if you’ve used optavia: here are your next steps from a registered dietitian

Optavia weight loss program meal replacements calorie intake rapid weight loss portion-controlled meals low-calorie

Emily Field (00:00:00) – Welcome to episode 22 of the Macros Made Easy podcast. In today’s episode, we’re diving into the popular weight loss program Optavia. Optavia is a tightly structured meal plan that uses meal replacements to control calorie intake. So from shakes to bars to soups to snacks, Optavia feelings, as they’re called, come in various forms, offering convenience and structure for individuals embarking on a weight loss journey. But as enticing as rapid weight loss promises may be, what happens after the Optavia program ends. Join me as I dissect Optavia pros and cons. Explore why individuals are drawn to extreme diets like optavia, and unique health consequences that can result from following the diet. More importantly, however, will outline actionable steps for those who have a history with Optavia but are still seeking sustainable weight loss and long term wellness. Welcome to Macros Made Easy, the podcast that takes the confusion out of tracking macros. I’m your host, Emily Field, a registered dietitian that specializes in a macros approach. In each episode, I help you learn how to eat in a way that supports your health, body composition, and athletic performance goals.


Emily Field (00:01:06) – We’ll cover the basics of macronutrients how to track for various goals, the role of macros in your health, and how to make sustainable changes to your habits. I’ve helped hundreds of people experience more food freedom and flexibility while navigating their nutrition. So whether you’ve tried macros and it just didn’t stick or you just heard the word macros yesterday, I can’t wait to help you too. All right, so let’s describe the diet. First off the bat, the signature program that Optavia offers is a low calorie program with about 800 to 1000 calories per day. And that’s really just meant to kick off very rapid weight loss. The portion controlled meals are called feelings in Optavia speak, and they’re relatively higher in protein and lower in carbohydrates and fat. In their most popular program, optimal. Wait, five and one plan. You’re allowed six small meals and like calling them a meal as kind of a stretch. Five of those will be your feelings, and you’re expected to eat those every 2 to 3 hours. Those meals, those feelings are prepackaged, portion controlled meal supplements, and you purchase them directly from Optavia.


Emily Field (00:02:14) – Now in the program, you are encouraged to eat every 2 to 3 hours, and that might be touted as a way to rev your metabolism. But in reality, the diet encourages that eating just so you can stave off hunger. There is no data to support that. Your metabolism is higher when you eat every 2 to 3 hours, or it is lower when you wait longer periods of time. But it is absolutely effective when you are having just 800 to 1000 calories per day, which is very, very little for most people. Actually, I would say probably all adults is far too little. You’re basically just delaying hunger. So you’re having about 100 to 150 calories per fueling. And that’s happening every 2 to 3 hours, meaning you have about 5 or 6 meals per day. Let’s talk about those optavia feelings for a second. So these are the portion controlled meal replacements. And they are the central component of Optavia. They are the thing that ensures people will stay in a calorie deficit and see weight loss.


Emily Field (00:03:13) – And this is really how the company makes money, because if you actually taught people how to eat, you know, even low calorie, 100 to 150 calories every 2 to 3 hours from real whole food, that’s primarily protein, low carb, low fat. They wouldn’t make any money, they would go out of business. But because you have to buy shakes, bars, soups, snacks from the company, this is really how they’re making money. Optavia says that these meal replacements will meet your nutritional needs, which is tough to believe. Number one, that’s not adequate calories for a adult. It’s not adequate macronutrients for an adult. So they’re likely adding a lot of synthetic vitamins, minerals, and fiber to the product in order to have some sort of semblance of nutritional value or like, get that nutrient value up in those products. I want you to think about what it would be like to live on shakes, bars, soups, and snacks every single day for three to 4 or 5 months or so.


Emily Field (00:04:16) – I mean, and even in their longer term plan, if you follow this all the way through, which we’ll talk about, you’re having some sort of meal replacement every single day. But in the very beginning or the most popular program, it’s five times a day. So even if you like shakes, you’re going to get tired of chocolate, vanilla, and strawberry. You’re going to get tired of the bars. You know, they say it’s a combination of protein, fat and fiber, and that’s supposed to keep you full and satisfied. But again, like, how can it keep you full and satisfied if it’s only 100 to 150 calories? Soups. They have a couple of different options. They’ve got chicken noodle, tomato, basil, creamy herb garden and they are, you know, advertised as something that keeps you. It’s a comfort food. It’s it’s warm, it’s satisfying. And again, there is research to show that having like warm food is more satisfying. So they’re really trying to hit on all these points.


Emily Field (00:05:04) – Lastly the snacks these are like cheese puffs. They’re pretzels. They’re brownies. They’re cookies. So they are meant to again hit on a high point where a lot of people struggle. They think they struggle with their sugar cravings. They think they struggle with like wanting indulgent foods. And so by having snacks like having these like sweet snacks or these crunchy snacks, people are fooled into thinking that their craving will be minimized. And like I said, you might be thinking, this food is really highly processed and you would be right, especially if it claims to meet an adult’s nutritional needs. There’s got to be additional synthetic vitamins and minerals and added fiber. You might ask yourself, you know, if I’m eating these types of food five times a day for three months or longer, what are we doing with celebratory meals? Are we not going to restaurants? Are we avoiding all social events where food is present? Like what is the rest of your life look like? If you are eating these foods five times a day for many weeks? So the total calories of the diet can vary depending on several factors, including individual energy needs, your weight loss goals, or which specific optavia plan or program you are following.


