How meal replacement shakes work… and what you can use instead

I ran into a friend recently, I hadn’t seen her for a while

She has lots SO MUCH WEIGHT !
Truckloads of weight.

She looks great and more importantly she said she feels great.

Of course I asked her what she had done to achieve it.
She looked at me a bit sheepishly and told me she was using weight loss shakes.
Then she said “I know you hate them”

Here’s the thing…
I don’t hate them.
I’m for anything that helps you achieve a goal in an easy and healthy way.

What I am against is the misleading marketing messages that lead us to believe they are a magic potion.
When they simply work by being a low calorie meal.

You could swap them out for a tuna salad or similar and still achieve awesome results. (not that you have to).


How meal replacement shakes work 

ALL weight loss works when we burn more calories than we consume each day or each week. The technical term for this is to create a calorie deficit.

I have written about it HERE and HERE and HERE.

Example –

  • Sally burns 2500 calories per day (get a rough estimate of how many calories you burn HERE)
  • Sally consumes 1500 calories per day
  • This creates a 1000 daily calorie deficit
  • Sally should lose 1kg of weight per week (7000 cal deficit = 1kg of weight)
  • ** Sally should also consume adequate protein so that she doesn’t lose lean muscle mass

A calorie deficit is how ALL weight loss works (no matter the protocol chosen)

No calorie deficit = No weight loss – Even if you are eating healthy foods.


how meal replacement shakes work for weight loss

Let’s break it down..

Most meal replacement shakes contain approx. 200 – 300 calories.

The recommended plan suggest that you should consume either..
A) 2 shakes plus snacks and 1 main meal
B) 3 shakes plus main meal.

Lets assume we are going with option B
3 x 300 calorie shakes plus a 500 calorie healthy dinner = 1400 calories per day

If Sally burns 2500 calories per day and she consumes 1400, Sally creates a calorie deficit and will lose weight.

Sally could swap her 300 calorie meal replacement shake for many other options, such as…

  1. tin of tuna and packet salad (for convenience),
  2. tinned soup that contains some protein (or you could add protein to your tin soup)
  3. home made soup or stir-fry (small serve) for a similar amount of calories – See Skinny soup recipe
  4. pre-made vegetable frittata – can be eaten hold or cold – recipe here
  5. any of the snacks listed HERE
  6. no powder, protein shakes – article from Nia Shanks

There is no weight loss magic contained in the shake compared to the tuna and salad.

To be clear, I have no problem with using meal replacement shakes on occasions.  We all have times when we need to get something quick and easy in our bodies.

I know some clients who just feel so out of control around food.
Shakes can be a good place to start, as long as education and an appropriate transition plan is put in place

Knowledge is power.
Know that you could get the same results using other food options.

Tips on how to best use meal replacement shakes

  • Swap out your poorest meal choices for the shake.
    If a meal of yours is already healthy and calorie appropriate then keep it in, no need to swap.
  • Know that they work because you burn more calories than you consume each day (the way all weight loss works)
    Not because of some magic formula contained in the shake
  • Have a sensible plan to transition back into eating normal foods in appropriate portion sizes.

Side note..

1200 calories ???

As I cover extensively in THIS article – Surprising facts about calories, you do NOT have to go as low as 1200 calories per day to achieve weight loss.
If you burn 2500 calories per day, consuming anything under that amount will achieve a deficit. You can absolutely eat meals that contain more than 300 calories.

This doesn’t mean that you have to strictly count every calorie IN vs calorie OUT.

Most results can be achieved with habits, routines and awareness. This is what I teach in my habits, not diets course.

Self belief >> Habits / Actions >> Calories IN and OUT  >> Results

Want more coaching on this?

I would love to help you with my revolutionary new habit change coaching program, so that you can finally achieve long lasting health and fitness results.

—-ditch the diets change habits instead