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Optavia Diet Review: Pros, Cons, and How It Works

Written by Markita Lewis, MS, RD

Published on January 25, 2021

Our Expert Rating:

2.7

About This Rating
The average rating of this product is calculated based on the evaluation of the following factors:
  • Evidenced-Based:3.0
  • Easy to Follow:2.0
  • Customization:4.0
  • Sustainability:2.0
  • Safety:2.0
  • Value for the Price:2.0
  • Accountability:4.0

While its program and products may be effective for weight loss, the expenses, low-calorie intake, and potential risks associated with Optavia make it a less than ideal choice for sustainable weight loss.

Optavia Diet Review: Pros, Cons, and How It Works

Pros

  • Multiple avenues for support and accountability
  • Products are backed by research
  • Allows for customization within the diet

Cons

  • Products are overpriced
  • Safety concerns for some people
  • Diet is not sustainable
  • Most coaches are not trained health professionals

How Optavia Diet Works

Optavia diet is a set of programs that combines specialized foods and health coaching to help individuals incorporate healthy habits for long-term lifestyle changes.

Optavia was cofounded by Dr. Wayne Andersen (“Dr. A”) and Bradley MacDonald. Bradley MacDonald was the Chairman of the Board of Directors for Medifast, the nutrition and weight loss company that is the parent company for Optavia.

Dr. A is a board-certified physician in critical care and serves as the Director of the Surgical Critical Care Program at Grandview Medical Center. He is also the developer of the Habits of Health Transformational System and an NYT Bestselling health author.

The Optavia program is centered around having six small meals every 2–3 hours, with a varying amount of these meals consisting of Fuelings, which are nearly nutritionally identical foods that allow for customization. Each Fueling contains balanced macronutrients and GanedenBC30® probiotic cultures.

The Fuelings consumed in addition to Lean and Green meals, which contain 5–7oz of cooked lean protein, 3 servings of non-starchy vegetables, and up to 2 servings of healthy fats.

There are several Optavia plans available:

  • Optimal Weight 5&1: Consists of five Fuelings per day and one Lean and Green meal
  • Optimal Weight 4&2&1: Consists of four Fuelings per day, two Lean and Green meals and one healthy snack
  • Optimal Health 3&3: Consists of three Optimal Health Fuelings and three Lean and Green meals
  • Special Medical Needs: Optavia includes plans for nursing mothers, teen boys and girls, seniors (ages 65 years or older), individuals with diabetes, and individuals with gout
  • Special Dietary Needs: Plans exist for those taking thyroid medications and for vegetarians

Each participant is matched with an Optavia coach throughout the program. According to the Optavia website, most coaches are former Optavia clients who have found success with the program.

There are opportunities for healthcare professionals to become Optavia coaches, but it is important to note that most coaches are unable to give independent expert advice.

Individuals start off by following an Optavia Optimal Weight plan until they reach a goal weight.

Then they transition to the Optavia Optimal Health plan and begin further health habits to maintain an optimal weight, as well as habits concerning fitness, sleep, and behavior management.

Optavia Diet’s Scorecard

The Optavia diet program was objectively evaluated by a dietitian based on the following criteria:

  • Evidenced-Based: 3.0
  • Easy to Follow: 2.0
  • Customization: 4.0
  • Sustainability: 2.0
  • Safety: 2.0
  • Value for the Price: 2.0
  • Accountability: 4.0

Overall Rating: 2.7

Learn About the Methodology

Foods to Eat and Avoid

The Optavia diet program is very straightforward about what clients are able to eat during their first 30 days and during the transition period for weight management. Below is what you can and can’t eat while on an Optimal Weight plan.

What You Can Eat

  • Optavia Fuelings
  • A serving of lean or extra-lean protein, approximately 5–7oz
  • Three servings of non-starchy vegetables
  • Up to two servings of healthy fats (depending on what proteins are chosen)
  • Up to three servings of condiments from their condiment list
  • Optional daily snack from a pre-approved list, including celery stalks, sugar-free products (including Popsicles, gelatin, and gum), or 0.5 oz of nuts

What You Can’t Eat

  • Vegetables high in carbohydrates including carrots, peas, potatoes, onions, edamame, and brussels sprouts
  • Fruits
  • Whole grains
  • Dairy

After the first 30 days of the Optavia program, there is a transition period that allows individuals to start reintroducing the foods that were on the “Can’t Eat” list, but there are specific portions noted for all foods.

Can It Help You Lose Weight?

A randomized controlled trial funded by Medifast and published in the journal Obesity Science and Practice assessed the efficacy of the Optavia 5&1 plan with telephone coaching, compared to a self-guided Medifast 4&2&1 plan and a self-directed, reduced-calorie diet.

After following one of the three diets for 16 weeks, researchers found that the Optavia and Medifast diet significantly reduced body weight, fat and abdominal fat mass, and waist and hip circumferences compared to a self-guided, reduced-calorie diet.

The Optavia reduced average body weight by 5.7% compared to the Medifast diet which reduced weight by 5%.

This is the only study I was able to find about Optavia in particular, but there is a bit more research on Medifast.

According to the Medifast parent company, the meal replacements for Optavia and Medifast are nutritionally equal.

Based on this information, a review of the efficacy of the Medifast diet shows that it is effective in generating greater short-term weight loss at 4 months (when compared to control/behavioral counseling), but these effects may not be maintained after 6–9 months.

Sustainability

Because Optavia is a low-calorie, reduced carbohydrate diet, it may be difficult for people to follow.

The 5&1 Plan typically provides between 850–1050 calories per day, which is unsustainable to maintain long-term.

