Keeping the weight off – the role of meal replacements

Meal replacement shakes can help one to keep the weight off.
Meal replacement shakes can help one to keep the weight off.

Much is always said about losing weight. but not that much about how to keep the weight off.

Hamish van Wyk, registered dietitian and diabetes educator from the Centre for Diabetes and Endocrinology (CDE), says there are a number of different approaches to maintaining a healthy weight, ranging from following strict dietary advice, increasing exercise to taking weight loss drugs.

Massive amounts of exercise

“While some of the drugs are effective, many are expensive, and many have side effects and can result in heart or gut problems. Typically, too, once stopped, they cannot maintain weight loss,” according to van Wyk.

Van Wyk notes that exercise is a worthwhile adjunctive option. “While exercise is not that successful in losing excess weight, it can be very beneficial in maintaining weight loss – around 0.8kg from published data over 10 months. We definitely see better results with massive amounts of exercise; roughly, 2 000 calories burnt per week.

But, that’s a lot of exercise in anyone’s book and few people have that kind of time. So while exercise is good for general health, it still is not a sure way of keeping off significant amounts of weight.”

Van Wyk shared that the latest findings from evidence-based nutrition interestingly come out strongly in favour of scientific meal replacement options.

“Research shows that the use of just one meal replacement per day will result in an average of 3.9kg of sustained weight loss over 12 months when compared to someone not using a meal replacement and following a moderately restrictive dietary and exercise routine.”

This is higher than patients who were using drugs to maintain their weight loss (3.5kg weight loss) and as we know, many of these are not safe in the longer term.

Which shake to use?

Van Wyk says following a restricted "diet" will only result in 1.2kg of sustained weight loss.

“We have found that meal replacements have the best results as part of a total dietary approach where patients have regular coaching and support from a registered dietitian,” he emphasises.

The big question is which shake to use. Consumers can often fall for well-marketed but inferior products. Unfortunately, not all meal replacement shakes are of the same quality, and may not even contain all the ingredients listed on their labels. Being largely unregulated products, there may be very little quality assurance.

Van Wyk says while regulation is improving, enforceability is not where it should be. “It is so important to only use a replacement product that is methodically tested in a regulated factory. You need to ensure you use a reputable brand so you are assured the product is safe.

Such products may be a little more costly, but at least you know what you are getting. If you are not sure, it is always best to consult a registered dietitian with experience in these products.”

Van Wyk says the key is a good meal replacement in combination with a good dietitian.

Image credit: iStock

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