How to use Meal Replacements


The world has changed greatly in the last 40 years.  I am sure that there are many of you who recall a time when everyone ate three meals a day and it was likely that you ate breakfast and dinner with your family together at the table.  But that was when the world was a different place.  Today’s world is more demanding of our time and no matter what we do in life, we are expected to produce more and be more efficient.  This creates time-pressures that didn’t used to exist, and as a result, eating right can present new and unusual challenges.  In addition, with two thirds of society either overweight or obese, simple calorie cutting programs that involve eating traditional meals may be impossible.  So, what are the alternatives?  The latest craze is meal replacements.  Let’s take a look at what they are and how to use them effectively for weight loss or weight maintenance.

Both the electronic and print media have inundated us with advertisements for different types of meal replacements or meal systems.  Even some major universities, who have instituted programs as part of major research projects use replacement meals for weight loss.  What exactly is a meal replacement?  They come in a variety of forms.  They can be beverages, shelf stable or frozen entrees, breakfast cereals, and meal/snack bars that may be eaten by themselves or in conjunction with real food.  A recent study by Levitsky and Pacanowski in 2011 looked at using one small-portion meal substitute per day instead of lunch.  The subjects in the study ate a normal breakfast and supper.  This combination cut 250 calories per day.  That can result in about a 1 kilo or 2 pound loss of weight in a month’s time.  This same study also found that over time, there was no increase in hunger using the replacements meals.  Unfortunately, like any “diet” the rate of relapse from eating replacement meals is no better.  The 95%-97% rate of weight regain still holds to be true.  Still, the best predictor of not regaining weight remains to be consistent physical activity and exercise.

Dr. Len Kravitz and Michelle Kulovitz M.S. have come up with some criteria for selecting meal replacements:

  • Meal Replacements should have 200-300 calories
  • Products with 12-20 grams of protein  keep some people fuller for longer
  • Avoid high sugar shakes and bars
  • Products should be fortified with a third of daily vitamin and mineral requirements

The most aggressive form of meal replacements for people who need to lose a lot of weight are known as medical-grade products.  They are formulated specifically to provide all recommended macro- and micro- nutrients in a reduced-calorie diet.  These are only available through a physician or a medically supervised weight loss center.


People using one replacement meal per day can use this indefinitely, however, if you are using two or more replacements, you should seek the advice of a clinical weight loss specialist or dietician familiar with replacement meals. Also, if you take medications and you are planning on losing substantial weight quickly, speak to your doctor. Dosages of your medicine may have to be adjusted throughout.

Even meal replacements, just like eating meals, should be planned and made part of your overall food plan.  There may be days where you need two replacements instead of one but on the other hand, if you see that you have an opportunity to eat real food, do it.  Remember, there is no shake, bar, or other packaged product that can give you the vitamins and nutrients that real, whole foods can give you.  We also lose the pleasures that come with sitting and eating a meal slowly and mindfully.

As a Personal Trainer and the co-director of a weight loss center, I can tell you that for over 17 years, I have seen many people try to us replacement meals in their various forms exclusively to lose weight and they all failed.  Not only have they failed, they have gained back more weight afterwards.  Research has determined that willpower pretty much always runs out at some point.  And people who use shakes and the like are usually relying on willpower to battle hunger that can come along with this method of weight loss.  So again, to use a replacement once a day surrounded by real meals and real snacks can be an option.  And adding a balanced and efficient exercise program will certainly help you have a successful outcome in the long term.  But I discourage the lure of rapid weight loss through replacement meals only.  It is a challenge for all of us in the new and hectic world in which we live to learn how to eat right and eat ordered.  But combined with exercise, it is the best path to good health and achieving and maintaining normal weight.

Alan Freishtat is an A.C.E. CERTIFIED PERSONAL TRAINER and a LIFESTYLE FITNESS COACH with over 17 years of professional experience. He is the co-director of the Jerusalem-based weight loss and stress reduction center Lose It! along with Linda Holtz M.Sc. and is available for private consultations, assessments and personalized workout programs. Alan also lectures and gives seminars and workshops. He can be reached at 02-651-8502 or 050-555-7175, or by email at  Check out the Lose It! web site –    US Line: 516-568-5027