Emily Field (00:06:14) – However, the most popular plan is going to range in calories from about 800 a day to 1200 calories per day. And undoubtedly, this is a calorie deficit for most adults. And that’s the point, right? In order for the program to be successful, they need to show rapid weight loss. Let’s put people in, as you know, drastic of a deficit as we can, because that’s what’s going to keep people bought in. They’re going to keep buying those meal replacements and those feelings, even if it’s disgusting. And even if they’re getting bored of it, they’ll keep doing it week after week because they’re seeing progress on the scale and it’s so drastic and it can be so rapid. We’ll talk about what that weight loss actually is, but it’s just reinforcing that the program is working and that’s keeping the company alive. That’s that’s making the money. Let’s compare that 800 to 1200 calories per day. To just a common example, a woman who’s 40 years old, she’s 55. She’s £200. Even if she’s completely sedentary, no formal exercise of any kind.


Emily Field (00:07:14) – She’s got a desk job, no walking, no nothing like that. She needs 1900 calories per day just to maintain that £200. Okay, so just to kind of keep her alive and functioning, her lungs are firing, your brain is going, her heart is beating 1900 calories per day. And I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again, you should probably never be eating less than that basal metabolic rate for an extended period of time. The basal metabolic rate, or BMR, are the calories it takes for you to simply stay alive. No added exercise, no movement throughout your day because if you are eating less than your BMR, especially for an extended period of time, they’re going to be very real. Metabolic and hormonal consequences that come as a result of the conservation efforts your body has to engage in in order to keep you alive. Essentially, your body is going to make adjustments or tweaks to sacrifice some non-essential functions like building and maintaining muscle mass, digesting and absorbing food, properly draining and detoxing materials from the body, all that kind of stuff kind of slows down.


Emily Field (00:08:19) – It’s not as efficient or not as effective in order to keep your heart, your lungs, your brain, these sorts of like essential bodily functions going. And you might see where this is going. But, you know, at 12 weeks, 15 weeks, maybe even 20 weeks of following something like this and averaging that 800 to 1200 calories per day, that is what I would consider significantly under eating your needs, significantly under eating that basal metabolic rate for an extended period of time. And that is absolutely going to cause some metabolic and hormonal consequences. And we’ll kind of talk about that towards the end of the episode. Now, I did mention that this is like the most popular program is a five and one program. So five of your meals or fueling are those meal replacement shakes. But then one meal a day is a lean and green meal, and the lean and green meal typically consists of a lean protein chicken, fish, tofu, something like that, and paired with non-starchy vegetables. And this seems like the one and only time a participant would be getting whole, real food.


Emily Field (00:09:20) – Proponents of the program would say that along with that lean and green meal, those optavia feelings round out balanced nutrition for someone. They are so tightly portion controlled that it will help you stay within your calorie target range. So you’ll see weight loss, but it’s enough to be balanced nutrition and meeting your nutrition needs. Now you may be wondering, does this program actually work? And believe it or not, there are some clinical studies that investigate Optavia, and sometimes those studies are under the name Medifast because that is what the program used to be called. It’s just kind of a rebrand. So Optavia is what we’ve been seeing pop up since like 2017 on, but it was formerly known as Medifast. So the studies report how effective the program is for the participant to lose weight and some other symptoms they might have experienced. So I want to note that most of these studies are usually funded by the company itself. So there may be a little bit of bias here. And most of the studies were for 12 weeks long.


Emily Field (00:10:22) – All right. So yes, they did show weight loss in that time period. But the most important part to remember here is that that’s about as long as people follow the program in general, so many of us can absolutely follow a restrictive diet program for a few weeks or even a few months. But what happens when the honeymoon phase of the diet is over? I mean, I can glean what happens after that. 12 weeks is over, and I actually was able to pull some of my Instagram audience and talk to them about their experience with Medifast or Optavia, and it’s pretty shocking what can happen after 12 weeks, but just understand that a 12 week study absolutely does not tell us anything about the sustainability of that diet. It shows a restrictive. Program worked short term. That’s about all we learned from those studies. Okay, to show that a restricted program is helpful and not harmful, participants should be followed for several months at a minimum and years following the program, and I would be really interested in those results.


