Nutrisystem review: The key to losing weight—and keeping it off
Nutrisystem is a smarter weight-loss program that users enjoy.
- The societal and economic consequences of obesity cannot be ignored.
- The economic impact is up to $190 billion every year in America.
- Americans spend up to $2.5 billion each year on popular weight-loss programs.
Weight loss is big business. Thousands of influencers try to coax you in with brightly colored videos and overproduced photos on Instagram. They guarantee their method works for everybody. Nutrition is too complex for a one-size-fits-all plan, however. We all have different bodies with varying metabolism rates. An individualized program is more beneficial than a cookie-cutter program.
If you've ever tried to lose weight, you know how frustrating it is. We begin a program with enthusiasm and commitment only to trail off in a few weeks. That's the problem with many weight loss programs: they're like filler calories that taste good at first, only to leave you feeling hungry.
Nutrisystem was created in the 1970s by Harold Katz. The entrepreneur was living on a liquid-based diet for weight loss. While this method worked to some degree, Katz realized people want to eat real food. He spent years tweaking his system in order to help people feel sated, enjoy their food, and lose weight.
What Katz realized—what has made Nutrisystem successful in helping people lose weight for nearly five decades—is that people need personalized plans. Nutrisystem is a diet plan service with a variety of pre-packaged, ready-to-eat food, delivered at your door. The menu includes everything from burgers, pizzas and pasta to chocolate desserts and beverages. However, everything is provided following a plan of portion control and healthy eating.
Nutrisystem's Personal Plans provide six small meals a day that are nutritionally balanced for your body. With hundreds of choices designed by expert chefs, variety will never be an issue. And the free weight loss app that accompanies each plan keeps you engaged with your program.
Sure, there are universal principles to weight loss, such as lowering your calorie intake. This is no starvation diet. Finding a diet that both satisfies daily caloric intake and keeps you engaged in a long-term commitment is challenging. This is where Nutrisystem excels.
The economics of obesity
The obesity crisis in America has profoundly changed the health of our nation. Two-thirds of American adults are now overweight or obese. Excess body weight creates numerous health problems, such as increased risk for heart disease, hypertension, cancer, sleep apnea, stroke, and type 2 diabetes. Tragically, the steep rise in obesity rates can, in large part, be traced back to the surge in processed foods made with filler ingredients, questionable preservatives, and excessive sugars.
That's part of what makes losing weight so difficult. Supermarket shelves are stocked with processed foods. A whopping 74 percent of packaged foods contain added sugars, which are conveniently disguised under 61 different names, including dextrose, maltose, and treacle. You shouldn't have to play detective every time you go to the grocery store.
Obesity has real-world consequences. Every year, up to $6.38 billion is lost in productivity costs due to obesity-related absenteeism. That number only accounts for people taking off of work. Overall, obesity-related costs in America are estimated to be $147 billion every year. One study shows that cost was $190 billion in 2005.
Overweight citizens are also more likely to suffer from poor mental health. The combination of poor self-image, social stigma, lack of exercise, and biological issues due to obesity increase the likelihood that someone will be anxious or depressed. This creates a crippling feedback loop: diets high in sugars and carbohydrates, which are fueling the rise in obesity, are also linked to poor mental health.
Many people want a solution that works. In 2014, Americans spent roughly $2.5 billion on commercial or proprietary weight loss programs. As a society, we pay the price of obesity in the form of work absenteeism, inflated health care costs, and mental health issues, and we pay trying to solve it. Finding a solution to this problem is of utmost importance.
Losing weight—and keeping it off
Calorie in, calorie out is a simplistic approach to weight loss. We have different metabolism rates; the constitution of our microbiomes vary. Calorie-counting is one method that's nearly guaranteed to fizzle out. This method also overlooks one of the most important aspects of weight loss: food is emotional. Few people stick to diets they don't enjoy.
This is where Nutrisystem comes in. Instead of a false promise of rapid weight loss, the Nutrisystem Personal Plan is designed to help you lose a healthy 1-2 pounds every week while enjoying your favorite foods. More importantly, the weight stays off.
