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 study used functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS) to measure brain activity as inexperienced and experienced soccer players took penalty kicks.
- The new study is the first to use in-the-field imaging technology to measure brain activity as people delivered penalty kicks.
- Participants were asked to kick a total of 15 penalty shots under three different scenarios, each designed to be increasingly stressful.
- Kickers who missed shots showed higher activity in brain areas that were irrelevant to kicking a soccer ball, suggesting they were overthinking.
In a 2019 soccer match, Swansea City was down 1-0 against West Brom late in the first half. A penalty was called against West Brom. Swansea midfielder Bersant Celina was preparing to deliver a penalty kick. He scuttled up to the ball, but his foot only made partial contact, lobbing it weakly to the right.
Was it a simple mistake? Maybe. But there might be deeper explanations for why professional athletes choke under high-pressure situations.
A new study published in Frontiers in Computer Science used functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS) to analyze the brain activity of inexperienced and experienced soccer players as they missed penalty shots. Although past research has explored why soccer players miss penalty shots, the recent study is the first to do so using in-the-field fNIRS measurement.
The results showed that kickers who choked were activating parts of their brain associated with long-term thinking, self-instruction, and self-reflection. The chokers, in other words, were overthinking it.
The psychology of penalty kicks
Penalty shots offer an interesting case study of how mental pressure affects physical performance. After all, there's a lot at stake, not only because the kick can sometimes render a win or loss, but also because there are sometimes millions of people anxiously watching, some of whom might have a financial interest in the outcome.
That pressure is no joke. For example, research on Men's World Cup penalty shoot-outs has shown that when the score is tied and a goal means an immediate win, players score 92 percent of kicks. But when teams are facing elimination in a shootout, and the kick determines an immediate tie or loss, players only score 60 percent of the time.
"How can it be that football players with a near perfect control over the ball (they can very precisely kick a ball over more than 50 meters) fail to score a penalty kick from only 11 meters?" study co-author Max Slutter, of the University of Twente in the Netherlands, said in a press release.
"Obviously, huge psychological pressure plays a role, but why does this pressure cause a missed penalty? We tried to answer this by measuring the brain activity of football players during the physical execution of a penalty kick."
In the new study, the researchers aimed to answer two key questions about choking under pressure among both experienced and inexperienced players: (1) What is the difference in brain activity between success (scoring) and failure (missing) when taking a penalty kick? (2) What brain activity is associated with performing under pressure during a penalty kick situation?
To find out, the researchers asked ten experienced soccer players and twelve inexperienced players to participate in a penalty-kicking task. The task was divided into three rounds, each of which was designed to be increasingly stressful:
- Round 1 had no goalkeeper and was labeled as a practice round.
- Round 2 had a friendly goalkeeper who wasn't allowed to distract the kicker.
- Round 3 had a competitive goalkeeper who was allowed to distract the kicker, and kickers were also competing for a prize.
Participants kicked five shots in each round. They wore a fNIRS-equipped headset during the task that measured activity in various parts of the brain.
All participants performed worse in the second and third rounds and reported experiencing the most pressure in the third round. Inexperienced players performed worse than experienced players, which might suggest that they were less able to deal with the mental stress.
The locations in which experienced and inexperienced players kicked the ball in each round. Red dots represent missed penalties and green dots represent scored penalties.Slutter et al., Frontiers in Computer Science, 2021.
The neuroscience of choke artists
So, what types of brain activity were associated with missed shots?
The most noticeable result was that kickers missed more shots when they showed higher activity in their prefrontal cortex (PFC), an area of the brain associated with long-term planning. This was especially true among participants who reported higher levels of anxiety. More specifically, experienced soccer players who missed shots showed high activity in the left temporal cortex, which is related to self-instruction and self-reflection.
"By activating the left temporal cortex more, experienced players neglect their automated skills and start to overthink the situation," the researchers wrote. "This increase can be seen as a distracting factor."