Emily Field (00:11:19) – I would say that if you’re kind of interested in drastic weight loss at the like six month year and years beyond what actually is happening, like are they able to maintain the weight loss? What are the health consequences, if any? You may want to check out my episode on The Biggest Loser, because there are actually studies about what happens to your hormonal and metabolic picture when we are years out from restriction from a very depriving and restrictive diet. Now I’m going to attempt to be fair and balanced here, and share what I would consider some of the pros and cons of optavia. Now, we cannot deny that it is very convenient to have prepackaged meals and snacks. You have your whole day planned out. You know exactly what you’re going to eat that is highly convenient for people who have busy lifestyles or just struggle with food decisions they struggle with. Like food noise is what we call that. Those food decisions are loud. And you know when you know exactly what you’re going to eat, it’s prepackaged. You can take it on the go.


Emily Field (00:12:14) – Everything is shelf stable. That can be extremely convenient for people. All right. And I’ll give you that. Optavia is very convenient. It’s no guessing. You know, food decisions need to be made. It’s just like, what flavor do you want today? That’s basically the only decision that you’re going to have to make. I’d say that another pro to optavia would be its structure. And some people really crave structure. They think that is what they need. They need someone to tell them what to do, and they will stay in their lane and they will execute. We are all very good at executing. If we just stay in our lane, we just keep our blinders on. We can do this. And that is the critique that many have about macro tracking or about like working with a dietician in general who encourages flexibility and encourages them food freedom. Sometimes that can be a lot for people. They feel like they thrive when they have less decisions to make, and there is more structure and we can get into how that’s not sustainable.


Emily Field (00:13:10) – But if we’re going to call it a pro, I would say that structured plan is a pro for people who really struggle with meal planning or portion control. You know they want to make less food decisions in general. Lastly, I will say that Optavia offers some coaching and support, and that can be pretty beneficial for accountability and motivation. So you’re going through this journey alongside a coach, usually somebody who has also worked the program. So if you have questions or you know you’re experiencing highs and lows, like you can share that with someone and you’re not alone on that journey. So I will give Optavia that. That’s probably where it’ll end. Convenience structure and support system. I think we can all deduce some of the cons to the Optavia program, but I’m going to start with cost. Optavia meals can be pretty expensive and make it financially challenging for someone to sustain this long term. It’s about $400 a month to eat processed and packaged food, and that’s just one person in your household. So with that $400 a month, I would say you could probably afford dietitian services, a gym membership, group coaching, or some other behavior change counseling that could help you lose weight in a more safe and sustainable way.


Emily Field (00:14:20) – $400 a month is no small chunk of change. And again, it’s only one person in your household and it’s not even real whole foods. So it’s nothing that your rest of your family can eat. This is only for you. I would say the limited food choices is going to get you in the end. So that’s a con. The diet relies on those prepackaged meals, and that’s going to limit your food variety and likely your enjoyment. Most everyone can probably find for eight, maybe 12 weeks where they can commit to not going to social events where there might be food, not going to restaurants, maybe not traveling, you know, not engaging in celebratory meals, something like that. It would be pretty difficult beyond 12 weeks to really stick to those feelings, to the prepackaged meals and that one lean and green meal a day, which is why, you know, it’s very understandable that people would, quote, cheat. They would take a day off or take a week off. You know, it gets to a point where you’re like, I can just come back to this tomorrow.


Emily Field (00:15:20) – I’ll start over on Monday, and that might delay your weight loss. It might stall. Your weight loss might just lead to some psychological consequences like shame and stress around food. So, you know, we’ll get into that in a second. But the limited food choices I would call a very big con, if you look forward to eating and you love eating, you love sharing food with other people. It would be pretty difficult to commit to that diet for a long period of time, especially beyond 12 weeks. Another con for this program is that there’s little to no exit strategy. So what we know, you know, again, I’m going to call back to the The Biggest Loser episode that I did, what we know to be true about people who experience rapid and drastic weight loss is that the exit strategy from that low calorie meal plan is probably more important than the actual low calorie meal plan itself. Anyone can diet. Anyone can commit to a low calorie, restrictive, depriving plan. But what happens after that’s done? And we call this the diet.


Emily Field (00:16:19) – After the diet, how do we get back to normal eating? Because we can’t live like this. We know we won’t be able to sustain this forever. So what happens, you know, after that program is done so that you can maintain the weight that you’ve lost, you can get back to eating whole real foods and amounts that you enjoy, get back to your social life, get back to enjoying food and proper portion controls and more moderate portion control. And I think that proponents of the Optavia program would say that if you work the whole program, there are things that you can do to get back to maintenance. They use maintenance in a different way than I’m using it in, you know, macro tracking and macro phasing. But they would say you come off of that program by gradually introducing more whole food meals and reducing the number of prepackaged feelings that you have. And like, that’s great. If you can do that and you can work the whole program. We don’t really have any research to show somebody going through this for six months, 12 months, you know, certainly no big group of people that we can study.


Emily Field (00:17:18) – And that is a big downfall. I think if you want to prove that your program works and follow people for a very long period of time, love to see that. But, you know, what’s probably more realistic is people get super burnt out on that five and one plan, and they are just quitting one day, or they’re not necessarily burnt out, but they realize there’s probably something else that’s better out there because that honeymoon phase is over. They go searching for something else, and so they jump ship and they move into something right away. And that can cause weight gain, and that can cause even further metabolic disruption depending on what you’re doing. Sometimes people think that they need more extreme to keep things going. They’ve already done something pretty extreme, and now they need more extreme in order to keep it going. There’s a lot of psychological factors that go into this and what somebody might pick after Optavia. But to round out my point, the cost, the limited food choices, the lack of exit strategy or lack of sustainability of the program are major cons to this diet.