What you won't get in your Nutrisystem deliveries are excess fillers and hidden sugars prevalent in packaged foods. There are no artificial flavors or sweeteners, high-fructose corn syrup, trans fat, or artificial colorings. You'll never receive deep-fried foods, fatty cut meats, potatoes, full-fat dairy, pasta, or ice cream. Every meal is created by an expert chef and all plans are reviewed by a Science Advisory Board.
If you suffer from type 2 diabetes or are pre-diabetic, Nutrisystem has a plan for you. They also offer a wonderful vegetarian option. Beyond these two plans, Nutrisystem offers four others:
- Nutrisystem Basic. Three pre-planned meals a day plus snacks, designed for customers that want to lose weight and maintain lean muscle.
- Nutrisystem Core. Three meals plus snacks that you choose from over 100 different foods. Customers at this level have access to a certified dietary coach.
- Uniquely Yours. The most popular meal plan lets customers choose from over 160 meals, including frozen meals.
- Uniquely Yours Ultimate. All of the above plus an additional 28 shake options.
Most importantly, all meals are balanced. That means you'll only receive meals that meet national guidelines for total fat, saturated fat, trans fat, sodium, carbohydrates, fiber, protein, and added sugars. Once you've hit your target weight, Nutrisystem offers maintenance programs so that you keep it off for good.
The flexibility in Nutrisystem's program makes it even more effective. You'll never feel guilty about "cheat meals"—Nutrisystem offers guidance to eating at restaurants so that you won't have to sacrifice an evening out. By having your meals and snacks delivered, you'll save time in the kitchen. And the Nutrisystem app offers free counseling services, lifestyle hacks, and progress tracking.
Nutrisystem realizes no one loses weight by themselves. By signing up for a Personal Plan, you'll have access to trained weight-loss coaches, registered dietitians, and certified diabetes educators. In 2019, Newsweek ranked Nutrisystem #1 in customer service for nutrition and weight-loss programs. This might be the program you've been looking for.
A new episode of "Your Brain on Money" illuminates the strange world of consumer behavior and explores how brands can wreak havoc on our ability to make rational decisions.
- Effective branding can not only change how you feel about a company, it can actually change how your brain is wired.
- Our new series "Your Brain on Money," created in partnership with Million Stories, recently explored the surprising ways brands can affect our behavior.
- Brands aren't going away. But you can make smarter decisions by slowing down and asking yourself why you're making a particular purchase.
How Apple and Nike have branded your brain | Your Brain on Money | Big Think youtu.be
Brands can manipulate our brains in surprisingly profound ways. They can change how we conceptualize ourselves and how we broadcast our identities out to the social world. They can make us feel emotions that have nothing to do with the functions of their products. And they can even sort us into tribes.
To grasp the power of brands, look to Apple. In the 1990s, the company was struggling to compete with Microsoft over the personal computer market. Despite flirting with bankruptcy in the mid-1990s, Apple turned itself around to eventually become the most valuable company in the world.
That early-stage success wasn't due to superior products.
"People talk about technology, but Apple was a marketing company," John Sculley, a former Apple marketing executive, told The Guardian in 1997. "It was the marketing company of the decade."
So, how exactly does branding make people willing to wait hours in line to buy a $1,000 smartphone, or pay exorbitant prices for a pair of sneakers?
Branding and the brain
For more than a century, brands have capitalized on the fact that effective marketing is much more than simply touting the merits of a product. Some ads have nothing to do with the product at all. In 1871, for example, Pearl Tobacco started advertising their cigarettes through branded posters and trading cards that featured exposed women, a trend that continues to this day.
It's crude, sure. But research shows that it's also remarkably effective, even on monkeys. Why? The answer seems to center on how our brains pay special attention to information from the social world.
"In theory, ads that associate sex or status with specific brands or products activate the brain mechanisms that prioritize social information, and turning on this switch may bias us toward the product," wrote neuroscience professor Michael Platt for Scientific American.
Brands can burrow themselves deep into our subconscious. Through ad campaigns, brands can form a web of associations and memories in our brains. When these connections are robust and positive, it can change our behavior, nudging us to make "no-brainer" purchases when we encounter the brand at the store.
