Why Jenny Craig Couldn’t Last in the Osempian Age
In 1990, Jenny Craig herself appeared in a commercial for her then new diet plan of the same name. Sitting in a dark purple blouse against a light, hazy background, she smiles warmly as she says: “I think everyone – everyone wants to lose weight quickly and easily.”
She goes on to tease the benefits of the program, albeit vaguely.
“You have to have that one-on-one support, and also the group support,” she said. “And the lifestyle classes are very important … When we feel like we̵[ads1]7;ve been really successful is when clients tell us, ‘I can’t remember eating any other way.'”
As a child of the 90s, these commercials were part of my daily media consumption, as were ads for products like SlimFast and Special K, as well as competing weight loss programs like Weight Watchers and Atkins.
But now, nearly 33 years later, the company has said it will close “due to an inability to secure additional financing,” according to an email obtained by NBC News on Tuesday.
As of publication, the company operated approximately 500 company-owned and franchised stores in the United States and Canada; it currently employs more than 1,000 people, ranging from corporate employees to hourly center staff. Two of the company’s employees told NBC they expect the company to file for bankruptcy by the end of the week.
This is not because of a sudden cultural lack of interest in weight loss. According to a 2023 survey commissioned by Nutrisystem (which, let’s be real, obviously has a vested interest in the subject), of Americans who have tried to lose weight at any point in their lives, 95% have tried to lose weight within the last five years. 44 percent of respondents actually gained 21 pounds or more during this period.
Figures from the Center for Disease Control are a little less recent or drastic, but still show that between 2013 and 2016, almost half – 49.1% – of adults had tried to lose weight in the past twelve months. Some of these people may have sought to lose weight under a doctor’s guidance for a specific health problem, but there is a large, large percentage who are trying for other reasons.
Ignoring for a moment the toxicity of diet culture and the insidious ways its tentacles touch everything from pharmaceuticals to social media marketing (trust me, we’ll get back to that), the audience for weight loss programs is clearly still there. So why couldn’t Jenny Craig and its promise to “make weight loss easier with great food, unparalleled support and the latest science-backed strategies” hack it into another decade of dieting?
In large part, I think it’s because the way we talk about weight loss has changed steadily over the past 30 years. Terms like “body positivity” and “body neutrality” have entered the cultural lexicon and done a world of good in educating the wider public about how real, measurable health is possible at any size. Of course, this movement has seen some pretty vile backlash, particularly aimed at the celebrities, like Lizzo and Ashley Graham, who display their messages.
For all the work we’ve done as a society to recognize that fatness is not a moral failing, in a display of enormous collective dissonance, we still see thinness as a moral good.
But for all the work we’ve done as a society to recognize that fatness is not a moral failing, in a display of enormous collective dissonance, we still see thinness as a moral good. Even if it’s not stated—and it often is—it’s evident all around us, from Tinder profiles looking for “exclusively athletic” partners, to the TV trope of the fat best friend, to movies like “Brittany Runs a Marathon ».
Put another way, tight now, there are many Americans whose dirty secret is that they still want to lose weight; they just don’t necessarily want to admit it. That’s where Jenny Craig’s program as it currently exists was no longer sustainable — and where more modern, predatory companies can swoop in with surface-level messaging that satisfies the common desire despite actually selling many of the same core beliefs.
Jenny Craig is a hybrid weight loss program that, depending on the package you purchase, combines in-person or online consultations and weighing with a menu of nearly 100 frozen, prepackaged meals delivered to customers’ homes. From the jump, it’s clear that the program is a real commitment. Customers are advised not to cook at home until they are at least halfway to their weight loss goal. Then they get to cook some meals at home. When clients reach their target weight, they spend four weeks transitioning to home-cooked meals.
While some users experienced success on Jenny Craig, the program was also fraught with problems. According to a 2023 Forbes report, the meal plan last ranged in price from $97.93 to $203 per week, which meant some users were essentially making another rent payment to afford the plan, which doesn’t take into account groceries needed by the rest of the household.
