Nutrisystem vs. WW (Weight Watchers)

According to a 2016 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the average American woman weighed 166 pounds. That is about equivalent to the weight of the average weight for American men in the 1960s. American men were also heavier, averaging about 195 pounds or 30 pounds more than in the 1960s.

In response to that steady rise in average weight, many Americans began actively trying to lose weight in the second half of the 20th century. Although obesity rates have only continued to rise over the years, two companies trying to help Americans shed pounds have been around for a long time.

Today, Nutrisystem and WW are two of the most recognizable and widely used commercial diet programs in the U.S. They have some similarities — but also some important differences in how they help dieters lose weight.

[See: The Best Diets for Fast Weight Loss.]

Nutrisystem Overview

Nutrisystem was founded in 1972 as a brick-and-mortar operation in Fort Washington, Pennsylvania, and since then has grown to become one of the leading providers of prepared meals and nutritional support for people seeking to lose weight. The company offers counseling and a range of resources for members via the phone and the internet.

“Nutrisystem is a program that looks at balanced nutrition,” says Courtney McCormick, manager of clinical research and nutrition with Nutrisystem. Portion control and an understanding of the glycemic index form the basis of how the program works.

The glycemic index is a way of assigning values to foods based on how they impact blood sugar levels. Foods with a lower glycemic index have less impact on blood sugar levels and thus are favored because they cause less disruption to blood sugar levels throughout the day.

A lower-carb, higher-protein ratio can also help support weight loss — protein can curb appetite and boost metabolism. These diets can also reduce blood sugar spikes, and crashes, which can disrupt energy or cause mood fluctuations.

Clients purchase pre-made food items directly from the company, but are also encouraged to supplement these ready-to-eat meals with fresh produce. “We provide about 60% of the person’s calories for the day, and then we provide guidance for them to add in fresh grocery additions” such as fresh fruits and veggies and lean proteins, McCormick says. Clients can select from a variety of shelf-stable and frozen prepared options.

Digital resources, including a new app and lifestyle blog, also support modern dieters. But the company still emphasizes personal counseling and support. “Everyone who’s on our program has access to nutritional counselors,” McCormick explains. “They can call in anytime they have questions or need motivation.” For dieters with diabetes, these resources include certified diabetes counselors. “They can help those individuals personalize their meal plans,” she says.

WW Overview

In the early 1960s, a New York woman named Jean Nidetch began inviting friends to her Queens home to share tips and tricks for weight loss. By using a very supportive approach coupled with good dietary advice, the group met with success and the idea grew. By 1963, Nidetch incorporated a company called Weight Watchers to bring this approach to others well beyond her living room. By 1967, the company had more than 100 franchises around the world.

Today, the company, now known as simply WW, is the largest commercial weight-loss program in the United States. Weight Watchers rebranded as WW in 2018 to reflect the company’s evolution away from simply focusing on weight loss to focusing on a more holistic approach to overall health and wellness through better nutrition.

WW’s tagline, “wellness that works,” shows that it’s “evolving to also be the world’s partner in wellness,” 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.

WW has more than 3,000 brick-and-mortar locations where members can meet with coaches and guides in-person to help them stay on track with their weight loss and health goals. WW also offers many online food-tracking tools and other resources through its website and smartphone app.

One of the key elements of WW is that it’s user-directed and customizable. The company’s new PersonalPoints program offers a personalized and flexible approach to weight loss, a continuation of the company’s ongoing efforts to evolve to meet clients where they are with customized approaches, which may lead to greater engagement and more behavior change than generic approaches. “Research also shows that greater engagement in a behavior change weight loss program leads to weight loss,” London says.

Antonette Hardie, a registered dietitian at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center in Columbus, says that “WW is a program that helps consumers lose weight by incorporating foods that they like.” She says the focus is on “behavior change” which is superior to “mindless dieting with fad diets” because behavior change is the key to long-term success.

[See: Real People Tips for Following WW.]

Health Benefits

Both Nutrisystem and WW can help you achieve weight loss, which can lead to health improvements such as lowered blood pressure, reduced risk of developing diabetes, reduced risk of stroke and reduced risk of some cancers. The health benefits of maintaining a lower weight, particularly as you age, are well established.

Health Risks

Nutrisystem. The Nutrisystem program is balanced, and if you’re eating a variety of foods, it should cover all your nutritional bases. In response to user feedback that the diet could be a little too rigid, especially when dieters are faced with social events or other food-centric experiences that they cannot fully control, McCormick says the company has built-in more flexibility. “We have more flex meals, and that gives the customer the opportunity to learn how to make their own meals or go out to dinner and still be following the program and be successful on it,” McCormick says.

WW. The WW program is also a balanced approach to weight loss that offers very few health risks. As with other weight-loss programs, making sure you’re eating a wide variety of whole and minimally processed foods can ensure that you’re meeting your nutritional requirements while cutting calories.

Pregnant women are excluded from participating in WW, and children under the age of 18 are also not permitted to sign up for WW. However, in summer 2019, the company rolled out a food and physical activity tracking app called Kurbo that’s aimed at teens and kids as young as 8.

Any diet that’s intended for weight loss can trigger an eating disorder or a relapse of an eating disorder in people who’ve battled these issues in the past. Therefore, these individuals should approach any weight loss or diet system with caution, and seek the support of a therapist or dietitian who specializes in supporting people with eating disorders.

