It seems many of us are always trying to lose weight. If that description fits you, you might want to consider trying one of the established, commercial weight-loss programs available today. Both Jenny Craig and WW (formerly Weight Watchers) can help people lose weight and keep it off. But they use different approaches to achieve that goal.
Jenny Craig overview
Founded in 1983 in Melbourne, Australia, the Jenny Craig company made its U.S. debut in 1985. The company focuses on a “food-body-mind approach to help members lose weight and keep it off”. The company offers a nutritionally balanced menu of prepared meals and snacks with 100 options developed by dietitians, nutritionists and personal chefs.
One of Jenny Craig’s signature features is the one-on-one personal support offered to members by counselors. This direct support means the program is tailored for each individual. These meetings can take place in person, over the phone, or via the web, and consultants help educate members about portion control strategies.
Consultants also coach people through the process of losing weight. A longer initial consultation helps members get oriented around the plan and set goals, followed by subsequent check-in counseling sessions to help members stay on track. Counselors can help members adjust as they progress on their weight loss journey. Once dieters have reached their goal weight, they can transition into a long-term maintenance approach.
Jenny Craig seeks to help members lose about one to two pounds per week, which the Centers for Disease Control recommends as safe and sustainable. The company also seeks to help people lead healthier lifestyles and develop better relationships with food.
Formerly known as Weight Watchers, WW is the largest commercial weight loss program in the U.S. today. It rebranded in 2018 to better reflect the company’s evolution away from simply focusing on the number on a scale to embracing an overall healthy lifestyle. WW is more than a program, it’s a community of people motivated to improve their health.
The company got its start in the 1960s, when founder Jean Nidetch began inviting friends to her New York home on a weekly basis to discuss weight loss strategies. The support group approach to weight loss worked, and soon it expanded well beyond Nidetch’s living room. In 1963, Weight Watchers incorporated, and by 1967, the company had more than 100 franchises around the world.
Over the years, the WW program has evolved to reflect advances in nutritional science and an interest in eating to prevent or control chronic disease, rather than simply to lose weight. What hasn’t changed is the idea of ongoing support for members as they work to better manage their food choices. Today, WW has more than 3,000 locations where members can meet with coaches and guides to help them stay on track. But in the digital age, many weight-loss tools and resources are also available online and through a mobile app.
The company’s new myWW program is the most customized weight-loss program ever offered by WW. It offers more flexibility and freedom than ever before. The new program leverages members’ food and lifestyle preferences to match them to one of three ways to follow the program, leading to clinically significant weight loss and reductions in hunger and cravings. This new approach represents a significant change and capitalizes on research that shows customized approaches lead to greater engagement and more behavior change than generic approaches. And research also shows that greater engagement in a behavior change weight loss program leads to weight loss.
The myWW programs place members into one of three food plans that correspond to their preferences, lifestyle, activity levels and goals. Members then follow the plan using the company’s SmartPoints system, which assigns a value to every food and drink. More than just counting calories, this approach considers calories, saturated fat, protein and sugar. The myWW program gives members a personalized amount of Daily SmartPoints, plus some extra Weekly SmartPoints for when flexibility is needed. Staying within the overall points budget results in weight loss.
Health benefits and weight loss
The health benefits of losing weight for those who are overweight or obese are well documented. The CDC reports that “even a modest weight loss, such as 5 to 10% of your total body weight, is likely to produce health benefits, such as improvements in blood pressure, blood cholesterol and blood sugars.” Keeping your weight down is also associated with lower incidence of Type 2 diabetes, stroke and some types of cancer.
In terms of effectiveness, both diets help people lose weight. One 2015 study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine found that dieters using the Jenny Craig program experienced at least 4.9% or greater weight loss at 12 months than the control group. That same 2015 study found that WW participants achieved at least 2.6% greater weight loss than the control group, and also the group that had education only.
The benefits of WW’s science-backed approach have been studied for years with 100-plus studies underscoring the program's efficacy. Most of these studies have been published in peer reviewed journals. Of note, a 2019 survey by Kantar Health of 500 doctors who recommend weight loss programs to patients ranked WW as the number one doctor-recommended weight loss Program.
Though neither program has any specific health risks, it’s important to make sure you’re meeting all of your nutritional needs. When trying to lose weight, cutting out or cutting back on certain foods could lead to deficiencies of some nutrients.
Pregnant women are excluded from participating in WW, as they should be guided by their physician on nutrition and healthy weight management, and children under 18 aren’t allowed to sign up for WW. That said, in summer 2019, the company launched a food and physical activity tracking app called Kurbo, aimed at teens and kids as young as 8, which was met with criticism.
Maintaining weight loss over the long term is a challenge for dieters. To assist with this, the Jenny Craig program begins having members add in more of their own meals once they’ve reached the halfway point to their weight loss goal.
One aspect of WW that many nutritionists like is that no food is off limits, and members are empowered to learn how to plan for treats and special occasions. Also, because dieters are already responsible for planning and making their own food, they have practice with managing meal prep and planning right from the beginning. When you reach your goal weight with WW, you can change your settings to “Healthy Habits” in the WW app, which helps those who want to build healthy habits without focusing on weight loss.
Jenny Craig has several different programs for members depending on how much weight you have to lose. All plans include coaching, consulting and menu planning. Plan fees are split into a membership fee and food costs.
The program includes a 12-month membership with a $99 enrollment fee and a $19 monthly subscription fee. The cost of food is added to these fees and costs less than $25 per day. This cost includes breakfast, lunch, dinner and two snacks. Enrollment fees are frequently discounted to entice new clients
WW offers several membership options to fit a variety of budgets. These include:
WW’s prices do not include the cost of food.
Which is better?
In 2019, WW tied for 4th place in U.S. News' Best Diets Overall ranking. The plan ranked No. 1 for weight loss and was also first in the commercial diets category. Those distinctions are consistent with the decades of clinical evidence on the program’s effectiveness.
Jenny Craig was right behind WW in the Best Weight-Loss Diets category, tying for third place. It ranks second in the Best Commercial Diet Plans ranking. Overall, it tied for 11th place.
The WW program is favored by many nutritionists for its sensible approach to weight management that educates members on how to manage their eating habits over the long term. But it takes some work, and members need to constantly track their food use and do their own cooking.
Jenny Craig may have a convenience advantage over WW, especially when you’re initially transitioning into a weight-loss regimen. For people who don’t have the time to cook or don’t enjoy meal prep and planning, Jenny Craig offers prepackaged meals and snacks that take a lot of the work out of sticking with the diet. However, this can make building the skills necessary to maintain weight loss over the longer term more difficult and may end up being more expensive than shopping and cooking on your own.
$450 average monthly cost, which includes food
Monthly cost ranges from $20 to $60, depending on the plan and doesn’t include food
Packaged food options are part of the program
Supply your own food and meal planning based on the SmartPoints system
|Weight Loss||1 to 2 pounds per week||1 to 2 pounds per week|
|Support||In-person or phone/online coaching sessions with a dedicated personal consultant||24/7 in-app chat feature available, in-person or phone/online coaching sessions and group meetings available with some plans|
Source: US News