Many of us are looking for easier ways to get healthier or slimmer and there is no shortage of companies selling slimming products and celebrities promoting them. But do they really work and are they even safe? Read on to find out more.
The global meal replacement business is valued at more than £15 billion – big business! With thousands of options for meal replacements or weight loss shakes available to us promising easy and quick results, it can be tempting to try them, especially when we see picture of celebrities looking fab on social media and claiming that their appearance is the result of the product. They don’t usually mention the hours at the gym, strict diet and photo retouching that also goes into supporting their image!
It’s safe to say that some slimming options available are better than others. However, most have one thing in common – they are trying to get us to dramatically reduce calories by replacing one or more meals with their products. This is crash dieting and has several down sides.
The bad news – crash dieting does not work longer term
Firstly, while they might help to shed a few pounds in the short term, they do not work long term. Unless of course you want to continue to take them for the rest of your life, which is not a good idea. Like any crash diet, you will lose weight at first. However, if you are losing more than 2 or 3 pounds per week, you are also likely to be losing muscle and water as well as fat and this can slow down your metabolism in the longer term.
Most people on crash diets will also end up hungry and bored on their new regimes and won’t be able to stick with them for longer than a few weeks. And when they stop, the weight that was lost and more will just come back as the habits that caused the weight gain have not been addressed. Classic yoyo dieting that only serves to line the pockets of the manufacturers of diet products.
Many slimming products are full of rubbish
Despite what the slimming advertising might show, most diet shakes and meal replacements are not made from natural ingredients. Instead the ingredient list looks more like a chemical cocktail. Many are full of undesirable ingredients including:
- Forms of sugar or artificial sweeteners, which have been shown to have a negative effect on gut bacteria and in some cases, lead to weight gain
- Refined vegetable oils including corn and rapeseed oil
- Other fillers and ingredients to bulk out, preserve or add flavour, that you would never find in your fridge or kitchen, like maltodextrin
- Stimulants like caffeine to kill appetite or a stimulant called beta-methylphenethylamine, which is structurally similar to amphetamine. These types of stimulant can be addictive and increase risk of cardiovascular problems. If you are taking something and find it gives you ‘jitters’, stop taking it!
- Inulin– a source of fibre. However, this can cause bloating is some people, especially those with IBS. By drinking meals rather than chewing real food, we are usually reducing our fibre intake overall, which is why many people using these products find their digestion becomes sluggish
- Vitamins and minerals. Usually where these are included in slimming products, they are in their cheapest and least natural and absorbable form. It would be much better to take a good multivitamin or real food
These slimming drinks and meal replacements can be extremely expensive too and even some of the bigger and more expensive brands are full of rubbish. If you are replacing the opportunity to eat a healthy meal with a powder full of artificial ingredients, this is not going to support your health in the long term.
Disordered eating – a slippery slope
The incidence of eating disorders is increasing, and it is estimated that almost 200,000 people in Ireland will suffer from some sort of eating disorder in their lifetime. Some research shows that using these kinds of slimming products can lead to disordered eating and increase risk of eating disorders, especially but not only in younger people.
They are absolutely not suitable for children, pregnant women or anyone with a history or an eating disorder or disordered eating. Also take care if you are taking medication that can be affected by rapid weight loss including insulin and some psychiatric medication.
Is there any place for them?
- you are being monitored by a health professional and
- are using them for a specific time period e.g. ahead of bariatric surgery or if you have a large amount of weight to lose and want to use them for an initial 1- or 2-month period and
- are using a good product
then they may be helpful shorter term while you transition to healthier eating habits.
If you are exercising a lot and want a quick option for before and after exercise, then using a good quality protein powder and mixing it with fruit and veg in a green smoothie can be a healthy option. See our recipe handout for more ideas.
If you are trying to gain weight for example after illness, this kind of healthy smoothie can also be helpful.
We recommend buying in a good health food store. Talk to the staff about what you are trying to achieve. Always mix with real food e.g. in a smoothie for more balanced nutrition
If you find that preparing food is a hassle and want a quick solution, use a green smoothie or a soup made with real ingredients to replace one meal, on some days.
Take slimming products with a pinch of salt
- any miracle claims – easy, fast, drop a dress size in 1 week….
- Any celeb endorsements. These are usually purely commercial transactions
Our 5 top tips for sustained weight loss
Losing weight can be hard and should be done gradually, focusing on changing long term eating habits and exercise. If a product promises quick results with no effort, it is most likely a gimmick – avoid! Instead try
- Avoid processed foods and sugary treats. Limit to a couple of times per week
- Balance your plate with ¼ complex carbs, ¼ protein and ½ veg at lunch and dinner. See our balanced plate handout for more information
- Watch portion size
- Consider fasting for 12 hours overnight. Watch Heather talking about intermittent fasting on Weekend AM
- Get moving. Exercise helps to build muscle, improve insulin sensitivity and burns calories, all of which help us to lose weight and keep it off
If you would like an easy meal plan to try, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org for your copy.