Optavia Diet Review: Pros, Cons, and How It Works
Medically Reviewed by Ana Reisdorf, MS, RD
Last Updated on October 1, 2021
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.
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.
Medifast has been around since the 1980s, first selling meal replacements through doctors and eventually directly to its customers.
These days, the company is phasing out its original Medifast program and focusing on Optavia, their holistic health and wellbeing brand.
In recent years, Optavia has gained a lot of attention and is frequently featured on lists for “Best Fast Weight Loss Diets.”
Optavia’s diet programs have even gotten celebrity endorsements.
Back in 2018, reality star and baker Buddy Valastro (also known as the Cake Boss) shared that his 35 lb weight loss resulted from following Optavia.
But fast weight loss and celebrity endorsements do not always make for a sustainable weight loss program.
The Optavia program is a low-calorie diet centered around having six small meals every 2–3 hours.
A varying amount of these meals consist of Fuelings, which are nearly nutritionally identical foods that allow for customization. Each Fueling contains balanced macronutrients and GanedenBC30 probiotic cultures.
The Fuelings are consumed in addition to Lean and Green meals, which contain 5–7 oz of cooked lean protein, three servings of non-starchy vegetables, and up to two 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 cannot give independent expert advice.
Once matched with your coach, you start by following an Optavia Optimal Weight plan until you reach a goal weight.
After meeting your weight goal, you will transition to the Optavia Optimal Health plan and begin other healthy 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:
|Easy to Follow||2/5|
|Value for the Price||2/5|
Foods to Eat and Avoid
The Optavia diet program is very straightforward about what clients can eat during their first 30 days (not a lot) and 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 5–7 oz
- 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
- Whole grains
After the first 30 days of the Optavia program, there is a transition period that allows individuals to start reintroducing the foods on the “Can’t Eat” list, but there are specific portions noted for all foods.
Reading through reviews online about Optavia, I found that people’s thoughts on the Fuelings were mixed.
Some people were okay with adjusting their tastes and eating the Fuelings as long as they were able to lose weight.
Others had a more particular palate and found many of the options undesirable or had to resort to different Fueling “hacks” to improve the taste of the meal replacements.
Considering that these Fuelings may make up most of your daily intake, I couldn’t imagine having to be on such a restrictive diet filled with foods that I didn’t like.
This, combined with the very low target calorie range you’re instructed to follow, would make sticking to Optavia very difficult.
Can It Help You Lose Weight?
Very low-calorie diets can help with short-term weight loss, but the effectiveness for long-term success is limited.
A randomized controlled trial funded by Medifast published in 2018 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. (1)
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 could 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.
A 2010 study examined the effectiveness of the Medifast diet compared to a self-selected and isocaloric food-based meal plan for achieving weight loss. At first, the results for the Medifast diet looked promising. (2)
At 16 weeks, people following the Medifast diet had significantly more weight and fat mass loss than those following the food-based diet.
However, at 40 weeks, the weight loss between the groups was not significantly different, and participants using the Medifast diet had greater weight gain during the 24-week maintenance phase.
A 2013 study similarly compared the Medifast diet with an isocaloric food-based diet. However, the intervention period was 26 weeks, and the maintenance phase was 26 weeks in this year-long study. (3)
After the maintenance phase, participants who used the Medifast diet had more significant weight loss, reduced waist circumference, and increased fat mass loss than those on the food-based diet.
Both of these studies were supported by Medifast, so there may be some bias in the results.
While there are some short-term benefits to diet programs that promote rapid weight loss, it may be suboptimal compared to gradual weight loss.
A 2020 systematic review and meta-analysis found that gradual weight loss promoted more significant reductions in fat mass and body fat percentage while preserving resting metabolic rate compared to rapid weight loss diets. (4)
Sponsored studies by Medifast find that Optavia and Medifast diets are effective at promoting weight and fat loss after 16 weeks of use. Still, the sustainability of this weight loss is uncertain.
In addition, diets that promote gradual weight loss may be better at reducing fat mass and body fat percentage while preserving resting metabolic rate than diets like Optavia.
Because Optavia is a very 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. (5)
The difficulties with following a low-calorie diet like Optavia are 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.
Optavia is a type of diet program that gives the illusion of choice but can actually be quite restrictive.
Most of your customization comes from purchases through their online shop 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 buy 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.
Still, you are limited to getting most of your intake from these different Fuelings, which may be further limited based on your particular dietary restrictions.
Optavia’s diet program also restricts you to a small list of acceptable whole foods and cuts out several food groups for an extended period.
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 help you with daily support during your first 30 days and regular support as you continue the program.
While Optavia offers the opportunity for healthcare professionals to become coaches, a majority of the available coaches are simply people who have gone through the program before.
This means that many coaches cannot provide genuinely individualized and in-depth nutrition assessments and interventions to help you out and are often just parroting information given by Optavia or from their personal experience.
The Optavia Coaching system also runs on a multi-level marketing system, so a drive for sales may influence the kind of messages you receive from your coach to continue with the program or become a coach yourself.
Optavia also offers other ways of building community to keep your motivation up as you’re on this diet. There are community events, various social media platforms, and weekly calls that you can join.
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 cannot 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.
As you can see, Optavia tries to create a very immersive world around its diet program to keep you engaged.
Overall, the monthly cost of the Optavia program is relatively 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 seven 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 six 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 price for this program.
Even if you don’t purchase the Lean and Green meals, you still have to buy additional foods to cook your one non-Fueling meal per day.
