Who doesn’t want a convenient way to cut back calories? The truth is, exercising can only get you part of the way to your weight loss goals; the rest has to come from your diet. It’s the downfall for most of us, so don’t be hard on yourself.
Thankfully, there is an easier way than having to count every calorie that goes into your mouth. Meal replacements, like bars and shakes, can help you reach your weight loss goals with minimal headaches and pitfalls.
Sounds too good to be true? Luckily, it isn’t. Meal replacements have been shown to help produce significant weight loss. Even better, they appear to help users maintain their weight loss better than traditional restricted-calorie diets. Now, they do have the same dropout rate as those calorie-counting diets, but many people who start diets aren’t truly ready to maintain them. If you are ready to make a lifelong change and are looking for an easier way to get there, then meal replacements may be perfect for you.
First, I must give you fair warning. There are many meal replacement companies out there that will want you to become a member and potentially sell their products to other people who want to lose weight just like you (Herbalife, Shakeology, and the like). This is not to say that these companies are bad, because they aren’t. Actually, if you’re truly looking to commit to a new lifestyle, having a support system and discounted products could be a great benefit.
Just make sure you evaluate the product and the company before you jump into any contracts like that. Finding the perfect product is hard enough. Don’t feel pressured to commit to more than you can handle. You have to take care of you first and foremost.
So how do you decide on a product from the vast array of options out there?
Before we delve into all of the goodies of ingredients, let’s review a few dieting basics. First, you should never eat less than 1,200 calories per day. Now, most meal replacements can be used once or twice per day. The easiest meal to replace and maintain is usually breakfast and then lunch. Dinner is by far the most difficult meal to supplement due to its social aspects, so maybe avoid that one unless you have an odd schedule.
So what’s the easiest way to divide up your calories? Many meal replacements average around 200 calories. So if you’re just replacing breakfast with a shake or bar, you’ll be able to enjoy two filling meals of 500 calories throughout the day. If you want to replace two meals, your last meal of the day should be around 800 calories (which is a lot).
Now, you may try to deduct calories from your meals for snacks you eat throughout the day. Many weight loss participants actually report feeling fuller and more satisfied from eating full meals as opposed to snacking a lot and eating small meals. If you want to snack, maybe try free foods like fruits and veggies first. Ultimately, you’ll have to do what’s best for your lifestyle and your schedule, but meal replacements are already convenient so you should be able to dedicate a little time to having a true meal. Regardless, of the method you choose, a major component of any meal replacement is the ingredients it offers.
Many companies will try to argue that their ingredients are way better than other companies’ ingredients. This is rarely true. In fact, many meal replacement companies are misguided on the information that they are giving out, so let’s go ahead and clear up some of the chaos and debate.
Yes, the tried and true weight loss macronutrient. Is it important? Absolutely. Is it the end-all-be-all? Absolutely not. You may have heard a lot about maximum protein intake. The fact is, your body can only absorb about 30 grams of protein per meal. Now you may be tempted to scarf down more because you work out and want to see gains, but any protein intake over ~110 grams per day doesn’t increase your body’s muscle building capabilities.
However, it is also important to note that high protein meal replacements do have their benefits. Many users report feeling more satiated and they usually have more fat loss with less muscle loss than low protein meal replacements. But, if you’re filling up on too much protein, you’ll likely miss out on other vital nutrients that you need. So if you are looking for a meal replacement, opt for one with a realistic protein portion of ~30 grams. Get the rest of your protein needs from your regular meals.
A word about soy protein. Yes, you can use it safely if you are a male or female. Soy really only has a physiological impact on women who are postmenopausal. Even so, users in this group have actually reported alleviation of menopausal symptoms after taking soy. Also, the impact most males see while taking soy is clearer skin. Conversely, there have been studies that link casein (a protein found in milk products) to cancer.
This is not definitive research; however, the potential cons of soy are fewer. This does not in any way mean that you have to abandon milk products for soy. Just know that there are other options out there that are safe for you to use. You can even avoid both and go for nut protein.
Yes, you absolutely need carbohydrates. Don’t let anyone tell you that you can live without them, because you can’t. If you’re not convinced, just internet search ketoacidosis- you’ll never debate the goodness whole grains again. Obviously, if you have a gluten-intolerance, it will be critical for you to find a product that adheres to your dietary restrictions. Many companies’ primary products are gluten-free so you shouldn’t have any trouble.
However, if a company has a product that doesn’t have any carbs or has low carbs, you might want to walk away. Carbs are a vital macronutrient. You can lose weight by cutting out other things.
Please remember to take note of the sugar content in any meal replacement. You could end up putting in a lot of work for a diet that is, at its core, bad for you. Without going into too much detail, sugar will hurt your health in the long-run. Sugar, as you may know, is often depicted as triangles in physiological animations.
This is because it is rough. When sugar scrapes the lining of your blood vessels, your body will try to patch it with cholesterol (this is a simplification, of course). This process can lead to a myriad of health problems, none of which you want to deal with. Save yourself the regret and pick a replacement that tastes good without the sweet stuff.
