Can a meal replacement diet plan work for you?
No single diet plan suits all and it’s fair to say, that choice of diet for weight loss are best matched to suit personal preference, lifestyle factors and previous dieting experience. Health professionals have given little attention to the value of meal replacements in long-term weight management, but that view may be changing due to the number of randomised controlled trials that have been published over recent years.
Meal replacements have always been a popular approach to weight loss and can be very effective in the shorter term. They are fixed calorie and nutritionally balanced products which are designed to limit your daily calorie intake.
Meal replacements tend to come in the form of shakes, soups and snack bars that are designed to replace two meals each day; breakfast, lunch, and daytime snacks.
Meal replacement products typically contain between 200 to 250 calories with added vitamins, proteins, minerals and fibre. Some examples of formulated meal replacement products and plans are Exantediet, Optislim, Slimfast, Saints & Slimmers, Weight-to-Go, Lighterlife, and Tesco's Ultra-Slim to name but a few.
Definition of a Meal Replacement Approach
Meal replacement diet plans will usually provide in the region of 1200-1600kcal per day and should not be confused with very low calorie diets (VLCD) that involves eating 1000kcal a day or less.
Very low calorie diets (VLCD) are used as a sole source of nutrition, replacing all food based meals and snacks and should not be followed for more than 12 continuous weeks. Any meal replacement plan dropping below 1000 calories a day should have some form of medical supervision.
Meal replacements are not designed to be a complete source of nutrition; and therefore are not usually recommended for use, over a long period without the inclusion of foods in the diet.
Losing weight faster could stop you regaining weight in the long term
There is little doubt that meal replacements have shown that you can lose weight effectively. A recent study by the University of Florida, has found that people who lose weight faster, following meal replacement plans are less likely to regain weight in the long term as previously claimed.
Weight gain after weight loss is all to common for many people. However in a more recent study looking at effective strategies available to people wanting to avoid regaining weight after a successful diet. It has been found that meal replacements can be effective in reducing the unwanted effect of rebound weight gain.
A contributing factors to the overall effectiveness of meal replacements is ease of use for the end-user, nutrient rich and portion-controlled (low fat, low carbohydrate, higher protein) which can be difficult to achieve with every meal without significant planning for self-prepare meals.
Are meal replacements right for me?
Low-calorie meal replacements plans are for people with a BMI of 25 and over, or have a lot of weight to lose for health reasons (always consult your doctor first). However, this said there can be any number of reasons why a meal replacement plan may or may not work for some people.
Many dieters find it difficult to survive on a strict diet of meal replacement shakes and soups because they don't like the taste of meal replacement products or they become bored with the same repetitive taste day in day out.
There can also be side effects for some people, but not all it's fair to say; effects such as bad breath, a dry mouth, dizziness, nausea and constipation resulting from cutting down on carbs and fibre. Any one of these side effects could mean for some dieters staying on a meal replacement plan may not be possible.
On the other side of the coin, a meal replacement plan can be a perfect way to kick start weight loss for some dieters. As they lose a lot of weight quickly and could be less likely to regain weight in the long term.
Meal replacement diet plans can also be the answer for some dieters who struggle following a more conventional calorie controlled diet plan. This is because their weight tends to come off more slowly they then get frustrated and give up.
Lifestyle could also be a major factor to being successful with weight loss following a meal replacement plan. By this we mean it takes time to get to grips with nutrition and calorie control following a conventional diet plan and this might not be ideal for some people.
They may not have the time, energy or money to do this at each mealtime or the inclination. In addition, when you throw into the mix a busy mum, having babies or growing children to look after trying to balance nutrition and calorie control at meal times can be very hard and quite complex.
Therefore, the attraction of meal replacement products for some people is that they don’t need to concern themselves about portion control and calorie counting. The other plus, is by choosing the best products they will get all the nutrients, vitamins and minerals the body needs when replacing normal foods.
But the core to any of these meal replacement diet plans to give long term success in weight management is they must include "real foods" in daily food plans so as not to deprive or starve the body. Dieters also need full online support, to learn about the principles of healthy eating and at the same time, they need to understand how to manage bad eating habits maybe attached to emotional issues for their successful long-term weight management.
Snacking at work
Snacking at work can be a real problem for some people; never enough time in the workday I am sure we have all been there at some time or another. Typically snacking at the desk in between checking emails or answering the phone, skipping lunch while under stress these are all too common reasons for snacking in the workplace.
The best way for dieters to keep on track is to avoid snacking on high calorie foods is to plan by keeping some portable healthy snack options handy in their desk. Dieters should try and keep each snack (less than 200 calories) to keep them feeling full and satisfied throughout their workday.
