I reviewed Optavia's easy-to-prepare recipes, snacks and shakes. Here are my thoughts.
Optavia is a fairly new diet program that has taken off on social media. The company 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, popularly 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.
Optavia is a diet company that sells bars, shakes, snacks and easy-to-prepare recipes. It places emphasis on both good eating and good living. The company's message is that if you learn healthy habits, you can lead a healthy life.
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.
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 a meal every two to three 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 2,400 calories per day, and men 2,200 to 3,200 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 offers three meal plans:
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.
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:
Losing weight is hard, and it's even harder if you do it alone. A personal coach can help to motivate and ease the stress of beginning a weight loss journey. You can connect with Octavia's personal coaches through text, 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 to newcomers. While the training session that Optavia provides seems to be extensive, coaches don't go through professional training. This is where aspects of its parent company, Medifast, come in -- multilevel marketing to bring in new clients and coaches.
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.
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 sizes and the effort it took to prepare the meals.
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 g 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 also 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.
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, yet it was bitter. The brownie contains yogurt chips which was the tastiest part of the fueling. It contains 110 calories, 11 grams of protein and 8 grams of sugar.
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 if you're picky. Each packet of potatoes contains 100 calories, 11 grams of protein and 0.5 grams of fat.
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.
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 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.
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. You can choose other flavors including mocha, caramel macchiato, vanilla, peanut butter and strawberry.
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.
Each meal plan contains enough food items for 30 days.
I spoke with Dr. Melina B. Jampolis, a physician nutrition specialist and host of the podcast Practically Healthy by Dr. Melina, to further understand 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 her concerns 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 points to studies. "Research definitely shows 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."
Optavia has helped people lose weight, but it isn't healthy for everyone. Any diet program can have devastating effects like triggering disordered eating or yo-yo dieting. Consult with a physician before starting Optavia or any other weight loss program.