Also, when players of all experience levels felt anxious and missed shots, they showed less activity in the motor cortex, which is the brain area most directly associated with kicking a penalty shot.
Don't overthink it
The results suggest that mental pressure can activate parts of the brain that are irrelevant to the task at hand. In general, expert athletes show more efficient brain activity — that is, more activity in relevant areas, and less activity in irrelevant areas — and therefore experience fewer distractions. This is likely one reason why they were more successful at penalties than inexperienced players in high-stress situations.
This principle is described by neural efficiency theory, and it applies not only to athletes but experts in any field. As you gain mastery over something, you can rely more on automatic brain processes rather than deliberate thinking, which can lead to distractions. The authors of the study concluded that their results provide supporting evidence for neural efficiency theory.
Still, as long our experts are human, it seems that high-pressure situations can turn anyone into a choke artist.
What's the difference between brainwashing and rehabilitation?
- The book and movie, A Clockwork Orange, powerfully asks us to consider the murky lines between rehabilitation, brainwashing, and dehumanization.
- There are a variety of ways, from hormonal treatment to surgical lobotomies, to force a person to be more law abiding, calm, or moral.
- Is a world with less free will but also with less suffering one in which we would want to live?
Alex is a criminal. A violent and sadistic criminal. So, we decide to do something about it. We're going to "rehabilitate" him.
Using a new and exciting "Ludovico" technique, we'll change his brain chemistry to make him an upstanding, moral citizen. Alex will be forced to watch violent movies as his body is pumped with nausea-inducing drugs. After a while, he'll come to associate violence with this horrible sickness. And, after a course of Ludovico, Alex can happily return to society, never again doing an immoral or illegal act. He'll no longer be a danger to himself or anyone else.
This is the story of A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess, and it raises important questions about the nature of moral decisions, free will, and the limits of rehabilitation.
Today's Clockwork Orange
This might seem like unbelievable science fiction, but it might be truer — and nearer — than we think. In 2010, Dr. Molly Crockett did a series of experiments on moral decision-making and serotonin levels. Her results showed that people with more serotonin were less aggressive or confrontational and much more easy-going and forgiving. When we're full of serotonin, we let insults pass, are more empathetic, and are less willing to do harm.
As Fydor Dostoyevsky wrote in The Brothers Karamazov, if the "entrance fee" for having free will is the horrendous suffering we see all around us, then "I hasten to return my ticket."
The idea that biology affects moral decisions is obvious. Most of us are more likely to be short-tempered and spiteful if we're tired or hungry, for instance. Conversely, we have the patience of a saint if we just have received some good news, had half a bottle of wine, or had sex.
If our decision-making can be manipulated or determined by our biology, should we not try various interventions to prevent the criminally inclined from harming others?
What is the point of prison? This is itself no easy question, and it's one with a rich philosophical debate. Surely one of the biggest reasons is to protect society by preventing criminals from reoffending. This might be achievable by manipulating a felon's serotonin levels, but why not go even further?
Today, we know enough about the brain to have identified a very particular part of the prefrontal cortex responsible for aggressive behavior. We know that certain abnormalities in the amygdala can result in anti-social behavior and rule breaking. If the purpose of the penal system is to rehabilitate, then why not "edit" these parts of the brain in some way? This could be done in a variety of ways.
Credit: Otis Historical Archives National Museum of Health and Medicine via Flickr / Wikipedia
Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) is a surprisingly common practice in much of the developed world. Its supporters say that it can help relieve major mental health issues such as depression or bipolar disorder as well as alleviate certain types of seizures. Historically, and controversially, it has been used to "treat" homosexuality and was used to threaten those misbehaving in hospitals in the 1950s (as notoriously depicted in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest). Of course, these early and crude efforts at ECT were damaging, immoral, and often left patients barely able to function as humans. Today, neuroscience and ECT are much more sophisticated. If we could easily "treat" those with aggressive or anti-social behavior, then why not?
