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Comparing Diet Program Costs: Which Program is Most and Least Expensive?

It’s the beginning of a new year and the television waves are gluttonous with meal-delivery diet commercials. Each company is trying to outdo the competition by showing slim, smiling models eating calorie and fat-laden foods like pizza, cheese curls, pasta, muffins, French fries and even burgers (probably sprayed with a zero-calorie lube to make them appear greasy). The models appear so satisfied that you almost believe they had just finished chowing down on a Philly Cheesesteak instead of the low-carb version of a baked potato. In fact, the only foods missing on diet program commercials seem to be what you actually should be eating more of: fresh fruits and vegetables!

I have never tried a dieting program. In fact the closest I ever came to doing so was during college when I would sneak into “The Cove” snack shack for a Slim-Fast Meal Replacement Bar in between classes. I mistakenly thought these bars were snacks because the flavor was chocolate chip cookie dough, and also because they were just enough to hold me over until an hour or so later when I could go home and cook lunch or dinner. Thank goodness I was too busy using up energy and burning calories by doing things like taking 22 credits in one semester while working part time; otherwise these meal replacement bars probably would have contributed to the “Freshman 15”!

Despite having never tried a diet program, I am curious about the cost involved and think it is important to share my research because I know many others are trying to sift through all of the information to figure out whether or not they should try a diet program. What I have found is that there are so many options out there that it is hard to find the differences between each program. If certain programs are going to charge much more than others, I think we should all compare to find out if the extra cost is truly worth it. For the sake of this article, I established a cost for one person to be on the plan for three months because I think a person will probably need to be on a diet program for at least this length of time in order to make the lifestyle changes they need to achieve their goals.

The programs I chose to compare are listed below from the most expensive to the least expensive.

Pssst: Another thing that can jumpstart your dieting? Is doing a weight loss competition.

Meal Delivery Program Cost Comparison

  • Jenny Craig: This program offers meals as well as a partnership with a personal consultant. You pay for your food and an introductory promotional amount of money (sometimes it’s $20 for 20 lbs., and sometimes it’s $1.00 for all the weight you want to lose). While I cannot find any information on the Jenny Craig website about prices for the food and program, I found someone who has posted the Jenny Craig Price List for 2011. How much you will actually pay is up in the air, but many sites claim it is between $14-$19 per day for food. I took the lowest costing breakfast, lunch, and dinner entrees from these price lists and found that I could pay $11.57 for one day for the following food: a Honey Oat Bar or Oatmeal Breakfast Sandwich, a Broccoli and Cheese Potato for lunch, and a Beef Chili with Beans for dinner (no snacks or desserts included). Other sites say the cost is approximately $500 per month. If we take the low end of this estimate, then over three months this would cost approximately $1,500. This does not include supplements to the diet like fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains and reduced-fat dairy products.
  • NutriSystem: This diet program offers portion-controlled meals in microwave-ready packages. Counselors are available over the phone and a guide is sent to the home; however, this program does not appear to be as hands-on and personalized as Jenny Craig’s program. On the internet people have estimated the cost to be around $11 per day for food; however, on NutriSystem commercials they are stating it is approximately $9 per day for food. A Wikipedia article states that as of July 2011, the cost per month was between $279.99 and $339.99,which does not include additional grocery items you must purchase (fruits, vegetables, dairy, meat, etc.). A three month estimate would be between $839.97 and $1019.97. At $9 per day, the cost for three months would be $810.00.

Meetings in Person

  • Weight watchers: This program does not provide food, but rather accountability, meetings, and the PointsPlus® 2012 system. There is a registration fee as well as a weekly meeting fee (it should be noted that the $20 registration fee is being waived until March 24, 2012 in many areas). The weekly meeting cost varies by region; in Houston it is $13.00 per meeting if I pay as I go, or $11.41 per week for a 17 week pass ($194). You can also purchase a monthly pass for $42.95 that includes unlimited meetings and FREE access to eTools, the Internet weight-loss companion that has interactive tools, tips and recipes. You could also get lifetime membership status after meeting certain goals which entitles you to free meetings for as long as you maintain certain weight requirements. Approximate three month cost of this program is $128.85-$156.00.

