The name “Optavia” may sound similar to a life-insurance firm or even a fancy eyewear brand — but it’s actually a popular weight-loss plan from Medifast Inc., the multilevel marketing company that was fined $3.7 million for false advertising in 2012.
Named one of the top trending diets back in 2018 by analysts at Google, the Optavia program has gone on to receive an endorsement from a celebrity adherent, too. Former Cake Boss star Buddy Valastro — mostly known 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!”
When it comes to restrictions, 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. For example, it’s currently ranked #27 for Best Diets Overall (FYI: that’s pretty low!) by U.S. News & World Report, which reports, “Though you might lose weight quickly with Optavia, the meal plan scored particularly low for healthy eating.”
“In my experience, the calorie restriction on Optavia is far too extreme for most people — especially those who are choosing it as the first step in establishing a healthier eating pattern and lifestyle on the whole,” said Jaclyn London, M.S., R.D., CDN, a New York City-based Registered Dietitian, consultant, and author of Dressing on the Side (and Other Diet Myths Debunked). “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 Optavia before signing up:
Table of Contents
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 products or unwrap a bar as part of a chosen meal plan, which can include up to six portion-controlled meals daily. There are reportedly more than 60 options to choose from, everything from shakes to biscuits, soups to puddings — all contain added protein and a probiotic, according to the brand behind the diet.
More recently, Optavia has expanded offerings to include a selection of new programs designed for individuals with diagnosed diabetes, as well as considerations for people over the age of 65. These programs slightly deviate from Optavia’s signature 5&1 plan that first debuted in 2017, and may be more customizable with input from your doctor.
Optavia also offers guidance from its own staff of diet coaches to help you learn their trademarked “Habits of Health” — these individuals are not required to obtain any medical accreditation to perform these services, to be clear.
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 consists 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 primary ingredient.
“Lean and green” meals fill out the rest of the diet, which requires you to shop and prepare via meal prep sessions on your own time. 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 chosen plan. The three available plans are:
- Optimal Weight 5 & 1 Plan: Eat five Optavia fuelings and just one “lean and green” meal per day.
- Optimal Weight 4 & 2 & 1 Plan: Eat four of the brand’s fuelings, two “lean and green” meals, and one snack per day. Meal plans are capped at 1,300 calories in total.
- Optimal Health 3 & 3 Plan: Eat three fuelings as well as three “lean and green” meals. This plan is often recommended for those interested in weight management after a short-term diet.
Is the Optavia diet healthy?
The Optavia diet is considered a high-protein diet, with protein making up 10–35% of your daily calories. It’s also clear that the program relies on creating a calorie deficit in your dietary routine for initial weight loss results, which requires long-term maintenance. However, the processed, powdered variety of protein that’s featured in programs like Optavia can lead to some less-than-pleasant side effects.
“A major ‘red flag’ here is the use of the word, “fuelings,” which are designed to replace meals on Optavia. These protein powders often contain additives (including sugar alcohols, emulsifiers and texturizing agents) that can lead to unwanted GI side effects, making you far better off eating meals that include high protein foods that you enjoy vs. drinking them in the form of powder that may promote feelings of discomfort— particularly in the context of extreme calorie deficit,” 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. “It’s essential you consult with your physician if you’re considering starting this plan. Protein blends & powders may be contaminated with unwanted, undesirable ingredients or interact with a medication that you may already be taking — and since they’re unregulated, there’s also no way to guarantee that what you’ll get in one batch is the same as what you’ll receive in another one,” London added.
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 approximately 1,000 calories per day on this diet. Nutrition experts within the Good Housekeeping Institute have previously maintained that an intake of 1,200 calories is a bare minimum in order to avoid disordered or unhealthy eating.
Despite Optavia’s dramatic approach, U.S. News and World Report currently ranks it #2 in its list of Best Fast Weight-Loss Diets, alongside the HMR Diet and trailed by the ever-popular Keto approach. But Optavia tellingly sits at #31 on the list of Best Diets for Healthy Eating, with many programs outperforming it.
“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 5&1 plan, which is Optavia’s flagship offering, cost more than $375 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 program in 2022:
- 5 & 1 Plan: $379 for 119 servings
- 4 & 2 & 1 Plan: $423 for 140 servings
- 3 & 3 Plan: $21 for 7 servings
In contrast, United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) estimates published in September 2022 suggest that a woman between the ages of 19-70 may spend upwards of $243 per month on groceries while still following a nutritious diet. It’s true that you’ll need to prepare most of your food, unlike Optavia — though, there are many other programs for you to consider that don’t involve portion control.
The bottom line:
“While this may have worked for weight-loss for the Cake Boss, eating real, nutrient-dense, delicious and health-promoting food that nourishes you is the only way to lose weight and keep it off long-term,” London told Good Housekeeping.
Caroline is a writer and editor with almost a decade of experience. From 2015 to 2019, she held various editorial positions at Good Housekeeping, including as health editor, covering nutrition, fitness, wellness, and other lifestyle news. She’s a graduate of the Medill School of Journalism and dreams of the day Northwestern will go back to the Rose Bowl.