Meal replacement diets are diet plans in which you replace at least one meal a day (and often several) with a shake.
This works for weight loss because meal replacement shakes are often low in calories, fat and sugar, so you’re eating less without having to worry about keeping track of your food intake.
Curious? Here’s a breakdown of the pros and cons of meal replacement diets to help you decide if they’re the right choice for you.
#1 PRO: They’re very easy to follow
The basic concept behind meal replacement diets is that you must replace one or two meals a day (usually breakfast and lunch) with a shake. You then eat a snack mid-afternoon, plus a balanced meal in the evening.
This makes mal replacement diets very convenient, especially for people on the go and those who don’t want to worry about calorie counting or reading ingredient lists.
#2 CON: They teach you nothing about eating healthy
One of the major problems with meal replacement diets is that most people don’t plan on drinking shakes for the rest of their lives. Once you decide to go back to solid food, it’s easy to regain the weight because you have learned nothing about calorie and fat content, choosing healthier meals or controlling your food intake.
#3 PRO: They’re healthier than you think
Meal replacement products can actually be well-balanced, providing a mix of all the nutrients your body needs to stay healthy. That means not only 23 vitamins and minerals, but also enough protein (at least 25 % of your daily requirement) and about 5g of fiber.
The recommendations that come along with meal replacement diets often suggest plenty of vegetables for your evening meal, which should help meet your total daily fiber requirement. You should also be adding some lean proteins, rounding up a well-balanced day of eating.
#4 CON: Most studies done on meal replacement diets are set around obese people
This is the case for programs such as the Duke Diet & Fitness Center in Durham, which puts obese patients under strict supervision while they’re on a meal replacement diet.
There’s very little information on the long-term effects of meal replacement diets on people of “average” weight. As a result, it’s hard to say how this could impact not only your eating habits in the long run, but also your health and body composition.
#5 PRO: They’re a very effective weight loss tool
Meal replacement diets work – and they work well. For example, according to a study published in the Nutrition Journal, people following a meal replacement diet lost more weight and more body fat than those following a food-based weight loss diet.
Other studies show that meal replacement diets might also work as a maintenance diet, helping people keep the weight off.
#6 CON: They can get boring
If you enjoy food and eating, a meal replacement diet might be difficult. Plus, eating out can be challenging unless you make it a rule to only go out to dinner and never to lunch or breakfast.
Plus, meal replacement shakes are available in only a limited number of flavors: chocolate, vanilla, strawberry and sometimes coffee (depending on the brand). This limits your options and can get boring after a while.
- Nutrition Journal: Efficacy of a meal replacement diet plan compared to a food-based diet plan after a period of weight loss and weight maintenance: a randomized controlled trial
- NYU Langone Medical Center: Diet Shakes and Meal Replacements: Can They Really Help You Lose Weight?
- WebMD: Diet Shakes: Sipping to Slimness