Online Dieting Communities

  • Weight Watcher’s Online: This site offers all of the materials and information for the points program online, as well as access to recipes, tracking/charting of points via a mobile phone, etc. The cost per month is $18.95. Total cost for 3 months is $56.85.
  • South Beach Diet Online: This site offers a customized meal plan, over 1,000 recipes (here is a sampling of the recipes), tracking of your weight/phase/diet goals, and 24 hour online/community support. You can check out a review by US News. The first 7 days are free, then after that it is $5 per week. Total cost for 3 months is $55.00.
  • Atkins:  Atkins offers a free online community with recipes, tips, body mass index (BMI) calculator, meal plans, etc. Total cost for 3 months is $0.00.

Even though people tend to swear by one program or another, I think you can probably succeed on any of the programs if you truly put in the effort and change your diet/exercise habits. Still, we each have to find what works best for us. Financially speaking, many of these programs are too cost prohibitive to even be an option; think about it, if you choose a meal delivery program not only do you have to purchase up to $1500 worth of food for yourself over three months, but you also need to continue to purchase normal groceries because the other people you live with will most likely not be on this diet with you (and if they are, multiply the cost by two).

Honestly, I think the meal delivery costs are staggering and have started to wonder if getting premade food sent to your home is comparable to hiring a personal chef to come to your home and cook several freshly prepared and healthy meals per week for your entire family. In Wednesday’s article I am going to discuss how to save money on diet programs and some frugal alternatives that, with some motivation and follow-through, should get you to the same destination at a fraction of the cost.

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Amanda L. Grossman is a writer and Certified Financial Education Instructor, Plutus Foundation Grant Recipient, and founder of Frugal Confessions. Over the last 13 years, her money work has helped people with how to save money and how to manage money. She's been featured in the Wall Street Journal, Kiplinger, Washington Post, U.S. News & World Report, Business Insider, LifeHacker, Real Simple Magazine, Woman's World, Woman's Day, ABC 13 Houston, Keybank, and more. Read more here.

101 Centavos

Tuesday 24th of January 2012

Just to inject a contrary voice, *all* these programs are overpriced.

A good book or two on nutrition from the library, and some willpower.

Both are free.

Amanda L Grossman

Tuesday 24th of January 2012

These are definitely expensive options, though joining the Atkins community is free. The next article I wrote is where I discuss ways to save money on dieting, and books from the library is one of the ideas!


Wednesday 18th of January 2012

Hey Amanda, thanks for linking my article :). I think pre-made diets are good for people who have real trouble but I think taking diet into your own hands is better for long term chances of staying healthy.


Wednesday 18th of January 2012

Hi Forest!

Absolutely--hope your new site is going well.


Wednesday 18th of January 2012

I just went for the "eat less" diet. I allowed myself to eat whatever I wanted and pretty much the same food as before but I measured it and watched the calories so that I ate less. This diet actually cost me less than not dieting.

Actually, it's even cheaper because there were times when I would buy a $1 tv dinner to not have to cook anything and it was in my calories. That would be cheaper than most things I might cook. And it's certainly a lot cheaper than what I would have eaten if I wasn't dieting.

My GF tried the nutrisystem one. It was horrible. Our dogs could barely choke down some of the food they provide.


Wednesday 18th of January 2012

That's pretty bad if the dogs won't eat it....

Thanks for sharing!

Kylie Ofiu

Wednesday 18th of January 2012

I scored a free weight watchers membership so have been using that, but don't think I could bring myself to pay for anything. My friends have used a variety of aps for their phones with great success.

Thanks for breaking it all down Amanda.


Wednesday 18th of January 2012

Nice one Kylie! How did you score the free membership, and for how long is it?

JP @ Novel Investor

Tuesday 17th of January 2012

With any weight loss it still leads to having to exercise. Which I'd rather spend the money on instead of meal plans. If you are really serious about dropping the pounds, you might as well get used to shopping for better food.


Wednesday 18th of January 2012

I don't think you can lose all of the weight you want without exercise; and if you did, your body still needs exercise.