Emily Field (00:18:15) – I wanted to lastly share about the Optavia coach or that support system that I called a pro of the program, and while it can be seen as a pro, it can also be seen as a con because anyone can become an optavia coach. You don’t need any education, background or experience in nutrition and health to become an Optavia coach. And on the Optavia site, they mentioned how study after study says that coaching really helps you lose weight, helps you maintain weight loss, and the study that they cite talks and backs up the power of working with a registered dietitian or. Another health professional. However, the coaches in their program are not licensed medical professionals by any stretch of the imagination. And I also want to tell you, too, that Optavia coaches are incentivized to get more people into the program because it is a multi-level marketing company. So think about how much of a red flag that is you want other people to join. So you limit the transparency of the program. It’s not very transparent. You’re going to hide the consequences of the program, maybe highlight the benefits of the program to your potential clients so that you can make more money.


Emily Field (00:19:26) – Okay, so you’re sitting here and you’re like, okay, I can I think I could live with some of those cons because of the promise of rapid and drastic weight loss. And I get that. I get that that appeal can still be there. So I wanted to, using my expertise as a registered dietitian, really highlight what I see as the biggest health consequences of optavia, because I have worked with people who have come from an optavia background or a medifast background from years ago, and these are the things that I see most often. Number one is nutrient deficiencies. And we see this in I do hair tissue mineral analysis and we can see nutrition deficiencies there. So because of the restrictive nature of the diet there is a risk of nutrient deficiencies, particularly in individuals who are, you know, doing that five and one program, that pre-packaged meal program for many months. And for the female clients I work with, this means that, you know, a lack of whole food based sodium and potassium could impact your insulin and thyroid hormones.


Emily Field (00:20:23) – Not to mention, you’re under eating your needs, and that is a really big stressor on the system. And that stress response will deplete sodium and potassium at a pretty high rate. That imbalance of those minerals, or that low availability of those minerals might cause some blood sugar issues or thyroid issues down the line, even when you’re not on the diet. So I think some people, you know, they’re done with the diet and it’s in their distant memory, but in your body, it’s not a distant memory. You still are going to struggle with those consequences far beyond that diet. I’d say that lack of whole food based calcium and magnesium could absolutely impact your bone health. This is a big concern for many of the women that I work with. Drastic weight loss, especially weight loss, where protein is limited because again, at 800 to 1200 calories in a diet, no doubt your protein needs are probably not going to get met there and then where you’re discouraged, a program where you’re discouraged to exercise. And they do do this in optavia.


Emily Field (00:21:19) – They discourage you from strength training or doing any strenuous exercise, because the calories are just not high enough to support it. That is going to lead to weaker bones and osteoporosis. These two things, I mean, I could go on and on about the nutrient deficiencies, but these are the things I see most often with women who have a history of optavia. The second biggest thing that I would say is a, you know, major health consequence of optavia what I see most often is that lack of sustainability, the reliance on the prepackaged meals, while structured and convenient in many different ways, does not teach long term healthy eating habits. And that could potentially, in and of itself, lead to weight regain once off the program. I think people really want to blame their metabolism or the hormones. And, you know, that may play a bit of a role, but more likely it’s just that you’ve never learned the mindset or the behavioral tactics that need to come together in order for you to live in a body that you feel comfortable and live at, a weight that you feel comfortable with, following optavia, or just following through on the plan means that you haven’t gained any nutrition education during your time with the diet.


Emily Field (00:22:23) – You haven’t learned anything about yourself that might serve you in the long run. You haven’t changed your mindset. You haven’t changed any of your habits. And so, you know, it’s just going to that lack of sustainability that long term, you know, keeping the weight off or changing your habits, changing your behaviors. That hasn’t happened. There’s no way for that to happen if you’re following optavia, which is why when women work with me after they have used optavia, we have so much to learn. We have so much to do. Which is exciting, right? We have a lot of different angles that we could work on nutrition education and behavior change and mindset, all that stuff. But wouldn’t you rather skip that part where you had all the trouble and all the, you know, potential consequences of the diet, and skip to the part where you are actually getting the support that you need. Okay, so the last health consequence of optavia that I want to talk about is the psychological impact. And this is what I see most often in coaching.


Emily Field (00:23:15) – If you are able to put the shame aside and ask for help, there is so much we can do in coaching to help rework and rewire the brain. Because if you’re struggling and floating along after an experience with Optavia or some other very restrictive diet, chances are you’re you’re really, really down in the dumps about progress, what progress looks like, where to go next, which is a shame and stress and like mess that can use some untangling. Let me first talk about that lasting psychological impact of measuring progress and success. This is kind of twofold. And one side, let’s just say you’re just discounting your results. You lose 30, 40, £50 and six months or less. That is a huge task. That is amazing. But because it’s not as fast as what your coach said it should be, or not as fast as your friend or neighbor or sister achieved, you’re going to discount that progress. It wasn’t fast enough. The plan stopped working for me. I only lost XYZ amount of weight.


