Can Meal Replacement Shakes Help You Lose Weight?

Meal replacement shakes have a number of health benefits, and they are often picked for their convenience and their low cost per meal. But can meal replacement shakes help you lose weight? This article will address this question.

Meal replacement shakes can be incredibly effective for weight loss. They are high in protein, high in fibre, and low in calories. When combined with a healthy diet and active lifestyle they can lead to sustainable weight loss.

Now that we know that meal replacement shakes can help with weight loss, let’s take a look at the specifics of how they cause weight loss.

Can Meal Replacement Shakes Help You Lose Weight?

Weight loss is a simple process, that is very hard to achieve for many people. What makes it simple? To lose weight you need to create a calorie deficit. This is where you burn more calories (through exercise and regular activities such as walking upstairs) than you consume (through food and drink).

There are three ways to achieve a calorie deficit:

  1. Reduce the number of calories you consume each day (diet)
  2. Increase the number of calories you burn each day (exercise and non-exercise activity)
  3. A combination of the two

While all three options work, the third option is by far the most effective. This is because it does not require you to exercise or diet too intensely.

Now, it’s not always as simple as picking the best option. Some people can’t exercise, while others really struggle with the time and cost required for most diets. So they have to prioritise one over the other.

Meal replacement shakes fit really well into this. They can help you to reduce the number of calories you consume each day, by replacing a higher-calorie meal. If your daily lunch is 700 calories and you replace it with a 400-calorie shake, then you are freeing up 300 calories, that’s 9,000 calories per month. Enough to burn 1.5 kg of body fat.

Adding in a small workout 3-4 times per week could burn a further 200-600 calories (estimate) and could double your fat loss for the month. While remaining well within the safe limits for weight loss.

Can I replace all my meals with meal replacement shakes?

If you can lose weight by replacing one meal with a meal replacement shake, then surely you can lose even more weight by replacing all of your meals with meal replacements? That’s the theory, but it doesn’t necessarily work out like that.

The vast majority of meal replacement shakes are 400 calories. If you replaced all of your meals then your daily calorie total would be 1,200. This may be appropriate for some people, but for most people, this would not be anywhere near enough calories to live on.

Sure, you would see weight loss, but it would be too rapid and maybe unsafe. That’s not to say that nobody should ever do it.

A 2003 study replaced 3 meals per day for women and kept them on a calorie limit of 1,200 calories per day [1]. The study involved 12 weeks of dieting, and then 10 weeks of maintenance thereafter. The study found that MR shakes were just as successful as traditional dieting, even though the calories were low.

A 2005 study by Li et al had people replace all three main meals with meal replacement shakes, participants were also encouraged to eat fruit [2]. The study was also successful, with significant weight loss and improvements in health outcomes.

Bottom line: Replacing three meals with meal replacement shakes can be effective for weight loss, but for most people it is unnecessary. You will find better long-term results replacing 1 or 2 meals per day.

Can you lose weight by replacing 2 meals with meal replacement shakes?

Most studies on meal replacement shakes look at replacing two meals per day and encouraging participants to eat a small and healthy third meal. While it may not produce weight loss results as rapidly as a three-meal replacement protocol, it tends to have longer-term success.

Why is this? The most logical explanation is that combining 1-2 meal replacement shakes with 1-2 meals gives you the best of both worlds and makes dieting easier. Both practically and psychologically.

Having two meals coming from meal replacement shakes can relieve a lot of the burden of researching, preparing, and cooking those meals. This gives you more free time and allows you to put more effort into the third meal.

Diets often fail because participants feel overwhelmed with all the new rules they have to follow. A meal replacement shake diet takes this issue away. It is easier to follow a meal replacement shake diet than it is to eat unhealthily!

A 2010 study found that meal replacement shake diets led to greater short-term weight loss, and also led to longer-term success than regular dieting [3]. The participants received half of their calories from meal replacement shakes and the other half from lean meat, vegetables, and healthy fats.


“A possible factor contributing to the greater overall effectiveness for initial weight loss on the meal replacement diet plan studied is ease of use for the end-user, leading to enhanced compliance with the diet plan.”


How much weight can I lose with meal replacement shakes?

You can lose as much weight as you need to while following a meal replacement shake. Provided you can manage to create a calorie deficit and can maintain this diet for a substantial period of time, you could lose all the excess weight that you needed to.

This is of course true of any diet. Meal replacement shake diets are generally seen as more effective in the short term due to how easy they are to implement.

But meal replacement shakes don’t have to be used for weight loss, they can be used for weight maintenance or even weight gain. It’s all about the rest of your diet, and your activity levels.

Not losing weight on meal replacement shakes? 5 reasons why

Just because you can lose weight while using meal replacement shakes does not mean that you are guaranteed to. Here are five reasons why you may not be losing weight (even though you want to).

Reason #1 You aren’t measuring properly

This issue is not specific to meal replacement shake diets but affects all diets. Most people start diets with no real idea of what they weigh, what percentage of their body is fat, and what percentage is muscle.

If you don’t know where you are starting from, then how can you judge whether you have been successful or not?

Before embarking on any diet, it is a good idea to know where you are starting. Weigh yourself, take profile and side-on photos of your physique, and if you are able to, take measurements of the circumference of your arms, legs, waist, abdominals, and chest.

