Convenience is becoming increasingly more popular with our busy lifestyles, and not having to prepare meals is a luxury that most people would opt for if given the option. Well, the Optavia diet is one of those systems that does most of the work for you (except for the eating and exercise of course) as far as nutrition goes.
The diet consists of pre-packaged foods for the majority of your meals/snacks, and they place an emphasis on one-on-one coaching to help guide you every step of the way.
And apparently, they’ve seen much success with this approach, serving over one million clients and over 20,000 doctors recommend Optavia according to their website. But we wanted to break it down and find out whether or not the Optavia diet is an effective, sustainable approach.
Note: Always make sure to consult with your healthcare provider prior to implementing any diet plan. Certain health conditions and/or medications can potentially cause you to experience unpleasant side effects if proper planning is not adhered to.
What Is The Optavia Diet?
Originally called ‘Take Shape For Life,’ the subsidiary of Medifast (weight loss company) was rebranded as Optavia in 2017 with a new line of products. They sell meal/snack replacement items called ‘fuelings’ which have apparently been scientifically developed along with specific plans; to support convenient and healthy weight loss.
They offer over 60 different fuelings which contain high-quality protein, essential vitamins, and minerals, and a patented probiotic to support healthy gut bacteria/digestive health. It’s important to note that some of these foods are powdered so you add water to prepare them.
Optavia offers a few different programs that come with a certain number of their pre-packaged meals and depending on which plan you opt for, you’ll need to prepare your own meals in addition to the convenient fuelings.
Below are the programs they offer…
The 5&1 program is based on eating six smaller meals per day every 2-3 hours which is the first healthy habit they teach you because it supposedly promotes a gentle, but optimal fat-burning state in the body. They provide 5 meals and then you have to prepare your own ‘lean and green’ meal for the sixth.
The 5&1 program is their ‘most optimal’ weight loss option which appeals to those who want the most convenience.
The 4&2&1 program consists of four Optavia meals per day, two of your own ‘lean and green’ meals, and one healthy snack. This plan allows for more flexibility and variety in foods but it can also be used as a transitional phase into the 3&3.
The 3&3 program consists of three healthy lean and green meals in addition to three Optimal health fuelings. It’s the recommended program for weight maintenance once you’ve reached your ideal weight as it’s more suitable for people who may not need to lose weight as quickly or have much weight to lose, and also for those who want more lenience with nutrition.
But it’s still recommended that you continue to maintain a healthy diet overall.
Optavia also offers programs for older adults, teens, nursing mothers, vegetarians, and even people with diabetes.
It’s also important to note that the coaches are former clients of Optavia and they are trained to help others through the process and provide support although most are not medical professionals. They are also paid on commission so they sell products as well as Optavia operates like a multi-level system.
What Kind of Foods Do You Get To Eat?
The many different fuelings provided by Optavia include shakes, bars, brownies, pancakes, cakes, mac and cheese, jalapeno poppers, potatoes, pretzels, and much more. All have a similar nutritional profile which means you’re free to choose whichever you’re feeling for at the moment without feeling guilty or cheating.
And don’t worry, these options are healthier than the traditional delectable versions.
But one healthy habit that you’ll learn with Optavia is to make your own ‘lean and green’ meals along with the fuelings; which consist of 5-7 ounces lean protein, 3 servings of vegetables and 2 servings of healthy fat depending on the protein choice and the program. You can also dine-out as well but the diet should still be adhered to.
They also offer packaged meals too if you prefer the added convenience.
Here are some recommended food options…
- Protein can be salmon, yellowfin tuna, chicken breast, pork chop, turkey, soy (tofu/tempeh), eggs, and other quality options. Fish is recommended twice per week to get an optimal amount of omega-3s which are essential for heart and cell health.
- Vegetables should be non-starchy which includes lettuce, cauliflower, broccoli, cucumber, etc.
- Fats should include healthy options like avocado, olive oil, flaxseed.
Note: Protein and carbs are divided into categories based on their nutritional value. For example, meats are sectioned into leanest, leaner, and lean sources.