In addition, most of the plans came in at or around 1,200 calories which, as reporter Scaachi Koul wrote in 2021, “according to most nutritionists or food experts, is a restrictive, unsustainable, probably unhealthy diet for any adult woman.” Jamie Nadeau, a nutritionist, told Buzzfeed News that level of calorie restriction is actually only enough daily nutrition if you’re an “80-ish pound dog or a toddler.”
As Koul writes, most regimented diet programs, like Weight Watchers, are similarly based on a 1,200 calorie intake, just hidden behind a “points” system so it doesn’t feel like counting calories. However, even Weight Watchers has changed the brand name to emphasize the “weight” in their name; now the company only goes by WW.
Similarly, as of August 2022, the makers of South Beach Diet, another original competitor to Jenny Craig’s, announced that the company is “taking a break” from home delivery of frozen diet foods and à la carte foods, and instead recommends people visit the blog site , The Palm. So, what will replace these diet industry veterans as they reinvent themselves?
You end up with programs like Noom. In the original marketing for the app, potential customers were told they would learn how to “stop dieting” because the program was instead focused on cultivating daily behavioral changes for long-term weight loss. Users get articles and quizzes every day to test their new knowledge.
As someone who has struggled with eating disorders since I was a teenager, I found myself drawn into this specific promise of Noom for a period as well
I had several friends who all started Noom together to “train their brains” in relation to how they thought about food. It wasn’t about trying to lose weight or starting another crash diet. This was about repairing the relationship between mind and body; and while companies talking about losing weight are now seen as inappropriate, or at least kind of gauche, talking about addressing customers’ mental health is totally in. -teenager, I found myself sucked into this specific promise to Noom for a period as well.)
But, as many healthcare professionals were quick to point out, Noom is still a diet. For all its talk of being different from the other programs out there, it’s just hiding calorie counting behind a new $70 per month tag system. Instead of points, it is color-coded: There are orange, yellow and green foods. Green foods are the least calorie-dense, while orange foods contain the most.
Again, many people have reported success using it, but healthcare professionals say that for some of their clients, the “psychological lessons” that Noom purports to teach aren’t the ultimate takeaway.
“I’ve had several clients switch to me from Noom because of the extreme diet culture it can promote and the extremely low calorie intake, which can promote a limited overstage cycle,” Crystal Scott, a registered dietitian and nutritionist, told Women’s Health in April. “The color-coded foods can [trigger] an unhealthy relationship with food.”
Then there are weight loss drugs like Ozempic in the slightly brighter – but higher dollar – corner of the diet industry.
As Salon Senior Writer Nicole Karlis reported in March, Ozempic is commonly marketed as a diabetes drug and is formally known as semaglutide. Semaglutide can help with obesity and diabetes because it acts on GLP-1 receptors, which control blood sugar. Dr. Ahmet Ergin, founder and founder of SugarMD, told Salon that Ozempic acts as a “gastrointestinal hormone mimic,” by creating the hormones that signal appetite or fullness.
Several celebrities, including Elon Musk, have credited the drug for their weight loss — but even those who have it talk about it with an almost dismissive hand. “Everybody’s on Ozempic,” comedian Chelsea Handler said in January. “My anti-aging doctor hands it out to anyone.” As Karlis reported, when recounting her own experience with the drug, Handler claimed she “didn’t even know” she was on it.
“Everyone is on Ozempic.”
Handler’s description of getting on Ozempic reinforces two big ideas: The first is that many of the celebrities who seem to ordinary Americans to have the ideal body type actually maintain that figure by using drugs. The other point is that those celebrities want to keep that part of their exercise and nutrition regimen is a secret because thinness is once again seen as a moral good, even though one that we’ve been inexorably culturally conditioned to believe should be the natural standard.
Why? So that companies can continue to prey on the insecurities that come with having a body that you are consistently told is not ideal.
Jenny Craig management has so far been tight-lipped about what plans the company has, if any, to rebrand or relaunch. However, they told employees in an email that it is “beginning the next phase of our business to evolve with the changing landscape of today’s consumers. Like many other companies, we are currently transitioning from a brick-and-mortar retail to a customer-friendly, e- trade-driven model. We will have more details to share in the coming weeks as our plans are firmed up.”
Personally, I think it’s only a matter of time before Jenny Craig is back – although I expect the term “diet” will be removed from their messaging when it returns.
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