Emily Field (00:24:17) – Like what? Like that is a huge feat. So yes, I see that. I see that lasting psychological. Impact of it is not enough. It never was enough. I should be able to see more. I should be able to see more in a specific amount of time. Like what? Another piece of this is when you are done with that type of diet, let’s say you’re ready to work a more sustainable plan or program, maybe even with a registered dietitian, we might be inclined to help you see results like fat loss and lean muscle gain, but we don’t measure those outcomes with the scale. The problem is, you’re so used to that gratification of the scale going down that nothing feels as good as that dopamine hit. So even though you’re more energized, you’re getting stronger. You feel generally happier eating more food and going about weight loss in a more sustainable manner. That’s what you said you wanted, but nothing feels as good as that dopamine hit of losing weight at a rapid pace, and that it takes with you for years.


Emily Field (00:25:12) – And even at my most amazing coaching and counseling skills, it takes a lot of work to undo that. There’s a lot that goes into it, right? The closer you are to your goal weight, the slower things are going to be. The more that you gain muscle, the slower those results are going to be. The weight loss results are going to be. That’s what you said you wanted. And you know, logically, you know that. But it takes a long time to undo that psychological impact of that scale going down, that dopamine hit of the scale going down. I asked my Instagram followers if they felt like they still had some psychological mess or impact from these diets, the medifast or optavia. And I got quite a few responses, and I love that one person said that the message from Medifast was like my body is damaged, so we have to punish it more with severe restriction, or you don’t deserve to eat real food or you’re completely out of control. We have to implement this control.


Emily Field (00:26:07) – We have to create this structure. And that might be the messaging that you get while you’re in the program. But no doubt this is what you’re stuck with after the program as well. Because especially if you didn’t lose weight, quote unquote, as fast as you’re supposed to or you didn’t get to your goal weight, you know, you’re feeling kind of beat up about the results. You didn’t achieve. You might be thinking that you need something more restrictive. You think you might need more control. And that is what we would call disordered eating rear tipping into disordered eating patterns. As a result of that strict meal plan, those feelings again don’t magically go away when you stop the diet. If they did, you wouldn’t be demonizing like carrots or white potatoes or bread when you ditched that one plan. Or you might not be demonizing I mean x, y, z, the sky’s the limit. Whatever a plan decides to demonize, whether that’s carbs or fats or colors or macros, I’m not exactly sure that stuff just stays with you until you’re in such a jumbled mess of what can I eat? Like there’s nothing left to eat because I can find something that’s wrong with anything on my plate.


Emily Field (00:27:09) – And that’s the result of these. That’s what I’d say is the biggest health consequence of a program like this. Is that psychological impact that really stays with you after the program is over. So it seems fairly obvious that the extreme diet like Optavia would not be healthy or sustainable long term. So why do people gravitate towards it? And I’m very empathetic to these people who choose something like Optavia. Clearly they were in a place where they are searching to feel dramatically different. They cannot stand feeling the way that they do in their body right now, and they are willing to do something super extreme, something just like this. Even when there’s waving red flags in their face, they’re still willing to do it. And there are several factors that may push someone to join something as extreme as optavia. So let’s talk about that. I would say probably one of the biggest factors is that desire for rapid results in instant gratification. Many people are drawn to those kind of extreme diets because they promise quick results. And optavia does.


Emily Field (00:28:05) – You know, anyone who you talked to? They did see amazing results probably in the first couple of weeks. And that’s enough for some people. They want a jumpstart. They’ve gotten scared from their doctor. There’s some threatening messages. They’re very worried about their health, and they know that if they just got some weight off, if they just got a jumpstart, then they would be good. I think emotional factors play a big role here in the reasons why somebody might choose a program like Optavia. They’re struggling with stress, anxiety, depression, or even low self-esteem and food, especially a tightly controlled food program like Optavia that can serve as a coping mechanism for those bigger emotions. I think a lot of people will often write off like a diet as it being a way to deal with emotions, but because they’re used to hearing like overeating is a way to deal with emotions, or numbing out with food as a way to deal with those emotions. But I see this just as much the other way people wanting to execute control in their life because they don’t have a lot of control in other areas of their life, like nutrition, food and exercise are two really big areas.


Emily Field (00:29:10) – People can exercise some control and then give them the pacification. They feel pacified with those emotions, quiet those emotions down a little bit. I’d say previous dieting failures. You know, it’s likely that Optavia is not your first diet. It’s likely that it’s not your last diet either. So past experiences with failed diet attempts is going to lead you to probably believe that more extreme measures are necessary for weight loss success. So they turn to something like optavia. Like no one is signing up for Optavia being like this sounds healthy. This sounds like a well-rounded diet. They are signing up for Optavia because they want this to be their last effort, right? They are hoping that this solution will last forever. They’re hoping that they can finally get that weight off. The results are pretty promising, and people do have success in losing large amounts of weight on Optavia. And so they’re thinking, this is it. After this, then I’ll focus on muscle building, or after this I can sign up for that marathon. After this, I will be able to play with my kids and I will be able to be comfortable with my body.


