What Is the Optavia Diet?

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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 amounts of calories throughout the day.

Optavia adds a social support component by offering access to a health coach who can answer questions and provide encouragement.

To help you decide if the program could help you achieve your weight loss goals, here's a look at how the Optavia Diet works, as well as the plan's pros and cons.

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

Background

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 Optavia Diet is not intended for a specific audience, but it tends to appeal to people who want to stop "overthinking" an eating plan.

With Optavia's popular “5 & 1” plan, five out of the six small meals per day are pre-planned and pre-packaged, eliminating the need for any big decisions when it's time to eat.

Optavia tends to be a favorite among people with a busy lifestyle, but the plan's reduced-calorie approach is intended for anyone looking to lose weight.

Still, the Optavia Diet has not been 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.

How It Works

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.

Optavia offers diet plans for goals of weight loss and weight maintenance.

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

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.

Compliant Foods
  • Optavia fuelings

  • Lean meats

  • Greens and other non-starchy vegetables

  • Healthy fats

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

Non-Compliant Foods
  • Indulgent desserts

  • High-calorie additions

  • Sugary beverages

  • Alcohol

Compliant Foods

Most of the food you'll be eating on Optavia's diet plans come directly from the company, but you'll also need to purchase items to make your "lean and green" meal of the day.

Optavia "Fuelings"

The majority of the food you’ll eat on the Optavia Diet will take the form of its pre-packaged "fuelings."

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 Meats

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:

Greens and Non-Starchy Vegetables

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.

Low-Fat Dairy, Fresh Fruit, and Whole Grains

Once users have achieved the weight loss they desire through meal replacements, lean protein, and non-starchy vegetables, they can move on to a plan to maintain their weight.

On Optavia's weight maintenance plans, users can begin to reintroduce other food groups. Low-fat dairy, fresh fruit, and whole grains are all included in Optavia’s “3 & 3” and “4 & 2 & 1” weight maintenance programs. 

Non-Compliant Foods

While Optavia's plans do not prohibit specific foods, they do advise that you avoid or limit your intake of less healthy options that aren't likely to support your weight loss and don't offer valuable nutrition.

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

Butter, shortening, and high-fat salad dressings add flavor, but they also add large amounts of calories. On Optavia, you’ll be advised to keep additions to a minimum or substitute lower-calorie versions.

Sugary Beverages

Sweetened beverages like soda, juice, or energy drinks provide calories without much satiation, so they’re strongly discouraged on Optavia's plans.

Alcohol

The Optavia diet encourages users to limit alcohol. If you’re trying to stay within a strict calorie range, a 5-ounce glass of wine for 120 calories or the 150 calories in a 12-ounce beer will add up fast.

Recommended Timing 

If you purchase an Optavia Diet plan, you’ll be provided with a guide that offers recommendations for when to eat each "fueling" or meal.

In general, Optavia encourages users to eat about every two to three hours.

For example, a day of eating on the 5 & 1 program (comprised of 5 "fuelings" and 1 homemade "lean and green" meal) could look like this:

  • Breakfast: Fueling (1)
  • Mid-morning snack: Fueling (1)
  • Lunch: Fueling (1)
  • Afternoon snack: Fueling (1)
  • Dinner: Homemade "lean and green" meal
  • Evening snack: Fueling (1)

While most people choose to make dinner their "lean and green" meal, Optavia emphasizes that it can any meal of the day that works for you.

Resources and Products

In addition to providing meal replacements, Optavia offers resources that outline best practices for preparing your "lean and green" meals.

The diet does not require specific recipes but notes that grilling, baking, poaching, and broiling are the recommended cooking methods for meats and other protein choices.

If you need some fresh meal ideas, Optavia also maintains a Pinterest board of plan-compliant recipes.

An additional resource that makes the Optavia program unique is the availability of a coach (usually a person who has successfully completed the Optavia program) to cheer you on throughout your weight loss journey.

When you sign up for Optavia, you can also join weekly group support calls with health professionals who can answer your weight loss questions.

Modifications

The Optavia diet relies on proprietary meal replacement products and strictly calorie-controlled prepared meals, so there’s not much room for modification.

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.

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.

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

Pros

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.

Cons

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

High Monthly Cost

Optavia’s cost can be a deterrent for prospective users. The 5 & 1 plan ranges in price from $350 to $425 for 119 servings (about three weeks of meal replacements).

As you're considering the program's cost, don't forget to factor in the food you'll need to purchase to prepare your "lean and green" meals. 

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.

How It Compares 

The Optavia Diet can be more effective for quick weight loss than other plans simply because of how few calories its fuelings and "lean and green" meals provide.

U.S. News and World Report ranked Optavia as the number two best diet for fast weight loss (tied with Atkins, keto, and Weight Watchers).

The 2019 U.S. News and World Report Best Diets ranked the Optavia Diet 31st in Best Diets Overall and gave it an overall score of 2.7/5.

Optavia requires less "mental gymnastics" than competitors like Weight Watchers, (for which you have to learn a system of points) or keto (for which you must closely track and assess macronutrients).

Optavia's coaching component is comparable to Weight Watchers and Jenny Craig, both of which encourage participants to opt-in for meetups to get social support.

The highly processed nature of most foods you’ll eat on the Optavia diet can be a downside compared to the array of fresh, whole foods you can eat on more self-guided plans such as Atkins

USDA Recommendations 

The Optavia Diet deviates from health and nutrition guidelines encouraged by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) in several areas.

The USDA's Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015-2020 estimate that a healthy adult requires 1600 to 3000 calories per day, depending on their activity level.

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.

Similar Diets

There are several popular diet plans that are similar to Optavia, but with key differences that might influence whether they are a good fit for your goals.

SlimFast Diet

When you think of meal replacements, SlimFast probably comes to mind first. While the food and product aspects of SlimFast and Optavia's plans are similar, there are some key differences.

SlimFast's array of meal replacement products is similar in nutrition but you won't find as much variety as with Optavia's plan.

However, an attribute of SlimFast is that it does offer meal replacement lines that comply with special diets, such as keto and diabetic weight loss.

If you like the idea of having built-in social support and coaching, that's a key feature of Optavia's plan that you won't find with a SlimFast diet.

Special K Diet

Another popular meal replacement plan is the Special K diet. To follow the two-week “challenge," you'll replace two meals a day with Special K cereal or another Special K product, then eat your usual dinner.

The Special K diet is essentially a "quick-fix" or "crash diet," and is not intended for longer-term use.

Optavia's 5 & 1 plan also offers quick weight loss but with a bit more variety than two meals of cereal a day.

With Optavia, you can also transition to the 3 & 3 or 4 & 2 & 1 plans for weight maintenance once you meet your initial goal.

If cost is your main consideration, two weeks' of the Special K diet is certainly a cheaper option than most diet programs—including Optavia's.

Nutrisystem

Like Optavia, Nutrisystem is a meal replacement company that sends users pre-made, pre-packaged foods that take the planning and guesswork out of meal prep and planning.

However, in contrast to Optavia’s "fuelings," Nutrisystem’s products more closely resemble typical meals.

Nutrisystem's food choices, such as pizza, sandwiches, and mac and cheese, are intended to stand in for all three meals a day.

If the social support aspect of diet programs appeals to you, Nutrisystem also offers support services from on-call counselors.

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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  1. U.S. News and World Report. Best Fast Weight-Loss Diets.

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