Eat six meals a day and still lose weight? Then add calories once you do?
Medifast once offered the "5 & 1 Plan," in which you ate five Medifast meal replacements and one of your own meals for a weight loss of between 1 and 5 pounds weekly, and then the "3 & 3 Plan" in which you added in calories over 6 weeks with three meals and three meal replacements daily.
That has changed.
Today, the company offers two plans that work by restricting calorie intake:
Medifast GO! for busy people who need an easy-to-follow program and delivers fast results and Medifast Achieve for those who favor steady, gradual weight loss.
What You Can Eat and What You Can't
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 Medifast GO! 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 a handful of Medifast Weight Control Centers in Arizona and Louisiana.
Does It Allow for Dietary Restrictions or Preferences?
Vegetarians and vegans: Vegetarians on the Medifast GO! 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.
What Else You Should Know
Costs: Prices vary, but a 4-week supply of meal replacements will cost between $323 and $341. A seven-pack of any meal replacement (smoothies, oatmeal bars, shakes, or other foods) costs $20.50.
Support: Medifast’s “Take Shape for Life” program provides free access to a personal health coach. You also have free online access to food journals, nutrition guides, a weight-loss blog, and chat rooms.
What Dr. Michael Smith Says:
Does It Work?
The Medifast Go! plan provides only 800 to 1,000 calories a day. You will lose weight due to the severe calorie restriction, but it’s an approach that will be tough to stick with.
Research shows meal replacement diets can work and are safe. Studies show they can also help keep the weight off if you’re able to make lasting changes to your lifestyle.
Getting enough nutrients would be a concern on such a low-calorie diet, but the replacements are enriched with nutrients to help offset any deficiency that may occur.
The lack of energy often caused by very-low-calorie diets may make exercise a challenge, but regular exercise is critical if you want to keep the weight off.
Is It Good for Certain Conditions?
Research shows that meal replacement plans can help control blood sugar in people with diabetes. But drastically reducing how much you eat could lead to dangerously low blood sugar if you take diabetes medicine. Work with your doctor to monitor your blood sugar and know what action to take if it falls too low.
Medifast could also be good for someone with high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and heart disease. Weight loss helps each of these conditions and may even reduce the need for medicine. Talk to your doctor before making any changes to your medicine.
The Final Word
If you’re looking to make big changes in your weight and your health, Medifast can deliver results. But those extreme changes may make sticking with the program a challenge.
And to keep the weight off, you’ll need to transition successfully into the maintenance phase. While limitations ease up at that point, you will need to learn to live with and accept some restrictions in your diet to make it work for the long-term.
Remember, this is an extreme diet, so don’t try it without talking to your doctor first.