Ideally, we might use techniques such as ECT or hormonal supplementation, but failing that, why not go even further? Why not perform a lobotomy? If the purpose of the penal system is to change the felon for the better, we should surely use all the tools at our disposal. With one fairly straightforward surgery to the prefrontal cortex, we could turn a violent, murderous criminal into a docile and law-abiding citizen. Should we do it?
Is free will worth it?
As Burgess, who penned A Clockwork Orange, wrote, "Is a man who chooses to be bad perhaps in some way better than a man who has the good imposed upon him?"
Intuitively, many say yes. Moral decisions must, in some way, be our own. Even if we know that our brains determine our actions, it's still me who controls my brain, no one else. Forcing someone to be good, by molding or changing their brain, is not creating a moral citizen. It's creating a law-abiding automaton. And robots are not humans.
And yet, it begs the question: is "free choice" worth all the evil in the world?
If my being brainwashed or "rehabilitated" means children won't die malnourished or the Holocaust would never happen, then so be it. If lobotomizing or neuro-editing a serial killer will prevent them from killing again, is that not a sacrifice worth making? There's no obvious reason why we should value free will above morality or the right to life. A world without murder and evil — even if it meant a world without free choices for some — might not be such a bad place.
As Fyodor Dostoyevsky wrote in The Brothers Karamazov, if the "entrance fee" for having free will is the horrendous suffering we see all around us, then "I hasten to return my ticket." Free will's not worth it.
Do you think the Ludovico technique from A Clockwork Orange is a great idea? Should we turn people into moral citizens and shape their brains to choose only what is good? Or is free choice more important than all the evil in the world?
A simple trick allowed marine biologists to prove a long-held suspicion.
- It's long been suspected that sharks navigate the oceans using Earth's magnetic field.
- Sharks are, however, difficult to experiment with.
- Using magnetism, marine biologists figured out a clever way to fool sharks into thinking they're somewhere that they're not.
For some time, scientists have suspected that sharks belong among the growing number of animals known to navigate using Earth's magnetic field. Testing anything with a shark, though, requires some care.
The key was selecting the right candidate. Keller and his colleagues chose the bonnethead shark, Sphyrna tiburo, a small critter that summers at Turkey Point Shoal off the coast of the Florida State University Coastal and Marine Laboratory with which Keller is affiliated.
Bonnetheads elsewhere have been known to complete 620-mile roundtrip migrations. As the lab's Dean Grubbs puts it, "That's not bad for a shark that is only two to three feet long. The question is how do they find their way back to that same estuary year after year." There's a report of a great white shark migrating between two locations, one in South Africa and another in Australia, year after year.
The research is published in Current Biology.
Keller and his team rounded up 20 local juvenile bonnetheads and transported them into a holding tank at the marine lab. For the tests, the researchers simulated three real-world magnetic fields. As the various magnetic fields were activated, the sharks' movements were captured by GoPro cameras and their average swimming orientations calculated by software.
The first simulation, serving as a control, mimicked the magnetic field of the nearby shoal from which the sharks had been captured. When this field was activated, the sharks essentially acted like they were "home," just swimming around as they do.
A second field was the magnetic equivalent of a location 600 kilometers south of the lab within the Gulf of Mexico. When this field was activated, the sharks, apparently mistaking themselves for being far south in the Gulf, began swimming northward toward the shoal.
The opposite occurred with a field standing in for a location in continental North America 600 km north of their home shoal — the sharks began swimming southward.
"For 50 years," says Keller, "scientists have hypothesized that sharks use the magnetic field as a navigational aid. This theory has been so popular because sharks, skates, and rays have been shown to be very sensitive to magnetic fields. They have also been trained to react to unique geomagnetic signatures, so we know they are capable of detecting and reacting to variation in the magnetic field."
His team's experiments confirm what's long been suspected, Keller says: "Sharks use map-like information from the geomagnetic field as a navigational aid. This ability is useful for navigation and possibly maintaining population structure."
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