Emily Field (00:30:12) – Likely that’s not the situation. Likely that’s not the result. But your past experiences definitely inform your reasoning for wanting to sign up for something like Optavia, Optavia and other similar extreme diets are really good at marketing too. That aggressive marketing tactic that these diet companies use really can push you towards the program. And I’d say the promise of quick fixes, the dramatic transformations that you’re seeing, you hear catchy slogans and great testimonials that’s going to persuade you to try programs like Optavia without fully considering the potential risks. And again, I empathize with people who pick a program like this because most people are just simply willing to overlook the consequences. They’re simply willing to just I’ll deal with it when it comes, or that won’t be me. Or if it happens, I can fix it later. Because the promise of that significant weight loss just far outweighs, you know, the potential risks. Even if you are educated about the risks, many people gain weight after ending optavia some gain even more weight than they initially lost. Most people assume that’s because they’re going back to their old eating habits, eating far more than they should.


Emily Field (00:31:24) – And this might be true for some people, but what I see most often in my practice is a combination of things. So let’s talk about that. The first reason why people might gain weight after using optavia is because of metabolic adaptation. We’ve talked about this in several other episodes, but I’ll review it here. A very low calorie diet like Optavia can lead to metabolic adaptation, and that’s where your body adjusts to the lower calorie intake by slowing down your metabolism. So when you return to your regular eating habits after completing the program, your metabolism is still slowed, and so it’s easier to gain weight in that period following the diet. So if you’re going from eating an average of 1000 calories a day to an average of 1500 calories a day, maybe overnight, that’s an extra pound per week. Usually, you know, if you’re working with a dietitian or if you’re working with somebody who’s really concerned about this metabolic adaptation and taking it into account, you’re going to slowly increase your calories over time. You’re not going to jump from a thousand calories a day, up to 1500 or up to 2000 calories overnight.


Emily Field (00:32:27) – You’re going to do it slowly because the metabolism as it adjusts down, it can also adjust up. Your metabolism is not broken. It is absolutely flexible, but you might want to take a little bit of time to adjust that metabolism, back up to a higher calorie intake and avoid that weight regain. The second reason why people see weight regain rapidly after something like optavia is a very tragic reason, and that is loss of muscle mass. When you lose weight very quickly, a significant portion of that weight loss may come from muscle mass more than it will come from fat mass. Muscle mass is important for maintaining that higher metabolic rate, that higher metabolism. So the loss of that muscle can further slow down metabolism and contribute to weight regain after you’re done with the diet. We’re seeing this a lot with like Ozempic and with Govi. Those semaglutide injectables people are losing weight very rapidly as a result of eating less, and a lot of that weight loss can be attributed to muscle mass loss, not just fat mass loss.


Emily Field (00:33:27) – And that’s a big deal. Next is water weight. And the water weight shifts that happen when you go on a very low calorie diet that can partially be, you know, a part of that weight loss that you see. Okay. So as you burn through your glycogen stores, those are your carbohydrate stores in your liver and your muscle as you burn through these, you’re also going to experience water loss. And so if you’ve lost weight very rapidly a lot of that could be water. But when you come back to eating a higher calorie eating pattern, or you eat more carbohydrates and you fill up those glycogen stores again in your muscles and liver, you’re also going to pull some water in with it. And so that rapid regain of weight is definitely not all body fat. A lot of it can be attributed to water weight. And we can’t ignore rebound eating because following a strict and highly regimented diet like optavia can sometimes lead to rebound eating behaviors once the. Program is over. You might feel deprived of certain foods while on the diet, and that can lead to overeating or binge eating once the dietary restrictions are lifted.


Emily Field (00:34:31) – We see this all the time, so even with your best efforts to maintain the weight loss you’ve achieved, many people far underestimate how many calories are in their meals, especially if they’re not tracking their food. And it’s just natural that you’ve stretched that rubber band really, really hard. You’ve really exercised that willpower and discipline muscle. And when the restrictions are off, when the rules are off, you’ve decided that you’re no longer going to participate in this program. That rubber band is going to snap back and it’s going to snap back hard. And sometimes that can mean binge eating or overeating on multiple occasions, and that can cause some weight gain as well. So in summary, there are a few reasons why people gain weight rapidly after using Optavia. A bit of it might be due to that metabolic adaptation, a bit of it might be due to that loss of muscle mass from your frame. Some of it could be water weight shifts and then I’d say a bit of it is probably that rebound eating as well.


