Optavia Diet Review: Does This Program Really Work for Weight Loss?

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boxes of Optavia meal kits boxes of Optavia meal kits

Optavia

You might have seen Optavia popping up on social media recently. While the company is a bit older, the diet program has gained traction in the last few years. Optavia says it can help you adopt healthy habits and apply them to your everyday life. 

Founded in 2002, Optavia is owned by parent company Medifast, known for selling weight loss and health-related products, often through multilevel marketing. 

To learn more about Optavia’s weight loss plans and offerings, I tested the products and spoke with a nutritionist. Here’s what I found. 

What is Optavia?

Optavia is a diet company that sells bars, shakes, snacks and easy-to-prepare recipes. It emphasizes both good eating and good living. The company’s message is that if you learn healthy habits, you can lead a healthy life. 

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Screenshot by Caroline Igo/CNET

Optavia first caught people’s attention on Instagram in 2018 when TV’s Cake Boss, aka Buddy Valastro, shared his weight loss success. In a post on his profile he wrote, “A lot of people have been asking me how I’ve slimmed down lately … I’ve used the Optavia program. I think everybody is different and you should do whatever suits you but this is what I’m doing and I’m very happy with the results so far!” He says he is not sponsored. 

Let’s jump into how Optavia helped the Cake Boss lose weight.

How does Optavia work?

The diet company relies on meal replacements called “fuelings,” which are branded products designed to keep you full until your next fueling. No matter which meal plan you choose, you’ll be eating every 2 to 3 hours, resulting in six meals a day. However, one to three (depending on your plan) meals will be a dish you make at home using fresh ingredients. The program also recommends avoiding alcohol, sugary drinks and desserts, high-calorie condiments, starchy vegetables and whole grains.

Each fueling product contains around 100 to 150 calories. Optavia’s minimal-calorie diet has clients consuming about 800 to 1,100 calories a day, depending on the plan and number of homemade meals. According to the USDA’s dietary guidelines for adults, women should consume 1,600 to 2,200 calories per day, and men 2,200 to 3,000 calories.

This calorie deficit causes rapid weight loss at the start of the diet. Health professionals recommend a 500-calorie deficit for healthy weight loss. Always consult with your doctor before making changes to your diet to ensure you’re consuming enough calories.

Optavia meal plans

Optavia offers three meal plans:

  • Optimal Weight 5-and-1 Plan (five fuelings and one lean and green meal a day)
  • Optimal Weight 4-and-2-and-1 Plan (four fuelings, two lean and green meals and two essential amino acids a day)
  • Optimal Health 3-and-3 Plan (three fuelings, three balanced meals, one whey protein and one essential amino acid a day)

Optavia fuelings

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Optavia

Optavia’s fuelings are the bulk of every meal plan — they include bars, shakes, brownie and pancake mix, snack sticks, cereals, pasta, potatoes, soups and pudding. Each product is said to be high in vitamins and minerals, probiotics and protein, and doesn’t contain any artificial colors, flavors or sweeteners. The meal plan you choose will determine how many fuelings you’ll receive. 

While not all fueling products are available in every meal plan, you do have the option to customize your fuelings kit.

Optavia lean-and-green meals

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Optavia

The meal plan you choose will determine how many lean-and-green meals you eat a day. Unlike fuelings, these meals are not included in your meal kit. That means extra grocery shopping and cooking is required, but each meal is completely up to you. Optavia does provide recipes. 

Each lean-and-green meal you prepare on your own must include:

  • 5 to 7 ounces of lean protein (for example, chicken, salmon or tofu) 
  • Three servings of nonstarchy vegetables (for example, cauliflower, collard greens or broccoli)
  • Up to two servings of healthy fat (for example, avocado, eggs or nuts)

Personal coaching with Optavia

Losing weight is hard, and it’s even harder to do it alone. A personal coach can help motivate you and ease the stress of beginning a weight loss journey. You can connect with Optavia’s personal coaches through text or email, or in person if distance allows.

A majority of Optavia’s coaches were clients themselves. After training provided by the company, you can become a paid coach for newcomers. While the training Optavia provides seems extensive, coaches don’t go through professional training. This is where aspects of Optavia’s parent company, Medifast, come in, through multilevel marketing to bring in new clients and coaches. 

Is Optavia food any good?

I was sent eight bars, two snack sticks, four shake packets, four potato packets, four pancake mixes and one box of chocolate brownie mix (containing seven packets). This was a small sample of what to expect in either the Optimal Weight 4-and-2-and-1 Plan or the Optimal Weight 5-and-1 Plan. 

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Caroline Igo/CNET

I’m not a professional food critic, but I did put myself in the shoes of someone on the Optavia diet. I made sure to pay special attention to taste, texture, nutritional value, portion size and the effort it took to prepare the meals.

Fuelings

I started my trial run of Optavia with one of the eight bars in my package. Out of the wrapper, one bar is about the size of my pointer finger. It contains 110 calories, 11 grams of protein, 3.5 grams of fat and 25 vitamins and minerals. I thought the bars tasted great, similar to cereal bars I would eat as a kid. There are various flavors including peanut butter, s’mores, chocolate mint cookie and raisin oat cinnamon. If you’re not a fan of chocolate, there are plenty of other flavors to try.