The 3&3 and 4&2&1 programs allow for more variety such as low-fat dairy (yogurt, evaporated milk), fruit (strawberries, apple), whole grains (brown rice, bread, bran flakes), and 1 free choice. An alcoholic beverage or sweet tea is allowed but your intake should be very limited.
Condiments can be used in limited amounts and should be low-carb (1g per serving) but it’s only allowed in the 3&3 and 4&2&1 programs. You can also use seasonings but again, make sure it’s very low-carb and use healthy spices/herbs.
Foods to avoid include…
- Fried foods
- Refined grains/white flour items
- High-sugar beverages
- Alcohol in high amounts
- Whole-fat dairy products
Here’s a sample 3&3 1200-calorie plan
Note: 3&3 requires a little more food measuring than the other two plans but it’s still not bad unless you simply don’t have the time to measure an extra meal or two.
- ¾ cup ready-to-eat unsweetened cereal
- 1 cup skim or low-fat milk
Optimal Health Strawberry Yogurt Bar 1 Optimal Health Fueling
½ cup cooked cauliflower
- 3 oz. grilled chicken
- ¾ cup low-fat yogurt
Optimal Health Strawberry Banana Smoothie 1 Optimal Health Fueling
- 2 cups raw spinach
- 1 cup total diced tomatoes, cucumbers, and mushrooms
- 3 oz. baked yellowfin tuna
- 2 Tbsp low-fat salad dressing
- 1 small apple
1 Free Choice
How Many Calories Do You Eat On The Optavia Diet?
Since everyone is different (e.g. weight, age, activity levels), caloric requirements could not possibly be the same for everyone. For example, a 200lb man will have different caloric requirements than a 130lb woman.
So, it ranges from 800-1000 calories per day with the 5&1 program which is very low, while the 3&3 and 4&2&1 programs range from 1100-2500 calories a day.
But the plan which is best suited for you will be determined beforehand when you purchase a program and consult with a coach who will guide you throughout the process.
What Will A Typical Day Consist of On An Optavia Program?
This too will be determined before you begin your new regime. You’ll have a guide and a coach who can help you to figure out when the best mealtimes are for you. But as mentioned previously, there’s an emphasis placed on eating 6 small portions per day every 2-3 hours.
So, for example, you might have a fueling for breakfast, lunch, snack, then a homemade meal and finally a snack before bedtime.
Is The Optavia Diet Effective?
Caloric restriction is key to weight loss and the 5&1 program is especially conducive to shedding pounds fast with 800-1000 calorie nutritional plans. Carbs are also kept low with a decent amount of protein per serving which is ideal for effective weight loss in most cases.
Plus, carb and calorie restriction has shown to have many health benefits including improved glucose metabolism, changes in body composition, reduced risk of cardiovascular risk factors and other disease risk factors as well. (1)
But the 5&1 may not be for everyone as losing weight too quickly and excessive calorie restriction can be detrimental to your health and you definitely won’t feel good, while muscle loss is also a possibility. 800-1000 calories is quite low in general especially since the USDA recommends 1,600 to 2,400 calories per day for adult women and 2,000 to 3,000 calories per day for adult men.
The low end of each caloric range is for sedentary individuals whereas the high end is for more active individuals. (2)
But this can also be due to long term habits as there are also several different variables to consider when it comes to the differences between individuals. Weight loss isn’t always easy and keeping it off can be even harder but it requires permanent lifestyle changes.
Optavia also recommends 30 minutes a day of exercise which is also important for keeping weight off and maintaining good health.
