Using Portion-Controlled
Meal Replacements for Weight Management

By: Kimberly Tessmer, RD LD

Meal replacement products are a hot topic in the world of weight management.  Although not officially defined by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), meal replacements generally refer to a calorie-controlled, prepackaged product in the form of a bar, shake or beverage (ready to drink or powder form) as well as other food forms such as soups, that are intended to contain all of the necessary nutrition to replace a regular meal.  The average weight management meal replacement product typically provides around 100 to 200 calories per serving.  In addition they are normally fortified with over 20 vitamins and minerals at a “good” or “excellent” source level along with macronutrients including protein, carbohydrates, and fats to replace the nutrients you would consume in a normal meal.  Not all meal replacements are created equal so it is vital to check the nutrition facts and food labels carefully before selecting an option that is best for you.

In this day and age of calorie-dense, nutrient-poor food choices surrounding us, the use of portion controlled meal replacements that contain a specific amount of calories and nutrients in addition to a structured healthy eating plan can create a useful strategy for those that are trying to attain a calorie deficit in order to lose weight.  In fact several studies have shown that this type of eating plan is very effective for weight loss.  In addition meal replacements can be a great way to jump start weight loss for those that are just beginning their journey or for those that have reached a stubborn plateau.  That jump-start can result in renewed motivation and better overall success.  For those who lack the time and/or motivation to shop and fix several balanced meals a day or for those that just can’t seem to lose weight if they even get close to exceeding their daily calorie quota, meal replacements can be particularly useful.  For those people who have already met their goal weight, meal replacements, along with healthy everyday eating, can also be a good solution to maintaining that goal weight. 

Although meal replacements may sound like the perfect solution to weight loss they are not a magic bullet, especially if used alone.  You still need to pay close attention to the actual food that makes up the non-meal replacement portion of your eating plan in order to learn how to properly select from healthy conventional food choices that will help you to maintain your goal weight as well as your health.  Using meal replacements incorrectly can lead to overeating, especially at night, for some people.  If two meal replacements is all you have consumed all day you most likely will end up ravenous by dinner-time, which can lead to out of control eating throughout your evening.  One option is to include mid-meal snacks of a variety of healthy foods to help you take the edge of your evening hunger or you can eat more at breakfast and lunch by consuming a few healthy foods along with your meal replacement.  If breakfast is your meal of choice you can enjoy a larger healthy breakfast saving your meal replacements along with a variety of healthy chosen foods for lunch and dinner. 

The key is to know what works best for you.  It is recommended that you work with a registered dietitian to calculate what your calorie needs are, to help you choose which type of meal replacements will work best for you and to help you arrange the structured meal plan that will accompany your meal replacements.  Before you begin using any type of meal replacement and/or program you should always get approval from your doctor.  Include exercise in your program to help you lose weight, maintain a healthy weight and promote good health.

Kimberly A. Tessmer, RD LD


See the Research

Research Studies: Using Meal Replacements for Weight Loss