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Concept or Theory Behind this Diet:

Portion control|balanced nutrition|frequent meals

NutriSystem: Origins, Growth, Competition, Challenges, and the Science of Prepackaged Food for Weight Loss


NutriSystem is a weight loss program that provides prepackaged, portion-controlled meals designed to promote weight loss by controlling calorie intake. Since its inception in the 1970s, the company has experienced rapid growth, faced stiff competition, and overcome numerous challenges, including its association with the controversial diet drug Fen-Phen and the death of its retail operation. Today, NutriSystem operates primarily as an online business and continues to provide weight loss solutions to millions of customers. This essay will discuss the origins of NutriSystem, its initial high cost, its growth and competition with Jenny Craig, its relationship to Fen-Phen, the transformation into an online company, and the science behind prepackaged food for weight loss.

Origins in the 1970s

NutriSystem was founded in 1972 by Harold Katz, a Philadelphia entrepreneur who was inspired to create a weight loss program after struggling with obesity himself. Initially, the company provided weight loss counseling and sold liquid protein shakes at physical centers. However, Katz soon realized the need for a more convenient and accessible weight loss solution and began offering prepackaged, portion-controlled meals designed to help customers lose weight without the need for extensive meal planning or preparation.

High Initial Cost and Rapid Growth

In its early years, NutriSystem was considered an expensive weight loss option, with costs reaching up to $1,000 per month for the meal plans. Despite the high price tag, the company experienced rapid growth as customers were drawn to the convenience and simplicity of the program. By the mid-1980s, NutriSystem had expanded to over 1,000 weight loss centers across the United States, with annual revenues exceeding $500 million.

Competition with Jenny Craig

In the late 1980s, NutriSystem faced increasing competition from Jenny Craig, an Australian weight loss company founded by Jenny Craig and her husband, Sidney Craig. Like NutriSystem, Jenny Craig also offered prepackaged meals and personalized weight loss counseling. However, Jenny Craig's program differed in that it placed a greater emphasis on one-on-one support and offered customers the option to purchase their meals directly from their local weight loss center.

The competition between NutriSystem and Jenny Craig intensified as both companies sought to expand their market share and attract new customers. This rivalry ultimately benefited the weight loss industry as a whole, as it led to innovations in product offerings and marketing strategies.

Relationship to Fen-Phen In the 1990s

NutriSystem faced a significant challenge when it became associated with the controversial diet drug Fen-Phen. Fen-Phen, a combination of two appetite suppressant drugs, fenfluramine and phentermine, was prescribed to many NutriSystem customers as a weight loss aid. Although Fen-Phen initially showed promise in helping individuals lose weight, it was later linked to serious health issues, including heart valve problems and pulmonary hypertension.

In 1997, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requested the withdrawal of fenfluramine from the market due to these safety concerns. The association with Fen-Phen tarnished NutriSystem's reputation and led to a decline in sales and the closure of many of its weight loss centers.

Death of Retail Operation and Rebirth as an Online Company

The challenges faced by NutriSystem in the 1990s, including competition from Jenny Craig and the Fen-Phen controversy, ultimately led to the demise of its retail operation. In 2000, NutriSystem filed for bankruptcy, and its remaining assets were sold.

However, NutriSystem experienced a rebirth in 2002 when Mike Hagan, an entrepreneur and former NutriSystem customer, acquired the company and shifted its focus to online sales. Under Hagan's leadership, NutriSystem rebranded itself and launched a new website that allowed customers to order meals and access weight loss support directly online. This transformation proved successful, and NutriSystem regained its footing in the weight loss industry.

The Science of Prepackaged Food for Weight Loss

One of the key factors contributing to NutriSystem's success is the science behind its prepackaged food approach to weight loss. The program is based on the principles of portion control, balanced nutrition, and frequent, smaller meals to help control hunger and promote weight loss.

Portion control is a crucial aspect of weight management, as it helps individuals consume fewer calories without feeling deprived. NutriSystem's prepackaged meals are designed to provide the right balance of nutrients in controlled portion sizes, makingcustomers to adhere to their weight loss goals. By eliminating the need for extensive meal planning and preparation, NutriSystem enables customers to focus on other aspects of their weight loss journey, such as exercise and behavioral changes.

Balanced nutrition is another core principle of NutriSystem's approach. The program's meals are carefully formulated to provide an appropriate balance of macronutrients (protein, carbohydrates, and fat) and micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) to support optimal health while promoting weight loss. By offering a diverse menu of meals and snacks, NutriSystem helps to ensure that customers receive the nutrients they need without feeling restricted or bored with their food choices.

The NutriSystem program also encourages customers to eat more frequent, smaller meals throughout the day, rather than relying on the traditional three larger meals. This approach has been shown to help control hunger and stabilize blood sugar levels, reducing the likelihood of overeating and making it easier to maintain a calorie deficit for weight loss.

Research has demonstrated the effectiveness of prepackaged meal plans like NutriSystem for weight loss. A study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine in 2015 compared the weight loss outcomes of participants following a structured meal plan, like NutriSystem, to those following a standard reduced-calorie diet. The study found that participants in the structured meal plan group lost significantly more weight than those in the standard diet group, highlighting the potential benefits of prepackaged, portion-controlled meals for weight loss.


NutriSystem has a long history in the weight loss industry, marked by rapid growth, intense competition, and numerous challenges. Since its origins in the 1970s, the company has evolved to adapt to changing market conditions and consumer preferences, transitioning from a retail-based operation to a primarily online business. The NutriSystem program's core principles of portion control, balanced nutrition, and frequent, smaller meals have been supported by scientific research demonstrating the effectiveness of prepackaged food for weight loss.

Despite the challenges faced throughout its history, NutriSystem remains a prominent player in the weight loss industry. By offering convenient, portion-controlled meals and personalized support, NutriSystem has helped millions of people achieve their weight loss goals and improve their overall health.

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