Emily Field (00:35:26) – All right. So we’ve talked about a lot here. And I want to end the episode by sharing what you would do or what I would recommend you do if you have Medifast or Optavia in your past, let’s say you’re still someone who’s struggling with their weight, still somebody who has aspirations to lose fat or gain muscle. What would I recommend? Let’s get into it. The first thing I want to say is, if you’re feeling guilty for opting into a diet like Optavia, you need to let it go. Please forgive yourself. You felt like you needed to engage in the program because you were feeling uncomfortable and wanted to make drastic changes. You’re allowed to feel that way, and you’re allowed to want to take action. But rather than put that energy into a diet, that could leave you with more health consequences than being overweight, well, put your energy into something that dramatically changes your life through daily and weekly habits. Okay, I hear from a lot of women who have restrictive dieting in their past, maybe even experience with Optavia, and there’s a really big amount of shame that goes along with that.


Emily Field (00:36:28) – They’re almost like ashamed to admit that they did the diet. And this is a safe space if we’re working together. I want to know about your full health history, including your dieting history. So nothing surprises me. And I absolutely empathize with the person that you were when you opted in for Optavia. And I get that. It’s a very complicated decision, and there’s a lot of emotions attached to that. But the first thing you need to do is you need to forgive yourself. You need to let that go. You need to be where you are, where your feet are right now. And let’s make positive, more healthy steps forward. Now the second thing I would say is try to get back to eating nutritious whole foods. Most of the time you’ve gotten really used to prepackaged meals and tightly controlled portion sizes, but it turns out the body’s ability to reap nutrition from those kinds of foods is less effective. Your body has a limited ability to reap nutrition from those maybe more artificial sources of vitamins and minerals, and a much better ability to reap nutrition from whole foods sources.


Emily Field (00:37:28) – Your body is really craving those right now, so if we can structure a plate that has whole real food, minimally processed food on it, even if it’s just some meals of your full day, that’s going to be a really big for your body. It’s going to be really big for your metabolism, for your hormones to get back on track. Next, I would say consider finding your calories and macros for maintenance. This is the calories and macros it takes for you to maintain your current weight. I know you still want to lose weight, but give me a second. I want you to find your estimated maintenance calories and then figure out what you’ve been averaging for calories. And it’s likely that it’s probably not as low as 800 to 1200 calories like you were when you were on Optavia, but it’s very possible it’s not quite as high as your maintenance. So we’re trying to find the difference, right? We’re trying to find the difference between what you’re currently averaging. So maybe you take your best guess. Or maybe you track a few days without really changing much about how you eat.


Emily Field (00:38:25) – I would say maybe a week would be a great snapshot, and then compare that to your estimated maintenance calories from my DIY Macros guide or some other online macro calculator. Figure out the difference. You’re going to consider inching your way closer to those maintenance calories from your average by taking maybe 150, maybe 100 calorie jumps every other week. Essentially, this is a reverse diet. You’re slowly increasing your calories closer and closer to your maintenance needs. And when your needs are met and your body is back to thriving and back to eating at full capacity, you can consider a fat loss phase in the future, but it’s really essential that you don’t skip this step because of the things I mentioned previously about metabolic adaptation, and we want to prevent any more weight regain or rebound. So do this by going very slow and inching your average up next. And this is a very strong recommendation I want you to start strength training if you are not already. Many low calorie diets discourage exercise. Optavia is included in this because the deficit alone from nutrition is just far too deep, so expending more energy through exercise is usually not recommended.


Emily Field (00:39:36) – So now that you’re eating more food and you likely have lost significant muscle mass, getting that muscle tissue back should be a very high priority. Remember muscle mass drives our metabolic rate. So string training to trigger muscle building and then eating enough to support that muscle building will be essential to improving that metabolism. And that might sound pretty abstract to you when we talk about metabolism and metabolic rate. But what I really want you to understand is that this is what’s going to help you maintain your weight long term. It’s going to help you stop fluctuating those £10 up, £10 down, £20 up, £20 down, you’ll be more metabolically flexible to handle whatever food comes your way. High fat, high carb, overeating under eating your body will not be so receptive or like, fragile. I don’t know. Fragile is the right word. Just we’re looking for the body to be able to handle whatever circumstances and variety you give it. And by having more muscle mass on your frame, you will be able to handle those fluctuations that come with life.


Emily Field (00:40:36) – So again, building muscle mass by way of strength training, because that is the most efficient and effective way to do that. It should be a very high priority for you if you’re coming from an optavia background. Next I’ll say that. Evaluating your goals and the appropriate timeline for those goals is going to be essential here. Because of your experience with rapid weight loss and being surrounded by people who have also experienced similar results, you’re probably going to have a pretty warped understanding of what real, sustainable, lasting results look like. I heard this quote the other day I loved it. You know, you walked ten miles in the woods and now you have to walk ten miles out. So why are you expecting to, like, be there already when it might have taken you 10 to 15 years to gain the weight, or you’ve gained and lost the same £20 with various methods, or you’ve never actually engaged with this structured exercise program. The list goes on and on. Why are you expecting that now you’re hiring a registered dietitian.