Eating a healthy protein snack or consuming a shake rather than munching on a chocolate bar, crisps or venturing to the vending machine, will be more benefit in helping to avoid weight gain.
Busy mums and snacking
Busy mums at home with children can have so many different acts to juggle often do not have time to sit down to a nutritious meal three times a day. The result can be not only do they overeat, but also can binge on unhealthy foods full of sugar and empty calories all widening the waistline.
A busy mum may or may not be trying to lose weight, but keeping some nutritional meal replacement products in the cupboard can be a lifesaver during a jam-packed day and can be good energy boost. To get the healthiest balance of nutrients while using meal replacements, supplement each shake with fresh fruits and veggies or a small serving of whole grains.
Stress is a fact of life. But in these difficult times, feeling more stressed from financial worries, working longer hours in pressurised jobs, or having stress hotspots at home can mean we reach for carbs, sugar, and high fat foods.
When stress strikes, one of the biggest urges we can have is to eat. Not necessarily a bad thing if we learn to snack the right way. Keeping a few meal replacement products handy in a draw or cupboard such as protein-rich bar or shake can help beat the impulse of having a bar of chocolate, crisps, biscuits or sweets.
Drifting back to old eating habits
If dieters are going it alone to lose weight, one of the main issues with meal replacement products is that on their own yes they will lose weight, but they do little to help educate them about their eating habits for the longer term.
Replacing breakfast, lunch or snacks with a shake, soup or bar will almost certainly result in weight loss. However, what’s to stop dieters returning to poor eating habits once they stop consuming the products and start piling the weight back on again?
Most nutrition experts now recognise that if meal replacement products are to be effective at keeping the weight off in the long term; it’s essential to choose meal replacement plans that have a weight loss program. This will provide education and support on healthy eating whilst using meal replacement products but also dietary advice for the long term when these products are no longer used.
Check out these online meal replacement plans that include Lighterlife, Weight-To-Go and OptislimLife Meal Replacement Program. They include support and dietary advice for your long-term weight management, for a healthier lifestyle.
Some useful tips when choosing meal replacements
- Make sure you choose meal replacement products that contain at least 200 calories with a good balance of carbohydrates, proteins and fats so that you get adequate nutrition.
- Only use meal replacements for no more than 2 meals each day.
- Try to use your meal replacement products for meals that cause you the most trouble; skipping breakfast or if you tend routinely skip lunch; if you tend to eat fast food at lunchtime swop this with a meal replacement shake or bar.
- Why not choose fresh fruit as your snacks during the day as this will give you something to chew on and help you feel fuller instead of a replacement bar.
- To help boost your weight loss in your normal evening meal, try filling half of your plate with vegetables (cooked or raw, it’s up to you); then approximately a quarter with protein like fish, chicken or lean red meat then add starch such as rice, potatoes or pasta to the final quarter of your plate.
Pros of meal replacements
- An easy way to reduce your weight without having to plan meals in the early stages.
- The products are fortified with many nutrients and their composition is governed by European Union legislation.
- Convenient for those with a busy schedule, can be consumed almost anywhere.
- Easy to follow diet plan – no need to count calories.
- Can swop around brands easily to avoid boredom.
- You can lose weight quickly or just kick start weight loss (always seek medical advice).
Cons of meal replacements
- Not all meal replacements diet plans available offer weight loss support programs.
- There is not always education or advice on how to change your eating habits for long-term weight maintenance.
- You could get bored with the range of meal replacement products on offer and slip back to your old eating habits.
- Some brands can be expensive.
- There can be side effects associated to cutting down on carbs and fibre.
The attraction for many people looking to lose weight with meal replacement diet plans is that they are hassle free, and can give rapid weight loss. This approach to weight loss can be motivating for some dieters and can work for some, particularly people who have struggled to lose weight for years, have health problems because of their weight and are clinically obese with a BMI of more than 30.
However, the type of weight loss is unsustainable for the long term. Depending upon dieters weight loss goals their decision on which meal replacement plan is best suited to them, depends upon whether they can survive on meal replacement products for up to 12 weeks.
Another important point to consider, would dieters be more successful in their weight loss journey, if the diet plan allows access to a weight loss counsellor? or at the very least has a weight loss forum where dieters can meet to discuss weight and food issues?
Because for some dieters a history of bad eating habits attached to emotional issues can be the reason they have struggled to lose weight for many years. Not all meal replacement plans offer these options therefore it is important that dieters make the right decision. Try the products, the service, think about the financial outlay and decide what factors for them as an individual are most important.