Jenny Craig (cont.)

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 splurge.

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 pre-packaged foods.

"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 nutritionists."

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