Chapter 27 Meal Replacements

Now let’s be realistic; it sounds great to shop around the periphery of the grocery store and prepare delicious meals, but the reality is you may not have the time nor the drive to prepare all those meals.  When I said you actually needed to eat more than three meals a day, you may have said, “But I don[t even have time for two a day.”  

For most of us, it is difficult to get a proper high-nutrient  meal in the morning. We don’t set the alarm early enough to have time to prepare steel-cut oatmeal and berries or a proper egg-based meal.

 And then lunch is less than 30 minutes and you don’t like packing your lunch for work.

 And what about all those snacks in the office? A baggy filled with almonds isn’t as satisfying as a handful of M&Ms.

 If you’re this type of person, a high-quality meal replacement system may be the solution. When people talk about a meal replacement, we may think of shakes that not only give us the sweet taste we want in the morning, but also give us the protein, vitamins, and minerals we need for the day. Better yet, protein shakes don’t fill us with carbohydrates.

 Similarly, if you’re wanting to boost your metabolism with multiple meals, you probably don’t have time to prepare a natural snack. Meal replacements usually include protein bars or other types of low-carb snacks. Having these available when temptation hits may be a good plan.  Research has shown that meal replacement is a legitimate and effective method of weight loss and weight maintenance.

This is the way that I use meal replacements in my clinic.  There are many brands of meal replacements but I have chosen to carry two different brands–one is made with soy based proteins and the other brand is made from a milk based source.  I have done this to meet the needs of individuals that are either allergic or sensitive to milk or soy.  Of course some people are sensitive to both and then we recommend a source that is made from pea protein.  

Generally people use five or six meal replacements per day plus one self-prepared “lean and green” meal.  This creates a total calorie count of 1100/day or less.  For our larger patients or those that do hard physical work we may increase this to 1500 calories.  The manufacturers of these products are aware of the latest research on insulin resistance and the need to lean away from free carbohydrates.  Their goal is to limit the loss of muscle mass during weight loss period.  This is to avoid the decline in metabolic rate that muscle loss would create. 

I am now publishing a research study with one of these products that was so well balanced between fat, protein, and carbohydrate calories that the patients lost less than 3% lean muscle while losing greater than 8% body weight during a three month intervention. 

Meal replacements typically come in convenient drinks and bars but they often also have food-like meals that include pancakes, cereals, and even ice cream.  Of course they all are a balanced protein mix and nutritionally nothing like the foods that they seek to imitate.  Which raises the question of flavor.  I am always awed by the various preferences of my patients.  One patient will “love” the same food that another patient “cannot stand”.  For this reason the manufacturing companies have generous return policies.  The costs of these foods are often “budget neutral” when you consider all of the food the patent is not eating.   Currently the cost would be about $10-15.00 per day.  The foods are “factory foods” but every attempt is made to make them as free of harmful additives and refined fats as commercially possible. 

The Obesity Research Center of Columbia University evaluated six studies of meal replacement plans. Weight loss was statistically significant with meal replacement, regardless of the plan. Yes, meal replacements may not be as successful as some of the television commercials suggest, but you may find the added help will keep you on track.

 I wish we all had the time and money to prepare three healthy meals every day at home, and that we would all have the desire for natural snacks between meals, but I realize people are people. You are probably like many others who don’t get excited about only eating vegetables, healthy fats and proteins. You like sweet foods and you’re used to the convenience of pre-made foods. The idea of salads and more salads with portions of protein seems mundane and tiresome.

Also, we have to be realistic about the modern lifestyle and its compression of “free time”. It’s going to be a stretch just to change what and where you buy your food.  For long-term success in slimming down, we have to have a system that works. And this may mean getting your hands on great meal replacements.

 So we have some choices: We can totally change our lifestyle, or we can take the pro-active step of purchasing Meal Replacements

meal replacements. If it’s too much of a burden to totally change our lifestyle, by all means explore meal replacements. At the very least, it would be good to have a few protein bars and shakes around for snacks and those times when you’re tempted to stray from your new way of eating.

In the upcoming chapters we are going to be talking about accommodating our heavy biology with anti-obesity medications or surgical procedures that permanently change our digestive track.  Meal replacements are a real step that can be used year after year to accommodate our biology without resorting to these more aggressive steps.

I have a number of patients that have lost 50-100 pounds of weight with meal replacements over a 3-9 month period of time.  This systematic weight loss effectively alters their heavy biology.  After a period of time, however, I notice that for most patients, their brains soon began craving the foods that will not only cause them to regain weight but will return them to the insulin resistance, diabetes and hypertension. It is true that some of these patients will add anti-obesity medications to their accommodation plan but others will just plan to consciously be as careful as possible when they see ten pounds of weight reappear. They will immediately “go back on program” and re-lose those ten pounds. 

Remember, our biology is “forever”.  Meal replacements are like “putting on glasses” to read.  The glasses do not repair the eye, they only accommodate for poor eyesight.  Likewise, meal replacements do not change our biology, they only accommodate who we are, and where and when we live.  So this may become a non-drug, non-surgical option for many people.