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 of 2018: 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 are three different Optiva 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.
4&2&1 Plan. With this version, you get four daily “fuelings” and one healthy snack from the company, and you make two “lean and green” meals on your own.
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 “lean and green” home-cooked meals.
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.
Here’s how Kelly Clarkson recently lost 37 pounds:
Exercise is encouraged, though with a “proceed with caution” type of advisory: 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 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.
Does Optavia work?
You should be skeptical of any program that encourages you to rely on products they’re selling you, says New York-based dietician and Daily Burn trainer Nora Minno, RD, CDN. 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 a boozy 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.
Minno also notes that while the website claims that Optavia fuelings contain “no colors, flavors, or sweeteners from artificial sources”–the reality is a bit different. Minno noticed some of the foods (which are branded as Medifast Classic Feulings) contain acesulfame potassium (also known as acesulfame K, or ace K), which is an artificial sweetener.
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.
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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