Meal Replacement Shakes – Do they have a part to play in a healthy lifestyle?

Losing weight is hard. You start off with lots of good resolutions. But old habits are hard to break. At some point you may crack. It’s as though you – the you who planned your diet, lost some weight, and felt good about it – vanished, leaving you in the hands of a maniac who wants to cram in as many calories as possible.

Given all the temptations around us, sabotaging even the best of intentions, can partial meal replacement shakes help?

Why most diets fail

To understand why meal replacement shakes are helpful, it’s worth thinking about what happens at the diet-failure moment. Typically, diets fail at a three-way meeting of stressors: firstly you’re hungry, secondly you’re stressed, and – critically – you’re around food that makes you an offer you can’t refuse.

Firstly, a certain amount of hunger is unavoidable when you start any form of diet. Your brain and your body are used to eating at least 3 times a day, with lots of snacks. But now that is not happening. Aware that its surroundings have become energy-scarce, your brain will shift your attention towards food. You’ll notice it more; you’ll think about it more. And the more you try not to think about food, the more you think about it.

Secondly, being stressed makes things so much worse. When you are tempted to go comfort eating, your brain actively sidelines your inhibition-centres.

Lastly – we all live in an environment engineered by marketers to make us crave junk food. Imagery and the sight of other people eating are enough to flip our minds into “eat” mode. And most of the time, what’s on the shelves, on the counters or on the menu is not what’s good for us.

How meal replacement shakes can help

For many years, meal replacement shakes had a bad rap. That was partly because many of the commercial shakes you could buy were poor quality, with inadequate levels of protein and good fats.

No more. The shakes have got better and the evidence for their effectiveness has also mounted.

A ground breaking study led by Professor Roy Taylor of Newcastle University and Professor Mike Lean of Glasgow University showed  that by following a low calorie diet (800 calories per day), mainly using meal replacement shakes, it was possible to lose and keep off large amounts of weight and reverse type 2 diabetes. In the Direct Study (1), 298 patients were randomly allocated to either a weight management programme, which involved 800 calories a day, based initially mainly on shake, or they were allocated to standard care.

Average weight loss at the end of a year in the 800 calorie group was 10kg (22lbs), compared to 1kg in the standard care group. Nearly half of those allocated to the 800 calorie shakes were able to get their blood sugars back to normal, without medication. The shakes used for that particular study are prescription-only.

Another study, by the American Dietetic Association compared three randomized controlled trials of weight loss programmes based on real food alone, compared to weight loss programmes that featured partial meal replacement. The results? Compared to those eating real food only, people following a partial meal replacement plan lost more weight at 12 weeks, lost more weight at one year and had a significantly lower drop-out rate.

Making diets work in the real world

Eating healthily (especially on 800-calorie fast days) in the real world can be difficult. We face temptation when we are least equipped to deal with it – hungry, under pressure and on the go. It’s a rare person who walks into a supermarket hungry and walks out with just a salad.

By using partial meal replacement shakes, you can help minimize the chance this will happen to you. After all, there isn’t always time to prepare a filling but healthy breakfast, nor to pack a lunch made from fresh ingredients – likewise, at the end of a hard day, dialing for a takeaway can be much more alluring than stirring a pot of quinoa.

Things to Watch Out for

Not all meal replacement shakes are great for supporting healthy lifestyles however – here are some areas to watch out for:

  • Added sugar – Many meal replacement shakes contain sugar or simple carbs to improve the taste and offset the low fat content in them. These can often be very unhelpful for dealing with hunger and weight loss. Get a shake that contains a relatively low level of sugar and simple carbs
  • Protein and Fat – higher levels of protein and quality fats are key in keeping you fuller for longer, providing taste and avoiding the extra sugar trap
  • Fibre – key to any diet is fibre and other complex carbs, so make sure that the shakes you choose are high in fibre to maintain balance
  • Micro Nutrients – there is much more to a meal than just macro nutrients – so when looking for the right meal replacement, make sure it contains good quantities of the minerals and vitamins needed to maintain a healthy lifestyle. The recommended minerals and vitamins should be available on the label of the shakes and you can find out what recommendations are here.

And, importantly, try not to aim for a full replacement, but eat as a snack or a replacement meal from time to time, for example when you’re too busy to cook for yourself. Remember, real food is always best.

Note – The content on the Fast 800 is meant to be informative in nature, but it shouldn’t take the place of qualified medical advice. If you’re looking to make a significant change to your diet and training regimen, or to replace a significant percentage of your food with meal replacements, please consult your medical professional first.


Can we help?

We’ve looked out there for the different meal replacement shakes, and many of them do not fit the principles of the Fast 800 as are low in fat and high in simple carbs and sugar.

We’ve heard from so many members that they love the food on our plan; in fact they are now making food from scratch and loving it! But sometimes this level of attention is just not possible.

So we’ve worked really hard to develop a meal convenience shake for those occasions when you just know you don’t have time to make a meal. It’s designed to ensure you are enjoying a quality meal that provides the nutrients you need to fuel your day and so you don’t go off track.

These shakes are now available for order in the UK here – come and have a look to see if they could help you!