Have you heard about Optavia and thought about trying it? I have a quick quiz to help you decide if you should:
- Do you like multi-level marketing companies?
- Would you like to pay for over-priced and highly processed snacks and meals you could easily purchase at the grocery store for less?
- Would you like to pay a multi-million-dollar company to teach you how to starve yourself?
- Do you trust diet companies with a long history of deception, harassment, lies, lawsuits, and no formal nutritional education?
- Do you like losing a bunch of weight through starvation, only to gain it all back again?
If you answered “yes” to one or more questions, then Optavia is the perfect weight-loss program for you.
What is Optavia?
Optavia is a low-calorie meal-replacement system complete with health coaching, which is very similar to Nutrisystem. Their various programs offer a variety of pre-packaged shakes, snacks, bars, brownies, and more.
According to Optavia, they are “radically different” from other diet programs because they:
- Provide physician and registered dietitian developed plans
- Have been recommended by 20,000 physicians since its founding
- Guide your body through a gentle, but efficient, fat-burning state while retaining lean muscle mass
- Provide Optavia coaches for guidance and support
- Encourage beneficial lifestyle changes and healthy habits
- Have proven safety and efficacy via multiple clinical trials
Wow, that sounds great! But is it all true?
According to Optavia’s website, there are more than 60 “convenient, nutritionally interchangeable, scientifically-designed Fuelings” for you to chose from. Fuelings are highly-processed, low-calorie, high protein, gluten-free, and non-GMO snack foods.
If you have specific food allergies or intolerances, forget about using most these snacks as many contain soy, corn, nuts, dairy, etc.
You are also assigned an Optavia Coach to guide you through the process. More on that later…
I wanted to try the program to give y’all a super awesome review. But I just can’t afford any of these programs. I’d rather keep my utilities turned on.
Optimal Weight 5&1 Program
Cost: $414 for 30 days
This is Optavia’s “main” and most extreme program. It is the lowest in calories (800-1000 kcal/day) and results in the quickest amount of weight loss.
You will eat five Optavia fuelings, one snack, and one “lean and green” meal every day. So basically, you replace most of your whole-food meals with low-calorie, processed snacks.
I’m not 100% sure as to what a lean and green meal is. The Optavia website isn’t exactly forthcoming or clear.
What I gathered was that Optavia used to provide the lean n’ green meal, but no longer does. Therefore they teach you how to make meals that include around 5-7 oz of lean protein, three servings of vegetables, and various amounts of fats and condiments.
I found an example of a lean and green recipe here:
Their other programs are variations of the 5&1 program, with different ratios of fuelings to lean and green meals. They all cost around the same price.
Optavia claims that coaches are a unique selling point for their system. However, it is neither unique or beneficial.
Every new diet and rebranded old diet includes a health coach of some sort now, from Weight Watchers and Nutrisystem coaches to Noom’s Registered Dietitians and certified health coaches.
From what I’ve gathered in my research and reports from previous clients, the coaches add zero benefit. They’re salespeople for a multi-level marketing company, or MLM (more on that later).
Previous clients have reported that:
- They were constantly hounded by their coach to become a coach.
- They were encouraged to quit their jobs to become full-time coaches.
- Told they were 5x more likely to keep their weight off if they became a coach.
- Their coach conversations were five minutes in length and consisted of how much weight they lost and if they wanted to be a coach.
- They had a coach who had only been on the program for 10 days.
- To become a coach, you pay $199, take a quiz, and maybe take a one-day training course.
Now the claim that, “90% of our Optavia coaches used to be clients” seems a bit more sinister, doesn’t it? Y’all, this is textbook MLM.
Then there’s the sad fact that, like most MLMs, the majority of Optavia coaches are struggling big time. Ninety-eight percent make $10,000 less than the national living wage. Seventy-eight percent earn less than $5k per year and 24% earn nothing at all.
