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Four Things to Know About Meal Replacements

Food

Is it true that drinking a shake instead of having a meal is a quick way to lose weight? Is it safe?

There are many different products on the market designed to help people lose weight. Meal replacements (usually shakes or snack bars) are developed to be low in calories, but high in protein and essential nutrients to make sure people get the nutrition they need while losing weight. There are some benefits to using meal replacement products as part of a complete weight loss plan, but there are also risks. Here are four things that anyone who’s using meal replacements or wanting to start a diet that features these products needs to know. 

A medically-supervised meal replacement program is more comprehensive & safer. There are two ways meal replacement products are used. One is a do-it-yourself approach, where you buy commercial products and follow the diet outlined in the program. The other is part of a comprehensive medically supervised program, where progress and health is monitored, and additional services are offered such as behavior change strategies, support, and a transition plan for continued weight loss and weight maintenance. While the latter may take more time and be more of a financial investment, it is safer, and the weight loss (and other benefits) last longer.

Weight loss may be quick, but it’s short-term. Meal replacement products may help if you are trying to quickly lose a few pounds for a specific reason, such as preparing for surgery. It tends to be a quick fix. It is true that if you swap out one, or multiple, meals a day for a meal replacement shake, you’ll likely lose weight. However, the results are usually short-term and the weight does not stay off. Success is more likely when the meal replacements are part of a medically supervised program that includes guidance to transition to a weight maintenance meal plan, such as using the plate method. Meal replacements should be thought of as a stepping stone to a more realistic, sustainable and healthy way to lose weight and keep it off. It is not recommended to use meal replacement products for two or more meals a day for more than 8-12 weeks.

Plan for the next phase. Think about a comprehensive weight loss program having several phases – the active weight loss phase, the transition phase, followed by a healthy lifestyle for the long term… or life! Most commercial meal replacement programs tend to just focus on the active phase (so they can sell more of their products!). If you are evaluating which medical weight loss program to join, find out what their transition and maintenance program is like. If you’re following a do-it-yourself approach, keep in mind that planning for what and how to eat after you’ve stopped using meal replacements is extremely important.

Keep the 80/20 rule in mind. The companies that sell meal replacement products often are selling a very restrictive eating style, as well. They can guilt you into feeling that if you’ve eaten one thing that is not part of their plan, you are a failure! Many people approach a restrictive meal plan (such as one that uses 2-3 shakes a day) with an all-or-nothing mindset which is not healthy in the long-run. By keeping the 80/20 rule in mind, you can learn balance. Try to eat nutritious, whole foods 80-90% of the time, while making room for the less-nutritious foods you really enjoy 10-20% of the time. You CAN have a piece of pizza or a serving of a favorite food. When you feel good about your eating style and way of life, you’ll be able to adopt lifelong healthy eating patterns that will help you maintain a healthy weight.