Updated: Oct 8, 2022
This post was adapted from episode 9: Optavia Dietitian Review of the Nourished & Free podcast.
If you look up Optavia on the internet, you’ll be shown a program that seems to have a lot of positive results and is rooted in science. But what does an Optavia diet review by a dietitian actually find?
As you remove the layers of clever marketing and Optavia coaches raving about the products (as they seek greater commission), we can see through the matrix to what this diet really is… a dangerous and expensive starvation program.
Keep reading for a full Optavia diet review, including more information about Optavia meal plans, costs, side effects and more.
Optavia Diet Review: What is the Optavia Diet?
Optavia is a low carbohydrate, low calorie diet. It uses a 6 small meals/day method to facilitate [short-term] weight loss. Most meals are Optavia’s own ‘fuelings’ with the rest being Lean & Green meals that must fit certain parameters set by the company. The number of Optavia fuelings vs Lean & Green meals depends on the plan the individual chooses, based on their goals.
Optavia Meal Plans
There are a few different Optavia diet plans to choose from that are designed to help the dieter either lose weight or maintain their weight.
5 & 1
Goal: weight loss
5 fuelings + 1 lean/green meal
4 & 2 & 1
Goal: weight loss
4 fuelings + 2 lean/green meals +1 snack
3 & 3
3 fuelings + 3 lean/green meals
What Are Optavia Fuelings?
Optavia fuelings are products made by the company that are low-carb, high-protein, and will make up at least ½ of what the individual eats every day (depending on the plan they choose).
To lower the carbohydrate content of their foods and increase the protein, these products utilize sugar substitutes, whey protein, and soy protein isolate.
All fuelings are pre-packaged and manufactured. Lean & Green meals can also be purchased pre-made to further reduce at-home food preparation and cooking.
If we put two and two together here, you can see that Optavia is creating opportunity for their customers to rely 100% on their products for every meal... a well-designed system for customers to continue forking their money over.
Optavia Lean & Green Meals
These meals are as low in carbohydrates as possible. The recommended Lean & Green meal includes 5-7 oz of lean protein, 3 servings of non-starchy vegetables, and up to 2 servings of fat. No grains, dairy, fruit, or carbohydrates of any kind allowed.
Optavia Diet Review: How Optavia Works
If you’re reading this Optavia diet review, you’re probably most interested in whether or not Optavia is actually healthy or will help you lose weight. But there’s a lot more to dig into when it comes to how the program works.
While following the strict dietary plan of their choice, members also have access to an Optavia coach, community forum, and an app to track what is eaten every day.
Optavia is mostly a nutrition program and not a nutrition + exercise program. In fact, they discourage exercising at all for the first 3 weeks on the program.
Who Sells Optavia Products
Optavia products are sold by their ‘health coaches’. This earns them commission and they get a discount on their own products.
Who are the Optavia Coaches?
Optavia coaches are typically past clients. You can become a coach in as little as 2 weeks after starting the program.
There is no formal nutrition training, education, or certification required to become a health coach for Optavia (outside of Optavia’s own certification course). It is important to know that coaches are limited in their ability to give health advice due to their lack of training.
There is no formal nutrition training, education, or certification required to become a health coach for Optavia.
Some coaches are Registered Dietitians (RDs), however they are overqualified as the job does not require a medical training/background. It appears that RDs use Optavia coaching as a source of quick income on the side, capitalizing off of the weight-loss and MLM industry.
Are Optavia Coaches Paid?
Yes. The more product they sell, the more they earn. Base commission is 15% of product, with bonus’ given as certain milestones being met.
Additionally, Optavia coaches are paid for mentoring other coaches.
Is Optavia an MLM?
Yes, it is. Optavia coaches are paid more by bringing more coaches into the program. In other words, the more recruits are locked into the system, the more the individual makes... aka, a pyramid scheme (or MLM).
Who Owns Optavia?
Medifast is the parent company who owns Optavia. Why does this matter when doing an Optavia diet review?
