If you don’t enjoy cooking or have time to make meals, you may be interested in a diet that minimizes your time in the kitchen.

The Optavia diet does just that. It encourages weight loss through a combination of low calorie, prepackaged products, a few simple home-cooked meals, and one-on-one support from a coach.

Still, you may wonder whether it’s safe and if it has any downsides.

This article reviews the pros and cons of the Optavia diet, as well as its effectiveness, to help you decide if it’s a good fit for you.

Rating Score Breakdown
  • Overall score: 2.25
  • Fast weight loss: 4
  • Long-term weight loss: 1
  • Easy to follow: 3
  • Nutrition quality: 1

BOTTOM LINE: The Optavia diet has been shown to result in short-term weight loss, but research is needed on its long-term effectiveness. The weight loss plan has limited food options and relies heavily on prepackaged, heavily processed meals and snacks.

The Optavia diet is owned by Medifast, a meal replacement company. Both its main diet (also called Medifast) and Optavia are low calorie, reduced carb programs that combine packaged foods with homemade meals to encourage weight loss.

However, unlike Medifast, the Optavia diet includes one-on-one coaching.

While you can choose from several options, they all include branded products called Optimal Health Fuelings and homemade entrées known as Lean and Green meals.

Optimal Health Fuelings comprise over 60 items that are low in carbs but high in protein and probiotic cultures, which contain friendly bacteria that may boost your gut health. These foods include bars, cookies, shakes, puddings, cereals, soups, and pastas (1).

Although they may seem quite high in carbs, Fuelings are designed to be lower in carbs and sugar than traditional versions of the same foods. To accomplish this, the company uses artificial sweeteners and small portion sizes.

Additionally, many Fuelings pack whey protein powder and soy protein isolate.

For those not interested in cooking, the company provides a line of pre-made low carb meals called Flavors of Home that can replace Lean and Green meals.

Versions of the diet

The Optavia diet includes two weight loss programs and a weight maintenance plan:

  • Optimal Weight 5&1 Plan. The most popular plan, this version includes five Optimal Health Fuelings and one balanced Lean and Green meal each day.
  • Optimal Weight 4&2&1 Plan. For those who need more calories or flexibility in food choices, this plan includes four Optimal Health Fuelings, two Lean and Green meals, and one snack per day.
  • Optimal Health 3&3 Plan. Designed for maintenance, this one includes three Optimal Health Fuelings and three balanced Lean and Green meals per day.

The Optavia program provides additional tools to aid weight loss and maintenance, including tips and inspiration via text message, community forums, weekly support calls, and an app that allows you to set meal reminders and track food intake and activity.

The company also provides specialized programs for nursing mothers, older adults, teens, and people with diabetes or gout.

Although Optavia offers these specialized plans, it’s unclear whether this diet is safe for people with certain medical conditions. Additionally, teenagers and breastfeeding mothers have unique nutrient and calorie needs that may not be met by the Optavia diet.

summary

The Optavia diet is owned by Medifast and includes pre-purchased, portioned meals and snacks, low carb homemade meals, and ongoing coaching to encourage weight and fat loss.

Regardless of the plan you choose, you start by having a phone conversation with a coach to help determine which Optavia plan to follow, set weight loss goals, and familiarize yourself with the program.

Initial steps

For weight loss, most people start with the Optimal Weight 5&1 Plan, which is an 800–1,000 calorie regimen said to help you drop 12 pounds (5.4 kg) over 12 weeks.

On this plan, you eat 5 Optimal Health Fuelings and 1 Lean and Green meal daily. You’re meant to eat 1 meal every 2–3 hours and incorporate 30 minutes of moderate exercise most days of the week.

In total, the Fuelings and meal provide no more than 100 grams of carbs per day.

You order these meals from your coach’s individual website, as Optavia coaches get paid on commission.

Lean and Green meals are designed to be high in protein and low in carbs. One meal offers 5–7 ounces (145–200 grams) of cooked lean protein, 3 servings of non-starchy vegetables, and up to 2 servings of healthy fats.

This plan also includes 1 optional snack per day, which must be approved by your coach. Plan-approved snacks include 3 celery sticks, 1/2 cup (60 grams) of sugar-free gelatin, or 1/2 ounce (14 grams) of nuts.

The program also includes a dining-out guide that explains how to order a Lean and Green meal at your favorite restaurant. Keep in mind that alcohol is strongly discouraged on the 5&1 Plan.