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Caroline Igo/CNET

I wasn’t as impressed with the other fuelings in the box. Although the brownie was easy to prepare (add water and microwave), it didn’t have much flavor and was pretty dry. It had the consistency of chocolate cake, but it was bitter. The brownie contains yogurt chips, which were the tastiest part of the fueling. It contains 110 calories, 11 grams of protein and 8 grams of sugar.

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Caroline Igo/CNET

Mashed potatoes are another common fueling in both Optimal Weight meal plans. I only needed to add water and microwave them, like making Idahoan instant potatoes. I tried the sour cream and chive flavor, although there are more to choose from. Each packet of potatoes contains 100 calories, 11 grams of protein and 0.5 grams of fat.

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Caroline Igo/CNET

As pictured above, the portion is small. However, I think the potatoes are filling due to the amount of protein. As for taste, the chive flavor is strong but not strong enough to cover up the processed flavor. The texture is similar to homemade mashed potatoes, but the consistency is too dry. 

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Caroline Igo/CNET

Lastly, I tried the honey mustard and onion sticks. They’re similar to flavored pretzel sticks, and contain 100 calories, 11 grams of protein and 1.5 grams of fat. It’s hard to consider them a fueling, because they look more like snacks to me. The honey mustard sticks were bland, dry and heavily processed. 

Shakes

Shakes are considered a fueling, but they are very different from the other fuelings offered. They contain higher amounts of protein and fat. These traditional protein diet shakes contain around 100 calories, 14 grams of protein and 0.5 to 1 gram of fat.

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Caroline Igo/CNET

I tried one of the chocolate shakes first. The drink tasted similar to chocolate milk and there wasn’t an overwhelming chalkiness like other protein shakes I’ve tried. You can add extra water to adjust thickness. Other flavors include mocha, caramel macchiato, vanilla, peanut butter and strawberry.

A day on the Optavia diet 

Here’s an example of a day’s meals on the 5-and-1 Plan. Keep in mind that you would eat every two hours.

  • Golden chocolate chip pancakes
  • Wild strawberry shake
  • Homestyle chick’n noodle soup
  • Honey mustard and onion sticks
  • Salmon and broccoli with lemon, thyme and ginger (lean-and-green meal)
  • Creamy double peanut butter crisp bar

Optavia pricing 

Each meal plan contains enough food items for 30 days. Plan prices are monthly based on price after first order, which typically has a discount.

  • Optimal Weight 5-and-1 Plan: $472 (includes 22 essential fuelings and 1 essential amino acids)
  • Optimal Weight 4-and-2-and-1 Plan: $475 (includes 17 essential fuelings and 2 essential amino acids)
  • Optimal Health 3-and-3 Plan: $375 (includes 13 essential fuelings, 2 essential amino acids and 1 whey protein)

What do nutritionists say about Optavia?

I spoke with Dr. Melina B. Jampolis, a physician nutrition specialist and host of the podcast Practically Healthy by Dr. Melina, about the safety of diet programs such as Optavia. 

“As a weight loss doctor, I completely understand why people turn to diets like this, as we have to make several hundred food and beverage decisions each day,” Jampolis said. “So, trying to ‘diet’ can quickly lead to decision fatigue and leave people making the wrong choices.

“Most people state that lack of time preparing the right foods is a factor in their diet failure, and eating out is very challenging as portion sizes are generally much larger than needed, and you honestly have no idea what goes into recipes when eating out,” Jampolis said. 

Diet programs attempt to simplify this process by providing easy-to-make meals with built-in portion control, so you don’t need to guess how much fat, protein or fiber you need each day. 

However, Jampolis said she is concerned with diet programs that are made up of highly processed foods. “They may not be as naturally satiating as whole foods closer to their natural form, and they certainly are not as healthy,” she said. In addition, most diet programs “don’t teach people how to navigate their diets on their own, so once they stop ordering the food, they could simply go back to their old ways.”

On the other hand, Jampolis said studies show that “meal replacements do help with both weight loss and weight maintenance, so if people want to use this to kick-start their weight loss, they just need to make sure to apply the principles for continued weight loss-weight maintenance. So, perhaps, they could find a healthier meal (with whole grains and vegetables) to replace lunch or dinner on occasion, or have a smoothie or protein bar for breakfast or a snack to build in portion control.”

Potential drawbacks

Is Optavia for you?

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Caroline Igo/CNET

Optavia has helped people lose weight, but it isn’t healthy for everyone. Any diet program can have unintended effects such as triggering disordered eating or yo-yo dieting. Consult with a physician before starting Optavia or any other weight loss program. 

You should try Optavia if:

  • You don’t mind meal replacements such as protein shakes
  • You’re looking to learn how to make easy-to-prepare meals
  • You want a program that gives you access to a community of people also on a weight loss journey

You should seek other weight loss options if:

  • You’re looking for fresh or prepackaged meals
  • You don’t want to pay for both a weight loss program and grocery store trips
  • You’re looking for a way to keep weight off long-term


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