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The Role of Meal Replacements in Weight Loss

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Obesity is at epidemic proportions in the United States and in other developed and developing countries. The prevalence of obesity is increasing not only in adults, but also in children and adolescents. We all know that obesity is a significant risk factor for various chronic illnesses, most importantly heart disease and diabetes, but also cancer and osteoarthritis, liver and kidney disease, sleep apnea, and depression. Clearly significant benefits could be expected from interventions to prevent or reduce obesity.

Studies have shown that significant improvements in disease risk could be attained with moderate weight loss (5% to 10%). Research has also shown that approximately 20 percent of overweight individuals are successful at long-term weight loss which is defined as losing at least 10% of initial body weight and maintaining the loss for at least one year.

There is no single answer to weight loss. However, reports indicate that meal replacements can offer an effective option for losing weight in patients who are obese or overweight. A traditional lifestyle intervention using meal replacements can be especially effective for weight control and therefore reduction in risk of chronic disease in the physician's office setting.

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The main finding in a study done by Ashley et al, “Meal Replacements in Weight Intervention,” was that the use of one or two meal replacements daily promoted significantly improved weight loss and maintenance compared with a traditional diet plan. This finding is particularly encouraging because the markers for disease risk were improved in many patients. Therefore the study concluded that incorporating a meal replacement strategy into a traditional weight management program can improve food choice behavior and nutrient adequacy, while following a reduced energy intake.

Meal replacements work on a concept called “stimulus narrowing.” Clinical studies show that when people are given very few food choices, or even no food choices, it is easier to decrease the amount of calories they consume each day. By taking away the selection and preparation of foods, and reducing the vast array of available foods, people lose weight. The benefits of this type of diet are in the reduced calories, complete nutrition, and perhaps most importantly, in the ability to stick with the diet.

But meal replacements alone may not be sufficient. They have to be combined with behavioral, dietary and exercise counseling. Therefore it is important to join a comprehensive meal replacement program which offers support groups where patients share their concerns and experiences with weight loss efforts. These groups can be very therapeutic for many patients. In addition, giving handouts and exercises for patients to complete at home helps patients learn about their own eating styles and behaviors and therefore helps them not only lose weight in the short term but also keep the weight off in the long term. 

At K Primary Care & Medical Nutrition Center, our comprehensive meal replacement program combines meal replacements with group counseling, mindfulness meditation and cooking classes. Please call 908-206-4676 to learn more about our meal replacement weight loss and lifestyle management programs.

References:

  1. Meal Replacements in Weight Intervention: Dr. Judith M. Ashley, Sachiko T. St. Jeor, Suzanne Perumean-Chaney, Jon Schrage, Vicki Bovee
  2. Weight control in the physician's officeAshley JM1, St Jeor STSchrage JPPerumean-Chaney SEGilbertson MCMcCall NLBovee V
  3. Long-term weight loss maintenance. Wing RR1, Phelan S.

 

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