Write these measurements down and keep them safe. After 3-4 weeks, retake all measurements (do these first thing in the morning for best results) and log them in your notebook. Retake the measurements again after a further 3-4 weeks.

If by the third set of measurements you still haven’t seen any changes in weight, appearance, or circumference, then your issue is not measurement-based. But the majority of people will see a difference over that time.

If you don’t take measurements, then you will just be guessing, something that we humans are terrible at doing. We tend to underestimate our weight loss, giving the impression that nothing is happening. Or we overestimate our initial weight loss, meaning that our results look less impressive when we finally take measurements.

Reason #2 You haven’t been following the diet long enough

If you are taking measurements correctly, and not seeing changes, then one explanation is that you haven’t been following your diet for long enough. Most studies on diets last 12 weeks for a reason, this is the usual amount of time it takes to see a notable difference.

If you are annoyed at not seeing any weight loss but have only been following your diet for 3 weeks, then please do not despair.

Weight loss is not a linear process. You do not lose 0.5 kg per week, every week like clockwork. You may lose nothing for 3 weeks, then lose 2 kg in the fourth week. You may then (through no fault of your own) gain half a kilogram in week 5, before losing a further 1.5 kg the week afterwards.

There are many reasons for this (inaccurate measurements, body weight fluctuations during the day, hormonal fluctuations etc) and it can be frustrating in the short term.

But stick with your goals for 12 weeks, and provided you are following your diet correctly, you will see results.

Reason #3 You may not be in a calorie deficit

While the first two reasons on this list are more to do with poor measurements or expectations, this reason is based on an actual issue with your diet. At the beginning of the article, we talked about how weight loss is achieved.

You need to be burning more calories than you are consuming. If you are not losing weight, then you may not be burning more calories than you are consuming. Even if you have cut down the number of calories you were eating, and you are moving more.

This may sound crazy but think about it. Before going on the diet, were you gaining weight over time? Probably. Weight gain is fairly common as we age. This means that you were operating in a calorie surplus. You were consuming more calories than you were burning, the excess calories were stored as fat.

For example, let’s say that you burned 2,000 calories per day, but you were consuming 2,400 calories per day. If you started a meal replacement shake diet and started exercising you would change the calories in and the calories out.

Perhaps you now burned 2,200 calories and you managed to lower your calories in by 200, to 2,200 per day. This would not lead to weight loss; it would lead to weight maintenance. You are no longer gaining weight, but you aren’t losing weight either.

All you have to do is lower your calories very slightly (an extra 50 calories per day) and suddenly you are in a calorie deficit. Or you could add more exercise into your lifestyle, perhaps something fun like going on a hike?

Most successful diets are a little more aggressive than that, creating deficits of 200-500 per day, but they are harder to maintain. Create a 200-calorie deficit and you will see good results in the long term.

Reason #4 You are drinking the wrong meal replacement shake

Not all meal replacement shakes are created equal. Shakes such as Rootana are high in protein, high in fibre, and contain just 400 calories. Making them ideal for weight loss. However, there are meal replacement shakes that can be 550 calories or more, and meal replacement shakes that are low in protein/fibre. Take a look at some of the health benefits associated with Rootana here.

Reason #5 You aren’t eating enough

This may sound counterintuitive. But bear with us here. Obviously, if you create a large enough calorie deficit you will lose weight. But that does not mean that eating too little is going to lead to better results. There are a couple of reasons for this:

  • Consuming too few calories in your main meals can cause you to overeat snacks after hunger cravings affect your decision-making.
  • Not eating enough calories can lead to your body preserving energy. You may unconsciously move less during the day and have less energy to exercise properly in the gym.

This is why it is so important to spend time planning your regular meals. They can’t be too high in calories as this will prevent you from losing weight, but they can’t be too low in calories as this will negatively affect your chances of success. You can also increase the calories in your Rootana shake by trying some of these tips and tricks.

Can Meal Replacement Shakes Help You Lose Weight? Final Thoughts

Meal replacement shakes can be used to improve your chances of success, whatever your goals; be it weight loss, weight maintenance, and weight gain. But meal replacement shakes must be part of an overall approach to health and nutrition. You also need to focus on your non-shake meals, and the number of calories you burn through exercise and non-exercise activities.

Finding the right meal replacement shake for you can also improve your chances of success. Rootana has been developed to improve your nutrition, and it is also high in protein, high in fibre, and low in calories compared to a regular meal.

If you would like to learn more about the ingredients found in Rootana, then check out our article.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why am I gaining weight on meal replacement shakes?

There are many reasons why you might gain weight while taking a meal replacement shake. Weight gain is caused by a positive energy balance. This is where you are consuming more calories than you are burning. If you are gaining weight, then you may not have properly adjusted the rest of your diet.

Can you lose weight by drinking meal replacement shakes?

Yes, provided that the rest of your diet is sensible, and you are burning enough calories through exercise and non-exercise activities (walking, running, cleaning, mowing the lawn). You need to create a calorie deficit, and meal replacement shakes can make this easier.

Can you lose weight by replacing 3 meals with meal replacement shakes?

You can, but three meals may be excessive. Most people get excellent results from taking just one shake per day, sometimes two. If you were to take three shakes it should only be for a few weeks at most.

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