It's often said that losing weight quickly only leads to the weight piling back on again the moment you come off a diet. But a new study confirms this isn't necessarily the case. In fact, researchers behind the study are recommending that the NHS use meal replacement diets, which enabled dieters to lose three times as much weight compared with those following standard recommendations, as a treatment for obesity.
A study of 278 people across 10 GP practices in Oxfordshire saw half the participants following a meal replacement programme of soups and shakes for eight weeks. This diet saw them limiting their daily calorie intake to 810kcal per day for eight weeks, after which other foods were gradually reintroduced over four weeks.
These participants saw a trained counsellor every week for 24 weeks, to help them stick to the diet plan and keep the weight off after the meal replacement plan finished.
The remaining participants in the study followed the usual weight management advice and support from their GP.
Throughout the study, participants following the meal replacement programme lost more weight. One year on, they had lost on average 1st 9lb (10.7kg) compared with half a stone (3.1kg) for those in the usual weight loss group. The meal replacement programme group also showed noticeable improvements in blood pressure and cholesterol, while type-2 diabetes patients in the group were also able to reduce their medication (although the condition was not reversed).
Prof Paul Aveyard, study author, GP and professor of behavioural medicine at the University of Oxford said the programme was an "effective intervention which GPs can confidently recommend, knowing that it leads to sustainable weight loss and lowers the risk of heart disease and diabetes".
Meal Replacement Diets: My Response
I have always said that as long as weight loss is approached in a healthy, nutritionally sound way, and there are no underlying health conditions to consider, there's no reason fat loss can't be quick and have long-lasting results. But before you bulk order meal replacement soups and shakes, there are some important factors to take into consideration.
Ensure Optimal Protein
Protein intake is an important consideration for anyone wishing to lose weight. Not only is it essential for many aspects of health, it fills us up, keeps us satisfied and helps to prevent hunger and low energy levels. Protein helps prevent sagging skin by supporting collagen and elastin production and is integral to preserving muscle mass. This is something to keep in mind because protein deficient diets can result in the loss of muscle which can lead to a reduction in metabolic rate (the rate at which we burn calories) meaning the chance of rebound weight gain is much higher. Check the nutrition information of any meal replacement product you consider to ensure they are based primarily on protein.
In the past it was believed that a low fat diet was the key to weight loss, but thankfully we now know better. It is essential to have an adequate intake of healthy fats in your diet, including omega 3. If you're considering a meal replacement diet, it may well be a good idea to take a high quality omega 3 supplement. Very low calorie diets can often not provide enough fat so make sure you scrutinise any diet you consider carefully.
Maintaining an optimal intake of essential vitamins and minerals is also important. It's not just about losing weight - optimising health and wellbeing and maintaining good energy levels are also key. Some meal replacement products have added vitamins and minerals, while with others, you'll need to take a separate supplement.
Don't try and go it alone! Seek support from a qualified nutrition expert to make sure this approach to weight loss is right for you. An expert will also ensure your programme is tailored to your individual needs. They should support you throughout the programme and make sure you transition off it in a healthy way.
In order to succeed long term it's important to improve your understanding of nutrition so that you know how to eat to maintain your weight loss. You should be provided with a maintenance plan detailing how to structure healthy, nutritionally balanced meals. Meal ideas and practical strategies for handling events like holidays and Christmas are also helpful.
The diet itself is only part of the solution. You may benefit from coaching to help overcome self-sabotaging behaviours, unhealthy habits and underlying causes of emotional eating.
One last thing…
Beware, not all meal replacement diets are created equal! I offer a meal replacement diet in my clinic, Proteifine and find it to be a very effective, nutritionally-balanced approach to weight loss. But many others are not as nutritionally sound and are often lacking in protein and healthy fats, for a start. The meal replacement programme mentioned in the articles, Cambridge Diet, is not something I would recommend. Consider this - one of their shakes (Chocolate Velvet) contains a startling 24.7g sugar per serving. That's over six teaspoons and more than that found in a two finger Twix bar! Always speak to a qualified nutritionist to identify the best approach to weight loss for you.
Find out more about the meal replacement diet I recommend in my blog: What is the Proteifine Diet?