Well… you are in luck, because meal replacement plans can lead to fast weight loss and you don’t need to prepare your meals. In general, people lose more weight with a meal replacement eating plan than they lose with the other types of meal plans that do not use meal replacements. For example, several studies have compared the amount of weight lost on a meal replacement program versus a daily calorie restricted plan. In these studies, the participants in the meal replacement group substituted two meals with meal replacements and ate one regular meal. The other group of participants followed a daily calorie restriction meal plan (something like weight watchers, or counting calories daily). In an article summarizing six of these comparison studies, people in the meal replacement groups lost significantly more weight than people in the daily calorie restriction groups.
What is a meal replacement plan?
Meal replacements are a substitute for a meal and typically are pre-packaged low calorie foods or shakes that are bought in stores, or offered commercially by a meal replacement program. In this eating plan, one or more meals per day is replaced by these low calorie foods or shakes and swaps most of the calories that you would normally consume in a day. Generally, these plans equal about 1000 -1500 calories consumed per day. Some plans include substituting two meals a day with a meal replacement and eating a regular meal for the one remaining. Other plans recommend eating only meal replacements along with fruits and vegetables as snacks. Slim Fast, Jenny Craig, and Nutrisystem and BistroMD are examples of well-known meal replacement programs.
Why does a meal replacement plan lead to more weight loss?
A meal replacement plan is easy to follow and there are fewer decisions to make, so there is less room for mistakes or “cheating.” It is clear when a food is not on your eating plan, such as cake for someone’s birthday at work. This makes it easier to say “no” to foods not on your plan. Also, there is no need to track calories or weigh and measure food. Most people underestimate calories when tracking what they eat. https://jenpennockmd.com/weight-loss/im-barely-eating-why-am-i-not-losing-weight/
Won’t I just gain the weight back when I stop following the meal replacement plan?
Actually, studies show that people who lose weight with meal replacement groups kept more weight off than the people who follow a daily calorie restricted meal plan. Many meal replacement programs have a lifestyle and behavior change program that helps you transition off the meal replacements and introduce regular food again. Also, you can continue to use some meal replacements as a tool to maintain your weight loss.
But this isn’t “real food”
I guess this depends on your definition of “real food.” But yes, these are processed foods. Some people don’t like the idea of eating processed foods. Most plans suggest that you eat a lot of fruits and vegetables in addition to the meal replacements, so that is fresh “real food.” If you are opposed to processed foods, even for a short time to lose weight, then this is not a plan for you.
How much do these programs cost?
If you are doing a full meal replacement program such as Jenny Craig or Nutrisystem, the cost of a meal replacement food is generally about $300 per month or more. This may seem quite expensive at first, but consider that you are not buying as much food at the grocery store. You will still be buying fruits and vegetables, but no other snack foods or meals. Also, you will be eating out less (or not at all for a while), and not drinking alcohol, so you may actually save money when you are losing weight.
Some people do a meal replacement program that involves substituting 1-2 meals a day with a meal replacement shake, and then eating one small (about 500 calorie) meal per day. The most commonly used meal replacement in this category is SlimFast.
There are also many other meal replacement shakes and bars available. Usually, these shakes are around 1-2 dollars each. Some people also use frozen meals such as Lean Cuisines as meal replacements. Frozen meals can be $2-$4 each or more.
What am I looking for in a meal replacement shake?
There are many meal replacement shakes in the market. There is nothing magical about the different shakes, so you want to just find a brand that tastes good to you. When you check the label, you are looking for at least 15 grams of protein per serving, at least 3 grams of fiber per serving and less than 10 grams of sugar per serving. Most of the shakes will have 200 calories or less per serving.
How do I eat out at a restaurant?
If you are following a meal replacement plan where you substitute 2 meals a day with meal replacements and eat one regular meal each day, then you can eat out at a restaurant and just order something relatively healthy from the menu.
However, if you are following a full meal replacement plan (where all your meals are meal replacements and you only eat additional fruits and vegetables) then eating out can be challenging, although not impossible. You can bring your meal replacement with you, and you can even ask your server to heat it for you if you want. Generally, restaurant staff is understanding of special diets. Almost every restaurant will have a salad that you can order without dressing or a fat free dressing to eat on the side. You can almost always get a plate of steamed vegetables as well to go with your meal replacement.
How I used meal replacements to lose 40 pounds and keep it off
When I lost 40 pounds a few years ago, I used a meal replacement program called HMR, which refers to Health Management Resources. The plan consisted of eating two pre-portioned meals and three shakes each day, along with at least five cups of fruits and/or vegetables. Average weight loss with this plan is 23 pounds in three months; it was rated number one by US News and World Reports for best “fast weight-loss diet.”
I found this program easy to follow and that it was easier for me to say “no” to foods that were not on my eating plan. I had a weekly phone call with a coach and other participants who gave me support and ideas about how to work through my issues. I also had accountability because we reported to our coach how many meal replacements and fruits and vegetables we were eating a day as well as what we ate that was not on our plan during the week. This type of structure allowed me to be consistent. Also, because I don’t enjoy planning meals or grocery shopping, having the meals and shakes available and not having to think about what to eat was a relief for me. Of course, I still had to feed my children and I needed to prepare fruits and vegetables, but this felt fairly easy. I did not mind eating out with friends, either, I just ordered steamed vegetables or a salad without dressing and ate one of my meal replacements.
Once I reached my goal weight, the program and coach guided me on how to introduce other foods while still maintaining my weight loss. I love my maintenance eating plan now: I eat a lot of fruits and vegetables and lean meats, fish, rice, and tofu. I still eat at least one meal replacement daily, too. Overall, I eat small amounts throughout the day to feel satisfied with the food that I eat.
Are you interested in learning more about how to lose weight and keep it off? You can learn much more in my ebook The Obesity Solution, A compassionate step-by-step guide to finally losing the weight and keeping it off.