Stacey Frattinger, RD, CHFS, Certified Integrative Health Coach, currently resides in Sparks, NV. She owns a virtual health coaching and nutrition counseling practice, mainly focusing on one-on-one, individualized whole body wellness practices.
This low calorie, low-fat, high protein and low glycemic index diet, will supply the body with the appropriate amount of protein required to preserve muscle mass while allowing fat loss. You can expect to lose 2-5 pounds per week, eating approximately 6 times per day. The simplicity of the program takes the guesswork out of meal planning and requires no calorie counting. The Medifast diet is divided into 3 phases: 5 & 1 plan, transition, and maintenance. The core phase of the diet is the 5 & 1 plan, which allows you to lose weight through the incorporation of 5 prepackaged meal replacements and one “lean and green” meal, averaging 800-1,000 calories. The “lean and green” meal consists of lean meat and non-starchy vegetables. Once you are at your goal weight, you enter the transition phase, gradually reintroducing fruit, starches, and dairy to help boost your calorie intake. The amount of time you stay in transition depends upon the amount of weight lost during the core phase. When you are ready to move into the maintenance phase, you are encouraged to eat a healthy, balanced diet with the occasional supplementation of a Medifast meal replacement.
Medifast has been in operation since 1981, first beginning as a medically supervised low calorie meal replacement program, or modified “fasting” protocol, to induce weight loss. Today the company claims to rank among the top modified meal replacement vendors in existence due to the number of physicians, clinics, healthcare sites, and individuals choosing to utilize the program and its various components. Today there are approximately 70 meal replacements to choose from, including soups, shakes and bars, which are the main staples required for weight loss.
Given the somewhat limited menu and small portions, expect to feel hungry more often. Hunger is probably the number factor that contributes to a lack of compliance, even if are encouraged to eat every couple of hours. The ease of the plan, on the other hand, could not be better. You will not be counting calories or monitoring carbohydrates, and will rarely need to monitor your portion size as the majority of your meals come pre-packaged and ready for consumption.
The meal replacements reportedly cost approximately $11 – 16 per day, and will average $300 -375 over the course of the month. You will supply your own protein and vegetables for the “lean and green” meals, and then once you transition to maintenance, you will no longer need to use the meal replacements for the majority of your meals. At that point, you can most likely return to your typical food budget and expect your food costs to stay the same.
Meal replacement programs, in general, produce results because little thinking is required. The majority of your time will be free from planning, meal prepping, or cooking. The time you will save each week cooking and shopping can be used to build up your level of physical activity, as some form of exercise is encouraged for 20-30 minutes, most days of the week, to enhance the effectiveness this or any other weight loss plan.
A safe rate of weight loss is 1-2 pounds per week. Given how low your calories will be while following the core phase, you may lose up to 5 pounds per week. Studies haven’t shown major problems with Medifast specifically, but with any very low calorie diet, there are a numerous side effects to watch out for. You may experience leg cramps, dizziness or fatigue, headaches, loose skin, hair loss, bad breath, or generalized GI distress.
Medifast has been rigorously researched and studied when compared to many other popular diets, and while it can produce short-term results, long-term results are a bit debatable. While the diet may have research behind it, and employs medical professionals as part of their team, any diet that cuts out major healthy food groups will always stir up some sort of debate among those who specialize in health and wellness.
Benefits: Medifast gives you the option of building support and accountability into your program through access to a personal health coach with the “Take Shape for Life” program. The company also hosts free online access to food journals, nutrition guides, a weight-loss blog, and chat rooms to build an even larger community of support. The program is a big attraction for those who need to see quick results, but don’t want to cook and need a simple, easy to follow plan.
Downsides: Protein fasts and low-calorie meal replacement programs are drastic programs to follow. Fast results do not often yield long-term success with keeping the weight off. Weaning off of the meal replacements as you introduce more and more of your own food choices may take as long as 6 weeks. Because there isn’t a big behavioral component to Medifast, your old unhealthy habits may sneak up on you rather quickly, making it more difficult to comply those during 6 weeks if you have felt deprived of some of your favorite foods.
The Bottom Line: Before investing in this diet, I would highly suggest meeting with a registered dietitian to help assess your BMI, co-morbidity risk, and lay out your possible options for weight loss. If you are open to using some sort of meal replacement for life as part of your maintenance plan, Medifast could become your ally to help you prevent your quick weight loss from quickly rebounding in the form of weight gain.