These are restrictive, low-calorie, highly-processed diet programs. There are more specifics below, but you could do the same program for half the price if you purchased shakes and protein bars from the grocery store.
They claim you enter into a “gentle but efficient fat-burning state while retaining lean muscle mass.” This insinuates that you enter a ketogenic state.
I haven’t read any data defining different states of ketosis, let alone a “gentle” state. You’re either in it or you’re not. Additionally, this program is providing 100+ carbohydrates/day in snacks alone.
That is too high for most people to enter ketosis.
If you follow the Optavia programs perfectly, you will lose weight. But you will also:
- Find them extremely difficult to maintain
- Constantly feel hungry
- Gain back all the weight lost (85-95% chance)
- Lose lean muscle mass contrary to what they claim (their own studies support this, but they won’t tell you that)
- Possibly experience a reduction in metabolism and thyroid function, develop gallbladder disease, hormonal imbalances, sleep disturbances, and even a decreased sex drive!
If I have any readers who think replacing meals with shakes and bars sounds familiar, there’s a reason for that. Remember Slimfasts’ commercials of, “A shake for breakfast, a shake for lunch, and a sensible dinner?”
The more you learn about Optavia’s origins, the more this will all makes sense.
Now let’s get to the fun stuff.
What was Optavia
Multiple companies are involved in this telenovella-esque story of a diet industry darling. They include Jason Pharmaceuticals, Medifast, Vitamin Specialties Corp, Healthrite, and finally Optavia (previously known as “Take Shape for Life”). Sheesh.
They make claims of being created by a physician, recommended by 20,000 physicians, and backed by numerous clinical trials.
All of those statements are misleading as heckity-heck and I’m going to expose them one-by-one.
Who created Optavia
Optavia’s story begins with Dr. William Vitale. He is the physician who supposedly created Optavia.
Except that he didn’t create Optavia. He “created”, and I use that term loosely, a liquid-diet program called Medifast.
I immediately thought, “RED FLAG! Why don’t they specify what type of physician he is?”
Dr. Vitale referenced himself in court documents as a, “physician licensed in medicine and surgery.” This peaked my curiosity even further!
So I dug deeper to find the answer. Multiple sources confirm that he was in fact, wait for it…A DERMATOLOGIST.
Listen, I have major respect for dermatologists. They are medical doctors and licensed surgeons, and I would definitely see one if I could afford it!
However, they do not have the formal training or experience to develop diet foods/programs for overweight or obese individuals. I wouldn’t trust a podiatrist, who is also a physician and surgeon, to treat my heart disease or give me a triple bypass!
Dr. Vitale clearly didn’t see a problem with a dermatologist treating clients for overweight and obesity, ‘cuz that’s what he did friends.
Let’s continue on down this nonsense timeline.
Optifast boom and Oprah Winfrey
Back in the 1980’s, or as the young kids call them, “the early 1900s,” a company called “Optifast” provided weight-loss shakes to doctors. They would train the doctors to properly guide obese individuals “safely” through drastic weight-loss. It’s still around to this day.
Optifast enforced strict standards and regulations regarding the use of their products.
Around this time, Oprah Winfrey’s weight was a public obsession. Oprah was a famous daytime television talk-show host who lost a lot of weight drinking Optifast shakes.
The demand for diet shakes skyrocketed. Doctors couldn’t get them to their patients fast enough due to the regulations and standards Optifast enforced.
Dr. Vitale saw an opportunity here. He copied the Optifast recipe (literally in his kitchen) and sold it as “Medifast” under his company Jason Pharmaceuticals.
He imposed less restrictions so doctors could purchase his shakes with less fuss. Because we all know, when it comes to medical diets, the less regulations, the better!
The company exploded and Vitale made millions. He and his family flaunted their new-found wealth on expensive homes, speedboats, and cars. Vitale allegedly bragged about making more money than athletes.
That sure sounds like a person who is in it to help people to me!
