Meal replacement programs such as Medifast, Optifast, Jenny Craig and Nutrisystem, provide you with food as a way of structured portion control. Have a shake for breakfast, a bar for lunch or snack, and add water, mix and microwave chili for dinner, are all portioned out for you. It simplifies the decision of what to eat. There is no need to shop or cook your own food.
What’s the catch? Here are 3 things to weigh in when considering these diet plans:
- Meal structure – Meal replacement are easy and mindless but at some cost and sacrifice. Because these meals are portioned out for you, the weight loss works by following each meal as planned. It doesn’t allow for food outside the diet plan. If you are invited to eat out with a friend, how do you make that work? Will you choose to eat alone until you lose the weight? How will you keep the weight off after you stop ordering from their diet plan? Since weight management is a chronic state, do you plan to eat this way forever?
- Health and Nutrition – Compare the nutritional value between the two. Diet plans, like Medifast, deliver your meals in a box to your door – dry foods that require water reconstitution or premade shakes and bars. Processed foods are designed for long shelf life, which they achieve by removing the fiber and adding chemical additives. Antioxidants and vital nutrients are also lost in the process. Taste is compromised, but various chemical additives make it more palatable. Fruits and both fresh and frozen vegetables on the other hand, are naturally full of nutrients. Only 2-5 servings a day of fruits and vegetables have been associated with reduced heart disease and cancer risks.
- Sustainability – Figuring out portions takes time, and so does learning how to handle temptation and managing stress. These skills are necessary if you are going to expand your eating habits beyond the shake or bar and expand your social situation beyond eating at home. How will you handle eating out at a restaurant or how will you handle foods that may present themselves (like bread) on your table or work events? Meal replacement diet plans certainly are safe, but it does not allow you to work on the skills needed to handle real life situations. Are you really empowering yourself for sustainable weight loss? These situations cannot be avoided forever. Learning how to navigate through family gatherings, work events or a dinner out with friends only develops through practice.
Meal replacement diet plans can certainly play a role for weight loss during times of high stress and limited access such as traveling, but learning how to incorporate fresh foods through portion control and learning how to manage hunger are key to sustainable weight loss. There is always a cost associated with shortcuts and diet plans, like Medifast. Diet plans that focus on practicing and managing lifestyle changes, including eating in real life situations, may take you further in the long run.