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Can Meal Replacements Facilitate Weight Loss?

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Can Meal Replacements Facilitate Weight Loss?

— By Dawn Sweet, Ph.D.

When included as part of a comprehensive lifestyle intervention, nutritionally designed meal replacements are beneficial for patients with obesity and type 2 diabetes.

As the body of scientific knowledge and empirical evidence expand, so too do health care professionals’ strategies and tools for managing and treating chronic health conditions.1 Obesity is characterized as a chronic and complex disease by the World Health Organization2, and its management is equally complex, warranting a multidisciplinary approach.

Commonly and routinely successful approaches have included changes in diet and exercise, surgical interventions, and pharmacological interventions, most notably those associated with GLP-1 receptor agonist medications.3,4,5 However, a sometimes-overlooked approach is nutritionally formulated meal replacements1,6 that not only provide patients with obesity with essential vitamins, minerals, and proteins, but also help those taking GLP-1 medications manage associated GI side effects.

Modifiable dietary lifestyle changes that include scientifically formulated meal replacements can mitigate the risk of developing diabetes mellitus with hypoglycemia, type 2 diabetes mellitus and microalbuminuria, and diabetic retinopathy. Nutritionally designed meal replacements can provide 15 – 25 grams of protein, three to six grams of dietary fiber, vitamins and minerals — per serving — to ensure daily nutritional needs are being met and weight loss is happening at a healthy, sustainable pace. Previous research has found that when meal replacements are included as part of a comprehensive lifestyle intervention, they are beneficial for patients with obesity and type 2 diabetes.

Meal Replacements for Managing Weight Loss

In a multi-center randomized control trial that include 5,1457 participants with overweight or obesity, participants in the highest quartile who had meal replacements as part of their intervention were four times more likely to achieve a seven percent and a 10 percent weight loss compared to those in the lowest quartile at the one-year mark.

In weeks 1 and 2 of this study,7 participants ate a typical diet and kept a food journal and caloric intake journal. For patients <250 pounds (114 kg) the energy goal was 1,200 – 1,500 kcal/day and for those ³250 pounds (114 kg), the energy goal was 1,500 – 1,800 kcal/day. During weeks 3 – 19, participants replaced breakfast and lunch with a meal replacement, and one snack with a bar. Participants  consumed conventional food at dinner time, and throughout the day they consumed fruits and vegetables to ensure their daily caloric needs were met. During months 7 – 12, participants replaced one meal with a meal replacement and one snack with a bar or shake. During this period, the focus was on consuming more fruits and vegetables as well other low energy foods. In addition to the meal replacement intervention, participants were instructed to reach  ³ 175 min/week of moderate intensity exercise by month 6 and  ³ 200 min/week by month 12.

At the end of one year, patients lost 8.6 ± 6.9 percent of their starting weight compared to an observed weight loss of 0.7 ± 4.8 percent in the diabetes support education group. Participants in the meal replacement intervention group lost 8.2±5.7 percent, on average, at the midway point (week 26). Adherence was also a contributing factor, with participants in the intervention group attentind 35.4±7.3 precent of 42 group and individual meeting sessions.

Implications for Clinical Practice

Meal replacements represent an effective weight loss strategy for patients with obesity and diabetes. They offer patients convenience while meeting their essential nutritional needs. Pairing nutritionally formulated meal replacements with a healthy diet underpinned by fruits and vegetables and consistent, moderate physical activity each week can help reduce the risks associated with type 2 diabetes. For patients who choose GLP-1 receptor agonist medications, nutritionally formulated meal replacements have two benefits, namely helping these patients manage the GI side effects while mitigating the nutritional risks of GI side effects.

Obesity is a complex chronic health condition with a multitude of factors to consider. Given its complexity, a multi-prong approach provides patients with obesity the best opportunity for achieving their weight loss goals. Nutritionally formulated meal replacements — coupled with a healthy Low Calorie Diet (LCD) or a Very Low Calorie Diet (VLCD) and physical activity — will optimally benefit patients.


1 Meal replacements for weight-related complications in Type 2 diabetes: What is the state of the evidence?

2 The World Health Organization: Obesity and overweight

3 Resistance training effectiveness on body composition and body weight outcomes in individuals with overweight and obesity across the lifespan: A systematic review and meta‐analysis

4 Dietary protein and muscle mass: translating science to application and health benefit

5 The efficacy of GLP-1 analogues on appetite parameters, gastric emptying, food preference

and taste among adults with obesity: Systematic review of randomized controlled trials

6 A systematic review and meta‐analysis of the effectiveness of meal replacements for weight loss

7 One-year weight losses in the Look AHEAD Study: Factors associated with success

About the Author: Dr. Dawn M. Sweet has over 20 years of experience in the field of communication. Dr. Sweet has given several invited talks to and workshops for academic and private sector audiences on the role of nonverbal and verbal communication in achieving positive outcomes and mitigating bias. Her research has been published in several top ranked peer-review journals, and it has been featured on NPR’s River to River / All Things Considered, Buzzfeed, and Science Daily. Her research has also been used to inform expert testimony.

About Robard: For 45 years, Robard Corporation’s medical obesity treatment programs and nutrition products have been utilized by physicians, surgeons and hospitals across the United States to successfully treat patients living with obesity. To learn more about us and how we can help your practice and patients, visit us online at, email us at, or call (800) 222-9201.

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