So let’s change the original claim of, “created by a physician” to, “dermatologist stole liquid diet formula, incentivized physicians to sell it without safety regulations, and made millions.”
From boom to bust
Congress and FTC investigation
In a shocking turn of events that surprised ZERO dietitians, Oprah regained all of her weight. The public immediately lost interest in liquid diet companies.
Medifast, took a big financial hit.
Additionally, numerous product-liability lawsuits started popping up against low-calorie diet companies. People claimed the diets caused gallbladder disease, gallstones, and other side effects.
Congress and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) decided to investigate. This resulted in a public hearing of multiple diet companies, Medifast being one of them.
Claims Dr. Vitale made on record:
- There were no enforced regulations as to who could sell his Medifast program
- Physicians “self-certified” themselves with no official verification process
- Physicians underwent a “self-directed” course of study or a 2-day training seminar
- Reporting of adverse effects was not required
- Psychiatrists are medical doctors, and are therefore qualified enough to place their patients on diets
- Physicians did not require special training because, “the physician supervision is not nutrition, it’s medical science”
Y’all. Y’ALL. I felt burning rage when I read this man’s statements.
You know something is wrong when I’m siding with politicians over health professionals. The senator’s concerns, all of which I agreed with were that:
- Any doctor could become a “diet doctor” with no training or experience.
- Medifast claimed there were no adverse effects, but how would they know if they weren’t being reported?
- Anyone could claim they were a physician and sell Medifast with no official verification .
- Physicians could make a gross monthly profit of $57,000/month selling Medifast. That would equal $122,000/month today.
- Doctors were giving their clients discount incentives for Medifast, i.e. you get free shakes if you get your sister on this program.
- Success and fail rates were not being tracked.
- Diet success claims were not supported with data.
- Clients were on liquid diets for an average of six months. This was in direct contradiction to the American Medical Association and Dietetic Association safety guidelines.
What resulted was pretty disappointing, considering all the crap Medifast was trying to pull.
The FTC gave Medifast a slap on the wrist. They ruled that Medifast advertisements were, “false and misleading” regarding success claims, safety, and statements that Medifast physicians were certified in obesity treatment.
They basically said, “Hey y’all, stop making those claims.” And Medifast was like, “Whatever man…”
Do you think they listened?
As previously mentioned, low-calorie diet programs were the targets of multiple product-liability lawsuits. Nutrisystem was the largest target, with numerous individuals claiming they had developed gallbladder disease.
According to the Baltimore Sun, Medifast (or Jason Pharmaceuticals) quickly became the next target of multiple lawsuits. Claims included developing hypothyroidism, gallbladder disease, and even one man losing a limb under the care of his “Medifast physician.”
He claimed his physician instructed him to stop his diabetes medication while on a 500 kcal/day Medifast diet. He developed leg ulcers and gangrene, which led to his leg being removed below the knee.
Then the FTC came back and was like, “Uh…y’all are still making b.s. health claims! WTF you think you’re doing?”
And Medifast was like, “Whateva, we do what we want. WHATCHOO GONNA DO?”
So the FTC fined them $3.7 million dollars. When you think about it, for a diet company making millions off of the grief, pain, and misery of its clients, that’s chump change.
Medifast/Jason Pharm was also sued for unlawful termination and sexual harassment (specifically against Dr. Vitale).
Optavia is finally born
So let’s recap. Medifast wasn’t doing well y’all.
They were angry about the safety and marketing regulations, Oprah’s weight regain caused their sales to tank, and they were juggling multiple lawsuits.
In an effort to boost revenue, they tried selling pre-made meals along with the shakes, giving discounted rates, and even laying off employees.
And this is where it gets really confusing, because here is where I “think” I learned that Medifast wasn’t even an official company until 2001. From what I could gather, Jason Pharmaceuticals was selling Medifast as a brand.
