Ideal Shape is a classic meal-replacement supplement company. They sell a wide variety of products that are aimed at making the diet process easier by using pre-packaged bars and shakes instead of whole foods. This takes the guesswork out of dieting, but it might also be ineffective or sub-par.
We’ve discussed meal replacement and weight-loss shakes before (extensively), and this one doesn’t seem to be outstanding for its quality, innovation, or price-point. With there being many similar products on the market, what we look for is a stand-out product that has clear benefits that exceed those of competitors.
The point of a meal replacement program is to use shakes and bars as a way of replacing meals. A shake will have fewer calories and, often, more protein than your regular meal, two factors that contribute to improved weight loss.
If there’s anything that we’ve learned from the 21st century, it’s that we’re willing to pay for convenience and external accountability and dieting is no different. Being able to eliminate daily meal preparation makes a huge difference to your overall dieting efforts.
With a set calorie intake and a high amount of non-digestible parts, you can see how this diet shake might help. It’s going to mean less food at a relatively good satiety value. It’s not going to be an effective replacement for a meal that contains lean protein, healthy carbs/fats and plenty of veg, but it’s a better choice than your usual midday junk binge.
So, what can you actually expect from a product like this? What nutritional value are you going to extract from one of these funny-looking, soylent-type drinks?
To start with, the high protein content is intended to improve satiety and energy use. You’re going to have a few major benefits from a high-protein diet and these drinks can contribute when used properly . Benefits include:
These contribute to some important patterns of behavior and metabolic processes. You’re going to see far more results if you use these to replace unhealthy meals. Meals with a low protein content should be replaced to maximize results and ensure that your diet is more balanced.
They’re also high in fiber – something that many meal replacement shakes have been criticized for. While this is not an Ideal Shape selling point (since there are many other high-fiber shakes available), it does present us with a slightly better product than many people assume .
There are a lot of arguments against meal replacements that are based on the fact that they’re not ‘real food’ because they’re not solid meals. The problem is that there’s no relation between the two – there’s nothing wrong with liquid meals. There can be problems if they’re all you consume or if they’re nutrient-sparse, but they’re generally not a problem as part of a whole diet.
Meal replacement shakes also have to be effective at providing the basic vitamins and minerals that are necessary to avoid deficiency and illness . When you’re replacing solid foods, it’s crucial to keep an eye on your micro-nutrient intake – something that these companies are keen to promote, as it makes their meal replacements more comprehensive, and comparable to ‘real food’.
Ideal Shape is middle-of-the-pack with this approach. Their vitamin and mineral content is comparable to other products on the market and provides some pleasing-looking numbers. We’ve seen better, but we’ve seen far worse too.
This is a big question – so I’m going to go through yes and no; when it does and when it doesn’t work.
Meal replacement shakes are going to be effective in some populations who use them properly and understand the weaknesses in their own diet. For example, replacing a healthy meal with a replacement shake can be disastrous as it reduces the intake of better foods and nutrients.
There are many meals that are better for you than a meal replacement shake – from the macro breakdown to the quality of the fats/carbs, to the fact that whole foods have a modest advantage over many synthetically-agglomerated supplements when it comes to benefits to the body. It’s a mild one, but it’s a consideration for which meal to replace.
If you’re aware enough to spot problem meals and replace them with shakes, you’re going to see a big improvement. This isn’t going to be anything more than you’d see with any other meal, however. Replacing your meal with a shake is still an inferior choice to a better meal, though that’s not as good for the marketing of products like Ideal Shape, I’m sure.
There are real problems with our dieting culture as it attempts to provide a band-aid solution to a serious problem. The reason we’re struggling with an obesity crisis is poor information on dieting and a poor approach to healthful behaviors.
The problems with meal replacement shakes, as we see them, are simple:
Number 1 is a problem we’ve all seen. If you can’t lose weight and stay healthy without paying for meal replacements, it's dubious whether you’ve actually made any progress or whether you’re just crutching your crappy diet on the inability to choose for yourself. It’s a good process to have if you’re learning about how to diet without shakes along the way.
This is a costly problem to have, as the RRP for these products is around $170 each. This is totally nuts, especially if you’re only replacing one meal a day (which is the most you should be replacing, ideally).
Number 2 is a problem that is deep-rooted. Meal replacements are a bandaid and they’re marketed to people who are (by definition) not very good at managing their weight independently of these products. The problem here is that we’re going to end up seeing individuals on weight loss shakes continue to struggle with weight if they don’t address their underlying behaviors and problems in the first place.
If you’re not good at controlling portions and making healthy choices, the type of reduced satiety you’ll experience between a healthy meal (as described above) and a meal replacement is huge. This shortfall isn’t going to be filled with broccoli and salmon, but the same kind of easy, convenient snacks that caused the problem.
The bars and other “healthy snacks” don’t solve this as they too are easy to over-eat and their nutritional info isn’t a huge benefit in the first place! It’s a regression to the simple fact that these dietary approaches rely on individuals with poor eating habits either (1) fixing their habits along the way (which is good but tough, especially when distracted by replacement shakes), or (2) not over-eating while using shakes that create a calorie deficit (a greater challenge than a slow diet).
Ideal Shape is basically ‘just another’ replacement shake company. There’s nothing to recommend them above and beyond any others – they’re exactly indicative of what we tend to see with this type of product.
As a result, our final thoughts are about meal replacements in general: they’re a dependency-based behavior in many and a practice that requires you to fix the root cause of overeating. There’s a small portion of people who are going to have the right balance between learning about nutrition and bridging the gap with shakes, but it’s definitely not the easier approach in the long-term.
Graduated dieting continues to be the best approach and we’re not convinced by ideal shape, or any other meal replacement system, so we’re leaving it at a 2/5. Elango, Rajavel, et al. “Evidence that protein requirements have been significantly underestimated.” Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition & Metabolic Care 13.1 (2010): 52-57.
Amanda is a gym instructor and a diet and nutrition fanatic that has reviewed 100s of supplements for the benefit of consumers. She struggled with obesity 7 years ago and after losing more than 30lbs, dedicates most of her time in helping others achieve similar results and transform their lives.