Research shows that it’s important to set realistic goals, in relation to an individual’s needs, preferences, and current health. Diets should be nutritionally adequate for each individual which again, may vary. (5)
But scientific literature does, in fact, support the use of meal replacements as an effective option for weight loss and type 2 diabetes. One study of 119 participants found that portion-controlled meal replacements yielded significantly more weight loss and maintenance of the weight when compared to a standard, self-selected food-based diet after 1 year. (6)
There was also a study that compared the Optavia 5&1 diet plus phone support (OPT) to the reduced‐calorie Medifast® 4&2&1 self‐guided plan (MED), and also to a self‐directed, reduced‐calorie control diet. 198 participants were randomly assigned to either diet for comparison during a 16-week period. (7)
Well, the OPT and MED groups experienced significantly more weight loss and abdominal fat than the self-directed control diet group. And it was concluded that the significant weight loss difference was correlated with the meal replacements and phone support.
Keep in mind though, the study was funded by Medifast. But there are many studies that have found coaching support to be very effective for weight loss.
Whether it’s sustainable and healthy long term, well, there isn’t enough evidence for us to make that judgment.
However, the prepackaged foods from Optavia are processed so there are certain added ingredients such as food additives, sweeteners, and even processed oils that may not be healthy in large amounts. Optavia foods are consumed frequently as a main part of the diet and this can be a concern long term. (8, 9)
It really depends though because small amounts of processed foods aren’t likely to cause health issues/concerns.
But it’s best advised to get regular checkups and ideally, not remain on a program for too long after you’ve lost the weight. Although, they recommend their 3&3 plan after you’ve reached your weight so it’s ultimately up to the individual as to whether or not they want to continue with a program and coaching.
A lot of people have had success with Optavia so we’d say yes it works if done correctly. One notable testimonial of its efficacy came from Buddy Valastro of the TLC show ‘Cake Boss’ who attributed his weight loss to the diet and according to Valastro, he was not paid to give a testimonial either.
He explained in an Instagram post that he was happy with the results although this was back in 2018.
Also, U.S. News and World Report ranks Optavia #2 for best weight-loss diets, #10 for best commercial diet plans, although it ranks #27 for healthy diets.
So again, for weight loss, it can be a phenomenal diet program although for health, well, that’s where it may not be worth it in the long haul.
As previously mentioned, coaching is a big part of Optavia programs. The coaches have likely been successful with an Optavia program and they are then trained to help give support through phone, email and even text message.
But you also get forum support from other members, the opportunity to participate in calls and get help from registered dieticians, plus you get a guide with plenty of useful information, and even an app to help you track your progress when you decide to sign up for a program.
This is where Optavia claims to stand out among other diet programs and the coaching obviously helps to keep the clients positive and motivated which most likely leads to more consistency.
The guide is also very beneficial because it gives you all the basics so that you can easily refer to it at any time. Optavia also provides meal tips and recipes via multiple social platforms.
Optavia offers several different options but we’ve provided a rough cost of the basic programs.
For the 5&1 program, you get about 3 weeks’ worth of fuelings and support for a little over $400 and when you join the Premier Club you’ll get five free fuelings for your first order and a blender bottle. You also have the option to customize your food options which is the same for the other two programs as well.
The 4&2&1 plan is a similar price but when you join you get 20% off plus a blender bottle and 5 free boxes of fuelings.
This plan is obviously the cheapest and around $330 for 130 servings. You’ll also get five free fuelings and a blender bottle.
You have to also factor in the meals that you’ll be cooking at home as well and it can really add up for those who may not be able to afford it long-term. The benefit here and the reason for the pricing is obviously the convenience and support you get. So, it may be worth it to some people.
Potential Side Effects
Pregnant women, teens, and those who engage in very frequent, intense physical activity should avoid the 5&1 program as it does not supply adequate calories or nutrients to support optimal health. Although, it may be ok for some people when done in short periods.
But excessively low calories such as 800-1000 per day can also cause adrenal stress, menstrual changes, compromised mental functioning and we already explained it can have an effect on metabolic function. (10, 11, 12, 13, 14)
Then you have the fact that the prepackaged foods are processed which can cause digestive discomfort, especially with the powdered protein.
So, side effects are possible for some people but that’s why it’s important to choose a plan most optimal for you or skip out on the program altogether if you know you cannot have certain foods.
