Meal replacements- should you or shouldn’t you?


Losing weight is not far from many people’s thoughts, particularly more so in January but the trouble is we live in such a fast-pace society that we are not prepared to wait for anything, we have faster internet connection, faster cars, even faster soopa doopa turbo spin on our washing machines, we want instant results, we want them NOW!

So, what is the quickest way to lose weight? I know, skip meals or even better; have a meal replacement! This way you don’t have to worry about what food you should eat, you can have a cereal bar, a shake or a bowl of soup for breakfast and lunch then eat what you want for dinner, all the hard work is taken care of, genius!

I totally get the appeal of these meal replacements; being off work at the moment after surgery on my foot I have been ‘treated’ to daytime TV and seen all the adverts which promise me the body I’ve always wanted and that I will be so much happier and full of energy in no time at all if I commit to these products. Well, of course you will lose weight in the short term because you’ll be cutting calories but if you want to reach your weight loss goals this aint gonna happen! You’ll not be able to sustain this restrictive way of eating for long.

Many people find losing weight really difficult and it can be very depressing but there are thousands of pounds to be made out of people’s desperation. A colleague of mine is a Pharmacist and she spends a lot of her working day talking people out of buying these ‘quick fix’ products which can be really expensive- not great for the chemist she works in but what fantastic customer service!

As predicted, the leisure industry has received crowds of new customers pouring through the doors brandishing new trainers alongside New Year’s resolutions, unfortunately in a lot of cases the resolutions have worn out long before the trainers have. Most of these once enthusiastic would-be athletes also wanted to lose weight, a lot of who are using ‘shrink-quick’, ‘waste –away’ or some other suitably named meal replacement. The trouble is they’re BORING! How can we expect ourselves to substitute a delicious nutritious meal for a bowl of flavoured water or a bar which is gone after two bites? Can we really be surprised when the diet is broken and the replacements are then replaced with a doughnut?!

The replacements are not teaching us life skills. All we are learning is that losing weight is tough, monotonous, tasteless, anti-social and expensive. We see food as the enemy, the only foods worth eating are the ones that are formed from sugar and trans fats so obviously we need to punish ourselves and eat cardboard. Not so! We need to teach ourselves that each meal is a chance to nourish our body; to provide ourselves with protein, carbs, fats (yes, I did say carbs and fats!!) vitamins and minerals and this can only be done by eating a healthy, balanced diet.

Many people are on the ‘Juice’ diet. They blitz fruit and veg into a drink which is a great way to get your 5-a-day. But, when this is all that is consumed it can be detrimental. The digestive process begins in the mouth; chewing starts the process of breaking down carbohydrates and the food then flows through the digestive tract so that the vitamins and minerals are absorbed by the body so food that can be chewed is important.

Did you know that you burn calories when you eat? This is known as the Thermic effect of food (TEF).Yep, we burn energy when we digest, absorb, use and store food. This accounts for 6-10% of the daily energy expenditure for men and 6-7% for women.

But Juanita, surely I can’t eat carbs???

Why not? My body doesn’t function without carbs, I feel light headed, lethargic and shaky, my blood glucose plummets through my boots if I don’t eat carbs. Let me help you see carbs as a friend..

Simple sugars are found in white and brown sugar, honey, maple syrup, sugary processed foods and drinks White complex carbs are in bread pasta rice flour cereal. Try to eat more of Wholemeal and whole wheat complex carbs instead, These will keep your blood glucose levels at a better level with no sudden spikes and dips, they make us feel fuller for longer so no snacking!

Fruit and Veg are carbs, many people tell me that they have cut carbs from their diets and only eat protein and fat, but they eating fruit and veg so they are eating carbs!

You will have been brain washed into thinking that carbs make us fat, obviously like anything if we over eat carbs we will put weight on, just like we would if we gorge on any other food group. The difference with simple carbs is that they have no nutritional benefits, tend to be in foods which have high fat contents and can be really bad for our health if we eat too much. But, carbs are important as they provide the body with energy and fibre which helps keep our digestive systems healthy. So, don’t be scared of them, just eat the right source, watch portion sizes and reap the benefits!

OK, but surely we shouldn’t eat fat? That’s what makes us fat…

Oh yes we should… it provides energy, warmth and protection and some vitamins are fat soluble; A,D,E and K and omega 3 and 6. Without fat we would be deficient in these vitamins. But yes, you’re right; if we eat too much we will store it. There is a craze at the moment for coconut oil. Apparently, it is absorbed by the body and turned into energy quicker but, it has high levels of saturated fat and if you over-do it you’ll end up with some serious health problems. Don’t fall for the hype in a lot of food, there’s not one food group that can give your body everything it needs and too much of one thing can give you the opposite effect that you are trying to get!

I need to eat my body weight in protein to get slimmer and build muscles so I’ll just eat that then…

Ah, protein, protein protein; the only food we should be eating, we need to eat it, drink it, bathe in it, inhale it, we just can’t get enough of it… well, actually we can get too much. If you over do this food group, guess what? Just like any other over consumed food we’ll store it as fat or just wee it out! Of course, we do need protein, it helps us grow, repair and fight disease and infections and it should be eaten regularly. Unless you are an elite athlete don’t bother with expensive shakes and supplements; start by looking at your daily food intake.

Food is everywhere, you can’t escape it. You may be replacing meals and losing weight but then one of life’s celebrations turns up. Eating is very sociable we love Birthday and Christmas meals for example; our lives are centred around food as a social way to unwind and switch off from our busy lives. Imagine going on a first date and sharing a cereal bar, or receiving a gift of a protein shake, not very romantic is it?!

We need to develop a better relationship with our food, learn what nutrients will benefit our lifestyles and health on a daily basis but to also enjoy eating ‘naughty’ foods on occasions. We need to try new foods which we’ve turned our noses up at in the past; we need to be more adventurous. That way we will not get bored, feel deprived or hungry and we’ll be able to sustain good habits for life not just a couple of weeks here and there.

People tell me that eating healthy food is too expensive but they are happy to pay out for meal replacements, healthy food doesn’t have to cost the earth, again it’s all about educating ourselves to see what’s out there. Jamie Oliver has done all of this research for us, have a look at some of his recipes, you’ll be surprised.

There can’t be a more demoralising thing than losing weight only to put it all back on again after yet another failed diet. In my career I’ve met thousands of people who have tried millions of diets. I can tell you people that the only true way to lose weight is to eat healthy and be more active, it aint rocket science. The people who assure me that they do follow this advice but still don’t lose weight either have not been one hundred percent truthful with me or themselves about what they really eat or they have an underlying health problem, which is rare.

I’m not being judgemental, really I’m not. I know how hard it can be for people and how depressing it can be but, if you really want to lose weight you have to make some changes and it will happen.

So, ditch the meal replacements, eat a variety of low sugar, low trans fats food, eat to nourish yourself, eat a rainbow, don’t choose ‘beige’ food and be more active. Have a read through some previous blogs for more info on exercise.

Our Chris is presenting a 30 minute talk on weight management, healthy lifestyles and physical activity on Tuesday 26th January 2016 at the Healthy Hub Stevenage, it’s free to attend, we promise not to get you calorie counting, adding up points, replacing meals or taking supplements but we will give you some great advice based on years of successfully helping people to improve their health and wellbeing over many years.

You can do this people…

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