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Do meal replacements work for weight loss?

  • If you have a BMI of over 40, or over 35 with at least one serious health condition, you may be a candidate for weight loss surgery.

The short answer is yes. Meal replacement products usually come in the form of a shake or bar, and are used to replace one or more of your meals or snacks per day. They have been around for decades as a tool for weight loss and weight maintenance, which means there is plenty of scientific research to support their effectiveness as a weight loss tool.

Here's what the science tells us about weight loss:

  • In order to treat obesity effectively, you need to have a negative energy balance. This means that you need to take in less than your body burns in a day in order to lose weight.
  • There are many different ways to find a negative energy balance. One important way to find this balance is to reduce your calorie intake.
  • In general, the more calories you reduce or burn, the more significant your weight loss.
  • Portion control, structured meal plans and meal replacement products are tools that should be part of any comprehensive weight management program.
  • One or more single-serving, portion-sized meals per day as part of a program results in calorie reduction and weight loss in adults.

How do meal replacements fit in a weight management program? Here's what we know:

  • These products contain a known amount of calories and nutrients.
  • Using meal replacements helps reduce the number of choices you need to make about food every day, which can help you stick to a weight loss plan. This is called "stimuli narrowing."
  • They are convenient and portable.
  • Not all meal replacements are created equal. Make sure you find a product that offers the complete nutrition of a well-balanced meal.
  • Rather than adding a shake to your day, make sure you replace the meal you would have eaten with the meal replacement product. This ensures you're eating the right number of calories for weight loss or maintenance.

A weight loss approach that includes nutrition, exercise and behavior changes will be more successful than a program that focuses on only one of these elements. If your weight is affecting your health, find support in a comprehensive lifestyle weight management program to maximize your success.

References:
Position of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: Interventions for the Treatment of Overweight and Obesity in Adults. J Acad Nutr Diet. 2016; 116:129-147.

ClinicalKey for Nursing
Garvey WT, Mechanick JI, Brett EM, et al. America Association of Clinical Endocrinologists and American College of Endocrinology Clinical Practice Guidelines for Comprehensive Medical Care of Patients with Obesity. Endocrine Practice. 2016: (aop). https://journals.aace.com/doi/pdf/10.4158/ep161365.gl

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