Maintenance phase

Once you reach your desired weight, you enter a 6-week transition phase, which involves slowly increasing calories to no more than 1,550 calories per day and adding in a wider variety of foods, including whole grains, fruits, and low fat dairy.

After 6 weeks, you’re meant to move onto the Optimal Health 3&3 Plan, which includes 3 Lean and Green meals and 3 Fuelings daily, plus continued Optavia coaching.

Those who experience sustained success on the program have the option to become trained as an Optavia coach.

summary

The Optavia 5&1 weight loss plan is low in calories and carbs and includes five prepackaged Fuelings and one low carb Lean and Green meal per day. Once you achieve your goal weight, you transition into a less restrictive maintenance plan.

The Optavia diet is designed to help people lose weight and fat by reducing calories and carbs through portion-controlled meals and snacks.

The 5&1 plan limits calories to 800–1,000 calories per day divided between 6 portioned-controlled meals.

While the research is mixed, some studies have shown greater weight loss with full or partial meal replacement plans compared with traditional calorie-restricted diets (2, 3).

Studies also reveal that reducing overall calorie intake is effective for weight and fat loss — as are low carb diets, at least in the short term (4, 5, 6, 7, 8).

A 16-week study in 198 people with excess weight or obesity found that those on Optavia’s 5&1 Plan had significantly lower weight, fat levels, and waist circumference, compared with the control group (9).

Specifically, those on the 5&1 Plan lost 5.7% of their body weight, on average, with 28.1% of participants losing over 10%. This may suggest additional benefits, as research associates 5–10% weight loss with a reduced risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes (10, 11).

The one-on-one coaching may be helpful as well.

The same study found that individuals on the 5&1 diet who completed at least 75% of the coaching sessions lost more than twice as much weight as those who participated in fewer sessions (9).

Yet, you should keep in mind that this study was funded by Medifast.

All the same, several other studies demonstrate a significant improvement in short- and long-term weight loss and diet adherence in programs that include ongoing coaching (12, 13, 14, 15).

Currently, no studies have examined the long-term results of the Optavia diet. Still, a study on a similar Medifast plan noted that only 25% of participants maintained the diet for up to 1 year (16).

Another test showed some weight regain during the weight maintenance phase following the 5&1 Medifast diet (17).

The only difference between the 5&1 Medifast diet and the 5&1 Optavia Plan is that Optavia includes coaching.

Overall, more research is needed to assess the Optavia diet’s long-term effectiveness.

summary

The Optavia diet’s low calorie, low carb plan incorporates ongoing support from coaches and has been shown to lead to short-term weight and fat loss. However, its long-term effectiveness is unknown.

The Optavia diet has additional benefits that may boost weight loss and overall health.

Easy to follow

As the diet relies mostly on prepackaged Fuelings, you’re only responsible for cooking one meal per day on the 5&1 Plan.

What’s more, each plan comes with meal logs and sample meal plans to make it easier to follow.

While you’re encouraged to cook 1–3 Lean and Green meals per day, depending on the plan, they’re simple to make — as the program includes specific recipes and a list of food options.

Furthermore, those who aren’t interested in cooking can buy packaged meals called Flavors of Home to replace Lean and Green meals.

May improve blood pressure

Optavia programs may help improve blood pressure through weight loss and limited sodium intake.

While the Optavia diet hasn’t been researched specifically, a 40-week study in 90 people with excess weight or obesity on a similar Medifast program revealed a significant reduction in blood pressure (13).

Additionally, all Optavia meal plans are designed to provide less than 2,300 mg of sodium per day — although it’s up to you to choose low sodium options for Lean and Green meals.

Numerous health organizations, including the Institute of Medicine, American Heart Association, and United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), recommend consuming less than 2,300 mg of sodium per day.

That’s because higher sodium intake is linked to an increased risk of high blood pressure and heart disease in salt-sensitive individuals (18, 19, 20).

Offers ongoing support

Optavia’s health coaches are available throughout the weight loss and maintenance programs.

As noted above, one study found a significant relationship between the number of coaching sessions on the Optavia 5&1 Plan and improved weight loss (8).

Furthermore, research suggests that having a lifestyle coach or counselor may aid long-term weight maintenance (11, 21).

summary

The Optavia program has additional benefits, as it’s easy to follow and offers ongoing support. By limiting sodium intake, it may also help lower blood pressure in some individuals.

While the Optavia diet may be an effective weight loss method for some, it has several potential downsides.

