What to Know About Starting Nutrisystem

After reading so many questions on the comment section of some of the info on Nutrisystem’s FB page and website, I figured I’d try to clear up a few things. I’ve been on it several times- the other times, my health was a reason I needed to stop, but now- a few years after the last time I was on it, I have the all-clear from my doctors. In 11 days, I’ve already lost 5 pounds, and am still loving most of the food ! 🙂 My blood sugars have gone down, and I’m on the way to saving my rickety hips and knees, since I can’t get any of them replaced.

Here are the basics:

Cost: On the women’s plans (shelf stable, or the option to choose from shelf stable and frozen, the cost is about $9-13/day, PLUS any add-ons (I’ll cover those in a minute). They always have some type of promos to cut the costs, and you can choose from 5 days/week or 7 days a week. You can also ‘wing it’ and get ‘a la carte’ for $49/6 months for free shipping and %20 off of the foods. If you call Nutrisystem and talk to the folks who know about the various options, you can get some good deals. And if you are a Costco member, you can get a $100 Nutrisystem card for $80, saving another %20-you can use as many cards as you want with each order. I’m actually saving money- when I pay 2 months at a time, each month is less than $250/month.

Add-Ons: This one tends to be a bit polarizing. Some folks complain that having to spend more on food than ‘just’ the Nutrisystem products is too much. Nutrisystem’s food is not just a frozen dinner (or whatever frozen or shelf-stable product that you can get at the store). The fiber, protein, carbs, sodium, and fat content are much more healthy. You are paying for healthier versions of favorite foods. The add-ons include vegetables, fruit, and dairy (for cereal, or light string cheese for snacks or Power Fuels (explained below). Vegetables that are fresh or frozen are preferred- and frozen veggies (without sauces) tend to be more cost effective (just be sure you have the freezer space if you also order frozen foods). Fruits are the same- fresh, frozen, or canned without sugar ( fruit packed in fruit juice isn’t so great… processed fruits tend to be stripped of fiber).

A Power Fuel is an added protein with 80-120 calories with at least 5 grams of protein (light cheese sticks, light GREEK yogurt, skim milk for cereals, nuts, nut butters, peanut butter powder, etc are examples of a power fuel). You’ll need 2-3 Power Fuels/day for women. Men have more. Cost wise, peanut butter, nuts, milk, light cheese sticks, and milk aren’t that expensive. You can add low sodium meats, seafood, or other proteins. The portions are ‘normal’ portions – which is often complained about, but portion size is how many people end up on Nutrisystem or any other weight loss plan.

Smart Carbs include whole grains, fruit (fresh or frozen- always unsweetened), and other items. Bagel Thins are great with the NS Tuna Salad pouch. A Smart Carb has 80-120 calories and at LEAST one gram of FIBER- but the more fiber the better. You’ll have 1-2 servings per day for women depending on if you’re on the diabetic plan or not (diabetic plan has 2/day). You’ll eat six times a day no matter what plan you’re on. The portions aren’t huge (I’m satisfied by the portion size), but you’ll eat every 2-3 hours. There are also limited extra and free foods, with that info being online once you join. They include some caloric seasonings, spices, herbs, broths, lemons, etc.

Vegetables: There’s no set limit, but for those who want more food, veggies are encouraged. There’s a minimum of 2 cups cooked (or 4 cups raw) of non-starchy veggies (list is on the site once you join). Just no sauces, dips, or dressings unless they are suitable for weight loss. I LOVE Maple Grove Farms- no funky chemicals like one popular brand. You might have to send for them, but some are available on Amazon, Vitacost, and others. Veggies are important. And the frozen ones are not expensive- I pay about $1.10-2.00 per bag of cauliflower, broccoli, stir-fry veggie mix, etc. There are some veggies that are ‘free’ and unlimited. One is lettuce, so some spectacular salads can be made, especially if used with a Smart Carb Igarbanzo beans – or what you like from the list – and some feta cheese – a Power Fuel (again- you can decide what you like from the Power Fuel list). I’m not sure if you can see the Power Fuel and Smart Carb lists if you’re not a buyer, but look for ‘Grocery Guides’ if you can- there are things at the bottom of the website page to help with questions. A pound bag of frozen veggies has about 4 1 cup servings- so no more than 50 cents or so per serving (2 cups cooked per day- a buck)

Water: Not optional. You need a minimum of 2 quarts of water or other non-caloric beverages. Nutrisystem doesn’t use artificial sweeteners, but there are plenty of naturally sweetened drink mixes out there (Crystal Light Pure, True Lemon/Limeade, etc) or unsweetened tea, sparkling water (lots of flavors out there these days), coffee without sugar, etc. Water is one of the most important nutrients out there. If you’re not a water drinker, it could be that city water is so heavily chlorinated, or something like that. If you have well water, you’re in luck (I love well water). You can get spring water at the store for $1.25/gallon.

Flex Meals: when you get closer to your goal weight, you can ‘branch out’ and make up your own meals from foods you have. There is a ‘formula’ for each meal as far as how to put them together. You do NOT have to prepare meals while using Nutrisystem meals. If you go to a party or other get together, it’s nice to have a way to eat what others are (choosing the most Nutrisystem friendly options), and not derail your weight loss program.

