Meal Replacement Diets: How to make them work for you
Meal replacement diets are making a comeback. Initially advertised as “weight-loss” shakes when they were introduced to the public in the 70’s and 80’s, these same shakes (and now bars and soups too) have been rebranded as “meal-replacements.” That might immediately set off an alarm in your head. Can these actually help you lose weight and save time? Or are they just another unhealthy alternative to fast food?
Skepticism isn’t unwarranted, as these shakes and diets initially fell out of favor due to concerns that they were unhealthy. But times have changed. People are busier than ever and more pressed for time. For some, regularly cooking whole meals can seem like a far-fetched fantasy; meanwhile, quick and easy substitutes like fast food seem more and more attractive.
Fortunately, the market has come a long way in bringing newer, healthier meal replacement options into the picture. We’re going to tackle some of the intricacies of meal replacement diets, answer some common questions, and show how you can make them work for you.
What is a meal replacement diet?
A “Meal Replacement Diet” is a diet wherein meal replacement products replace one or two of your daily meals or snacks. The idea is that by replacing unhealthy, higher-calorie meals with meal replacements, which have lower calories and hit all the right nutritional marks, you can jumpstart your weight-loss and improve your health.
Brief disclaimer: In your travels around the internet you might encounter something called a “liquid meal” diet. Careful—there’s a difference between that and a meal replacement diet. Most meal replacement diet plans recommend at least one solid whole food meal a day. Replace all your meals with liquid replacements and you’re on a liquid meal diet. If that sounds interesting to you, consult your doctor for more information. But to be clear, this article focuses solely on meal replacement diets.
How do I know if it’s right for me?
There are a ton of diet plans to choose from, so why choose a meal replacement diet?
Before you go searching for an answer, it pays to know why you’re dieting to begin with before moving forward. We’d recommend outlining your reasons for dieting, and the goals you wish to achieve. Are you trying to lose weight, or possibly gain weight? Do you want to be healthier? Save some time?
Once you know what you want out of your diet it would be a good idea to consult your doctor, as there really isn’t a true substitute for professional medical advice. Going over your reasons for dieting with your doctor and getting their input can prevent you from making critical errors. You’ll discover that a meal replacement diet may or may not be right for your specific needs.
All that being said, there are certain goals that a meal replacement diet can help you achieve. They may be right for you if you fall under one of the following groups:
You want to lose weight
More on this below, but if you’re looking to lose weight, meal replacement diets could be a good fit.
You want to eat healthier, but find yourself pressed for time
Meal replacement diets are a good option for those who are constantly on the go. People are busier than ever and finding times to cook healthy whole meals—and thereby getting the proper nutrients we need to function properly—can be exceedingly difficult. If you’d rather ditch the fast food and want to avoid skipping meals, this diet could work for you rather than against you. (Fast food, on the other hand, can only really work against you.)
You find other diets too complicated
One of the trickiest aspects of dieting for weight loss is keeping track of your daily intake of calories and nutrients. You want to make sure you’re getting the vitamins and minerals you need throughout the day, all while maintaining a calorie deficit. Cooking whole meals, while arguably the healthiest choice, can also complicate the nutrient-tracking process.
Fortunately, there’s very little guesswork involved with meal replacements. All of the tricky nutrient stuff is easily outlined for you on the label, and portion sizes are taken care of. In other words, you know exactly what nutrients you’re getting and how much to consume.
You’re trying to control your blood sugar
Some meal replacement shakes like Glucerna are specifically designed to help stabilize blood sugar. If you’re diabetic and finding it difficult to avoid sugars, replacing a meal or snack with the appropriate meal replacement could go a long way in keeping your body balanced.
Will it work?
From here on out, the focus of this article is on both losing weight and eating healthier. If that sounds in line with your goals, there is plenty of evidence to suggest that meal replacement diets can help get there. But actually keeping the weight off and maintaining your health requires permanent lifestyle changes. To help you out, here are a few tried and true maxims you should live by if you want to get the most of your diet.