- Easy to follow
- Decent variety of foods offered
- One-on-one coaching and other support
- Can provide health benefits
The convenience is one very attractive feature of Optavia plans (especially the 5&1 and even the 4&2&1). You don’t have to prepare food as it’s also portioned for you with the right amount of calories. Plus, they offer a nice selection of fuelings so you’re unlikely to get bored with the foods.
The coaching and support is also something that many people prefer as they are held accountable and can have any questions answered. Finally, there are many health benefits due to caloric and carb restriction as discussed previously.
But you want to have adequate nutrition and Optavia does provide complete food sources that are low-carb. Although, the foods are decently processed and you’ll need to decide if it’s worth it long term. It’s always preferred to eat natural, minimally-processed food sources.
- Fuelings are processed
- 5&1 may be too low in calories for some people
- Excessively low calories can lead to weight regain
- Limited gluten-free options
- No vegan options
- Most coaches are not health professionals
Optavia definitely isn’t cheap therefore it’s not for everyone. We already explained how the foods are processed to a degree and how too little calories can be unhealthy for some people and even possibly cause regain of weight due to slowing the metabolism causing the body to burn fewer calories.
There are also limited gluten-free and vegan options (no vegan plan as it’s not recommended by them) which is a dealbreaker for some people and lastly, most of the coaches are not qualified to give extensive health advice. But they are still great to have for support and encouragement and it’s always recommended to do your own due diligence as misinformation is not uncommon.
However, with the free support, you’ll get access to professional advice.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
What is the Optavia Diet?
It’s a popular weight-loss nutrition plan that consists of eating a combination of prepackaged and homecooked meals. The company provides food items called ‘fuelings’ that include a variety of foods you can choose from.
You also get access to one-on-one coaching and other support throughout the process.
There are three different program options which include…
- 5&1 (5 fuelings a day and 1 home-cooked ‘lean and green’ meal that consists of a lean protein and non-starchy vegetable)
- 4&2&1 (4 fuelings, 2 meals, and a snack)
- 3&3 (3 fuelings and 3 meals)
4&2&1 is typically the transitional phase and 3&3 is the maintenance phase. These two phases also allow for more lenience and food variety.
What kinds of foods do you eat on Optavia?
Optavia provides over 60 different prepackages food items called ‘fuelings’ which consist of shakes, bars, soups, pastas, potatoes, mac and cheese, brownies, and more.
You’ll also learn to prepare your own ‘lean and green’ meals which consist of a lean protein, a non-starchy carb, and healthy fats depending on the source of protein.
Two of the three Optavia plans also allow for dairy, grains, and fruits.
How much do you eat on the Optavia diet?
Optavia places an emphasis on eating every two-three hours which supposedly creates a gentle, fat-burning state in the body.
As far as how much food per serving, you’ll have one food item per meal/snack called a ‘fueling’ which contains a low amount of calories. All food items contain roughly the same amount of calories.
Is the Optavia diet effective for weight loss?
Optavia is an effective weight loss option due to the low-calorie personalized plans in addition to program support and other great resources. But you have to follow a program that is best suited for you.
There have been a few reported downsides to Optavia like regaining weight due to the slowing of the metabolism and sometimes increased cravings. However, dieting and keeping weight off should be a permanent lifestyle change and many people do not stick with a health regime.
Does Optavia have potential side effects?
The very low-calorie 5&1 option is not recommended for nursing women, teens, very active individuals, and those with health conditions as extreme caloric restriction can have adverse effects.
Also, there may be other unpleasant side effects due to the prepackaged foods like digestive discomfort and even potentially long-term effects if consumed in large quantities.
Is Optavia the same as Medifast?
Optavia is a subsidiary of Medifast and although similar, the former was rebranded with a new line of ‘clean label’ products.
Optavia is clearly a good option for some people although it’s not recommended for everyone. It’s convenient, there are many different options to choose from, and you get plenty of support throughout the process. But it’s also a little pricey and includes decently processed foods.
But the most important point we want to make is that you have to find something that works best for you and if it’s an Optavia program, then so be it.
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