Emily Field (00:41:29) – Now you’re doing something more sustainable that it’s going to actually look exactly like the fat loss or weight loss that you experience with a very low calorie diet. It’s not. I want you to seriously consider that the goals and timeline that you had with your previous dieting attempts was simply wrong. It was just simply not realistic. So don’t hold yourself to the same standard when you are moving in a direction that’s just overall more healthy for you. Lastly, I’m not going to skip saying this because it is worth noting if you have a history of Optavia or some other very low calorie diet program, I want you to consider working with a professional like a registered dietitian who has experience helping people improve their metabolism and their hormones after dieting or yo yoing with their weight. This is a very specific set of skills. At the very least, I want you to work with somebody who can teach you things about yourself, who can challenge you to grow, who can be empathetic to your lived experience. My professional opinion is that you need less of a plan and more mental and emotional support than you realize, because after you have experienced with an extreme diet, there’s a lot of lasting stuff that needs to be untangled.


Emily Field (00:42:40) – And so working with somebody who has a lot of experience with that will be extremely helpful. If you’ve had an experience with Optavia or similar very low calorie diets in the past, but still want to pursue weight loss, it’s crucial to approach your journey with mindfulness and a focus on long term health and well-being. While Optavia may offer convenience and structure, it’s essential to recognize that the potential drawbacks including nutrient deficiencies, metabolic adaptation, and unsustainable habits. Instead of returning to extreme diets, consider shifting towards a balanced approach that prioritizes whole, nutrient dense foods, regular physical activity, including strength training and sustainable lifestyle habits. I want you to reflect on your goals, seek professional guidance if needed, and be patient and kind to yourself throughout the entire process. Remember, sustainable weight management is about more than just losing weight as quickly as possible. It’s about nurturing your body and mind for long term health and happiness. Thank you so much for listening to the Macros Made Easy podcast. If you enjoyed this episode, take a screenshot of the one you’re listening to right now to share it on your Instagram Stories, and tag me at Emily Field so that more people can find this podcast and learn how to use a macros approach in a stress free way.


Emily Field (00:43:52) – If you love the podcast, head over to iTunes and leave me a rating and a review. Remember, you can always find more free health and nutrition content on Instagram and on my website at emilyfieldrd.com. Thanks for listening and I’ll catch you on the next episode.

Have you ever wondered if quick-fix diets are too good to be true? 

In this episode, I’m diving deep into the Optavia diet. This structured weight loss program promises rapid results, but at what cost? 

I’ll be dissecting the meal replacements that are central to the diet, the potential health risks of its low-calorie plans, and the psychological toll of extreme dieting.

the structure and promises of the optavia diet

Optavia is more than just a diet; it’s a program that promises rapid weight loss through its tightly controlled meal plans. The cornerstone of Optavia is its “fuelings,” portion-controlled meal replacements that include shakes, bars, soups, and snacks. These are designed to keep you in a calorie deficit, with daily intake ranging from 800 to 1200 calories. The idea is to eat every 2 to 3 hours, maintaining a consistent intake of these fuelings.

optavia pros and cons

The use of Optavia’s meal replacements and advice is a double-edged sword. On one hand, their ready to eat “meals” simplify the weight loss process by controlling portions and calories, which can be a relief for those overwhelmed by traditional dieting. 

On the other hand, the low-calorie nature of these meals raises concerns about their nutritional adequacy for adults. Plus the reliance on prepackaged meals also poses a challenge for long-term maintenance, as it doesn’t necessarily teach sustainable eating habits.

health risks associated with optavia

As a dietitian, I’m particularly concerned about the potential health consequences of following a diet like Optavia. The risk of nutrient deficiencies is real, especially if you’re on the program for an extended period. The restrictive nature of the diet can impact insulin levels, thyroid hormones, and bone health due to the lack of whole food-based nutrients and limited protein intake.

psychological effects of extreme dieting

The psychological effects of extreme diets are often overlooked. Optavia, like many similar programs, can leave lasting effects on your mindset towards food, progress measurement, and can even contribute to disordered eating patterns. 

why participants of Optavia tend to gain weight rapidly after ending the diet

Many people experience rapid weight regain after completing programs like Optavia. This can be attributed to metabolic adaptation, loss of muscle mass, shifts in water weight, and rebound eating behaviors. It’s a cycle that can be frustrating and demoralizing, especially after the initial success of quick weight loss.

actionable steps for those looking to transition to sustainable eating habits

For those transitioning away from extreme diets like Optavia, I recommend a gradual increase in calorie intake and incorporating strength training. Building muscle and improving metabolic flexibility are key to sustainable weight management. 

It’s also important to reevaluate your goals and timelines, seeking professional guidance to focus on long-term health. A balanced approach to dieting is not just about the food you eat or the exercise you do. Mental and emotional support is vital, especially for those with a history of extreme dieting.

As we wrap up this episode on the Optavia diet, I invite you to reflect on your own health journey. Remember, quick fixes are not the answer to long-term health. Your health journey should be about making lifelong changes that keep you strong and vibrant, not just about the number on the scale.



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