Any diet you’re inclined to choose depends more on you sticking to it than anything else. In other words, consistency is key. Following your diet plan every other day but slamming five Big Macs on your off days (for instance), is going to push you backward instead of forward. Schedule one cheat day a week if you need to. As long as you’re following your plan day in and day out, you’ll be golden.
Maintain a caloric deficit
The staple of any weight-loss diet is that you consume fewer calories than your body burns on any given day. This is about 2,000 calories per day on average (yours may be more or less, depending on your metabolism). You may think putting yourself underneath this limit will leave you tired, exhausted, lacking energy, or always hungry. But doing the opposite—consistently eating over your daily calorie limit—is what causes you to gain weight and experience the host of health- and energy-related problems that come along with it.
Track your nutrients and results
Keeping track of your calories and nutrients for the day is essential in making sure you’re staying healthy and continuing to lose weight. Tracking your weight-loss results, as well as your shifts in mood, can also work wonders in maintaining motivation. As we’ve mentioned, one of the greatest strengths of the meal replacement diet is that tracking your daily calorie and nutrient intake is much simpler than with other diets. For those who struggle with keeping track of what they’re eating, this can make seeing results easier and quicker.
Watch your other meals carefully
Just because you’re sticking to your diet plan doesn’t necessarily mean you’re becoming healthier or losing any weight. If you’re only abiding by the “superficial” aspects of your diet—that is, replacing certain meals with shakes or smoothies and calling it done—you might not see the results you’re looking for.
Try paying closer attention to your non-meal-replacement meals. It’s easy enough to choose the healthiest meal replacements and substitute for two of your meals every day. But if your third or fourth meal is a double-decker strawberry cheesecake (for example), you’re not doing yourself any favors. The meal replacements, ultimately, are one important facet of a larger diet.
Similarly, if you find yourself snacking constantly throughout the day, consider replacing all your snacks with one meal replacement. One great option is choosing healthy oatmeal as a meal replacement. They’re designed to taste great and satisfy cravings, so you won’t feel like you’re missing out. In addition, one of the strongest pros in favor of oatmeal replacements is that they typically come with a high protein, fat, and fiber content, which will keep you feeling fuller for longer. So you’ll be less inclined to snack if you time it right.
Last but not least, get out and get moving! This one may sound like a no-brainer, but we’d be remiss if we didn’t include the many benefits of supplementing your diet with exercise. It can help boost your mood, thereby maintaining motivation; good cardiovascular exercise can help you burn calories and shed bodily impurities; and lifting weights can increase your metabolism, which means you burn more calories throughout your day.
Is it healthy?
Following your diet correctly can help you lose weight. But so what if you’re not actually getting any healthier? As we mentioned, “weight-loss shakes” initially fell out of favor with the public over concerns that they were unhealthy. And you shouldn’t follow any path to weight-loss if it means sacrificing your health.
That same market—now dubbed “meal replacements”—differs from its former iteration in several key ways. For one, there’s a much wider variety now. Options range from low calorie and vegan to high-calorie and high-protein and everything in between. Also, meal replacement shakes now come with all the nutrients that should come in your meal--they contain a full range of vitamins and minerals, high healthy fat content, and are high in protein and grams of fiber. Meanwhile, they’re low in calories and unhealthy saturated fats.
With so much variation and a new emphasis on nutritional value, there’s almost certainly a meal replacement that can help you reach your weight-loss goals and your health goals. But just because there are tons of options doesn’t mean all of them are right for you…
Where do I start?
You’ve set up your goals and outlined your diet. The final step to getting started is figuring out which meal replacement option aligns closest with your goals. (If you’re interested in learning more about your options for meal replacement shakes, check this out.
Oats Overnight holds a unique place in the meal replacement game because it consists of whole foods, rather than just flat liquids. Oats are complex carbs, which means they also keep you feeling fuller for longer. In addition, an array of nutrient-rich, whole ingredients like chia and flax seeds, real fruit, and maca root, means you’re getting healthy the natural way. It’s a perfect option if you’re looking for a great-tasting and healthy substitute for your daily smoothie, snack, breakfast, or meal replacement shake. So why not start here?