_ Example Daily Intake for Women’s Diabetic Program-
Breakfast- one NS Cinnamon Roll, pancakes, waffles, bagel, cereal, muffin, bars, oatmeal.
Snack Power Fuel & Smart Carb (maybe a light string cheese-2 depending on calories, and a small apple)
Lunch: one NS hamburger, meal replacement bar (SO good), soup, chicken sandwich, Hot Pocket type thing, etc. plus add on vegetables.
Afternoon Snack- Power Fuel & Smart Carb (maybe a tbs. of peanut butter and some crackers w/fiber, and toss in some add on veggies).
Dinner- NS Dinner Entree (ravioli, beef stew, pizza, mac & cheese, spaghetti w/mushroom sauce, flatbreads, and others. plus add on vegetables.
Evening Snack- one NS ice cream sandwich, cream filled chocolate cupcake, cookies, BBQ multigrain snack rounds, candy bars (almond coconut, chocolate caramel, etc), chocolate covered pretzels, meat stick, popcorn, and others.

Portions: Nutrisystem uses portions that are reasonable and suited for weight loss AND maintenance. Most people on weight loss programs are clueless about portions and calorie content of foods. The veggies and water help fill you up. But people complain that the meals are too small. I’m never hungry after eating, and have to remind myself about snacks by leaving them out where I’ll see them.

Personalizing foods: One of my favorite aspects of Nutrisystem is that many of the items are easy to customize – like using low sodium chicken broth instead of water for the ‘cup’ lunches (pastas, mashed potatoes, rice dishes, etc- they come in a sturdy paper cup, and require water or broth for preparation, and a microwave to nuke them into lunch). Pico De Gallo is a free food- so that frozen NS Dinner Enchilada w/Rice can get a boost with that. Herbs and spices are ‘free’. The ‘Limited Extras’ are up to 35 calories of whatever you want (like butter for the waffles)- and up to 3 Limited Extras per day. You can save a Power Fuel of cheese (measured amount) to jazz up a cup lunch, or add to a pizza). Putting extra broccoli in the NS Cheddar Broccoli Rice and a bit (Limited Extra amount) of shredded sharp cheddar makes a great lunch. For those who complain about something being bland, Nutrisystem kinda needs to keep things suitable for milder palates. Those who like spicy stuff can always add salsa, herbs, or spices to jazz things up. I add sambal garlic paste to the Spicy Kung Pao noodles, because to me they aren’t spicy at all. But a 1/2 tsp of sambal, and there’s a little kick, and a few cocktail peanuts perks up the texture. Make the food your own! It’s easy to do- and then Nutrisystem appeals to more palates. I like the customizable products.

A word about the chocolate products and weather (except for the breakfast Double Chocolate Muffins)- order them during cooler months. The frozen items are shipped via FedEx in biodegradable styrofoam coolers with dry ice. All shelf stable foods, including chocolate snacks and lunch bars are sent in a regular shipping box via FedEx. I add a few extra ‘a la carte’ items that might not travel well in the summer in my winter and early spring months’ orders. If you live somewhere that isn’t really an area where ‘cool’ ever happens, you can minimize melting and misshapen candy bars by leaving the delivery box UNTOUCHED for a few hours after you bring it inside. There might be a whitish coating, but that happens with any chocolate that is exposed to heat. It’s called ‘blooming’, and just cocoa butter that has separated a bit. They are still perfectly safe to eat- but people complain about them, as if chocolate should never melt. I’m not sure why it is such a shock- regular chocolate melts in the heat… and Nutrisystem chocolate is ‘just’ regular chocolate with better nutritional content. Same goes for anything with a chocolate, peanut butter, or other coating.

I like Nutrisystem food regardless of weight loss. The frozen items are very good, but there are some things in the shelf stable option that I prefer (like my lunch choices- all 28 are shelf stable). I’ve found that things I normally can’t stand are good with the Nutrisystem option, and vice versa… try a lot of things. I’m using my first 2 months to try as many things as I can- there are a lot of new items since I was last on Nutrisystem. And the simplicity of the preparation is a huge perk with dud shoulders and legs. I get decent nutrition that tastes good, and my weight is dropping (5 pounds in 11 days, so far !). AND, my grocery bill- even with the add ons- has dropped dramatically.

Initially, it can sound complicated, but it really isn’t. Some items are ‘open and eat’, some need to be microwaved, and the cup lunches just need liquid and a microwave (put the cup in a microwave bowl until you see how your microwave works with the products, to avoid messes from boil overs- or get a Sistema- see below). My goal is to have 4-5 items per meal (and snacks) that I really like- having representatives from my favorite flavor profiles- comfort, Italian, Tex-Mex, and Mediterranean. I add a few a la carte items just to jazz things up a bit (and some items fit the requirements for Power Fuels or Smart Carbs).

Consider getting a Sistema soup cup- they are perfect for cup lunches and soups/stews/chile. Amazon has different sizes and shapes- this is my favorite for the cup lunches and soups. The vent avoids boil overs, and closing it helps with the ‘resting’ time required (I often reheat for a minute, then let it sit for another 4-5 minutes for a total of 9-10 minutes total so all liquid can be absorbed). Also, a food scale (I got a $12 digital one from Amazon), measuring cups, and measuring spoons are needed.

You CAN order just one month, but ordering 2 months at once saves you %50, and shipping is free on auto-ship. You can also eat dinner for breakfast, and breakfast for lunch, and lunch for dinner- or however you want to do it- just get all of the food and snacks in for the day along with the veggies and water.

There are several vegetarian options (lacto-ovo, mostly). A couple of items might work for vegans, but not a lot.

Trying it for a couple of months will give you a chance to try a lot of the items (150+). You can always cancel- but know that if you are on auto ship and want to quit before the second month, you will have $125 fee for restocking, etc. Auto-shipping is easier for the company, even if you want to delay a month (or speed one up). You’re already in the computer.

Nutrisystem is on Twitter and Facebook, and will answer questions. If you leave questions in the comments, I’ll do my best to answer them. I don’t work for them, but have always liked the program since first trying it years ago (maybe 9 ?). I don’t feel like I’m eating diet food.

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