Are meal replacements the best weight loss approach?

Nutrition and Dietetics honours student Emilee Krollig

Meal replacements have been found to produce rapid weight loss results in scientific studies, but do they actually work in real life?

This very question forms the foundations of a new research project by Flinders University Nutrition and Dietetics honours student Emilee Krollig.

During the next six months Ms Krollig will interview about 30 South Australian women aged 18-65 who have used, or are currently using, meal replacement programs such as Optifast, Bodytrim and Celebrity Slim to lose weight.

The research will explore consumers’ perceptions of meal replacements and their experiences throughout their respective weight loss regimes to better understand the benefits and drawbacks of these widely-used products.

“A meal replacement is typically a shake, bar or soup designed as a substitute for a meal, usually with controlled quantities of energy and nutrients to promote weight loss,” Ms Krollig said.

“As meal replacement programs are very intensive, often requiring the participant to replace as many as all three daily meals, it is difficult to comply and this impacts weight loss,” she said.

“Therefore we want to find out how these programs affect consumers’ day-to-day lives, including their interactions and relationships with other people, how they feel while they’re on the program and whether they stick to it.”

While scientific evidence shows meal replacements are a successful weight loss strategy in a controlled research setting, Ms Krollig said their actual benefits in “real life” were poorly understood.

“Most of the published studies look at the weight loss or nutritional content but they haven’t asked consumers about how they feel while using them.

“From a weight loss and nutritional perspective, the scientific evidence shows they do work but we want to see how well these regimes apply to real life.

“There are lots of weight loss strategies out there and a lot of highly-publicised options so as dietitians we need to know how our clients find using them so we know we’re recommending the best and most suitable option.”

Ms Krollig said the findings could potentially be used to inform wider studies involving males as well people who are using meal replacements to lose weight for bariatric surgery.

Women aged 18-65 who have used or are currently using meal replacements and are interested in taking part in the study can email Ms Krollig for more information, by the beginning of December.

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