What It Is
Jenny Craig isn’t a Janie-come-lately to the
The program began in 1983 in Australia and started U.S.
operations in 1985.
The Jenny Craig method is a three-level food-mind-body plan to help
people lose weight and keep it off.
At the first level, the program teaches clients how to
eat the foods they want — in small, frequent portions.
At the second level, the program teaches clients how to
increase their energy levels via simple activity.
The program offers several levels of support. Perhaps the
most impressive of these is its 24/7 telephone line,
allowing clients to get information and support when they
need it. The program also offers online support, including
peer-support discussion groups. A wide variety of written
materials are also for sale.
There are two Jenny Craig programs. One is built around physical Jenny Craig centers. The company counts over 650 centers in the U.S., Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and Puerto Rico. For those who find it hard to get to a center, the at-home Jenny Direct program offers information by telephone and mail.
Advising Jenny Craig is a medical advisory board with
certified professionals in medicine, psychology, and
What You Can Eat on the Jenny Craig Diet
The keystone to the Jenny Craig diet is its prepackaged meals. For the most part, these are frozen breakfasts, lunches, dinners, and even desserts. Nutritionally, they contain 50% to 60% carbohydrate, 20% to 25% protein, and 20% to 25% fat.
Clients supplement these meals with fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and reduced-fat dairy products. In general, non-starchy vegetables are unlimited.
While these meals are what come to mind when most people
think of Jenny Craig, they are not the be-all and end-all of
the program. In fact, says Lisa Waltman, call center manager
for Jenny Direct, the goal is eventually to wean clients
from the prepared meals.
“For a certain period of time we support people with this prepackaged menu that serves as a model of healthy eating,” Waltman tells WebMD. “As clients become more familiar with recognizing correct portion sizes, the counselors teach them how to cook at home and to eat out.”
No food is taboo. The focus is on moderation, a balanced
diet, and getting enough exercise. But built into the
program are occasional splurges that allow dieters to
indulge themselves a little.
“There is nothing you cannot have,” Waltman says. “We
educate what foods are high in fat and calories and should
be used in moderation vs. foods that can be eaten more
freely like non-starchy vegetables such as salad. And we
teach about other foods, that of course you need to take in
moderation when trying to lose weight and beyond. If you
want cake, we want you to understand what you are doing if
you have a piece — not to deny you what you want.”
That being said, the Jenny Craig method is calorie based.
The menus a client develops with his or her counselor are
based on an individual’s weight, height, and goals.
How the Jenny Craig Program Works
A person wishing to begin the Jenny Craig program can visit a Jenny Craig center or call Jenny Craig Direct. Checking the company’s web site is a good place to start, as one often can find special offers. There are several levels of membership with different price tags.
The idea is not to keep individuals in the program forever, but to move them successfully through the program so that they develop long-term strategies for a healthy lifestyle.
The program has three elements. First is food. The idea
here is to teach clients how to eat sensible portions, how
to plan and prepare healthy menus, and how to avoid pitfalls
when eating at restaurants or when having the occasional
The second element is body.
“To lose weight and have lasting impact, the key indicator is being physically active,” Waltman says. “We help clients determine where they are now. Are they totally inactive? Do they just walk from car to office? Or are they someone who is really on their way, exercising a few times a week? We help them get up to a place that will provide not only weight loss but also long-term maintenance. We look at barriers like being really busy, or not wanting to take away from family time. We work on strategies to develop physically active lifestyles.”
The third element is mind.
“Being positive and surrounding yourself with support and
affirmations really helps,” Waltman says. “The difference
between the client who makes it and the client who doesn’t
is motivation mind set. We help people keep in touch with
their goals and provide support every inch of the way. And
we allow them to get support from other clients. We talk
about nurturing yourself — not necessarily with food.”
What the Experts Say About Jenny Craig
WebMD asked Leslie Bonci, MPH,
RD, to comment on the Jenny Craig program. Bonci (BAWN-see)
is director of sports nutrition at the University of
Pittsburgh Medical Center. She provides nutrition
consultation to athletes at the professional, college, and
high school level, including the Pittsburgh Panthers and
Steelers and the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre company. Bonci
has no financial connection to Jenny Craig.
Bonci praises Jenny Craig for teaching portion control.
But she questions the value of learning portion control from
“The negative is once you go off of the packaged meals,
it is difficult to translate those portions of food to real
eating,” Bonci says. “Normal foods are not sold in those
tiny portions. And most people say whatever one of those
packaged meals you buy tastes all the same. It is like going
camping. Everything you eat is out of the box, and you don’t
have that stimulatory enjoyment. And that can be a problem.
It’s important to have people enjoy eating over the long
term. The crucial question is how to help someone back to a
semblance of normal eating. That is where the program
doesn’t hold up as well.”
WebMD staff taste-tested a week’s worth of Jenny Craig
food items provided free of charge by the company. Most of
the items, the staff found, were comparable in taste to
similar frozen-food entrees. One or two were much tastier
than average, and one or two weren’t appetizing to those who
tried them. Most of the staff — who were not on diets — said
they were hungry again soon after eating. Supplementing the
meals with a piece of fresh fruit, as Jenny Craig
recommends, provided a more satisfying experience.
Bonci also praises Jenny Craig for the high level of
support it offers its clients.
“I think support is always critical to the success of any
weight loss program,” Bonci says. “But you are dealing with
a limited range of items you are provided to eat. This does
not give you as much ability to customize to individual
preferences. And the support staff are not trained
According to the USDA, there is no difference between a “portion” and a “serving.”
Food for Thought
If you want to lose some weight
fairly quickly, Jenny Craig can get you on the right path in
a short period of time. To take full advantage of the Jenny
Craig method, you must make full use of the counseling
support the company offers as you make the transition from
packaged food to your own healthy menu planning and meal
preparation. Those who are ready to commit to the kind of
lifestyle change Jenny Craig offers are most likely to get
full value for their diet dollar.
WebMD Medical Reference