At a minimum, the product cost for following this diet is about $14 per day.
Paying around $14 a day for pre-packaged foods that may not even taste good doesn’t seem worth it for me.
I think the money that you would potentially invest in Optavia could be better spent on a different diet program, real food, or getting professional nutrition counseling advice from a registered dietitian.
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.
Optavia 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.
Optavia’s medical disclaimer notes symptoms that you may experience due to rapid weight loss include gallstones or gallbladder disease, hair thinning, dizziness or lightheadedness, headache, fatigue, or gastrointestinal symptoms. (6)
If you experience severe symptoms such as muscle cramps, confusion, a rapid or irregular heartbeat, and numbness or tingling, seek immediate medical attention.
Before starting a diet plan like Optavia, speak with your doctor to see if it is safe for you.
Individuals taking any medications or dietary supplements or who have 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.
How Optavia Diet Compares to Alternatives
Optavia is a low-calorie, low-carbohydrate diet that relies on meal replacements and high levels of accountability to help you lose weight.
It’s unique in that Optavia feels like its meal replacements are in-between the basic repetition of meal replacement shakes and the choices given on other meal replacement diets.
Optavia is a meal replacement program that offers many options for accountability, from one-on-one coaching to community-wide engagement.
That being said, there are many ways that Optavia comes up short when compared to its competitors.
Well-known meal replacement programs such as Nutrisystem or Jenny Craig offer well-rounded menus and don’t rely heavily on bars, shakes, and smoothies.
Optavia is restrictive in what foods are allowed and is not likely to be sustainable long-term due to its restriction of food groups combined with a low-calorie diet.
Optavia has a comparable cost to other meal-replacement programs, but the value may not be present.
Following Optavia also does not truly teach you the skills that you need to know to make better food choices for yourself.
Programs like Noom or Weight Watchers (WW) have coaching systems that teach users more about healthier eating and how to approach healthier weight loss.
There are also significant health concerns with following a low-calorie diet like Optavia that make it unsustainable.
While Optavia may be unique because of its branded Fuelings, options for accountability, and calorie restrictions, it’s not an optimal diet compared to others on the market.
Other programs are more sustainable by offering different food options, having more realistic calorie restrictions, and giving you your money’s worth.
Frequently Asked Questions About the Optavia Diet
How much weight can Optavia help me lose?
One 2019 study found that following the Optavia program for 16-weeks can help individuals lose up to 5.7% of their body weight.
How much does Optavia cost monthly?
Optavia’s Essential Kits cost between $415 to $458 per month, with additional costs if you choose to buy some of Optavia’s Fuelings separately. At a minimum, the product cost for following this diet is about $14 per day.
What can you eat on the Optavia Diet?
On the Optavia Diet, you primarily eat the specially formulated Fuelings that are nutritionally identical, have balanced macronutrients, and GanedenBC30 probiotic cultures.
On the Optimal Weight Plan, allowed foods include lean or extra-lean protein (5–7 oz), three servings of non-starchy vegetables, up to two servings of healthy fats, up to three servings of condiments, and an optional pre-approved daily snack.
What are the side effects of Optavia?
Side effects from programs like Optavia that cause rapid weight loss include gallstones or gallbladder disease, hair thinning, dizziness or lightheadedness, headache, fatigue, or gastrointestinal symptoms.
Severe symptoms such as cramps, confusion, a rapid or irregular heartbeat, and numbness or tingling require immediate medical attention.
Is Optavia healthy?
Optavia is a low to very-low-calorie meal replacement diet that requires intake primarily from processed foods. Diets with these characteristics may not be sustainable and may not provide enough energy for healthy functioning.
They may also cause significant side effects in some people. Speak with your doctor first before starting the Optavia program to see if it is safe for you.
The Bottom Line
I would not recommend the Optavia Diet to someone who is looking to lose weight. There are a lot of red flags and concerns for me as a registered dietitian.
First, there is the potential for many side effects. Rapid weight loss could be harmful to your gallbladder and cause the formation of gallstones. (7)
A low-calorie diet such as this may make it difficult to meet your individual nutrient needs, considering that Optavia primarily provides uniform products without much consideration for the individual, gender, or age-related differences in nutrition needs.
There is an extensive list of safety concerns and restrictions for individuals who may be interested in trying this diet that would likely bar many people from doing so safely.
And even if those were not significant issues, the Optavia program is costly to sustain.
Let’s also talk about the Optavia for Teens program. Considering the lifelong harmful effects of diet culture and early dieting on adolescents, I would not recommend Optavia programs for teens. (8)
It’s crucial 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, sustainable eating patterns that don’t rely on expensive meal replacements and give you a lot of variety.
At WellnessVerge, we only use reputable sources, including peer-reviewed medical journals and well-respected academic institutions.
- Randomized controlled trial assessing two commercial weight loss programs in adults with overweight or obesity:
- Efficacy of a meal replacement diet plan compared to a food-based diet plan after a period of weight loss and weight maintenance: a randomized controlled trial:
- Randomized controlled trial of the Medifast 5 & 1 Plan for weight loss:
- Effects of gradual weight loss v. rapid weight loss on body composition and RMR: a systematic review and meta-analysis:
- Physiological adaptations to weight loss and factors favouring weight regain:
- Randomized controlled trial assessing two commercial weight loss programs in adults with overweight or obesity:
- Obesity and the risk and prognosis of gallstone disease and pancreatitis:
- Dieting and disordered eating behaviors from adolescence to young adulthood: Findings from a 10-year longitudinal study: