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Have you been dieting and dieting, and not getting to where you want to be? Perhaps you’re feeling unmotivated, or falling into the common pitfalls which keep us from reaching our weight loss goals. Well, the new year has arrived, so it’s time to break that cycle for good in 2017.
Where do we start? In order to craft the best solution to meet our weight loss goals, we need to get to the heart of the problem. Where do we find ourselves slipping up? What can we do to make our weight loss process easier and more effective? There’s a way to do it, and there’s a way to do it well.
Today, I want to focus on meal replacements for weight loss which are not only good for your waistline, but good for your entire body.
Making Weight Loss Work
There’s a reason why it often feels like nothing seems to work long-term when it comes to your diet, and it comes down to simple psychology. The “decision fatigue” concept is one where we feel more and more exhausted by all of the decisions we have to make. This applies to dieting when we have to follow a set of rules to help us manage our weight.
Oftentimes, we can become frustrated with all of the rules we have to follow. Finding the right kinds of ingredients, scanning through lists of chemicals that we should be avoiding, preparing meals, it’s all time consuming and it can be draining. That’s why we start diets, and we stop diets when they become too stressful. This is decision fatigue.
Contradictory diets do work in the short-term, because they allow us to think less about the things we need to eat. We are offered foods to help us lose weight, in a way that is easy for us to access and understand. All we need to do is eat, and so it’s easier. But, is this the right way to do things?
What is a Meal Replacement?
Meal replacements, basically, are a way to get everything our bodies need in less calories (1). Whether it’s shakes, cereals, bars, or whatever else, meal replacers are a way to get everything we need into our bodies in an easier way.
“Individuals adhering to structured meal replacement plans lose more weight at both 12 weeks and one year than individuals following a conventional diet plan, with one year dropout rates for the structured meal replacement plan significantly less than the conventional diet plan.”
Journal of the American Dietetic Association. 2009; 109; 330-346.
The science behind meal replacements has come a long way. For decades, people have been trying to find ways to get as many nutrients into compact meals. Sometimes this has worked, but sometimes it hasn’t (I’m thinking of things like Tang, for instance). The history of meal replacements comes from our innate desire to give our bodies what they crave: energy, nutrients, protein – all the good stuff. You may have seen meal replaces in your grocery store or pharmacy, but haven’t considered them until this point.
“Approximately 40% of the protein controlled meal replacement diet participants lost greater than 5% of their initial weight compared with 12% of those on a standard diet. The retention rate and self reported ease of adherence in the meal replacement group was significantly higher throughout the study. At 34 weeks, the meal replacement group significantly lowered their fasting blood glucose and fasting insulin level while the change in the standard diet group was non-significant.”
The Diabetes Educator. 2008; 34: 118-127.
Bottom Line: Meal replacers are an accessible form of dieting that takes the stress and fatigue that comes from making decisions and thinking too hard about our diet.
The Diabetes Educator. 2008; 34: 118-127.
When we consider meal replacement options, we need to consider them compared to our other food options (standard food options, if you will). Meal replacements, compared to food, have provided the following benefits to those dieting:
- Initial Weight Loss – Those first pounds that we drop are very important to giving us the confidence we need to continue dieting. Research has shown that initial weight loss results for people on a meal replacement plan have greatly outweighed those on standard food-based plans (29.7 to 14.3 lbs, over 16 weeks) (2).
- Continued Weight Loss – It isn’t only about initial results, though, since research has also shown that those who experience that initial weight loss can continue to keep that weight off when they’re using meal replacements (3).
- Diabetes – For those with Type 2 diabetes, using a meal replacement plan (as opposed to a standard diet) has shown to increase weight loss results and work with a weight control program (4).
- Visceral Fat Loss – Visceral fat, which is the dangerous fat around your stomach, can be better controlled by a diet that is informed by meal replacement products. They can help expedite the process and provide relief to your midsection (and your body, overall).
- Free Radical Damage – A meal replacement diet that is high in minerals is going to help minimize any free radical damage that you have in your body (5).
- Hunger – At their core, meal replacements are exactly that – they replace full meals. When you are on a meal replacement diet, you’re bound to fuller, so that you can avoid the kinds of cravings that you might otherwise get from a standard food diet.
“The numbers of meal replacements consumed in the first six months was significantly related to weight loss at week 26 as was the total number consumed for the year to weight loss at week 52.”
Obesity. 2009; 17: 713-722.
Meal Replacement Benefits
We do not need to think about meal replacers only when compared to standard food diets. Instead, we can also consider meal replacements on their own. There are five main drivers for bringing more meal replacers into your life:
- Ease – Meal replacements are easy to access. They’re also easy to make. Featuring simple, no-nonsense ingredients, you can make a meal replacement in moments.
- Choices – The fewer decisions you have to make, the less likely it is that you have to deal with decision fatigue. Choose meal replacements, and then simply choose the one that you think tastes best.
