What Is the Optavia Diet?

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At Verywell, we believe there is no one-size-fits-all approach to a healthy lifestyle. Successful eating plans need to be individualized and take the whole person into consideration. Prior to starting a new diet plan, consult with your health care provider or a registered dietitian, especially if you have an underlying health condition.

Consumers have long been drawn to the convenience of meal replacement diets that take the guesswork out of weight loss. One popular meal replacement plan is the Optavia Diet.

By combining “fuelings” (shakes, bars, and other pre-packaged foods) with a "six-small-meals-per-day" philosophy, the Optavia Diet aims to help people lose weight by consuming small portions throughout the day. Optavia adds a social support component by offering access to a health coach who can answer questions and provide encouragement.

The Optavia Diet might sound unfamiliar, as the name itself hasn’t been around very long. You're more likely to have heard of the diet by its previous name, Take Shape for Life, which was rebranded as Optavia in July 2017.

Take Shape for Life began as a subsidiary of Medifast, a weight-loss product company founded in 1980 by a medical doctor named Dr. William Vitale. When it was introduced in 2002, the intent of Take Shape for Life was to offer Medifast’s products in an online format better suited to the digital age.

The 2020 U.S. News and World Report Best Diets ranks the Optavia Diet number 27 in Best Diets Overall and gives it an overall score of 2.6/5.

What Experts Say

“The Optavia diet is a meal replacement plan. Followers eat a certain number of ‘fuelings’ per day (plus one homemade meal) resulting in calorie reduction and weight loss. Experts worry that it’s unsustainable; many will regain weight when transitioning off the meal replacements.”

Chrissy Carroll, RD, MPH

What Can You Eat

Depending on the Optavia diet plan you select, you’ll eat anywhere from two to five of the company’s pre-made meal replacements ("fuelings") per day.

You'll also prepare and eat one to three of your own low-calorie meals, which should be primarily lean protein and non-starchy vegetables.

Although no food is technically forbidden on the diet, many (such as sweets) are strongly discouraged. There are also plenty of foods that are highly recommended, including healthy fats.

What You Need to Know

Like other meal replacement diets, the Optavia Diet provides users with its own array of branded products that take the place of several meals throughout the day.

The “5 & 1” plan is the most popular and is designed for rapid weight loss. On this plan, users eat five of Optavia's "fuelings" and one low-calorie “lean and green” homemade meal per day.

Optavia's other plans, the “3 & 3” and “4 & 2 & 1”, combine “real” meals with meal replacements. These plans are best-suited to users who want to lose weight slowly or maintain their current weight.

On all of Optavia's plans, both "fuelings" and "lean and green" homemade meals are kept within strict calorie ranges. 

What to Eat
  • Optavia fuelings

  • Lean meats

  • Greens and other non-starchy vegetables

  • Healthy fats

  • Low-fat dairy, fresh fruit, and whole grains (on some plans)

What Not to Eat
  • Indulgent desserts

  • High-calorie additions

  • Sugary beverages

  • Alcohol

Optavia Fuelings

The majority of the food you’ll eat on the Optavia Diet will take the form of its pre-packaged "feelings." According to Optavia’s online guide, you can choose from over 60 soups, bars, shakes, pretzels, and other products (even brownies!) as meal replacements.

The company states that “each item has a nearly identical nutrition profile," which means they can be eaten interchangeably.

Lean and Green

The “lean and green” meals you'll prepare need to include a five-to-seven-ounce portion of cooked lean protein. Optavia distinguishes between lean, leaner, and leanest protein sources using the following examples:

Optavia’s 5 & 1 program allows for two non-starchy vegetables alongside the protein in your "lean and green" meal. The veggies are divided into lower, moderate, and higher carbohydrate categories, with the following as examples:

Healthy Fats

In addition to lean protein and non-starchy vegetables, a "lean and green" meal can be prepared with up to two servings of healthy fats, including olive or walnut oil, flaxseed, or avocado.

Indulgent Desserts

Not surprisingly, Optavia discourages indulging your sugar cravings with sweets like cakes, cookies, or ice cream.

However, after the initial weight loss phase, moderate sweet treats like fresh fruit or flavored yogurt can make their way back into your diet.

High-Calorie Additions

High-calorie additions include condiments, dressings, and sauces. Opt for low-calorie ways to add flavor instead with ingredients like mustard, vinegar, lime, lemon, spices, salsa, and herbs.

Pros and Cons

Pros
  • Packaged products offer convenience

  • Achieves rapid weight loss

  • Takes guesswork out of what to eat

  • Offers social support

Cons
  • High monthly cost

  • Includes a lot of processed food

  • Weight loss may be unsustainable

  • Calorie restriction may leave you hungry or fatigued

  • Mealtimes can become boring or feel isolating

Is Optavia Diet a Healthy Choice for You?

