Optavia

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Optavia

I've generally had about a 20lbs range on my weight. I'd go up 20, then eat a little better/less, work out more, and drop 20. It was 160-180 in my 20's, then 170-190 in my 30's, and about 200-220 in my 50's -- with it being a lot more work to shed the 20, and a lot faster to pop to the top end of the scale. Yeah, metabolism and aging. While I never had health conditions (good blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugar, etc), and I often ride/walk to work and was swimming 40-50 lengths, 4x a week (for a couple years), I still felt a little fat, didn't like my belly, and wanted to shed more than a few. So I went on my first formal diet ever (other than me just eating better or smaller portions), called Optavia (used to be Medifast). Results:

  • I dropped from 219lbs to 172lbs (47lbs) and about 20" (from aggregate measurements) in ≈4 months.
  • My fat went from 26.3 to 16.7, muscle from 30.6 to 35.9 and BMI went from 31.5 to 24.8 (basically obese to ideal).
  • I went from 38" pants to 32's having enough room to tuck in my shirt (and sweatshirt).

Some people are shocked, many say I look great -- others ask if I'm OK (I guess they fear some illness). But I'm pretty happy with the results, and have more energy and am a bit empowered.

It probable looks more impressive with my clothes on. But since I have no shame, and I didn't want any cheating or special effects, I went with the shirtless man nipples.

Diet

Optavia doesn't like calling it a diet, because diets are short term and associated with hunger, deprivation and high failure rates (people take the weight off, then put it on again). So they use terms like, "taking back your life" (or taking back your health), and that this is a lifestyle. That and repeating positive affirmations like "I lost 3 pounds forever", and calling food/meals/snacks "fueling's" seems a little bit cult-like ("being in the know" and using different terms for things), but it really is about building better habits / patterns that you can live with, that will not only take off the weight, but change your lifestyle in ways that will help you keep it off. Diets are off and on, just like the weight. This is about patterns and habit reforming. Some of that is changing how you look at things (like food, and your diet). So I wouldn't get too hung up on terminology.

The Basics


What is it? - Short version: Optavia is a "lifestyle" that basically has a couple of plans the 5/1 or the 4/2.
  • 5+1 is where you eat 5 x 110 Calorie snacks (called "Fuelings") per day + 1 healthy meal (called a lean and green) -- which puts you on about 1,100 calories per day.
  • 4+2 is where you eat 4 x 110 Calorie snacks per day + 2 healthy meals (called a lean and green) - which puts you in the 1,600 calories per day.
  • You increase your fluid intake (hydration) in both.

For most people they suggest the 5/1, diabetics/pre-diabetics and some others that have problems with the 5/1, they suggest the 4/2.

With all that eating, you're basically snacking every 2.5-3 hours during the day. That keeps your blood sugar even, and prevents your body from thinking you're starving: both in not making you overly hungry, and it telling it to burn fat and not make you lethargic. And if you're ever hungry, it's usually only an hour or so before you get a snack. There have been studies that people that eat 6 small meals a day, eat less than people who eat 2 or 3 -- so this is a great habit to get into. The same with hydration -- people who are thirsty, often eat. If you're drinking 20 ounces like 5 x a day, you're kinda full (or going pee). Again, it's about making habits that work (and are good for you), not only the short term, but build habits that help in the long term.


