What Is the Optavia Diet?

The Optavia Diet

Verywell / Debbie Burkhoff

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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 healthcare provider or a registered dietitian, especially if you have an underlying health condition.

The Optavia Diet aims to help people lose weight by incorporating “fuelings” (shakes, bars, and other pre-packaged foods) with small meals consumed throughout the day. This meal replacement diet claims to provide convenience while taking the guesswork out of weight loss.

The U.S. News and World Report Best Diets ranks the Optavia Diet number 28 in Best Diets Overall and gives it a score of 2.6/5. Learn about the pros and cons of this diet to find out if it's a healthy plan for you.

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 between two and five of the company’s pre-made meal replacements ("fuelings") per day. You'll also eat one to three of your own low-calorie meals, which are primarily lean protein and non-starchy vegetables ("lean and green").

Although no food is technically forbidden on the diet, many items (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 its own array of branded products. The 5&1 plan is the most popular and designed for rapid weight loss. On this plan, users eat five Optavia fuelings and one low-calorie lean and green meal each day.

Optavia's other plans include the 3&3 plan (3 fuelings plus 3 lean and green meals) and the 4&2&1 plan (4 fuelings, 2 lean and green meals, and 1 snack). These plans are designed for users who want to lose weight slowly or maintain their current weight.

In all of these plans, Optavia's products take the place of several meals consumed throughout the day. All are also 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
  • Desserts high in fat, sugar, or calories

  • High-calorie additions

  • Sugar-sweetened beverages

  • Alcohol

Optavia Fuelings

The majority of the food eaten on the Optavia Diet takes the form of its pre-packaged fuelings. You can choose from around 50 different soups, bars, shakes, pretzels, and other products (even brownies and cookies) as meal replacements.

The company states that “each Fueling is nutritionally equivalent and portion-controlled." This means they can be eaten interchangeably, providing users the same nutrients whether they decide to eat an Optavia granola bar or its red bean and vegetable chili, for instance.

Lean and Green

The lean and green meals that you prepare must include a 5- to 7-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. These 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. This includes olive oil, walnut oil, flaxseed, and avocado.

Desserts

Optavia discourages indulging sugar cravings with sweets like cakes, cookies, or ice cream. However, after the initial weight loss phase, lower-calorie sweet treats like fresh fruit or flavored yogurt can be placed back into your diet.

High-Calorie Additions

High-calorie additions refer to 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

  • 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

Pros

Buying pre-portioned, packaged foods can be easy and convenient; there is little need to count calories or carbs with these plans. And if followed correctly, they do usually result in rapid weight loss. Optavia also offers support through its coaching program, which some users may find helpful.

Cons

That coaching can also be seen as a drawback. Critics have called the plan a pyramid scheme because of its multi-level structure. Users who complete Optavia's program are encouraged to become coaches, sell the company’s products, and recruit new sales representatives. This can be a turnoff for potential customers.

In addition, the plans can be expensive; 5 fuelings will cost you about $17, not including tax and shipping (or the groceries you buy for lean and green meals). Losing weight this way can be very uncomfortable, and may not be sustainable.

Is the 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). For example, Optavia's 5&1 plan is 800 to 1,000 calories per day, an extreme reduction from the USDA's recommendation of roughly 2,000 calories per day for adults.

Diets that are about 800 calories are considered "very low calorie diets" and they should be medically supervised. Extreme calorie restriction can cause fatigue, brain fog, headaches, or menstrual changes. As such, the 5&1 option should not be used long-term. The 3&3 and 4&2&1 plans typically supply between 1,100 and 2,500 calories per day and can be appropriate for longer periods.

Optavia's plans also provide 80 to 100 grams of carbohydrates per day or about 40% of the diet’s daily calories. The USDA recommends a diet that is 45% to 65% carbs. The USDA also emphasizes grains and dairy products, which are not represented in Optavia's 5&1 plan.

The 5&1 plan limits calories to 800 to 1,000 per day, so it might not meet all of your nutritional needs. It's also not suitable for people who are pregnant or nursing, those who exercise 45 minutes per day or more, teens, older adults who are sedentary, or people with diabetes or gout.

Health Benefits

The main health benefit of following an Optavia plan is rapid weight loss, particularly for people who need to lose a significant amount of weight.

Reduced Overweight and Obesity Risks

Losing weight fast has two positive health benefits: people tend to lose more weight and have an easier time keeping it off. If you have a lot of weight to lose, getting it off rapidly can help not only enhance your results but also provides a greater chance of long-term results.

Being overweight or obese can increase the risk of a number of diseases. Among them are high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, osteoarthritis, and various types of cancer. Losing just 5% of body weight can help reduce these risks.

Improved Blood Sugar and Cholesterol Levels

Adult females need between 1,600 and 2,200 calories per day while adult males generally need between 2,000 and 3,200 calories daily. So, restricting intake to as low as 800 calories per day can mean losing excess weight fairly quickly.

While some health experts recommend a more gradual weight loss of 1 to 2 pounds per week, there are some times when a faster rate is preferred. For example, studies have connected rapid weight loss with greater improvements in both lipid and glycemic profiles.

This means that losing weight faster may be better for people with cholesterol and/or blood sugar issues that are threatening their health. However, this study also found that body composition changes were better with slower rates of loss.

Health Risks

There are also some potential downsides to Optavia's plan that could adversely affect your health.

Increased Disease Risk

Although Optavia’s fuelings are engineered with interchangeable nutrients, they’re still processed foods. Research has shown that eating a lot of processed food can have detrimental effects on one's health, increasing the risk of disease and early death.

Plus, it's not uncommon to regain lost weight after stopping this type of diet. Studies show that losing weight and gaining it back—also known as weight cycling, yo-yo dieting, or weight instability—can potentially increase the risk of insulin resistance, hypertension, and cardiovascular issues.

Nutrient Deficiency

This diet may cause nutrient deficiency if calorie levels are kept too low for too long. In addition to restricting calories, Optavia plans limit food groups including fruits, vegetables, and whole grains—all of which provide important vitamins and minerals.

Reduced Sports Performance

Dropping weight quickly can also reduce sports performance. A review of 10 articles noted that, although many athletes (fighters, in this case specifically) want to reduce their body mass, doing so too fast can impair their performance while also risking their health.

Following a very low-calorie diet also will not likely support an athlete's rigorous training program. Some health experts suggest that if an athlete wants to lose weight at all, it's best to do it in the off-season, when training demands are reduced.

A Word From Verywell 

With its extremely low-calorie eating plans, the Optavia Diet is 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 and carefully consider whether you can realistically follow it.

If you decide to opt for Optavia, learn about healthy eating so you can keep the weight off long-term. Consult with a healthcare professional before starting such a low calorie plan. You can also discuss your weight loss goals and if it is healthy for you to lose weight. The best diet is always the one that is balanced and fits your lifestyle.

Remember, following a long-term or short-term diet may not be necessary for you and many diets out there simply don’t work, especially long-term. While we do not endorse fad diet trends or unsustainable weight loss methods, we present the facts so you can make an informed decision that works best for your nutritional needs, genetic blueprint, budget, and goals.

If your goal is weight loss, remember that losing weight isn’t necessarily the same as being your healthiest self, and there are many other ways to pursue health. Exercise, sleep, and other lifestyle factors also play a major role in your overall health.

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Article Sources
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