Very low in calories

With just 800–1,2000 calories per day, the Optavia 5&1 program is quite low in calories, especially for individuals who are used to eating 2,000 or more per day.

While this rapid reduction in calories may result in overall weight loss, research has shown that it can lead to significant muscle loss (22).

Furthermore, low calorie diets may decrease the number of calories your body burns by as much as 23%. This slower metabolism can last even after you stop restricting calories (23, 24).

Calorie restriction can lead to the inadequate intake of essential nutrients, including vitamins and minerals (25, 26).

As a result, populations with increased calorie needs, such as pregnant women, athletes, and highly active individuals, should take special care to meet their nutrient needs when reducing their calorie intake.

Finally, research indicates that low calorie diets trigger increased hunger and cravings, which could make long-term adherence more difficult (27, 28).

May be difficult to stick with

The 5&1 Plan includes five prepackaged Fuelings and one low carb meal per day. As a result, it can be quite restrictive in food options and calorie count.

As you may tire of relying on prepackaged foods for most of your meals, it could become easy to cheat on the diet or develop cravings for other foods.

While the maintenance plan is much less restrictive, it still relies heavily on Fuelings.

Can be costly

Regardless of your specific plan, the Optavia diet can be expensive.

About 3 weeks’ worth of Optimal Health Fuelings — around 120 servings — on the 5&1 plan costs $350–450. Although this also covers the cost of coaching, it doesn’t include the price of groceries for Lean and Green meals.

Depending on your budget, you may find it cheaper to cook low calorie meals yourself.

May be incompatible with other eating patterns

The Optavia diet includes specialized programs for vegetarians, people with diabetes, and breastfeeding women. Furthermore, about two-thirds of its products are certified gluten-free. However, options are limited for those on specific diets.

For example, Optimal Health Fuelings are not suitable for vegans or people with dairy allergies because most options contain milk.

Furthermore, the Fuelings use numerous ingredients, so those with food allergies should read the labels carefully.

Finally, the Optavia program is not recommended for pregnant women because it cannot meet their nutritional needs.

May lead to weight regain

Weight regain may be a concern after you stop the program.

Currently, no research has examined weight regain after the Optavia diet. Still, in a study on a similar, 16-week Medifast diet, participants regained an average of 11 pounds (4.8 kg) within 24 weeks of ending the program (13).

One potential cause of weight regain is your reliance on packaged food items. After the diet, it may be difficult to transition to shopping for and cooking healthy meals.

Additionally, due to the dramatic calorie restriction of the 5&1 Plan, some weight regain may also be due to a slower metabolism.

Optimal Health Fuelings are highly processed

The Optavia diet relies heavily on prepackaged food items. In fact, you would eat 150 prepackaged Fuelings each month on the 5&1 Plan.

This is a cause for concern, as many of these items are highly processed.

They contain large amounts of food additives, sugar substitutes, and processed vegetable oils, which may harm your gut health and contribute to chronic inflammation (29, 30, 31).

Carrageenan, a common thickener and preservative used in many Fuelings, is derived from red seaweed. While research on its safety is limited, animal and test-tube studies suggest that it may negatively affect digestive health and cause intestinal ulcers (32, 33).

Many Fuelings also contain maltodextrin, a thickening agent that has been shown to spike blood sugar levels and damage your gut bacteria (34, 35, 36).

While these additives are likely safe in small amounts, consuming them frequently on the Optavia diet may increase your risk of side effects.

The program’s coaches are not health professionals

Most Optavia coaches have successfully lost weight on the program but are not certified health professionals.

As a result, they are unqualified to provide dietary or medical advice. Therefore, you should take their guidance with a grain of salt and talk to your healthcare provider if you have any concerns.

If you have an existing health condition, it’s also important to consult a medical provider or registered dietitian before starting a new diet program.

summary

The Optivia diet severely restricts calories and relies heavily on processed, packaged food items. As such, it can be expensive, difficult to maintain, and harmful to your health. Additionally, its coaches are not qualified to provide dietary advice.

On the Optavia 5&1 Plan, the only foods allowed are the Optimal Health Fuelings and one Lean and Green Meal per day.

These meals consist mostly of lean proteins, healthy fats, and low carb vegetables with a recommended two servings of fatty fish per week. Some low carb condiments and beverages are also allowed in small amounts.

