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The Promise

Eat six meals a day and still lose weight? Medifast calls it its "5 & 1 Plan." If you eat five Medifast meal replacements and one meal that you provide, Medifast says you can lose 2-5 pounds during the first 2 weeks of the plan. People typically lose 1-2 pounds per week after that.

Once you reach your goal weight, you gradually add calories over a 6-week transition period. Medifast encourages following its "3 & 3 Plan" (three meals plus three meal replacements) indefinitely to keep off the weight.

What You Can Eat and What You Can't

Medifast has more than 70 meal replacements. The meal you provide each day should include 5-7 ounces of lean protein, three servings of vegetables, and up to two servings of healthy fats.

You can also have condiments, sauces, dressings, and one snack per day. Snack choices include celery, Jell-O, a Popsicle, pickles, gum, or mints, and half an ounce of either walnuts, pistachios, or almonds.

Alcohol is off-limits; so is everything that is not on the approved food list.

Level of Effort: Medium

You'll need Medifast's meal replacements for most of your food, but you have some flexibility for the meal you provide.

Limitations: You'll mostly eat meal replacements. There is some variety: Medifast has more than 70 meal replacement options including shakes, bars, cereals, and snacks like pretzel sticks. Fruit, dairy products, and starches aren't allowed in the 5 & 1 Plan.

Cooking and shopping: Meal replacements simplify meal planning and preparation. Plus, you won’t have to make many trips to the grocery store.

Packaged foods or meals: Required.

In-person meetings: Optional. There are more than 100 nationwide Medifast Weight Control Centers.

Exercise: Daily exercise is encouraged, but the program doesn’t offer a specific workout. Make your workouts half as long and half as intense while your body adjusts to getting fewer calories.

Does It Allow for Dietary Restrictions or Preferences?

Vegetarians and vegans: Vegetarians on the 5 & 1 Plan should avoid high-carb legumes (peas, beans, and lentils) until reaching their goal weight. The plan is trickier for vegans, since many of the meal replacements are made with dairy or eggs.

Gluten-free: Medifast says that more than 40 of its products are certified gluten-free. The Medifast web site lists its most popular gluten-free items.

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