The words “cake” and “weight loss” don’t usually go together—unless you’re Cake Boss star Buddy Valastro, who dropped 35 pounds on one of Google’s top trending diets: the Optavia diet. But what exactly is the Optavia diet and should you really try it to help you lose weight?
If you’ve heard of Medifast, you’re already somewhat familiar with the plan, because Optavia is essentially a version of Medifast. As with the original Medifast plan, Optavia ships prepackaged low-calorie mini-meals–which they call “Fuelings”—and ready-to-eat snacks straight to your door.
There are more than 60 different portion-controlled “Fueling” options including shakes, bars, pre-made shelf-stable meals (like macaroni and cheese)—even brownies. According to the company, each fueling is protein-based and includes a probiotic for digestive health.
This nosh makes up the majority of your diet; the rest is made up of “lean and green” meals full of protein and vegetables (think: grilled chicken and steamed broccoli) that you cook at home.
What can I eat on the Optavia program?
According to the company’s website, there are three different Optavia diet programs you can follow, depending on your goals:
5&1 Plan: On this plan, you eat five “Fuelings” per day, and cook one “lean and green” meal. This is the plan most people start on if they’re trying to lose weight.
4&2&1 Plan: With this version, you get four daily “Fuelings” and one healthy snack from the company or your own (a serving of fruit, dairy or starch), and you make two “lean and green” meals on your own. This plan is meant to offer more flexibility than the 5&1 plan while still helping you lose weight.
3&3 Plan: This choice requires the most cooking and is aimed at those just looking to maintain their weight, rather than lose pounds. You get three “Fuelings” per day and prepare three balanced home-cooked meals, according to Optavia’s guidelines.
In addition to the eating plan, Optavia includes access to a coach to help you achieve your goals. Online forums, video chats, and weekly support meetings with other members are also available, according to the company.
Exercise is encouraged, though with a “proceed with caution” type of advisory on the 5&1 plan: If you already work out regularly, the program recommends cutting duration and intensity in half for the first couple of weeks. And if you’re not exercising already, they recommend waiting two to three weeks to start.
How do I follow the Optavia Diet?
The diet is broken up into phases. But before you begin, you will likely consult with an Optavia coach to determine which plan is best for you according to your weight-loss goals.
Shari Portnoy, RD, says that the diet is based on having six meals a day and sometimes a snack. If you’re on the Optimal Weight 5&1 Plan, you’ll have five Optavia Fuelings and one lean and green meal per day. According to the Optavia site, a lean and green meal includes five to seven ounces of cooked lean protein plus three servings of non-starchy vegetables and up to two servings of healthy fats.
The meals are carb-controlled, so you won’t have more than 100 carbs per day, and they’re also spaced out so that you’re basically eating every two to three hours.
Those who need a more flexible meal plan for weight loss can opt for Optavia’s 4&2&1 program, which is designed to meet the needs of a range of people, including those with type 2 diabetes, those who are 65 or older and aren’t active, and those who have less than 15 pounds to lose, among a range of other conditions.
Once you’ve hit your goal weight, you move on to the maintenance phase or the Optimal 3&3 plan, which Portnoy says is pretty similar to the first phase. “The next phase is still six meals a day. The difference is that three are prepared by you and three are purchased,” says Portnoy. The maintenance phase starts with a six-week transition period where you gradually increase your daily caloric intake. Once you’ve transitioned, you’ll have three Fuelings and three lean and green meals per day.
All the meals are meant to be low in calories and carbs.
What kinds of foods can I eat on the Optavia diet?
Lean meats, like turkey, lamb, or chicken
Fish and shellfish, like salmon, crab, shrimp
Low-carb veggies, including spinach, cauliflower, mushrooms, and cabbage
Healthy fats, like avocados and pistachios
Sugar-free beverages and snacks, including coffee and tea
One-day sample meal plan on the 1,200-cal diet 3&3 plan:
Breakfast: 3/4 cup ready-to-eat unsweetened cereal and 1 cup skim or low-fat milk
Mid-morning Fueling: Optimal Health Strawberry Yogurt Bar
Lunch: 1/2 cup cooked cauliflower, 3 oz. grilled chicken, and 3/4 cup low-fat yogurt
Mid-afternoon Fueling: Optimal Health Strawberry Banana Smoothie
Dinner: 2 cups raw spinach, 1 cup of diced tomatoes, cucumbers, and mushrooms, 3 oz. baked yellowfin tuna, 2 Tbsp low-fat salad dressing, and 1 small apple
One free choice
What foods should I avoid on the Optavia diet?
Refined grains, like white bread, pasta, and white rice
Soda, fruit juice, and other sugar-sweetened beverages
How much does the Optavia program cost?
Regardless of which of the above plans you choose, it’s not cheap. The kits range from about $350 to $450 per month, according to the website. And, BTW, you’ll also have to purchase additional food to make the healthy meals you cook on your own at home.
What are the benefits of the Optavia Diet?
The Optavia diet is great for for those who need an easy-to-follow structured eating plan, says Portnoy. “Everything is spelled out. They name the ingredients you need to buy and most of your meals are purchased so it is a no brainer.” Since following the diet is pretty mindless once you’ve got your routine down, it’s perfect for people who are always busy or just don’t like to cook.
Portnoy also says that the Optavia diet is good for people who need to exercise portion control, as the Fuelings help keeps your meals in check. Those who feel like they need an accountability partner may also find the diet attractive, as Optavia’s coaches are available to support you throughout the diet’s phases.
What are the cons of the Optavia diet?
Potential cons of the diet are that it can be hard to maintain your results once you’re off of it, since the diet doesn’t offer much education on keeping track of your macros (or the amount of protein, fat and carbs in what you’re eating), says Portnoy; you’re mostly just eating the prepared meals. Portnoy adds that the diet relies on coaches, not nutrition professionals, so you aren’t really learning ways to create a long-term healthy relationship with food.
It can be hard to continue making healthier choices, once you aren’t able to rely on the Optavia diet’s prepared foods, or Fuelings.
And, while the website claims that Optavia Fuelings contain “no colors, flavors, or sweeteners from artificial sources”—the reality is a bit different. Some of the foods (which are branded as Medifast Classic Fuelings) contain acesulfame potassium (also known as acesulfame K, or ace K), which is an artificial sweetener, says New York-based dietician and Daily Burn trainer Nora Minno, RD, CDN.
Oh, and if you’re vegetarian, vegan, or just trying to eat a more plant-based diet, Optavia might not be for you, since many of the products contain animal products, notes Minno.
Does the Optavia diet work for weight loss?
You should be skeptical of any program that encourages you to rely on products they’re selling you, says Minno. That said, Optavia will probably help you slim down initially, especially if you have a significant amount of weight you’d like to lose, says Minno. “Some folks do well with a strict plan for initial weight loss,” she says. And make no mistake, Optavia is strict—some plans only allow 800 to 1,000 calories a day.
That said, Minno doesn’t recommend it as a long-term strategy. How come? For starters, following the program is hard if you’re traveling or eating out with friends. (After all, nibbling a meal-replacement bar and sipping water isn’t much fun when the rest of your friends are enjoying brunch.)
Also, relying on bars and shakes doesn’t help you develop the healthiest relationship with food, says Minno. She recommends working with a nutritionist to learn about appropriate nutrition so that you can still eat out, and just make healthier choices.
The bottom line: Optavia might help you lose weight initially, but for long-term results, you may be better off learning good-for-you habits, bringing awareness to what you eat, and sticking to a diet filled with lots of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins.
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