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
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.
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.
What Else You Should Know
Costs: Prices vary, but a 4-week supply of meal replacements will cost at least $300 plus shipping. A seven-pack of any meal replacement (smoothies, oatmeal bars, shakes, or other foods) costs $16.95.
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 5 & 1 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.
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.