Researching the complaints - What I usually do is researching products/services is looking at the worst complaints first. The three biggest complaints I found were:
  1. "It was a MLM (Multi-Level Marketing) distribution" -- you found someone to sell you the stuff and help you join, and then they get a kickback for what you buy: the Amway of diets. I didn't care about these complaints, Amway and Tupperware made good products. Medifast (the name before Optavia) was done by professionals and was successful at helping people lose weight. That was what I cared about most. And the reason they distribute this way is because most people succeed at diets if they have a little coaching/counseling/team activity along the way (they're part of a team). That's not me: I do fine self actuated, but statistically/psychologically this part of the program made economic sense -- it gives people a little margin for their time coaching/mentoring people, so it's win-win. And the truth is having some accountability, and someone to talk to, helps everyone. So I brushed off that complaint.
  2. "These coaches aren't trained healthcare professionals or dietitians". My thinking is they don't need to be -- the diet is already pre-made, they are about life coaching and helping people with motivation. Whether you have a certification or not, you'll have aptitude based on experience, and the coaches are people that went through the program as well (so they know what they're talking about)... and for the dietary part, they're following scripts done by professionals. So the pedigree doesn't matter, the people skills/experiences do. Plus, my Cousin's doing it: she is a nurse and he's a Fireman/EMT -- so they did have some healthcare background as well. But the important part is that they were successful on the plan first, listen to others, and that's what matters for coaching. (NOTE: If you're interested in getting on the program, I'd recommend you reach out to my cousin Kelly: Kellyr74@msn.com as she's a great coach).
  3. "It is expensive for the food". Basically $300/month for a lot of powdered stuff that you make into cookies, muffins, soups, shakes or bars (which come pre-assembled). Since all that was left was to make one meal a day, this didn't seem outrageous for a month of food. My math brain went: 2 fast food meals a day x $10/each = $600/month. Optavia was 1/2 that, for 5 "fuelings". Or I did the math as 10 lbs a month (weight loss) meant it was costing me $30/pound that I was losing (I know I paid a lot more than that to put each pound on). That also seemed pretty fair.

If those were the biggest complaints I could find (and it was), then I was going be pretty happy with it. And I was.


Benefits - My Cousins were on it, and being successful, and I certainly didn't mind them getting a small cut of my orders. Mostly, the benefits were it fit my lifestyle well:
  1. Because I wake up early (5:00am), and I have a bit of IBS/Colitis (tummy issues), I kinda need to put something in immediately. And then by 9:00 I'm hungry again (second breakfast). This works perfect on the program. I have a bar, cereal or a shake, then another later. This is an easy lifestyle change from grazing on leftovers, toast/muffin, etc., to just having a shake/cereal/bar.
  2. The packaged food is easy. You pop in some water, nuke for a little, and you get a muffin, cake, cookie (or blend with ice for a shake), and it's pretty easy to fuel up without a ton of work. The stuff has probiotics and vitamins, and lower calorie diets makes my system work better. (I'm less symptomatic if I eat a little, but not nothing). So after adjusting (the first week), my issues were much better than before.
  3. I like programs that I can just follow. This was easy. Do X, you get Y result. You could do a lot of this yourself by buying discount diet food direct, and creating the same (similar) program. But even if I could save $100/month or so, I knew what I was getting with this one. It was about convenience and product quality, and was easy to travel or do work.
  4. I didn't know it until I tried it, but most of the food is good. The brownies, bars and shakes are things I'd eat regardless. Some of the other stuff has little downsides: like the soup/chili/Mac and cheese stuff tends to want to boil over in the microwave. But you learn a couple tricks or hacks (soak it first, get the water to scalding, then add it to the food), and they're fine.

So for me, the good outweighed the bad before going on the plan. And definitely more so, once I was on it.


Does it work? - Of course it does. Everyone I know that stuck with the plan was successful. But not everyone could/wanted to. Most of them still lost weight, just not as much, over as much time, or some put it back on.

One of my friends wives doesn't like that it's all "processed" food (packets of stuff that you make like shakes, bars, soups, muffins, cookies and so on). So she sort of sabotages him. But it's still helped a bit, he just does the shakes for lunch or snacks and work, and he's lost a little weight, even eating regular the rest of the time. It's always easier if both members of the house go on the program or buy-in, as it's a shared journey.

For me, I had the opposite experience. My wife is vegetarian and does the cooking (but has always cooked meat for me). She was a little hesitant at the start -- but once we got some recipe's for lean and green meals (there's a bunch, and hacks for the Optavia food), she got into it and was highly supportive. Many of the meals were good stuff and part of the new recipe repertoire (lifestyle change, not just a "diet"). Like making pizza "dough" out of ground chicken and/or cauliflower, or using egg based "tortilla's", and so on. Easy substitutes, and a lot easier to have tasty and filling, but more healthy, substitutes.

