Very low calorie diets may lead to a number of unpleasant and even harmful side effects — from constipation to developing an unhealthy relationship with food (
What’s more, significantly reducing calorie intake may lead to rapid weight loss, which could trigger hair loss.
The Optavia diet is a diet that restricts your calorie intake to induce weight loss. Some customers have experienced side effects when following Optavia, including hair loss.
This article explains what the Optavia diet is and why it may cause hair loss in some people.
Optavia is a popular diet that people follow to lose weight. The 12-week Optimal Weight 5&1 Plan slashes calorie intake to just 800–1,200 calories per day in order to promote fast weight loss (2).
Once the dieter reaches their “healthy weight,” they then transition to a higher calorie transition phase with an intake of no more than 1,550 calories per day for 6 weeks (2).
This turns out to be far fewer calories than the average American adult takes in on a daily basis (
Depending on the calorie intake, the weight loss phase of Optavia can be considered a very low to low calorie diet.
Very low calorie diets (VLCDs) are diets that provide between 600–900 calories per day, while low calorie diets (LCDs) provide 1,000–1,500 calories per day (
When you reduce your calorie intake drastically, such as when you’re following a very low to low-calorie diet like Optavia, you may experience significant weight loss because your body needs many more calories in order to maintain your body weight.
However, in addition to weight loss, VLCDs and low calorie diets may lead to adverse side effects, including hormone disruptions in your body and hair loss.
Diets that significantly cut calories, like the Optavia diet, lead to sudden and rapid weight loss, which can trigger hair loss.
Rapid weight loss and hair loss
Rapid weight loss that occurs over a short time period, such as when you’re following a very low to low calorie diet like Optavia, has been linked to a condition called acute telogen effluvium (TE).
TE is a disorder that causes excessive shedding of hair on your scalp. It’s one of the most common causes of alopecia, the medical term for hair loss (
Rapid weight loss is a well known trigger of TE. This is because the cells that make up the part of the hair follicle that produces hair depend on a steady flow of energy. This makes your hair follicles extremely sensitive to calorie or nutrient deficiencies (
In acute TE, a triggering event like rapid weight loss causes the hair to abruptly shift from a growing phase to a resting phase. When these same hairs reenter their growing phase, they shed.
Hair loss related to acute TE usually occurs around 3 months after rapid weight loss, so people following the Optavia diet may not experience hair loss until after they’ve shifted into the “maintenance” phase of the diet (
Acute TE related to sudden weight loss typically lasts less than 6 months. Hair loss that lasts longer than 6 months is known as chronic TE (
Significant calorie restriction, such as when following a very low to low-calorie diet like Optavia, may lead to sudden, rapid weight loss. This can trigger hair loss.
Trying to “do it right” when it comes to nutrition may feel tempting, but it can backfire. If you are preoccupied with food or your weight, feel guilt surrounding your food choices, or routinely engage in restrictive diets, consider reaching out for support. These behaviors may indicate a disordered relationship with food or an eating disorder.
Disordered eating and eating disorders can affect anyone, regardless of gender identity, race, age, socioeconomic status, or other identities.
They can be caused by any combination of biological, social, cultural, and environmental factors — not just by exposure to diet culture.
Feel empowered to talk with a qualified healthcare professional, such as a registered dietitian, if you’re struggling.
You can also chat, call, or text anonymously with trained volunteers at the National Eating Disorders Association helpline for free or explore the organization’s free and low cost resources.
A rapid and sudden drop in weight can cause hair loss, no matter the cause of the weight loss.
For example, in addition to VLCDs, bariatric surgery has also been linked to hair loss due to the sudden and extreme level of weight loss associated with the procedure (
If you experience hair loss when following Optavia, it may be due to your significant weight loss.
Losing your hair can be distressing, but TE associated with rapid weight loss is often temporary.
In fact, studies show that 95% of people who experience acute TE undergo remission. Most people will see hair regrowth within 6 months (
If you experience hair loss that lasts longer than 6 months, this is considered chronic TE. Chronic TE may be caused by several different factors.
In either case, it’s a good idea to consult your doctor if you’re experiencing hair loss.
Hair loss can have a number of causes, some of which may be serious and unrelated to weight loss.
It’s important to know that although hair loss associated with weight loss is typically temporary, you may avoid this potential adverse side effect by avoiding VLCDs, crash diets, and overly restrictive diets altogether.
Losing weight in a slower, more sustainable manner by following a nutritious diet and active exercise routine may help reduce the risks associated with very low and low calorie diets like hair loss.
It’s a good idea to visit your doctor if you’re experiencing hair loss as hair loss can be caused by factors unrelated to weight loss. The hair loss associated with rapid weight loss is typically temporary and hair should start to regrow within 6 months.
In addition to rapid weight loss, there are a number of other potential causes for hair loss, including:
- Nutrient deficiencies. Protein, vitamin, mineral, and fatty acid deficiencies can all lead to hair loss. This is why following a balanced diet that consists of nutrient-dense foods is so important (
- Stress. Emotional and psychological stress can trigger TE. For example, stress related to surgical trauma, blood loss, childbirth, or high fever have all been associated with TE (
- Health conditions. Certain health conditions, including autoimmune diseases and thyroid conditions, can cause hair loss. A doctor can rule out these potential causes by performing certain tests (
- Medications. Certain medications including birth control pills, blood thinners, beta-blockers, antidepressants, and retinoids may trigger hair loss in some people (
- Androgenetic alopecia. This common form of hair loss is caused by genetic and environmental factors and can occur in both men and women (12).
Other causes of hair loss include:
- Trichotillomania: a condition that makes people pull out their hair
- Tension alopecia: repetitive tension on your hair (
As you can see, hair loss can be caused by many different factors, so VLCDs and other diets like Optavia may not be the main culprits for a thinning scalp. Still, significant weight-loss from crash diets may cause temporary hair loss that you may wish to avoid.
There are many potential causes of hair loss, including micronutrient deficiencies, medication use, medical conditions like thyroid disease, genetics, and more.
The Optavia diet may cause rapid weight loss, which may trigger acute TE. Acute TE is a type of hair loss that typically lasts a few months.
Even though the hair loss associated with rapid weight loss is often temporary, you can avoid worrying about hair loss by losing weight in a slower, more sustainable manner.
If you think the Optavia diet is causing you to lose your hair, it’s important to visit your healthcare provider to rule out other potential causes of hair loss. Some causes of hair loss prove more serious than others, potentially requiring medical attention.
To reduce the risk of hair loss and other side effects related to restrictive or low calorie diets, focus on:
- following a diet high in nutritious whole foods with plenty of protein and fiber
- reducing your intake of ultra processed foods and sugary beverages
- getting more exercise on a daily basis
- getting enough sleep
- reducing stress as much as possible
Just one thing
Try this today: Although diets that promise rapid weight loss like Optavia may be tempting, they are unnecessary to promote weight loss.
Instead of turning to very low and low calorie restrictive diets like Optavia, consider working with a registered dietitian to develop a sustainable eating plan that promotes overall health while helping you reach a healthy body weight.