Foods allowed in your daily Lean and Green meal include:

  • Meat: chicken, turkey, lean beef, game meats, lamb, pork chop or tenderloin, ground meat (at least 85% lean)
  • Fish and shellfish: halibut, trout, salmon, tuna, lobster, crab, shrimp, scallops
  • Eggs: whole eggs, egg whites, Egg Beaters
  • Soy products: only tofu
  • Vegetable oils: canola, flaxseed, walnut, and olive oil
  • Additional healthy fats: low carb salad dressings, olives, reduced fat margarine, almonds, walnuts, pistachios, avocado
  • Low carb vegetables: collard greens, spinach, celery, cucumbers, mushrooms, cabbage, cauliflower, eggplant, zucchini, broccoli, peppers, spaghetti squash, jicama
  • Sugar-free snacks: popsicles, gelatin, gum, mints
  • Sugar-free beverages: water, unsweetened almond milk, tea, coffee
  • Condiments and seasonings: dried herbs, spices, salt, lemon juice, lime juice, yellow mustard, soy sauce, salsa, sugar-free syrup, zero-calorie sweeteners, 1/2 teaspoon only of ketchup, cocktail sauce, or barbecue sauce
summary

Homemade meals on the Optavia 5&1 plan include mostly lean proteins and low carb veggies, plus a few healthy fats. Only low carb beverages are allowed, such as water, unsweetened almond milk, coffee, and tea.

With the exception of carbs in the prepackaged Optimal Health Fuelings, most carb-containing foods and beverages are banned while on the 5&1 Plan. Certain fats are also restricted, as are all fried foods.

Foods to avoid — unless included in the Fuelings — include:

  • Fried foods: meats, fish, shellfish, vegetables, sweets like pastries
  • Refined grains: white bread, pasta, biscuits, pancakes, flour tortillas, crackers, white rice, cookies, cakes, pastries
  • Certain fats: butter, coconut oil, solid shortening
  • Whole fat dairy: milk, cheese, yogurt
  • Alcohol: all varieties
  • Sugar-sweetened beverages: soda, fruit juice, sports drinks, energy drinks, sweet tea

The following foods are off-limits while on the 5&1 Plan but added back during the 6-week transition phase and allowed during the 3&3 Plan:

  • Fruit: all fresh fruit
  • Low fat or fat-free dairy: yogurt, milk, cheese
  • Whole grains: whole grain bread, high fiber breakfast cereal, brown rice, whole wheat pasta
  • Legumes: peas, lentils, beans, soybeans
  • Starchy vegetables: sweet potatoes, white potatoes, corn, peas

During the transition phase and 3&3 Plan, you’re especially encouraged to eat berries over other fruits, as they’re lower in carbs.

summary

You’re supposed to avoid all refined grains, sugar-sweetened beverages, fried food, and alcohol on the Optavia Diet. During the transition and maintenance phases, some carb-containing foods are added back in, such as low fat dairy and fresh fruit.

Here’s what one day on the Optimal Weight 5&1 Plan could look like:

  • Fueling 1: Essential Golden Chocolate Chip Pancakes with 2 tablespoons (30 ml) of sugar-free maple syrup
  • Fueling 2: Essential Drizzled Berry Crisp Bar
  • Fueling 3: Essential Jalapeño Cheddar Poppers
  • Fueling 4: Essential Homestyle Chicken Flavored & Vegetable Noodle Soup
  • Fueling 5: Essential Strawberry Shake
  • Lean and Green Meal: 6 ounces (172 grams) of grilled chicken breast cooked with 1 teaspoon (5 ml) of olive oil, served with small amounts of avocado and salsa, plus 1.5 cups (160 grams) of mixed cooked veggies like peppers, zucchini, and broccoli
  • Optional snack: 1 fruit-flavored sugar-free fruit pop
summary

During the Optimal Weight 5&1 Plan, you eat 5 Fuelings per day, plus a low carb Lean and Green meal and an optional low carb snack.

The Optavia diet promotes weight loss via low calorie prepackaged foods, low carb homemade meals, and personalized coaching.

While the initial 5&1 Plan is fairly restrictive, the 3&3 maintenance phase allows for a greater variety of food and fewer processed snacks, which may make weight loss and adherence easier to sustain in the long term.

However, the diet is expensive, repetitive, and doesn’t accommodate all dietary needs. What’s more, extended calorie restriction may result in nutrient deficiencies and other potential health concerns.

While the program promotes short-term weight and fat loss, further research is needed to assess whether it encourages the permanent lifestyle changes needed for long-term success.