category. For Best Diets Overall, it ranked 12th.
The WW program is favored by many nutritionists for its sensible approach to weight management that educates members on how to manage their healthy habits over the long term. But it takes some work, and members need to constantly track their food use and do their own cooking.
Jenny Craig may have a convenience advantage over WW, especially when you’re initially transitioning into a weight-loss regimen. For people who don’t have the time to cook or don’t enjoy meal prep and planning, Jenny Craig offers pre-packaged meals and snacks that take a lot of the work out of sticking with the diet.
But Rice cautions that for as convenient as it is to lose weight this way, “once you stop the program you’ll be on your own. These programs do not necessarily provide life-long, lifestyle behavior changes to create a sustainable weight loss as much as their convenience factor.”
This can make building the skills necessary to maintain weight loss over the longer term more difficult and may end up being more expensive than shopping and cooking on your own.
Lastly, Rice notes that “if you’re looking for more resources to build your relationship with food and get to a weight you’re comfortable with, you can always ask a registered dietitian” for personalized advice and support.
|JENNY CRAIG||WW (formerly Weight Watchers)|
|Cost||The monthly cost depends on the plan and ranges from almost $400 to more than $700. This includes most of your food.||Monthly cost ranges from about $10 to $45, depending on the plan. Doesn’t include food.|
|Food||Packaged food options are a big part of the program.||Supply your own food and meal planning based on the PersonalPoints system.|
|Weight Loss||Target weight loss of about 1 to 2 pounds per week.||Target weight loss of about 1 to 2 pounds per week.|
|Support||In-person or phone/online coaching sessions with a dedicated, personal consultant.||24/7 in-app chat feature available. In-person or phone/online coaching sessions and group meetings available with some plans.|
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Update 03/09/22: This story was previously published at an earlier date and has been updated with new information.