This sudden change in calories may also cause some physiological responses that can alter metabolism and increase food cravings.

The difficulties with following a low-calorie diet like Optavia is likely part of the reason why there is a heavy focus on coaching, accountability, and community to help individuals deal with the physiological and psychological stress of a significant calorie deficit.

Once ideal weight is achieved, one can transition to a somewhat higher calorie diet, which may be easier to manage.

There is some customization available within the Optavia program. In their online shop, you can purchase from a selection of more than 60 different Optavia Fuelings.

These include bars, soups, desserts, snacks, hearty choices, shakes, and other beverages. You can purchase kits that have a selection of products, or purchase your Fuelings individually.

Optavia has a Product Claims Sheet available on its website listing its products and common allergens, gluten-free certification, Kosher certification, vegetarian-friendly options, presence of caffeine, and sugar alcohols.

Accountability

Optavia makes accountability a focus in their program efficacy. All clients in an Optavia program are matched with an Optavia coach to help support them through the diet.

These coaches are to help you with daily support during your first 30 days on the diet, and regular support as you are on the program.

Optavia also offers other ways of building community. There are community events, various social media platforms, and weekly calls.

Habits of Health Community Time is a weekly Zoom webinar to help clients identify and implement Optavia Habits of Health® to help them through their health journeys.

For those who are unable to attend a weekly Zoom meeting live, these sessions are available as a podcast and on YouTube.

All clients are encouraged to use the Your Lifebook journal and workbook to help them develop their Habits of Health®.

Clients can also sign up for daily motivations, reminders, and tips through text messages.

Cost

Overall, the monthly cost of the Optavia program is quite high.

  • The Essential Kit of Fuelings for the 5&1 plan is approximately $415 per month.
  • The Essential Optimal Kit for the 4&2&1 Plan is about $458 per month.

You can purchase individual boxes of Fuelings, which provide 7 servings per box. Fuelings cost between $19–23 per box, snacks cost between $9–11 per box, and Lean and Green meals are nearly $30 (for 6 servings).

In addition to the cost of the Fuelings, there are costs for purchasing foods for daily Lean and Green meals not included in the total cost for this program.

At a minimum, the product cost for following this diet is about $14 per day.

Safety

For individuals wanting to try the Optavia Program as a diet option, there are several safety concerns that you should be aware of before opting in.

The creators of the Optavia Program note in their disclaimer that individuals interested in trying the program should contact their healthcare provider before starting the program for a number of reasons.

To start, the Optavia program is not recommended for anyone who is pregnant or under the age of 13.

For adolescents between the ages of 13–17 years, only the Optavia for Teens plan is appropriate for that age group, and they should not follow the Optimal Weight 5&1 plan.

The Optimal Weight 5&1 is also not appropriate for several other groups of people, including sedentary adults over 65 years, nursing mothers, people with gout, individuals who exercise more than 45 minutes per day, and some people with diabetes.

These groups may be more appropriate for other Optavia plans.

If you are currently taking any medications or dietary supplements including warfarin, lithium, diuretics, or medications for the treatment of diabetes, hypertension, or thyroid conditions, it is recommended to consult your healthcare provider before starting the program.

In addition to this, individuals with a history of serious illnesses, conditions that may be affected by weight, or conditions requiring medical care should not enroll in any Optavia program until they are cleared by their healthcare provider.

Some of the conditions of concern include cardiovascular disease, diabetes, thyroid diseases, cancer, liver disease, kidney disease, and eating disorders.

The medical disclaimer on the Optavia website also notes symptoms that one may experience as a result of rapid weight loss including gallstones or gallbladder disease, hair thinning, dizziness or lightheadedness, headache, fatigue, or gastrointestinal symptoms.

They recommend seeking medical attention if experiencing serious symptoms such as muscle cramps, confusion, a rapid or irregular heartbeat, and numbness or tingling.

How It Compares

There are many meal-replacement diets available out on the market. Among well-known meal replacement programs such as Nutrisystem or Jenny Craig, Optavia is about average in its cost.

However, it is still an expensive program when compared to other popular diets that do not rely on meal replacements.

Optavia is also very restrictive and may not be sustainable for most people compared to other programs.

There are a lot of food groups that the initial Optavia diet cuts out and the calories allotted are very low.

There are also significant health concerns with following the Optavia diet that make it unsustainable.

Other programs provide a more modest calorie reduction, offer more variety in the foods provided, and maybe more sustainable than Optavia.

The Bottom Line

After learning about this diet, I would not recommend it to someone who was looking to lose weight. There are a lot of red flags and concerns for me as a registered dietitian.

Something I noticed in reading the literature for this diet is that there is a lot of talk about gallbladder health, which leads me to believe that this diet could be harmful for your gallbladder.

As noted above, there is an extensive list of safety concerns and restrictions for individuals who may be interested in trying this diet.

And even if those were not major issues, the Optavia program is very expensive to sustain.

Let’s also talk about the Optavia for Teens program. Considering the lifelong harmful effects that diet culture and early dieting can have on adolescents, I would not recommend Optavia programs for teens.

It’s important that health and wellness at that age not be weight-focused. Instead, building healthy habits and an appreciation for their growing and changing bodies is essential to creating a healthy relationship with themselves that can last throughout life.

If you’re interested in making sustainable lifestyle changes to support your health and weight, instead of running to a low-calorie diet that may contribute to yo-yo dieting, I recommend going to a registered dietitian or a health professional well-versed in nutrition.

They can help you create healthy eating patterns that are sustainable, don’t rely on expensive meal replacements, and give you a lot of variety.

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