We eat out a lot, so I spent a fair amount of time going through the eating out guide, and figuring out on-plan choices at many popular places. Most of it isn't very depriving at all. Grilled vegetables instead of potatoes, salad instead of fries, lettuce wraps instead of buns on a burger. It didn't seem that hard to me to just make a few different choices, that have a big impact on calories and health.


3,500 calorie rule - Basically, to add/remove about 1 lbs of fat, you need to add or remove about 3,500 calories. That means if you reduce your diet by 500 calories a day (1 healthy meal), you'll lose only about 1 lbs per week. And it's a lot easier to add 500 calories a day than it is to take it away, for the average person. But this "rule" (approximation) impacts a lot of things, so it's good to keep in mind.

Think of your body as a giant fat-battery: it takes calories in, stores them as fat, to burn later. Fat is the easiest for your body to store, so reducing fat helps. Sugar/Carbs are easy to turn to fat, cutting them down certainly helps lose weight. Then protein, then fiber. But it's not as easy as the Atkins/Keto folks will sell: fiber is in a lot of carbs: which brings the good carb/bad carb theory that some use. In the end, what you're trying to do is balance the body into feel sated (not hungry), while meeting your fuel needs. Carbs are calorically dense (and people generally eat too many) -- so cutting down carbs does help lose weight. Just like Alcohol doesn't really turn to sugar (despite the myth), but it does fake your body into being hungrier by dropping your blood-sugar -- thus alcohol helps make you fatter, not just because of the calories, but because of what it tricks the body into doing. In general, eat less calories, exercise more, and avoiding carbs on a diet can help your body burn off fat. But if you're not on a controlled diet, reducing 500 calories of carbs or 500 calories of protein will have a near equal result -- the question is about which is more satisfying and keeps you from getting hungry the longest, and which is easier for some people to stick to.


How fast will I lose weight? - Of course it varies by person and many variables, their size, diet, metabolism, activity, and how strict to the plan they stay. I generally ate around 2,000 calories a day, usually less than my 5' 5" (110 lbs) wife. Of course she runs 6+ miles, 4x per week, while I drive a computer screen most of my days. But what it meant for me, is that I dropped 7lbs the first week (the body burns the fat emergency layer first), but then I settled in to the 3,500 calorie rule. Since I'd removed 1K calories per day (7K/week), I was dropping a little over 2 pounds/week, average. Larger people, with worse starting diets, are seeing results more like 4+ pounds/week.

Exercise kills diets - One of the problems with exercise is that it makes you hungrier. That was my problem before -- I added swimming or increased activity, and weight did not come off. My body just demanded more food to keep the status quo. So exercise is self defeating when you're starting a diet: it can be easy to break plan, or just feel famished/deprived. I kept doing my swimming, but tried not to add much new in. So Optavia recommends you do NOT up your activity until you're a few weeks in... but as you start dropping weight and succeeding, you will have more energy and motivation. And you want to help the loss and increase fitness, so I added a bit more of things like weights, pushups/crunches, and other things. But I was already walking/riding to work, swimming, and wasn't missing a ton of fitness anyway. I just did a little more -- and now that I'm thinner, it's easier to do more. So I am more active, get less tired, and have more energy.

How hard is it? (Are you hungry?) - That varies a lot by person: psyche, willpower, motivation, and so on. Personally, I don't have much problem cutting down on food for short periods. But it's more the wear of "can't eat that", or that the scale moves slowly, that gets me. Since I was losing so quickly, it kept me motivated. Results matter: a lot of work for 1 lbs a week, would get me asking, "is it worth it". But having a big drop at the start, and it continuing at a good couple pounds a week, made it easier to stay on plan.

