Countless diet programs essentially promise a new you with a new body and a new mindset about food. Optavia offers these in an attractive package that includes coaches, community, plans, and products. But is Optavia safe? Let’s take a look.
What is Optavia?
The Optavia Diet is an updated version of Medifast. If you remember, Medifast is a weight-loss company that uses multi-level marketing and franchised weight-loss clinics to sell its brand-name weight loss and health products. The main difference between Medifast and Optavia is that the new products are now made without artificial sweeteners, colors, or flavors.
Optavia is a meal replacement diet comprised of very low-calorie products. It’s designed for quick weight loss and marketed as a total transformation with community support, 1:1 coaching, and food (their packaged products).
How Optavia Works
To lose weight, an individual must burn more calories than they consume. With all of the weight loss programs today, it’s easy for consumers who desire to lose weight to be sucked into something that sounds promising.
Optavia offers an enticing solution. While it claims to help take the guesswork out of weight loss, it simply creates a large calorie deficit using its meal replacers. These are called Fuelings, which include over 60 pre-packaged, processed foods and calorie-controlled meals marketed as “nutritionally interchangeable, scientifically designed, delicious, and convenient”.
To get started, you choose from three programs:
5 & 1 Optimal Weight Plan: This plan is based on eating six small meals per day. It claims to move your body into a “gentle but efficient fat-burning state while retaining lean muscle mass.” This plan includes 5 Fuelings and 1 Lean and Green Meal.
4 & 2 & 1 Optimal Weight Plan: This is for people who do not want to cut out food groups and prefer a flexible meal plan. It uses 4 Optavia Fuelings, 2 Lean and Green Meals, and 1 snack.
3 & 3 Optimal Health Plan: This plan claims to be nutritionally balanced, easy to follow, and made up of 3 meals and 3 Optavia Fuelings per day, eaten every 2-3 hours. For this plan, users are instructed to determine their Total Energy Expenditure using the calculator on the Optavia website and choose the meal plan that correlates with that number.
Each Optavia plan incorporates their Habits of Health Transformational System with the tagline, “Lifelong Transformation, One Healthy Habit at a Time®”. The habits focus on weight, eating and hydration, motion, sleep, mind, and surroundings.
In addition to the Optavia plans and products, users receive support from coaches, 90% of whom are previous Optavia users — not dietitians or health professionals. This is a multi-level marketing structure. Previous users become ‘coaches’ to then make a commission on sales for the members, or clients, that sign up for programs under them. They offer ‘1:1 coaching’, most of the time without credentials.
What You Can and Cannot Eat
Following the Optavia Diet involves eating a combination of pre-packaged and pre-measured Fuelings, Lean and Green Meals, and snacks.
The idea of having someone else determine your food options for you may sound attractive. But when you look closer at the ingredients of Optavia products, you can see that they have little to offer for your health.
For example, this is the ingredient list of one 100-calorie Optavia Essential Cranberry Honey Nut Granola Bar: Soy protein isolate, soluble corn fiber, brown rice syrup, peanuts, sugar, golden raisins (with sulfur dioxide to protect color), polydextrose, milk protein isolate, rolled oats, erythritol, allulose syrup, almonds, water, natural flavors, contains 2% or less of glycerine, vegetable oil (canola, sunflower, and/or soybean oil), cranberries, guar gum, rice starch, soy lecithin, salt, honey, maltodextrin, peanut oil, citric acid, potato starch, steviol glycosides, xanthan gum, Bacillus coagulans GBI-30 6086.
In other words, it’s a bunch of highly-processed ingredients with a probiotic thrown in at the end. Furthermore, these bars are fortified with a whopping 25 vitamins and minerals to make up for the lack of whole and minimally-processed foods you’re eating on the Optavia weight loss program. This is typical of a fad diet program — junky products designed to promote weight loss but not actually promote health, with temporary effects that often last only for as long as you stick to their plan.
No specific foods are red-listed. However, the program strongly discourages eating sweets and desserts, though fruit and flavored yogurt can be added back after the initial weight loss phase. Optavia discourages the consumption of butter, high-sugar/high-fat condiments like mayo, BBQ sauce, and ketchup, alcohol, and sugary beverages like soda and sweetened coffee drinks.
Remember that while programs like this can reduce your meal planning and prep, they come with a cost. For Optavia, this can be several hundred dollars per month. More than that, following this program may even come with a cost to your health.
Is Optavia Safe?
The benefit of Optavia is rapid weight loss. This is to be expected given this program’s very low-calorie, portion-controlled, pre-packaged meal replacement nature. For example, the 5 & 1 plan maxes out at 800-1,000 calories per day, which is extremely low. Other plans max out at 1,000-2,000, which is still very low, especially for active people.
The protein is also far too low in this program for athletes. For example, the protein would only add up to about 1 g/kg for a 220-pound person, not nearly enough to be muscle-sparing during weight loss.
For overweight or obese individuals, weight loss may offer benefits like improved blood sugar control, blood pressure, and inflammation. However, weight loss from these types of programs is rarely sustainable. Most people do not find eating this way something they want to do forever. Not to mention, many Optavia Fuelings are highly processed foods, as expected from pre-packaged diet items. This makes it difficult to transition to weight maintenance after achieving your goal, as you have no real education on how or what to eat without their pre-packaged foods.
Finally, there is a potential danger. These types of very-low-calorie diets come with a risk of developing nutrient deficiencies the longer someone is on one. The Optavia plans limit entire food groups, like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains — which are some of the most nutrient-dense foods on the planet.
Optavia Lawsuit and Complaints
A federal class action lawsuit was filed against Optavia and its parent company, Medifast, in 2022.
The complaint says that: “Defendants use dark patterns to enroll consumers in an automatic renewal plan called ‘Optavia Premier.'” This refers to illegal tactics companies use to trick users, manipulating them with interface designs that obscure, subvert, or impair decision-making around their purchasing choices.
There is also a Better Business Bureau file for Optavia, which is not a BBB-accredited company. It has a consumer rating of 1.5 out of 5 stars and nearly 500 Optavia complaints — largely about customer service and being unable to cancel or receive refunds.
Do I Recommend Optavia?
No, I do not recommend Optavia, and I’m not alone. This program has received very low reviews across the board from many health and nutrition professionals.
In addition to the many downfalls above, including potential harm to your health, this type of diet will not support your physical or mental performance. Cutting calories and rapid weight loss may reduce body mass, but at the sacrifice of low energy, fatigue, irritability, and the many other symptoms that come from under-fueling. Sufficient nutrition and calories are critical for a healthy, active lifestyle.
And while community support can be a game-changer, remember that Optavia coaches are not health professionals, nor are they trained in nutrition. They are regular people who have used Optavia and are being paid to promote it and make it work for others.
Instead of investing in Optavia and similar programs, work with a registered dietitian knowledgeable on effective, sustainable nutrition changes for achieving body composition goals.
Get on our waitlist to apply for nutrition coaching today.