The name "Optavia" may sound like a life-insurance firm or even an eyeglasses brand, but it's actually a popular weight-loss plan from Medifast Inc., the multilevel marketing company previously fined $3.7 million for false advertising.
Named one of the top trending diets back in 2018 by Google, Optavia has gone on to receive an endorsement from a celebrity adherent, too. Cake Boss star Buddy Valastro — most famous for his TV-famous sugary concoctions — attributed his dramatic weight loss to the program in the same year.
"A lot of people have been asking me how I’ve slimmed down lately so I just wanted to share that I’ve used the Optavia program," he wrote on Instagram in 2018. "I'm not being paid to say this and it should be noted that I think everybody is different and you should do whatever suits you but this is what I’m doing and I’m very happy with the results so far!"
Nothing is officially off-limits on the diet, but it's not exactly a cakewalk, either. The program restricts calories and advises its followers to buy special "fuelings" in order to shed pounds. While it maintains a reputation as a short-term solution for rapid weight loss, the methods used in Optavia programs aren't always well received, as it currently doesn't break the top 20 diets ranked by sources like U.S. News & World Report (and not the top three programs in the 'fast' weight-loss category, either).
"It’s tricky to recommend restrictive diet plans like Optavia on the whole," said Jaclyn London, MS, RD, CDN. "While accountability and community are key components to any behavior change program, behavior modification with restrictive eating patterns sets some of us up for disordered eating habits and restrict–binge–restrict tendencies."
Editor's note: Weight loss, health and body image are complex subjects — before deciding to go on a diet, we invite you to gain a broader perspective by reading our exploration into the hazards of diet culture.
Here's everything you need to know about Optivia before signing up:
What is the Optavia Diet?
Optavia is marketed as a weight-loss or maintenance plan that prescribes eating a mix of purchased, processed food created by the company — called "fuelings" — and homemade "lean and green" meals. The program doesn't call for you to count carbohydrates or calories. Instead, followers add water to powdered food or unwrap a bar as part of six-or-so portion-controlled meals per day. There are reportedly more than 50 options to choose from, everything from shakes to biscuits, soups to puddings — all contain added protein and a probiotic, according to the company.
Optavia also offers guidance from coaches to help you learn their trademarked "Habits of Health." The plan additionally recommends doing about 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per day. Eventually, once your weight loss goals are met, the brand offers a secondary plan for weight loss maintenance that users can subscribe to.
What do you eat on Optavia?
At least half of any Optavia diet is comprised of its "fuelings," which include bars, shakes, cookies, cereal, and some savory options, like soup and smashed potatoes. These processed foods often list soy protein or whey protein as the first ingredient.
Lean and green meals fill out the rest of the diet, which you buy and prepare on your own. Those include:
5–7 ounces of cooked lean protein like fish, chicken, egg whites, turkey, or soy
3 servings of non-starchy vegetables like lettuce, greens, celery, or cucumbers
Up to 2 servings of healthy fats like olive oil, olives, or avocado
How often do you eat on Optavia?
The Optavia advises eating six or seven times per day (about every two to three hours) depending on the plan. The three available plans are:
5 & 1 Plan: Eat five Optavia fuelings and one "lean and green" meal per day
4 & 2 & 1 Plan: Eat four Optavia fuelings, two "lean and green" meals, and one snack per day
3 & 3 Plan: Eat three Optavia fuelings and three "lean and green" meals per day
Is the Optivia diet healthy?
The Optavia diet is what's considered a high-protein diet, with protein making up 10–35% of your daily calories. However, the processed, powdered variety of protein can lead to some less-than-pleasant consequences.
"The protein isolate plus additives can make you feel bloated and have some other unwanted GI side effects, making you better off with unsweetened Greek yogurt for protein in a smoothie," London said.
Plus, the FDA does not regulate dietary supplements like shakes and powders for safety and efficacy the same way it does for food. "Powders and protein 'blends' may have undesirable ingredients, or could interact with a medication you may be taking," London added, "making it extra important to make sure your physician is aware of you trying the plan."
How does Optavia help you lose weight?
Optavia heavily relies on intensely restricting calories to promote weight loss. Most "fuelings" hover around 100–110 calories each, meaning you could take in around 1,000 calories per day on this diet.
Despite Optavia's dramatic approach, U.S. News and World Report currently ranks it #4 in its list of Best Fast Weight-Loss Diets, alongside 'The Biggest Loser' diet program and the ever-popular Keto approach. But Optavia tellingly sits at #29 on the list of Best Diets for Healthy Eating.
"Short term, it seems impossible not to shed at least some pounds; you're eating half the calories most adults consume," the outlet reported. "The long-term outlook is less promising."
London agreed that there's a better approach to lasting weight loss: "'Eating meals and snacks that incorporate loads of produce, 100% whole grains, nuts, seeds, legumes, and pulses, low-fat dairy products, eggs, poultry, seafood, and lean beef plus some indulgences is the best way to lose weight sustainably for the long haul."
Is Optavia the same as Medifast?
Somewhat — Medifast Inc. is the parent company of Optavia. It also owns and operates the Medifast program you may remember from the '80s and '90s, which had doctors prescribing meals to their clients. Optavia uses similar foods with an identical macronutrient profile, but consumers can sign up for the plan themselves online.
How much does Optavia cost?
The essential kits, which are the cheapest plan offerings, cost more than $400 per month, and that's not including what you'll spend on your lean and green meals (or what you cook at home). Here's what you can expect to pay for each type:
5 & 1 Plan: $414.60 for 119 servings
4 & 2 & 1 Plan: $457.95 for 140 servings
3 & 3 Plan: $19.95 for 7 servings
In contrast, the United States Department of Agriculture estimates that a woman between the ages of 19-70 could spend as little as $171.90 per month on groceries and still follow a nutritious diet. (Granted, that's considering you prepare all of your meals and snacks at home.)
The bottom line: "While I appreciate the Cake Boss's weight loss, eating real, nutrient-dense, delicious, and health-promoting food is the only way to lose weight for the long term," London said.
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