The Optavia Diet deviates from health and nutrition guidelines encouraged by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) in several areas. Although Optavia's 5 & 1 plan is intended for weight loss, the 800 to 1000 calorie count per day is an extreme reduction from the USDA's recommendation.

One area where Optavia deviates from USDA recommendations is in terms of macronutrients—specifically, carbohydrates. Optavia's plans reportedly provide 80 to 100 grams of carbohydrates per day.

In other words, about 40% of the diet’s daily calories come from carbs, whereas the USDA Dietary Guidelines recommend a diet that is 45 to 65% carbohydrates. The USDA also emphasizes that a healthy eating plan includes grains and dairy products, which are not represented in Optavia's 5 & 1 plan.

Extreme calorie restriction can cause fatigue, brain fog, headaches, or menstrual changes. As such, the 5 & 1 option should not be used long-term. However, the 3 & 3 and 4 & 2 & 1 plans typically supply between 1100 to 2500 calories per day and can be appropriate to use for a longer period.

The 5 & 1 plan limits calories to as low as 800-1000 per day, so it’s not suitable for people who are pregnant or engage in vigorous exercise.

The Optavia Diet is not without controversy. Critics have called the plan a pyramid scheme because of its multi-level structure, and the sales and promotions aspect of the program can be a turnoff for potential customers.

Users who complete Optavia's program are encouraged to become coaches, sell the company’s products, and recruit new sales representatives.

Health Benefits

Optavia's program might be a good fit for you if you want a diet plan that is clear and easy to follow, that will help you lose weight quickly, and offers built-in social support.

Packaged Products Offer Convenience

Optavia’s shakes, soups, and all other meal replacement products are delivered directly to your door—a level of convenience that many other diets do not offer.

Although you will need to shop for your own ingredients for "lean and green" meals, the home delivery option for Optavia’s "fuelings" saves time and energy. Once the products arrive, they’re easy to prepare and make excellent grab-and-go meals.

Achieves Rapid Weight Loss 

Most healthy people require around 1600 to 3000 calories per day to maintain their weight. Restricting that number to as low as 800 essentially guarantees weight loss for most people.

Optavia’s 5 & 1 plan is designed for quick weight loss, making it a solid option for someone with a medical reason to shed pounds fast. 

Eliminates Guesswork

Some people find that the hardest part of dieting is the mental effort required to figure out what to eat each day—or even at each meal. Optavia alleviates the stress of meal planning and "decision fatigue" by offering users clear-cut approved foods with "fuelings" and guidelines for "lean and green" meals. 

Offers Social Support

Social support is a vital component of success with any weight loss plan. Optavia’s coaching program and group calls provide built-in encouragement and support for users.

Health Risks

There are also some potential downsides to Optavia's plan, especially if you are worried about cost, flexibility, and variety.

Includes Processed Food

Although Optavia’s "fuelings" are engineered with interchangeable nutrients, they’re still undeniably processed foods, which may be a turn off for some users.

Nutrition research has shown eating a lot of processed food can have detrimental effects on one's health, so this aspect of the diet plan may pose a disadvantage.

Weight Loss May Not Be Sustainable

One challenge familiar to anyone on a diet is determining how to maintain weight loss once they’ve completed the program.

The same goes for Optavia's program. When users go back to eating regular meals instead of the plan's meal replacements, they might find that the weight they lost is quickly regained.

Effects of Calorie Restriction

Even though Optavia's diet plan emphasizes eating frequently throughout the day, each of its "fuelings" only provides 110 calories. "Lean and green" meals are also low in calories.

When you're eating fewer calories in general, you may find the plan leaves you hungry and unsatisfied. You may also feel more easily fatigued and even irritable.

Boredom and Isolation at Mealtimes

Optavia's reliance on meal replacements can interfere with the social aspects of preparing and eating food. Users might find it awkward or disappointing to have a shake or bar at family mealtime or when dining out with friends.

A Word From Verywell 

If you thrive on structure and need to lose weight quickly, the Optavia Diet could be a good fit for you. With its extremely low-calorie eating plans, it’s certainly likely to help you shed pounds; however, whether that weight loss will stick once you go off the diet is debatable.

Before you begin any meal replacement diet, carefully consider whether you can realistically follow it, decide how much money you can invest, and determine the degree of hunger and interruption to your social routine you are comfortable with.

If you decide to opt for Optavia and succeed with your short-term weight loss goals, make sure you become educated about healthy eating so you can keep the weight off long-term. Also, remember that a calorie-restricted commercial diet is not the only way to slim down.

Talk to your healthcare provider or a registered dietitian about simple changes you can make to create a more satisfying nutritious meal plan to help you achieve your goals.

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Article Sources
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  • US News and World Report. What Is Optavia Diet? United States Department of Agriculture. Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015-2020.