If elaborate meal plans and cooking interfere with your weight loss goals, you may be interested in trying the Optavia food program. This weight loss program is based on meal replacements called Optavia Fuelings, which can take the guesswork out of meal planning.
While it is convenient, Optavia is expensive and very restrictive. You’ll likely lose weight, but the program is not sustainable. I always advise my clients to follow a balanced, whole-food, gradual approach for lasting weight loss.
Let’s dive into Optavia Fuelings, their nutrition quality, and how they stack up against similar programs.
What are Optavia Fuelings?
Optavia Fuelings are low-calorie, low-carb, high-protein meal replacements designed for weight loss. Fuelings are portion-controlled to support a calorie deficit. They also are fortified with probiotics and 24 vitamins and minerals.
Fuelings come in a variety of forms that are nutritionally equivalent, such as shakes, bars, and soup mixes. They require minimal preparation, the biggest step is simply adding water to certain items.
Fuelings are designed to be eaten every couple of hours. This is in addition to what Optavia defines as Lean & Green meals, at least 8 cups of water, and optional Optavia snacks.
The Optavia food program was introduced by its parent company, Medifast, Inc., in 2017. Medifast, Inc. also oversees the Optifast diet. The company is criticized for its misleading weight-loss claims and multilevel marketing.
Types of Optavia Fuelings
Optavia offers two types of fuelings: Optavia Essential Fuelings for weight loss, and Optimal Health 3 & 3 Fuelings for weight maintenance.
Optavia Essential Fuelings are designed specifically for Optavia’s weight loss plans. Depending on the plan, they’re meant to be consumed four to five times a day, in addition to one to two Lean & Green meals and one to two snacks. The Optavia food list includes:
- Bars with flavors including chocolate mint, cranberry honey nut, peanut butter, chocolate fudge, and more
- Shake and smoothie mixes that include strawberry, peanut butter, and classic chocolate and vanilla
- Drinks, including hot chocolate mix and frothy cappuccino mix
- Crunchers, poppers, and sticks, which are soy-based high protein crunch snacks in sweet and savory flavors
- Hearty choices, such as mashed potatoes, chili mix, and pasta
- Soup mixes, including chick’n noodle and wild rice & chicken
- Breakfasts, such as cereals, oatmeals, and pancake mixes
- Desserts, including mixes for biscuits, puddings, soft serve, cookies, brownies, and blondies
Optimal Health 3 & 3 Fuelings are designed for the Optimal Health 3 & 3 Plan, which supports weight maintenance. This plan consists of three Optimal Health Fuelings and three balanced daily meals. 3 & 3 Fuelings include:
- Strawberry yogurt bar
- Chocolate peanut butter shake mix
- Cookies & cream shake mix
- Dark chocolate dream bar
You can replace the Optimal Health 3 & 3 Fueling with Optavia Essential Fuelings. If you do this, you’ll need to include an extra 100-calorie food with 15 grams or less of carbohydrates. This can be a small apple, a cup of low-fat milk, or a slice of bread.
Optavia products include high-quality, complete protein to prevent muscle loss during extreme calorie restriction. They are also very low in carbohydrates, which may promote weight loss but can cause users to feel tired, dizzy, foggy-headed, and even nauseous.
Optavia products are fortified with 24 vitamins and minerals. However, they are low in fat which is needed to absorb many important vitamins. Optavia Fuelings also lack beneficial nutrients found in whole, unprocessed foods like phytochemicals and fiber.
Optavia products don’t include artificial colors, flavors, or sweeteners, but they are still considered processed. Overall, my dietitian-take is that Optavia products may lead to nutrient deficiencies and do not compare to whole foods.
The overall consensus is that the food takes some getting used to and is considered “doable.” But very few users report actually liking the taste of Optavia Fuelings.
One user reported that “the food is processed and doesn’t taste all that great,” warning others that the transition back to real foods can easily lead to overindulging.
A few of my nutrition clients have tried the Optavia food program before working with me. They found that while it may have helped them lose weight quickly, it really didn’t teach them how to eat healthy. As they transitioned off of it, they found making healthy choices harder and that the weight came back on very quickly.
Science Behind the Optavia Program
In short, Optavia leads to rapid weight loss because it puts your body into an extreme calorie deficit. The diet is also very low in carbohydrates, which causes your body to lose water weight at first.
While research tells us meal replacements lead to weight loss, it’s important to keep a critical eye. Many of these studies are industry supported, leading to biased results and potentially poor findings that are unpublished that you’ll never see.
A 16-week Medifast-funded randomized controlled trial found that the Optavia group lost more weight (5.7%) compared to the low-calorie, self-directed control group (<1%). But this was not a fairly designed study, and the Optavia group also lost significantly more muscle mass. This is typical when you have rapid weight loss. The bottom line, you likely will lose weight on Optavia. But you’re going to lose more muscle mass than if you were to take a more gradual weight loss approach, and this form of dieting is very likely to lead to weight regain.
Optavia Fuelings vs. Other Diet Plans
As a weight loss expert, I help my clients navigate the many different diet plans on the market. Here is the rundown on the nutritional value, variety, and cost between Optavia and some other leading programs.
Nutrisystem is a home-delivery weight loss program. While Optavia is a low-carbohydrate plan, Nutrisystem’s meals are a balance of carbohydrates, protein, and fat to support consistent blood sugar and more sustainable weight loss.
Nutrisystem offers a variety of plans – including women’s, men’s, and diabetes plans – which consist of breakfast, lunch, dinner, and one to two snacks. The plan allows flexibility to add fresh grocery items to meals, such as produce and dairy.
Nutrisystem’s cost varies depending on what plan you choose. Plans typically range from around $11 to $15 a day, which does not include the additional grocery items.
Optavia is on the pricier side, with its most popular plan (5 & 1 Plan) averaging $17 a day, not including the cost of ingredients for Lean & Green meals.
The Calibrate weight loss program is a year-long prescription medication-based program that supports a whole-food approach. It’s nutritionally balanced, encouraging lean protein, dairy (or plant-based alternatives), whole grains, nuts and seeds, and produce.
Calibrate supports flexibility around food. It is not a diet and instead focuses on building healthy long-term eating habits. The biggest difference between Calibrate and Optavia is Calibrate encourages whole foods, and includes a medication component to boost weight loss.
Calibrate costs $1,749, which covers its video coaching and self-guided curriculum but does not include labs, food, or medication.
Found is an online weight loss program. Like Calibrate, it includes prescription medication and promotes a whole-person approach. Its nutrition guide encourages a nutrient-dense diet of complex carbohydrates, produce, protein, and healthy fats.
Unlike the rigidity of Optavia, Found’s approach to nutrition is flexible to support sustainable weight loss.
Found’s cost varies but is around $100 to $150 per month, depending on what plan you choose, how much you pay upfront, and how long you stick with the month-to-month program. Like Calibrate, a medication is often part of the overall weight loss program.
The cost includes medication, but not labwork.
The Role of the Dietitian On an Optavia Plan
Weight loss can be hard, but it doesn’t have to be. When following Optavia (or any other diet plan), it’s important to work with a dietitian who can guide you through sustainable weight loss and address any barriers you have along the way.
Remember: one single plan won’t work for everyone. While some of my clients are drawn to the convenience of plans like Optavia, others prefer a whole foods approach. At the end of the day, it is crucial to focus on what feels good to YOU to achieve permanent weight loss.