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Actress Kirstie Alley made headlines when she lost 50 pounds following the Jenny Craig weight program. As a result, Alley has become an outspoken advocate of this nutrition system. While Alley's weight loss may be surprising, you may be wondering whether you could duplicate her success. But, to begin with, you need to have an understanding of Jenny Craig, the company's claims, and whether the weight loss program is a sure-fire way to lose weight.

The company website notes that Jenny Craig is one of the biggest weight loss programs in the country. Company managers say that the program stresses good nutrition and moderate activity. As a result, company executives say, individuals can achieve their weight loss goals by carefully following the program. Jenny Craig has more than 600 locations in North America, Australia, New Zealand, and Puerto Rico. If you enroll in the program, you will receive a weight loss instruction book and you'll be able to locate a weight loss partner through an online bulletin board.

The program offers two general approaches to weight loss. With the first approach, you report to a Jenny Craig Center, where you'll receive individual consultations. The consultant will work with you to develop daily menus. You buy the diet food directly from the company. The second approach is an at-home program in which you have phone conversations with your consultant. You order your food every two weeks, with menus and other materials delivered to your home, within five to seven days after your order has been placed. Your consultant will take you through the program, answer any questions you may have, and attempt to ensure that your experience with Jenny Craig is a positive one.

Calorie counts on Jenny Craig depend on your individual requirements, but the daily calorie level will be at least 1200. Under the program, you should lose at least a pound a week or one percent of your total weight. The menus are designed according to the specifications of the Department of Agriculture's Food Pyramid. You can select from at least 70 different foods. The food has received the seal of approval from Jenny Craig's Medical Advisory Panel.

In her autobiography, entitled The Jenny Craig Story, Craig wrote, "When somebody makes a decision to go on a diet…they become almost totally preoccupied with food. We decided that if we provided the food, it would let the clients focus on their own bodies."

According to dieticians at Northwestern University, the Jenny Craig system does have its drawbacks. For instance, it offers little in the way of fiber, and those who follow the program may not consume enough iron and zinc. Consequently, the program may be difficult for women of child-bearing age who need a great deal of iron in their diet in order to prevent anemia. Also, since Jenny Craig supplies the food, clients do not learn how to prepare their own low-calorie meals. As a result, once you stop using Jenny Craig, you could find your weight skyrocketing upward. Moreover, Northwestern dieticians say that the company's counselors have limited training, meaning that the individual consultations with clients are less effective than they could be. In addition, there's little in the way of a support network for Jenny Craig clients, since there are no regular support group meetings. Because nine out of every ten Jenny Craig customers are women, men may not be comfortable taking part. Jenny Craig's weight maintenance program is also expensive--$200 a year.

Is the Jenny Craig program appropriate for you? The answer depends largely on your personal preferences. If you do not want the hassle of having to shop for your own low-fat food, Jenny Craig offers an attractive option. Also, if you believe in a go-it-alone approach to weight loss, Jenny Craig may be perfectly acceptable. However, if you want professional weight loss advice, you do not like the idea of buying company food, and you want to meet and talk with other men or women who are trying to lose weight, another program might be more appropriate. As always, talk at length with your doctor before beginning any serious weight loss program

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