It is worth noting that Medifast has lost in 2 large lawsuits for 1) false advertisement and 2) attempting to defend themselves against allegations of being a Ponzi scheme.
Medifast, the parent company of Optavia, has lost in legal allegations about false advertising & for being a Ponzi Scheme.
How Did Optavia Start?
In 2017, Medifast rebranded the program called Take Shape for Life into Optavia. Take Shape for Life was criticized for the same reasons cited above (for being a pyramid scheme and for making lofty claims that they couldn't deliver on), and it is thought that Medifast wanted to rebrand into Optavia in order to slide out from the bad name they were creating with Take Shape for Life.
Are Optavia and Medifast the Same?
Basically. Optavia is owned by Medifast who has been using this similar MLM business model of small, frequent fuelings being sold by their own clients for a long time.
How Much Does Optavia Cost Per Month?
Optavia dieters can expect to spend an average of $500/month. Optavia dieters can expect to spend an average of $500/month. Costs vary depending on the plan selected and whether you use their pre-packed Lean and Green meals or decide to cook your own.
This high cost is one of the many reasons so many Optavia dieters become Optavia coaches: because they are seeking product discounts and hoping to make extra money off the program.
Optavia Diet Review: Health Concerns
While weight loss is the typical goal for Optavia users, if you’re considering this program you’re probably also hoping it is relatively healthy - or at least not unhealthy. So, is Optavia good for you? Let’s explore some of the health impacts of this program.
Is Optavia Healthy?
‘Healthy’ is a relative term, but if I had to go off of the most basic definition (that something is promoting good health), I would argue that no, Optavia products are not healthy.
Weight cycling, gastrointestinal distress, a limited variety of nutrients, carbohydrate deprivation, and not to mention the mental anguish that a restrictive diet can cause do not strike me as being very health promoting. Read on for more info on these issues.
Is Optavia Bad for You?
Optavia utilizes the classic low-carb, low-cal starvation method to drop clients in water weight, muscle mass, and maybe some fat as well. The problem is, this isn’t a sustainable lifestyle so the weight nearly always comes back plus more.
Weight cycling and dieting is likely to increase the risk of cardiometabolic diseases. Programs like Optavia thrive on revolving-door customers who lose the weight only to gain it back and then need to lose it again. This is ultimately putting Optavia users at a higher risk of cardiometabolic diseases.
In terms of a business model – it’s brilliant. If programs like Optavia can continue to convince customers that their products helped them lose weight but not see that their products are also the reason they gained the weight back plus more… then they will never run out of money. The customer will always come back and spend more money.
If programs like Optavia can continue to convince customers that their products helped them lose weight but not see that their products are also the reason they gained the weight back plus more… they will never run out of money.
Can Optavia Cause Gallstones?
Following a high protein, low carb, low calorie diet as a weight-loss method appears to increase the risk for gallstones. There have been reports of Optavia users developing gallstones while on the program, and needing to stop.
Can Optavia Cause Stomach Problems?
Yes – the sugar alcohols used in their products can cause gas, bloating, and diarrhea, especially when consumed in high quantities (such as 5 times a day).
Optavia fuelings have also been scrutinized as having more lead contamination than nearly all other protein powders, which can cause gastrointestinal distress.
Will I Lose Weight on Optavia?
Here’s the thing about this program. They are selling you a weight-loss method… and that’s exactly what you’re going to get. You will most likely lose weight following Optavia’s plans. But, that doesn’t mean it’s a good or healthy thing, or that it will last.
Optavia Diet Review: Daily Life on Optavia
Another key part of any dietitian diet review is to look at what your daily life might be like on the program. With Optavia, there are a few things to consider.
Optavia – Why Am I Hungry?
Most Optavia users do not feel hunger because of the frequent meals and high protein content. Additionally, our natural hunger cues are muted when we refuse them for extended periods of time.
If someone is feeling hunger while on Optavia, it’s not something to be concerned about. It’s actually a good sign that your metabolism and your body have not entered starvation mode yet.
