Introduction to meal replacement programs

Effective weight loss strategies are needed to help overweight and obese people lose weight and maintain weight loss in the long term. Meal replacements for weight loss are available in the community and have become popular for helping many people successfully start losing weight.  


Why lose weight?

Obesity is an important condition and causes significant health problems. These can be lifelong and many result in a poorer quality of life. People who are overweight or obese show increased rates of type 2 diabetes mellitus, cardiovascular disease, some cancer and arthritis amongst other conditions. The term obese is assigned to a male individual who weighs 20% or more over the maximum desirable for a man’s height. In females the term obese is assigned to individuals who weigh 25% or more over the maximum desirable for a woman’s height. Obesity is also defined as a BMI (body mass index) over 30 kg/m2. BMI is calculated by dividing your weight by your height squared. Calculate your BMI using the calculator below:

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Losing weight with meal replacement programs

Specially formulated meal replacements have been used in Australia for a long time as treatments against the rising rates of obesity and disorders associated with obesity. In many research studies conducted in Australia by the CSIRO and researchers overseas, meal replacement programs have been associated with successful weight loss.


The theory behind meal replacement programs

To lose weight we need to take in fewer calories than our body needs. When this happens, we draw on our fat stores to provide us with the extra energy we require to function properly. In the long term, this means we lose fat, and in turn lose weight. These programs work by replacing meals per day with specialised formula food, which are a complete meal. Meal replacement programs combine a meal replacement regimen with additional health supports such as physiotherapists.

The program is a combination of LCD (Low Calorie Diet) and the natural process of ketosis. Ketosis happens after 48 hours when body detects that it doesn’t have getting enough carbohydrates to operate as it usually does. The body therefore ‘switches over’ to a different method of providing fuel for itself – your fat stores.

Formulated meal replacements take various forms, including powders, drinks, soups, bars and biscuits. Some products are designed to replace all meals whilst others are designed to replace only one or two meals per day. The formulas contain adequate vitamins and minerals.

Meal replacement products are always very low in fat and often have added fibre. A good meal replacement program provides extensive educational material and recipes to educate people about healthy eating and lifestyle habits.


How safe are meal replacement programs?

Meal replacement programsMajor health organisations with an interest in helping the public to lose weight now suggest meal replacements are a suitable option for some people. Organisations such as the National Obesity Forum, the British Dietetic Association and Dietitians in Obesity Management UK believe meal replacements offer an alternative to other more conventional dietary treatments and may prove beneficial for some people. Meal replacements have been shown to be part of a successful therapeutic approach to weight loss especially when used in combination with lifestyle and diet education and professional support.

The first line of therapy for weight loss is a healthy diet (which provides appropriate energy) and regular physical activity. For people who have not achieved success with these first line therapies, meal replacements are an option to add to their regime. A healthy diet plan including meal replacements may result in the success they have been striving for. As well as cutting calories in a controlled way, many nutrition experts also think meal replacement diets are effective because they offer a structured plan and are the ultimate convenience food as they require little or no preparation or cooking. Furthermore, they take away the ‘pressure’ of deciding what to eat for two meals each day, yet still allow an element of choice for one meal.


Advantages of meal replacement programs

Many people like meal replacement products because they are convenient, they take away the need to think about food during the day. The meals are strictly portion controlled. Meals are usually designed to be filling, reducing hunger between meals. Furthermore meal replacement diets are advantageous as the amount of calories in each portion has already been calculated. This makes it easier to keep energy intake down leading to greater success with weight loss.


Disadvantages of meal replacement programs

Many people who enjoy cooking or preparing food may find the program too disciplined. In addition there is a limited amount of variety available when consuming whole foods. The flavours can also be limited and many people who are lactose intolerant may find that some sachets/shakes are milk/skimmed milk based.


How do I start a meal replacement program?

Getting started involves choosing a reputable program that provides a holistic approach to weight loss; One that provides both the tools and support to sustain you through the weight loss process. The main providers of programs that meet or approach the minimum standard for nutritionally balanced meal replacements include KicStart VLCD (Pharmacy Health Solutions), Optifast VLCD (Novartis), Dr MacLeod’s (Orfam) and Ultra Slim (Associated British Foods).

More information

Nutrition  For more information on nutrition, including information on types and composition of food, nutrition and people, conditions related to nutrition, and diets and recipes, as well as some useful videos and tools, see Nutrition. 
Weight loss For more information on obesity, health and social issues, and methods of weight loss, as well as some useful tools, see Weight Loss.

References

  1. Virtual Gastro Centre, Obesity, http://www.virtualgastrocentre.com//diseases/obesity/, 27th April 2007
  2. National Health and Medical Research Council of Australia, Clinical Practice Guidelines for the Management of Overweight and Obesity in Adults, NHMRC Australia, Commonwealth of Australia, Canberra, 2003
  3. Egger G., Editorial, ‘Are meal replacements an effective tool for weight loss’, MJA 2006 Vol 184:2 52-53
  4. Dieticians Association of Australia, http://www.daa.asn.au/index.asp?PageID=2145834478, 20th December 2006
  5. Food Standards Australia New Zealand. Australia New Zealand food standards code. Available at: http://www.foodstandards.gov.au (accessed Sep 2005)
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  13. Noakes M., Foster PR., Keogh JB., Clifton, PM., Meal Replacements Are as Effective as Structured Weight-Loss Diets for Treating Obesity in Adults with Features of Metabolic Syndrome, J. Nutr. 134: 1894-1899, 2004.