Costs

Nutrisystem. Nutrisystem charges different prices for men than for women. The four-week Basic plan starts at $9.99 per day for women ($11.64 per day for men). It includes five Nutrisystem breakfasts, lunches, dinners and snacks each week and free FedEx shipping.

The next level up, the Uniquely Yours program, starts at $11.79 per day ($13.04 for men) and includes everything in the Basic plan plus a choice of over 150 menu items, unlimited frozen meals and snacks and freedom to pick the frozen and non-frozen foods you want.

The most extensive plan, called Uniquely Yours Max+, starts at $13.21 per day ($14.29 for men) and includes all the Uniquely Yours benefits plus seven Nutrisystem breakfasts, lunches, dinners and snacks each week. It’s the best option for people who need additional structure and convenience throughout the week.

The company also offers partner plans, that allow you to lose weight with a second person together. The Basic plan starts at $19.98 ($9.99 per person per day). The Uniquely Yours Partner Plan starts at $23.58 ($11.79 per person per day) and the Uniquely Yours Max+ program starts at $26.42 ($13.21 per person per day).

Nutrisystem also customizes plans for those with diabetes and those who prefer to eat a vegetarian diet. The company often runs incentives to make getting started a little cheaper.

WW. WW’s offers different levels of support at different pricing levels. 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.

Hardie notes that “WW has different options when you purchase in bulk, and some insurance companies will cover some of your plan.”

[See: 10 Tips to Keep Your Diet on Track.]

Which Is Better?

In 2022, WW ranked 5th in U.S. News’ Best Diets Overall ranking. The plan tied for No. 1 in Best Diets for Weight Loss and tied for No. 1 in Best Diet Programs. Nutrisystem ranked 24th in Best Diets Overall and tied for 12th place in the Best Weight-Loss Diets category. It was No. 9 in Best Diet Programs.

As to which one is better, a lot of it comes down to personal preference and your lifestyle. “Both programs are successful programs if you’re trying to lose weight,” Hardie says.

“In my professional opinion, WW is the better option because it establishes behavior changes that last a lifetime; however, with WW, you have to be very diligent in your own behavior changes. This is where it can be hard, but if you stay determined and focused, then anything is possible.”

She adds that “Nutrisystem works as well; however, this does not create behavior changes. Nutrisystem’s products can also be quite high in sodium, which is not good for people with high blood pressure. The taste of these products might not also be palatable to some consumers, so be aware that you might not like the pre-packaged items from Nutrisystem.”

If you’re planning to try either program, Hardie recommends doing your own “research on both plans to figure out what works best for you. If you like to cook and want something less restrictive, then try WW. If you’d rather not think about what you’re going to eat and can afford to spend more money, then try Nutrisystem.”

In the Long Run

A 2015 study, published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, found that dieters on Nutrisystem experienced at least 3.8% greater weight loss at three months than the control group. Dieters in the Weight Watchers group achieved at least 2.6% or greater weight loss at 12 months than the control group. Results beyond three months with Nutrisystem were not evaluated in that particular study.

The study authors concluded that “clinicians could consider referring patients with overweight or obesity to Weight Watchers or Jenny Craig. Other popular programs, such as Nutrisystem, show promising weight-loss results; however, additional studies evaluating long-term outcomes are needed.”

If you’re very busy or dislike cooking for yourself, the Nutrisystem approach may have an advantage in that the meals are prepared and you don’t have to think much or do the cooking to stick with it. However, it can be challenging for some dieters to learn how to maintain results when you shift off the program and back to preparing your own meals.

To help clients do this more sustainably, Nutrisystem offers a transition and maintenance program called Nutrisystem Success. “If someone has hit their goal, they graduate to portion-controlled containers and a meal plan that supports those containers,” McCormick explains. Counselors help clients learn how to build balanced meals that support the maintenance of weight loss.

“If they follow that plan and use the recipes in that system for maintenance, they’ll still be aligning with weight maintenance caloric goals,” McCormick adds. The company also encourages clients to get enough exercise to support weight-loss goals and long-term maintenance.

Lastly, Hardie recommends speaking with a local registered dietitian if you can. While both programs offer access to coaching, meeting with an independent dietitian who can get to know your specific situation can also offer big benefits.

WW NUTRISYSTEM
Food Supply your own food and meal planning based on the PersonalPoints system. Prepared meals and snacks feature a low-carb, high-protein ratio.
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 24/7 in-app chat feature available. In-person or phone/online coaching sessions and group meetings are available with some plans. Online and phone support from consultants and user forums.

Health Benefits May reduce the risk of some chronic diseases. May reduce the risk of some chronic diseases.
Health Risks Not advised for pregnant women or children under 18. Not advised for pregnant women or children under 18.

More from U.S. News

Best Mediterranean Diet Food List

A Day’s Worth of Meals on the Mediterranean Diet

10 Best Mediterranean Diet Snacks

Nutrisystem vs. WW (Weight Watchers) originally appeared on usnews.com

Update 03/07/22: This story was previously published at an earlier date and has been updated with new information.

Related Categories:

Latest News

More from WTOP

Log in to your WTOP account for notifications and alerts customized for you.

Sign up