The name "Optavia" may sound like a new prescription drug or even an eyeglasses brand, but it's actually an increasingly popular weight-loss plan that's found growing traction online. Google named Optavia one of the top trending diets in 2018 in its year-end report, and Cake Boss star Buddy Valastro attributed his recent dramatic weight loss to the plan as well.
"A lot of people have been asking me how I’ve slimmed down lately so I just wanted to share that I’ve used the Optavia program," he wrote on Instagram last June. "I'm not being paid to say this and it should be noted that 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!"
Nothing is officially off limits on the diet, but it's not exactly a cake walk. The program severely restricts calories and advises its followers to buy "fuelings" in order to shed pounds.
"It’s tricky to recommend restrictive diet plans like Optavia on the whole," says Jaclyn London, MS, RD, CDN, Nutrition Director at the Good Housekeeping Institute. "While accountability and community are key components to any behavior change program, behavior modification with restrictive eating patterns sets some of us up for disordered eating habits and restrict–binge–restrict tendencies."
Here's what you need to know about Optivia before signing up:
What is Optavia?
Optavia is a weight loss or maintenance plan that prescribes eating a mix of purchased, processed food — called "fuelings" — and homemade "lean and green" meals. There's no counting carbs or calories. Instead, followers add water to powdered food or unwrap a bar as part of six-or-so mini meals per day. Optavia also offers guidance from coaches to help you learn their trademarked "Habits of Health." The plan additionally recommends doing about 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per day.
What do you eat on Optavia?
At least half of any Optavia diet is comprised of its "fuelings," which include bars, shakes, cookies, cereal, and some savory options, like soup and smashed potatoes. These processed foods often list soy protein or whey protein as the first ingredient.
Lean and green meals fill out the rest of the diet, which you buy and prepare on your own. Those include:
5–7 ounces of cooked lean protein like fish, chicken, egg whites, turkey, or soy
3 servings of non-starchy vegetables like lettuce, greens, celery, or cucumbers
Up to 2 servings of healthy fats like olive oil, olives, or avocado
How often do you eat on Optavia?
The Optavia advises eating six or seven times per day (about every two to three hours) depending on the plan. The three available plans are:
5 & 1 Plan: Eat five Optavia fuelings and one "lean and green" meal per day
4 & 2 & 1 Plan: Eat four Optavia fuelings, two "lean and green" meals, and one snack per day
3 & 3 Plan: Eat three Optavia fuelings and three "lean and green" meals per day
Is the Optivia diet healthy?
The Optavia diet is what's considered a high-protein diet, with protein making up 10–35% of your daily calories. However, the processed, powdered kind can lead to some less-than- pleasant consequences.
"The protein isolate plus additives can make you feel bloated and have some other unwanted GI side effects, making you better off with unsweetened Greek yogurt for protein in a smoothie," London says.
Plus, the FDA does not regulate dietary supplements like shakes and powders for safety and efficacy the same way it does for food. "Powders and protein 'blends' may have undesirable ingredients, or could interact with a medication you may be taking," London adds, "making it extra important to make sure your physician is aware of you trying the plan."
How does Optavia help you lose weight?
Optavia relies on intensely restricting calories to promote weight loss. Most "fuelings" hover around 100–110 calories each, meaning you could take in around 1,000 calories per day on this diet.
Due to Optavia's dramatic approach, U.S. News and World Report ranked it #2 in its list of Best Fast Weight-Loss Diets, but #32 in its list of Best Diets for Healthy Eating. "Short term, it seems impossible not to shed at least some pounds; you're eating half the calories most adults consume," it said. "The long-term outlook is less promising."
London agrees that there's a better approach to lasting weight loss: "'Eating meals and snacks that incorporate loads of produce, 100% whole grains, nuts, seeds, legumes, and pulses, low-fat dairy products, eggs, poultry, seafood, and lean beef plus some indulgences is the best way to lose weight sustainably for the long haul."
Is Optavia the same as Medifast?
Somewhat — Medifast Inc. is the parent company of Optavia. It also owns and operates the Medifast program you may remember from the '80s and '90s, which had doctors prescribing meals to their clients. Optavia uses similar foods with an identical macronutrient profile, but consumers can sign up for the plan themselves online.
How much does Optavia cost?
The essential kits, which are the cheapest plan offerings, cost more than $300 per month, and that's not including what you'll spend on your lean and green meals. Here's what you can expect to pay for each type:
5 & 1 Plan: $392.15 for 119 servings (30 day supply)
4 & 2 & 1 Plan: $399 for 140 servings (30 day supply)
3 & 3 Plan: $309.55 for 130 servings (30 day supply)
In contrast, the United States Department of Agriculture estimates that a woman between the ages of 10-50 could spend as little as $166.40 per month on groceries and still follow a nutritious diet. (Granted, that's considering you prepare all of your meals and snacks at home.)
The bottom line: "While I appreciate the Cake Boss's weight loss, eating real, nutrient-dense, delicious, and health-promoting food is the only way to lose weight for the long term," London says.
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