Now to the very controversial fats. Do you need them? Of course. Fats are used to help create hormones. Also, they help your body to absorb fat-soluble vitamins that are critical to your health. For instance, fat-soluble vitamin K helps your blood to clot properly. Basically, this is not something you want to skip out on. However, there are bad fats out there.
Trans and saturated fats are a no go. Use this mental image next time you’re enticed to indulge: bad fats (due to the chemical makeup) lie flat on your arterial walls causing blockages that can’t be moved; however, unsaturated fats lies jagged and can be peeled up from your arteries during physical activity. Since you can’t avoid fats, it’s important to go for the healthiest ones. Your meal replacement should only contain a few unsaturated fats, just enough to absorb those vital nutrients and help you to produce the hormones you need.
Most likely, you’ll be paying a decent amount for a meal replacement. That means it should come with all of the bells and whistles, too. When looking at meal replacements, you’ll want one that has just about every vitamin and mineral out there so you can get the most for your money. However, if you’re going to be using two meal replacements per day, you’ll need to take a look at the fat-soluble vitamins to make sure you won’t be getting over 100% of them. Fat-soluble vitamins are A, D, K, and E (remember this as KADE). Other than that, just compare how many extra vitamins and minerals (and how much of each) each meal replacement offers- choose the one with the most!
If you have a diagnosed medical condition, always talk to your doctor before beginning a new diet. If you do have diabetes type-2 or are close to being diagnosed with it, there is some good news. Meal replacements can help you reach a significant weight loss goal (~10% of your current weight) that can help eliminate the need to blood monitoring.
In fact, meal replacements have been shown to help people with type-2 diabetes maintain their weight loss and its benefits even years later! Research has also looked into hypoglycemia (low blood sugar event) involving meal replacements, but no cases were found which is great news. This means that meal replacements can be a great option for you! Again, consult your doctor when selecting one that will be best to fit your unique health needs.
Metabolic syndrome is an umbrella term for many conditions: high blood pressure, diabetes type-2, high cholesterol, fat storage on the stomach. As always, if you are diagnosed with metabolic syndrome, consult your doctor before starting a meal replacement plan. However, there is good news for you, too. Research has shown that meal replacements are just as effective as restricted-calorie diets for people with this diagnosis. This means that you may be able to enjoy the convenience and flexibility a meal replacement diet offers, setting you up for weight loss success.
Using meal replacements doesn’t mean that you’re taking the easy way out. It means that you’re setting yourself up for success by eliminating your barriers. Sometimes cooking perfectly well-balanced meals for ourselves and our families for three meals per day, seven days per week is too much (I’m exhausted thinking about it). Choosing the right meal replacement for you will give you the tool you need to change your life without changing your lifestyle. Now that you know how to evaluate them, the only thing left to do is to go out for a taste test!
Whenever choosing a meal replacement supplement, make sure the brand/company offers a lot of different flavors for the same product. If this is going to be a long-term change, you will get bored even with flavors that you love now. Also, make sure that the flavor options are convenient. Some companies, particularly for shakes, will tell you that you can make triple fudge strawberry shortcake blast shakes with their products- if you’re willing to measure out about 15 other ingredients with it.
Meal replacements are all about convenience. If you take that aspect away, what’s the point? Save yourself the trouble and find a meal replacement that tastes good on its own and already offers a variety of flavors. Try them all before you decide. After all, variety is the spice of life so don’t be afraid to shake it up.
1. Cheeke, R. (2014). No Whey, Man. I’ll Pass on the Protein Powder. Retrieved from http://nutritionstudies.org/no-whey-man-ill-pass-on-protein-powder/
2. Cheskin, L. J., Mitchell, A. M., Jhaveri, A. D., Mitola, A. H., Davis, L. M., Lewis, R. A., Yep, M., A., & Lycan, T. W. (2008). Efficacy of meal replacements versus a standard food-based diet for weight loss in type two diabetes: A controlled clinical trial. The Diabetes Educator, 34(1), 118-127. doi:10.1177/0145721707312463
3. Heymsfield, S. B., van Mierlo, C. A., van der Knaap, H. C., Heo, M., & Frier, H. I. (2003). Weight management using a meal replacement strategy: Meta and pooling analysis from six studies. International Journal of Obesity and Related Metabolic Disorders, 27(5), 537-549. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12704397
4. Noakes, M., Foster, P. R., Keogn, J. B., & Clifton, P. M. (2004). Meal replacements are as effective as structured weight-loss diets for treating obesity in adults with features of metabolic syndrome. The Journal of Nutrition. Retrieved from http://jn.nutrition.org/content/134/8/1894.short
5. Peluso, M. R. (2015). Does Soy Protein Increase Estrogen Levels? Retrieved from http://www.livestrong.com/article/264891-does-soy-protein-increase-estrogen-levels/
6. Treyzon, L., et al. (2008). A controlled trial of protein enrichment of meal replacements for weight reduction with retention of lean body mass. Nutrition Journal, 7(23). doi:10.1186/1475-2891-7-23
7. Yip, I., et al. (2012). Liquid meal replacements and glycemic control in obese type two diabetes patients. Obesity, 9(S11), 341S-347S. doi:10.1038/oby.2001.140