As for hunger? Sure. If you think about it, you're like, "I could eat". And there's a bit of willpower at everyone at the office having cake, or snacks and just passing. But if you're eating the fuelings on time, then you're noshing every 2.5-3 hours, and drinking water/fluids. So you might be 2 hours in, and going, "I feel like nibbling"... but you only have an hour left. And you can cheat in easy ways. They have some things like pickle spears, or I like radishes (or celery). Chew a few of those, and your cravings are usually gone. Or some people just pull in a snack and do a 6+1. 110 calories (even 700/week) isn't going to stop your weight loss. Though the more sctrict you are, the better. The "lean and green" rarely left me wanting.

It is low carb. And I love carbs: potatoes, chips, rice, bananas, and so on. (I usually go more towards salty/crunchy than sweet). But for me, it was surprisingly easy to just ignore. Most of the fuelings lean towards the sweet end of the spectrum, so I was never wanting for something sweet, even without any sugar/fructose. But this is one of those areas where YMMV (Your Milage May Vary). I just put it out of mind, and focus on doing the right thing now. I can want on this meal/snack. And if you keep doing that, it's been months and you're on-track for your goal, so you just keep doing it.


New wardrobe - One of the consequences is I had to keep buying new clothes. I hadn't really thought much about this when I went on the diet. After a few weeks, I was in my skinny jeans (clothes that I'd kept, but didn't fit into)... then a couple more and I was swimming in those. I started shopping at Goodwill, in the rich part of town, so I could find discount Levi's and Tommy Bahama's... but we gave away all my jeans. I didn't realize we'd collected like 20-odd pairs over the years. Shirts you can wear more baggy, but I'm swimming in those too now: having gone from XL to Large or Medium. Now I only have a handful of clothes that fit well.

There's a weird side-effect: fat is soft and squishy, muscle/bone/flesh isn't (as much). My pants before felt tight and would creep down during the day, and I was always tugging and adjusting. Now they stay up much easier, even if they don't feel like they're on as tight. I also used to prefer loose shirts (hide the gut). Now form fitting shirts are fine.


Setting the right goals - One of the problems with goals is that people focus on them. What that means is that they're failing to have hit their goal the whole time, then they reach it, and it's a moment of glory, before they set the next goal... that they can be failing at, until they achieve it. That's setting the wrong goal. I want to hit a weight, or a number of pounds lost. Better goals are goals that you can succeed at daily, instead of fail at daily. Today, I'm going to stay on plan and be a little healthier than yesterday. Process goals (instead of destination goals) are easy to achieve, and take pride in. Then when you look at the scale, and see it's moving -- you can focus on the direction/trend. "Oh look, it's getting better". Instead of seeing, "I'm not where I want to be... yet". What matters isn't your artificial goal, what matters is that you're trending better. And if you keep focusing on the trend and process, you'll hit whatever destination goals you set.

So if you start by saying, "I need to drop 100 lbs", it is disheartening. Where do I start. Or it's easy to tell yourself, "I've only lost 10 lbs, this is hard, why bother". Bad goals, and bad narrative. The old joke applies, "Q: How do you eat an elephant? A: One bite at a time." Same here. Q: How do you become a new you? A: Fake it until you make it. Just do something that makes you a new you, and better than you were the day before. Focus on that success. Once that's habit and easy, add the next thing. So start the process of changing your lifestyle, and the weight comes off. The goal isn't to lose the weight, the goal is to start being healthier by acting healthier, and that's something you can win at every day of the journey.

Conclusion

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I put on pre-Optavia pants to show some of what I lost.

Not everything works for everyone. People need to pick what works for them. This worked great for me. It fit my lifestyle, wasn't too hard to follow, and gave great results.

I was never really worried about dropping weight. I can usually willpower through things -- and shedding 20 lbs wasn't THAT hard for me. Keeping it off, was harder. But this gave me some more tools in my tool chest, and let me shed ≈50 lbs with less effort than I used to drop 20 (and about the same time). And I usually put on weight slowly: but a pound here and there, just adds up over the years. This gave me some more tools to make sure that doesn't happen as fast, and certainly gave me a tool to take the weight back off, if I need to. So I figure even if I yo-yo a little, as long as it's slowly and not dramatic, I'm healthier than before.

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📚 References