But because of all the “bad luck,” Jason Pharmaceuticals went bankrupt. A company called Vitamin Specialties Corp then purchased it, changed its name to Healthrite, and then changed its name again to “Medifast, Inc.”
Are you confused yet?
I promise this is going somewhere.
In 2002, the new-ish Medifast, Inc. Chairman of the Board, Bradley T. MacDonald and Dr. Wayne Scott Andersen formed a program called, “Take Shape For Life.” It was basically a Frankenstein of the Medifast diet program and a health coaching program created by Dr. Anderson.
It was a multi-level marketing company, convincing members to pay hundreds of dollars to become a Take Shape for Life health coach.
Later, Take Shape For Life changed it’s name to…
OPTAVIA. Yup. WE HAVE ARRIVED.
Optavia is actually a multi-level marketing company with a long, dark history of lawsuits, dishonest marketing, and lies, presenting itself as a “radically different” physician-created and recommended weight-loss program backed by numerous clinical trials!
But Optavia, in its specific form, is not backed by numerous clinical trials.
You see, we’re still not finished the nonsense. Let’s dismantle their clinical trial claims.
Misleading clinical trials
Jason Pharmaceuticals/Vitamin Specialties Corp/Healthrite/Medifast/Optavia needed research supporting the efficacy of their diet products so they wouldn’t get hit with another FTC fine.
So they “got” some research by forming a Medifast Scientific Advisory Board and Department of Scientific and Clinical Affairs. This department began conducting and publishing research on Medifast.
I noticed a few things about the research Optavia links to on their website:
- All but one of the trials involved researching Medifast, not Optavia.
- Medifast Inc. either funded the studies, conducted them themselves, and/or ensured their paid researchers were involved.
- Some studies weren’t even investigating Medifast. For instance, one study analyzed the effectiveness of a weighted vest while on a weight-loss program (Medifast). The weighted vest was being studied, not Medifast.
- Some studies introduced confounding variables, such as testing the efficacy of Medifast while participants were on Phentermine (a weight-loss drug). That’s just ridiculous.
- Most Medifast studies experienced high drop-off rates, which means people quit.
Any study funded by a company who can gain financially from positive results should be taken with a very large grain of salt.
Additionally, I don’t need research to tell me that placing a human on an 800 calorie diet for 16 weeks will result in weight loss. I know that will happen.
But what happens after the 16 weeks? After a year? Five years? Research tells us that 90% of people gain it all back. I don’t consider that successful.
None of these studies proved that Medifast, or Optavia, is any different from any other low-calorie diet that results in temporary weight loss with eventual failure.
After thoroughly investigating this company and its program, I can confidently state that I do not recommend it at all.
So many reasons.
Optavia sells over-priced, highly processed, low-calorie foods that you could find for less in the grocery store.
I found that Slimfast shakes and Cliff Builder’s Protein bars are nutritionally similar (and in some cases superior) to Optavia shakes and snack bars. However, a Slimfast shake costs $1.11/serving and a Cliff bar $1.34/serving vs. Optavia’s shakes and bars at around $2.85/serving.
I could understand these prices if the food was fresh or maybe delivered something magical not found in grocery store items. That is not the case here.
Now you may say, “But Lana! You also get a health coach and are taught healthy eating practices!”
And to that I say…”pfffft.” Your “Optavia coaches” are salespeople, meant to convince you to become an Optavia coach. Why would you pay extra for human advertisements? Don’t you usually pay extra to remove ads?
And the helpful nutrition advice? Not evidence-based at all. You could learn better habits for free following registered dietitians on Instagram or Tiktok.
Examples of their “healthy behaviors:”
- Drink 64 ounces of water per day
- Each six small meals throughout the day
These seem harmless and overall they might be. But this shows me that Optavia is not about research at all. There is no clinical basis to these statements.
There is no “blanket” amount of water for all humans to drink.
Not only is there conflicting research about the healthfulness of eating small and frequent meals, but research is pointing to the exact opposite; Eating larger meals less frequently may result in metabolic flexibility and a lower BMI.