It's a marketing principle that's related to the work of Daniel Kahneman, a psychologist and economist who won the 2002 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences. In his book "Thinking Fast and Slow", Kahneman separates thinking into two broad categories, or systems:
- System 1 is fast and automatic, requiring little effort or voluntary control.
- System 2 is slow and requires subjective deliberation and logic.
Brands that tap into "system 1" are likely to dominate the competition. After all, it's far easier for us as consumers to automatically reach for a familiar brand than it is to analyze all of the available information and make an informed choice. Still, the most successful brands can have an even deeper impact on our psychology, one that causes us to conceptualize them as something like a family member.
A peculiar relationship with brands
Apple has one of the most loyal customer bases in the world, with its brand loyalty hitting an all-time high earlier this year, according to a SellCell survey of more than 5,000 U.S.-based smartphone users.
Qualitatively, how does that loyalty compare to Samsung users? To find out, Platt and his team conducted a study in which functional magnetic resonance imaging scanned the brains of Samsung and Apple users as they viewed positive, negative, and neutral news about each company. The results revealed stark differences between the two groups, as Platt wrote in "The Leader's Brain":
"Apple users showed empathy for their own brand: The reward-related areas of the brain were activated by good news about Apple, and the pain and negative feeling parts of the brain were activated by bad news. They were neutral about any kind of Samsung news. This is exactly what we see when people empathize with other people—particularly their family and friends—but don't feel the joy and pain of people they don't know."
Meanwhile, Samsung users didn't show any significant pain- or pleasure-related brain activity when they saw good or bad news about the company.
"Interestingly, though, the pain areas were activated by good news about Apple, and the reward areas were activated by bad news about the rival company—some serious schadenfreude, or "reverse empathy," Platt wrote.
The results suggest a fundamental difference between the brands: Apple has formed strong emotional and social connections with consumers, Samsung has not.
Brands and the self
Does having a strong connection with a brand justify paying higher prices for their products? Maybe. You could have a strong connection with Apple or Nike and simultaneously think the quality of their products justifies the price.
But beyond product quality lies identity. People have long used objects and clothing to express themselves and signal their affiliation with groups. From prehistoric seashell jewelry to Air Jordans, the things people wear and associate with signal a lot of information about how they conceptualize themselves.
Since the 1950s, researchers have examined the relationship between self-image and brand preferences. This body of research has generally found that consumers tend to prefer brands whose products fit well with their self-image, a concept known as self-image congruity.
By choosing brands that don't disrupt their self-image, consumers are able not only to express themselves personally, but also broadcast a specific version of themselves into the social world. That might sound self-involved. But on the other hand, humans are social creatures who use information from the social world to make decisions, so it's virtually impossible for us not to make inferences about people based on how they present themselves.
Americus Reed II, a marketing professor at the University of Pennsylvania, told Big Think:
"When I make choices about different brands, I'm choosing to create an identity. When I put that shirt on, when I put that shirt on — those jeans, that hat — someone is going to form an impression about what I'm about. So, if I'm choosing Nike over Under Armour, I'm choosing a kind of different way to express affiliation with sport. The Nike thing is about performance. The Under Armour thing is about the underdog. I have to choose which of these different conceptual pathways is most consistent with where I am in my life."
Making smarter decisions
Brands may have some power over us when we're facing a purchasing decision. So, considering brands aren't going away, what can we do to make better choices? The best strategy might be to slow down and try to avoid making "automatic" purchasing decisions that are characteristic of Kahneman's fast "system 1" mode of thinking.
"I think it's important to always pause and think a little bit about, "Okay, why am I buying this product?" Platt said.
As for getting out of the brand game altogether? Good luck.
"I've heard lots of people push back and say, "I'm not into brands,"" Reed II said. "I take a very different view. In some senses, they're not doing anything different than what someone who affiliates with a brand is doing. They have a brand. It's just an anti-brand brand."
Powerful branding can not only change how you feel about a company, it can actually change how your brain is wired.
- Powerful branding can not only change how you feel about a company, it can actually change how your brain is wired.
- "We love to think of ourselves as rational. That's not how it works," says UPenn professor Americus Reed II about our habits (both conscious and subconscious) of paying more for items based primarily on the brand name. Effective marketing causes the consumer to link brands like Apple and Nike with their own identity, and that strong attachment goes deeper than receipts.