Can You Eat Out on Optavia
According to the Optavia Dining Out Guide, dieters should not eat out more than twice a week.
But! Optavia is so very gracious in understanding that you have a life and want to experience it, so they will guide you through how to make ‘lean and green’ choices while at the restaurant. *cue eyeroll*
In my research for this Optavia diet review, I think the dining out guide might actually be what has upset me the most... which is saying a lot.
The guide includes all kinds of tips on how to be ‘assertive’ when someone pressures you to eat something ‘not within your health goals’. Mind you, they are recommending no more than 400 calories while dining out and less than 15 g of carbohydrates (that is the carbohydrate equivalent of 1 small apple).
There are pages and pages guiding the dieter how to mentally rehearse for when others question your choices, and how to breathe through an ‘unhealthy eating urge’.
How is this experiencing the joys of life? Ordering something completely absurd at a restaurant, mentally preparing to defend your choices, and having to white knuckle through the urge to have a d*mn breadstick!?
Here is a direct quote from the guide on how to handle being a host/hostess:
“Focus on your non-favorites. If you’re preparing a party dessert, make it something that’s easier for you to resist. For example, if your weakness is chocolate, go with a fruit-based treat. Keep your favorite sweet Fueling within reach for when your sweet tooth strikes!” -Optavia Dining Out Guide
Is this a joke? This is literally a guide on how to have an eating disorder.
Why Optavia Works
Starving the body of carbohydrates releases water weight almost instantly. Eventually, your body will start to break down muscle/organ/adipose tissue as well to feed itself.
It’s important to realize that the weight lost on Optavia is not automatically adipose tissue (fat). Starvation diets such as Optavia can lead to serious health concerns because of the muscle and organ tissue being sacrificed for energy when carbohydrates are not available.
It’s also important to know that the tissue pulled from lean tissue in the body will be replenished the minute your body has the chance to (which is a good thing!). Water will also re-enter the cells when carbohydrates are introduced. This is why you can almost expect to gain the weight back after going off-program.
After the body goes through starvation for a period of time, it will also become more efficient in utilizing calories, meaning that the metabolism slows down. Therefore, not only is the weight typically regained – but additional weight gain can be expected.
Will Optavia Work for Me?
If you ask anyone affiliated with the program for an Optavia diet review, they will shout from the rooftops that “YES, it will work and change your life!!” (they want that money, honey). However, if you listen to people who are not involved with the system, or were but are not any longer, you’ll hear some very interesting and concerning stories.
I have spoken up about Optavia on social media a few times, and every time I do I hear new stories of how horrific it was.
If I had to estimate, for every 1 woman that tells me how great Optavia was for her, there are 8 others right behind her saying it was an awful experience.
I have even heard the phrase, "Optavia ruined my life". Is ruining your life really worth the short term weight loss?
Is the Optavia Diet Worth It?
Let me answer this question with another question: Is it worth spending $500/month, obsessing over food, saying no to your favorite foods every day, arguing with family/friends about your food choices, and the risk of developing stomach pains, gallstones, and/or an eating disorder to lose weight for a short amount of time, only to gain it back plus more?
If you read that and still said ‘yes’, I would advise visiting the nearest hospital for a psychiatric evaluation.
Overall Optavia Diet Review by This Dietitian:
Pros of Optavia:
· Can probably help you fit into a dress that you need to lose weight for in the next month.
· Brainless; requires very little energy to follow
· No exercise requirements
Cons of Optavia:
· Long term weight loss unlikely
· Eventual weight gain likely
· Will cause hunger, or worse silence hunger cues
· Slowed metabolism
· Limited options of food
· Heavy emphasis on weight rather than overall health
· May lead to binge eating
· May lead to weight/food obsession
· Risk of gallstones
· Risk of gastrointestinal discomfort
· Coaches are not qualified health professionals
If you need help transitioning off of Optavia, or were previously considering it but now are unsure of what to do, consider healing your relationship with food with an intuitive eating coach by applying for my group coaching program.