- Cost – Instead of buying a whole bunch of groceries, you can focus on a meal replacement diet that focuses on simple and consistent ingredients. Losing weight does not have to cost a whole lot of money.
- Convenience – A meal replacement, like a shake, can be fully portable. Enjoy it anywhere, and don’t worry about having to be somewhere to adhere to your diet.
- Compliance – Good habits can be hard to break, and meal replacement diets have been shown to form the good habits we need to lose weight and to keep it from coming back (6).
“All methods of analysis indicated a significantly greater weight loss in subjects receiving the Partial Meal Replacement plan (usage of one or two meal replacements per day) . . . This first systematic evaluation of randomized Controlled trials using Partial Meal Replacement plans for weight management suggests that these types of interventions can safely and effectively produce significant sustainable weight loss and improve weight related risk factors of disease.”
International Journal of Obesity. 2003; 27: 537-549.
Meal Replacements Done Poorly
For all of the good that meal replacements can do for our bodies, it’s also important that we are avoiding some key ingredients that can get in our way. If anything, these ingredients are going to slow down the process of your weight loss, or can get in the way entirely.
Try to avoid the following when you’re using meal replacements for weight loss:
- Synthetic Vitamins
Really, what we are looking at is preserving the authentic ingredients that we need to find in our meal replacers. The more that we allow refined sugars and preservatives into meal replacers, the less effective they become.
Bottom Line: It’s essential that you know what’s going into your meal replacement diet.
Meal Replacements Done Right
An effective meal replacement diet is going to focus on “macronutrients”. Macronutrients are made up of carbohydrates, fat and protein. When you’re looking at an effective meal replacement diet, you’re going to be incorporating all three of these essential elements (7). We’ll call these “complete meal replacers,” because of the fact that they have everything we’re looking for to help us lose weight and lose it effectively.
You’re also going to want to make sure that the calories you’re enjoying are “clean,” which means that they are calories which work towards benefitting your body. A meal replacement diet is going to be effective when it is high in nutrients, and low on calories – that’s what makes it a meal replacement. When you have “clean calories,” especially, this is going to help you to meet your weight loss goals.
We also need plenty of natural “micronutrients”. While they may not be as big as macronutrients, micronutrients also play a very large role in your overall health. Ensuring that your meal replacement diet incorporates elements such as zinc, magnesium and others is a sign of a meal replacement diet done right (8).
Bottom Line: Macronutrients, clean calories and micronutrients form the foundation for an effective meal replacement diet.
Some of the other essential elements that we want to pay attention to in meal replacers are:
- Fiber (9)
- Non-GMO Ingredients
- Gluten-Free Status
- Paleo Ingredients
- Vegan Ingredients
There are many options for different meal replacers to make up your diet, so you’re going to want to make sure that you choose wisely. Inspect your ingredients, without getting a headache, and keep an eye on these essential ingredients. We don’t want to power our bodies with chemicals claiming to replace meals, we want to do things the right way.
The Meal Replacement for Weight Loss Program
So, now you’re ready to start your meal replacement diet. The steps are relatively simply, this way you can focus more on what is in your meal replacers, and less on when you need to enjoy them. There’s a simple formula to start, which is…
2 Meal Replacements + 1 Meal + 1-2 Snacks
Next, there are 3 distinct phases that we want to focus on when it comes to our diet. There’s the phase for initial losses, a phase for meeting our target weight and another for maintaining that target weight down the road. Here they are:
- Phase 1: Fast loss of the first 5% (4 weeks) – 2 meal replacements and 1 meal, every day
- Phase 2: Achieving your target weight, 10-20% (3 – 6 months) – 2 meal replacements, 1 meal every 3 – 5 days, per week
- Phase 3: Maintenance – 1 meal replacement, 2 meals
“Even over a short period of time, a meal replacement diet (replacing 2 meals per day) is more effective in reducing metabolic risk factors, insulin, and leptin, and on improving anthropometric measures than a fat restricted low calorie diet.”
Annals of Nutrition and Metabolism. 2008; 52: 74-78.
Bottom Line: A simple formula, and three distinct phases. A meal replacement diet shouldn’t give you a headache, it should give you the confidence you need to begin your weight loss journey.
Ready to Start Using Meal Replacements?
Today is the day, and the first thing you need is a selection of recipes to help you work more meal replacements into your diet. Work on your weight loss, and benefit your body at the same time, with my amazing shake recipe booklet. Want to learn more about it – simply click here and get started on feeling good today.
Dr. Alan Glen Christianson (Dr. C) is a Naturopathic Endocrinologist and the author of The NY Times bestselling Adrenal Reset Diet.
Dr. C’s gift for figuring out what really works has helped hundreds of thousands of people reverse thyroid disease, lose weight, cure diabetes, and regain energy. Learn more about the surprising story that started his quest.