- Using MRI, professor and neuroscientist Michael Platt and his team were able to see this at play. When reacting to good or bad news about the brand, Samsung users didn't have positive or negative brain responses, yet they did have "reverse empathy" for bad news about Apple. Meanwhile, Apple users showed a "brain empathy response for Apple that was exactly what you'd see in the way you would respond to somebody in your family."
Evolution proves to be just about as ingenious as Nikola Tesla
- For the first time, scientists developed 3D scans of shark intestines to learn how they digest what they eat.
- The scans reveal an intestinal structure that looks awfully familiar — it looks like a Tesla valve.
- The structure may allow sharks to better survive long breaks between feasts.
Considering how much sharks are feared by humans, it is a bit of a surprise that scientists don't know much about the predators. For example, until recently, sharks were thought to be solitary creatures searching the seas for food on their own. Now it appears that some sharks are quite social.
Another mystery is how these prehistoric swimming and eating machines digest food. Although scientists have made 2D sketches of captured sharks' digestive systems based on dissections, there is a limit to what can be learned in this way. Professor Adam Summers at University of Washington's Friday Harbor Labs says:
"Intestines are so complex, with so many overlapping layers, that dissection destroys the context and connectivity of the tissue. It would be like trying to understand what was reported in a newspaper by taking scissors to a rolled-up copy. The story just won't hang together."
Summers is co-author of a new study that has produced the first 3D scans of a shark's intestines, which turns out to have a strange, corkscrew structure. What's even more bizarre is that it resembles the amazing one-way valve designed by inventor Nikola Tesla in 1920. The research is published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.
What a 3D model reveals
Video: Pacific spiny dogfish intestine youtu.be
According to the study's lead author Samantha Leigh, "It's high time that some modern technology was used to look at these really amazing spiral intestines of sharks. We developed a new method to digitally scan these tissues and now can look at the soft tissues in such great detail without having to slice into them."
"CT scanning is one of the only ways to understand the shape of shark intestines in three dimensions," adds Summers. The researchers scanned the intestines of nearly three dozen different shark species.
It is believed that sharks go for extended periods — days or even weeks — between big meals. The scans reveal that food passes slowly through the intestine, affording sharks' digestive system the time to fully extract its nutrient value. The researchers hypothesize that such a slow digestive process may also require less energy.
It could be that this slow digestion is more susceptible to back flow given that the momentum of digested food through the tract must be minimal. Perhaps that is why sharks evolved something so similar to a Tesla valve.
What is Tesla's valve doing there?
Above, a Tesla valve. Below, a shark intestine.Credit: Samantha Leigh / California State University, Domi
Tesla's "valvular conduit," or what the world now calls a "Tesla valve," is a one-way valve with no moving parts. Its brilliance is based in fluid dynamics and only now coming to be fully appreciated. Essentially, a series of teardrop-shaped loops arranged along the length of the valve allow water to flow easily in one direction but not in the other. Modern tests reveal that at low flow rates, water can travel through the valve either way, but at high flow rates, the design kicks in. According to mathematician Leif Ristroph:
"Crucially, this turn-on comes with the generation of turbulent flows in the reverse direction, which 'plug' the pipe with vortices and disrupting currents. Moreover, the turbulence appears at far lower flow rates than have ever previously been observed for pipes of more standard shapes — up to 20 times lower speed than conventional turbulence in a cylindrical pipe or tube. This shows the power it has to control flows, which could be used in many applications."
A deeper dive
Summers suggests the scans are just the beginning. "The vast majority of shark species, and the majority of their physiology, are completely unknown," says Summers, adding that "every single natural history observation, internal visualization, and anatomical investigation shows us things we could not have guessed at."
To this end, the researchers plan to use 3D printing to produce models through which they can observe the behavior of different substances passing through them — after all, sharks typically eat fish, invertebrates, mammals, and seagrass. They also plan to explore with engineers ways in which the shark intestine design could be used industrially, perhaps for the treatment of wastewater or for filtering microplastics.
It could fairly be said, though, that Nikola Tesla was 100 years ahead of them.
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