The program is not safe
Optavia knows their program isn’t safe. They have a long history of lawsuits regarding product-liability. If you look at the itty bitty print on their website, you will see this warning:
“Rapid weight loss may cause gallstones or gallbladder disease or temporary hair thinning in some people. While adjusting to the intake of a lower calorie level and dietary changes, some people may experience dizziness, lightheadedness, headache, fatigue, or gastrointestinal disturbances (such as abdominal pain, bloating, gas, constipation, diarrhea, or nausea). Consult your healthcare provider for further guidance on these or any other health concerns. Seek immediate medical attention if you experience muscle cramps, tingling, numbness, confusion, or rapid/irregular heartbeat as these may be a sign of a more serious health condition.”
No one, in my professional opinion, should attempt a diet this drastic unless A) They need to quickly lose weight for a surgical procedure and B) Are monitored by a health professional, preferably a dietitian.
Founded in lies and deception
I just don’t even know how to sum up the insanity that is this company, but I’ll try in a few bullet points:
- Made false statements that a physician created Optavia. Instead, a dermatologist copied a liquid diet recipe to create Medifast. Then, a “healthy behaviors” MLM program, developed by a retired military colonel and a critical care physician, was added to the Medifast food program.
- Did not enforce any regulations regarding who could sell their product or how it was administered.
- Admitted that a psychiatrist has the training necessary to put people on dangerously low-calorie diets.
- Faced multiple lawsuits for deceitful marketing, product-liability claims, shareholder fraud, unlawful termination, and sexual harassment.
- Literally sent people to the hospital.
- Made fraudulent claims that their products are clinically proven and drastic weight loss results were typical.
- Made fraudulent claims that their products were recommended by 20,000 physicians.
- Saw no danger in placing unsupervised individuals on drastically low-calorie, restrictive diets.
- Claimed no adverse effects occurred because they did not track them.
One could argue that the lies and deception are in the past and that the company has changed. After all, management has changed somewhat.
But here are the reasons why I don’t think that’s the case:
- They continue to make misleading claims that a physician created Optavia.
- They still falsely claim numerous clinical studies support Optavia’s efficacy.
- Find no fault in allowing unqualified health coaches to guide clients through a dangerous program.
- Are a multi-level marketing company benefiting financially from converting clients into coaches and having them recruit more coaches.
- Continued to claim Optavia was recommended by 20,000 doctors until a few years ago, when they finally modified the claim to “thousands of physicians” to protect themselves from an FTC spanking.
- Mislead shareholders claiming that Medifast and Optavia have never been sued. Yet Jason Pharmaceuticals, which used practically the same diet program and is a subsidiary of Medifast, was sued multiple times.
- They continue to sell highly processed snack foods and tell people to eat 800-1000 kcal per day, which shows they know and have learned nothing regarding public safety and health.
IF the program consisted of fresh, nutritionally-balanced meals tailored to meet people’s specific needs, I would not rip it apart so roughly.
But it’s not. The “fuelings” are ridiculously low-calorie, highly processed snacks you could purchase in the store for half the price. The ingredients are sub-par and do not justify the high price-tag.
Studies have shown meal-replacements to be ineffective long-term because they are not realistic. At some point you’re going to have to go back to preparing your own food, having learned nothing from someone else preparing and delivering it for you.
It’s like trying to learn how to swim without ever taking your floaties off.
IF the health coaches were certified or dietitians, I wouldn’t be so angry.
But they are not trained, have no formal education in nutrition, and are literally salespeople for Optavia. The coaches are actually victims themselves, losing money after being promised success, continued weight loss, and the possibility of quitting their jobs.
I honestly see zero benefit to your health or your wallet. There is nothing redeeming about this company that I see at all. Honestly, I would love to see it either completely shut down or go through a 180 degree reboot.
Save your money and save your health.