If you have been looking for tips on the internet on how to lose weight quickly, you would have inevitably come across meal replacements. A new trend? Well, not really! Meal replacements have existed since the1960s, but they are now experiencing a revival: bio meal replacements, better composition …
But what about this new kind of diet? Does it really overshadow our traditional and unconditional food rebalancing?
What actually is a meal replacement?
Above all, let’s not start talking about products that we know anything about. Let’s start by defining a meal replacement. As its name suggests, a meal replacement is supposed to replace a balanced meal. Existing in the form of a bar, powder, drink or soup, they are everywhere on our supermarket shelves. Used by women all over the world, they were initially created for hospitalised people who were unable to eat properly. But as always, some “pros” found a source of inspiration and are now surfing a new wave of slimming products, with the promise of QUICK SLIMMING WITHOUT ANY PROBLEMS.
Regarding its use, we often hear of: “replace all your meals”, “only replace one meal” … But the question that really interests us is: does it work?
Well, believe you me, I was very skeptical before digging a little in scientific studies! And I was very surprised.
A study published in the International Journal of Obesity (1) evaluated the safety and effectiveness of meal replacement consumption on weight loss. The tests were conducted on overweight people, for three months to a year, comparing the effects of a diet using meal replacements against a conventional low-calorie diet. The results do not lie – meal replacements are effective for weight loss.
Another study published a year later compared two groups of people (2): one group taking two food substitutes a day + 1 low-calorie meal and another group on a conventional low-calorie diet. Once again, after a period of one month and three months after dieting, both methods showed similar net weight loss, demonstrating the effectiveness of dietary substitutes as a fast and effective way of dieting.
However, the question for me is: at what price?
The risks of meal replacements
Well, let it be said, and as you probably suspected, i wouldn’t exactly recommend meal replacements! A few years ago, in 2013, a team of 60 million consumers conducted a study on food replacements. In total, twenty-one slimming products were analysed and guess what? They found them to be too high in sugar and low in fibre and omega 3. Yet, aren’t we regularly told to eat more fibre, and to increase our intake of omega 3 to prevent cardiovascular health? Hmmm … that little cereal bar for lunch isn’t so cool after all, is it? However, soups were at the top of the list with a more “natural” and “balanced” composition.
To be honest (and to avoid getting hit on the fingers!), i have to admit that since 2013, things have changed a little. Some brands have improved their composition to ensure food substitutes are complete. However, you’ll never convince me that a shake will ever replace a breakfast composed of buttered toast made from fresh bread, fresh fruit, tea / coffee and a yoghurt. Do not forget, that breakfast is important for your brain!
The problem of these substitutes is that their physical volumes are often too small to naturally reach a feeling of satiety. They are also often very rich in protein, a nutrient that can be quickly satiated and therefore, before you know it, you are dragged into a spiral of a high protein diet. In addition, they are largely lacking in sufficient levels of complex carbohydrates, fibre, vitamins and minerals. And where are all the vitamins from fresh fruits and vegetables? You should carefully monitor your blood levels to avoid possible deficiencies if you consume a lot of these substitutes …
Because yes, THE problem of meal replacements is not so much the substitutes in themselves, which tend to be more and more nutritionally complete, it is the way we use them!
Meal replacements must be consumed in tandem with a balanced diet, and they should definitely not become your only source of food! If you only consume substitutes, little by little, your metabolism will fall asleep, especially as they often come in the same volumes and lack calories. Once again, the problem lies in how we use these products which are often considered miraculous. I’ll repeat it to you clearly once again: they are not!. They can help you lose weight and from time to time, they can replace a meal. Because of course, it’s better than not eating anything. But they are not a solution for long-term weight loss.
Meal Replacement or Rebalancing Food?
In my opinion, that’s an easy choice! But do I really have to convince you? Ok, I’ll try to!
The first question to ask yourself when you are starting to look at meal replacements is: Why? To lose weight quickly? To lose 10 pounds in a month? To find products which suppress hunger? If any of these questions have crossed your mind, then press PAUSE, rewind the film, and presto, start from scratch. No, these are not valid reasons, and for that matter, for any type of diet.
Ask yourself if you have ever tried to eat better, eat more balanced, or if you have ever properly gone through the steps of “food rebalancing”. Because the worry with meal replacements is that they do not teach you anything. You nibble your bar, in front of the computer, and with a little luck, it’s accompanied by a yogurt and a fruit, but all too often, the meal stops there. Where is the nutritional education? Do you even know what you have eaten? Where is the pleasure of sitting down to dinner with friends, taking the time to eat, to chew, to savour? And where is the pleasure of taste? Quite frankly, don’t try and kid me that you are having as much fun with your vanilla or chocolate-flavoured shaker as you would have, if you were eating a chicken or vegetable pasta dish!
You have to learn the basics of a balanced meal. If you want to adopt good, long-term habits and lose weight smoothly, in rhythm with your body, forget meal replacements. Grasp the nettle and go and consult a nutritionist dietician and learn! This is the only way to become autonomous, to master your food and to know how to interpret your feelings. Basically, this is the only way to lose weight successfully.
To sum up, there is no evidence to suggest that these slimming products have any adverse health effects if they are consumed according to the advice given, although long-term studies are still necessary. However, adverse consequences can be serious if you have a problematic relationship with food. If you have any food weakness, or your weight is constantly YOYO, then it may be better to do without them so as to avoid any obsessive behaviour or to suffer from YOYO effects and disturb your social and personal life. Losing weight means consciously changing your lifestyle. It’s a commitment, not as simple nibbling a bar between two meetings, remember!
Heymsfield, S., Van Mierlo, C.A.J., Van der Knaap, H.C.M., Heo, M., & Frier, H.I. (2003). Weight management using a replacement meal strategy: meta and pooling analysis from six studies. International Journal of Obesity, 27 (5), 537.
Noakes, M., Foster, P.R., Keogh, J.B., & Clifton, P.M. (2004). Meal replacements are as effective as weight-loss diets for treating obesity in adults with features of metabolic syndrome. The Journal of Nutrition, 134 (8), 1894-1899.