Weight Loss Meal Replacement: Things to Consider

Written by
The Manual Team
Medically approved by
Dr Earim Chaudry
Last updated
7th January 2022

In 30 seconds

Weight loss meal replacements are all the rage. Offering nutritious, tasty, and convenient meal alternatives in the form of shakes, bars, or smoothies, they can ride to the rescue when you don’t have the time or energy to make a meal. But do they work for weight loss? While nothing is conclusive, there is strong evidence to suggest they can help support your weight loss journey. They just won’t do it all by themselves. Exercise, sleep, and a healthy diet overall will be essential too.

Finding a Weight Loss Method That Works

There are so many strategies out there to help you lose weight. Yet, where there are many options, a question usually follows: which one is best for me?

In this article, we’re looking at one particular strategy: weight loss meal replacement. Nutritious, incredibly convenient, and designed to be tasty, they are an increasingly popular option that could help you lose weight.

Here’s what you need to know.

What is Weight Loss Meal Replacement?

Weight loss meal replacements are a pre-prepared, easy to eat dietary product designed to help you lose weight. They tend to come in the form of meal replacement shakes – yet meal replacement bars, sachets, or soups are all popular alternatives. 

How do they work? The clue’s in the name. The idea is that they replace your meal – breakfast, lunch, or dinner – with something nutritious, less calorie-intense, more easily prepared, and ultimately better for your waistline.

Like protein shakes, meal replacement shakes tend to be high in protein. That’s sort of their secret. Protein has been shown to fill you up quicker, reducing cravings and snacking later in the day.

Yet, unlike protein shakes, the best meal replacement shakes include all the other essential nutrients your body needs that you should be getting from a regular diet – including fibres, essential vitamins like calcium and potassium, and the necessary carbs. 

Overall, the idea is that meal replacements can give you all the good stuff you would typically find in a complete meal while reducing your calorie intake.

Do Meal Replacements Help You Lose Weight?

Studies consistently show that, yes, meal replacement shakes can be effective in helping you lose weight.

Here’s what the science says:

  • A study published in Obesity Research found that meal replacement products were highly effective. After 12 weeks, weight loss was over five times greater in obese people using meal replacements to lose weight than people who merely restricted their calorie intake. After four years, patients showed similar successes – while those on meal replacements showed reduced blood pressure too.
  • According to research at the University of Oxford, people who follow a meal replacement diet are more likely to lose weight over a year than those who choose an alternative weight loss plan. However, it did not create success all by itself.
  • Diets incorporating weight loss meal replacements reduce body weight, body mass index (BMI), and fat mass to a greater extent than other weight-loss diets, according to a study in Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition.

The evidence shows that meal replacement diet shakes and bars can be highly effective in supporting weight loss. However, to meet your weight loss goals, you will have to use them properly.

How to Use Meal Replacements

So, how can you do that? When it comes to meal replacements, here’s what you need to know.

  • You shouldn’t replace every meal. Meal replacements are not designed to replace every single meal that you eat. In fact, there is little evidence to suggest that total diet replacement is more effective for your weight loss plan.
  • Top up shakes with healthy snacks. If you get hungry before meals, try to avoid fast food or snacks full of added sugars. Instead, whole foods, fruits, and vegetables are better options.
  • Only eat what you need. High-protein, low-carb weight loss shakes are great in small quantities to help replace a meal. However, eating more than the recommended amount will affect the success of your weight loss plan. Most brands don’t recommend more than one or two servings a day. A single serving usually adds up to about 200 calories and 20 grams of protein, alongside some fat and carbohydrates.
  • It’s not a long-term solution. Dietitians don’t recommend that you use meal replacements for longer than about three months.

Other Weight Loss Strategies to Try

Meal replacements can help weight loss when used as part of a balanced lifestyle. That means trying some of the following too:

  • Exercise: Physical activity is perhaps the most effective thing out there to help weight loss. But it doesn’t have to be marathon running. Instead, doctors recommend 150 minutes a week of moderate exercise. That’s 30 minutes five times a week.
  • A balanced diet: This means boosting natural proteins and fibres and reducing processed foods and foods high in sugar and saturated fats. Choosing fruits and veg and whole foods is much better for you in the long run.

Read more: Foods to Lose Weight: What Helps?

  • Sleep: Low sleep quality can affect your metabolism, the way your body regulates energy, your appetite, and your mood. Trying to get seven to nine hours of sleep a night can help.

Key Takeaways

Weight loss meal replacement can be an effective tool for weight loss. But it’s best used alongside other weight loss tools. Exercising, sleeping well, and eating a balanced diet remain vital whether you are using meal replacements or not. 

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Will I Lose Weight if I Replace Meals with Protein Shakes?

You can lose weight if you replace meals with protein shakes – but it’s not guaranteed. It depends on what you do between meals too. Eating healthy snacks, exercising, sleeping well, and maintaining a balanced diet will be essential to living a healthy lifestyle.

But yes – replacing meals has been shown to help you lose weight.

What is the Difference Between a Meal Replacement Shake and a Protein Shake?

Meal replacement and protein shakes are very similar. In fact, you might even hear them referred to as protein meal replacement shakes. However, there’s an important difference. 

While meal replacement shakes are supposed to deliver all of the benefits of a complete healthy meal, protein shakes are only designed to add protein to your diet. Protein shakes might be used to add muscle mass, whereas meal replacements are primarily for weight management.

How Many Shakes Should I Have a Day for Weight Loss?

Generally, nutritionists recommend you only have one or two meal replacement shakes a day for weight loss as part of a balanced meal plan. 


  1. JaapnaDhillonMS, Bruce A.CraigPhD, Heather J.Leidy PhD, Akua F.Amankwaah MS, Katherene Osei-Boadi Anguah PhD, AshleyJacobs MS, RDN, Blake L.Jones PhD, Joshua B.JonesPhD, Chelsey L.Keeler, MS, Christine E.M.Keller, Megan A.Mc Crory PhD, Rebecca L.Rivera MPH Maribeth Slebodnik MLS, Richard D.Mattes MPH, PhD, RD Robin M.Tucker PhD, RD (2016). The Effects of Increased Protein Intake on Fullness: A Meta-Analysis and Its Limitations – https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S2212267216000423

  2. Nerys M. Astbury, Carmen Piernas, Jamie HartmannBoyce, Sophia Lapworth, Paul Aveyard, Susan A. Jebb (2018). A systematic review and meta analysis of the effectiveness of meal replacements for weight loss – https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/epdf/10.1111/obr.12816

  3. Yijia Zhang, Xiwei Chen, David B. Allison, Pengcheng Xun (2020). Efficacy and safety of a specific commercial high-protein meal-replacement product line in weight management: meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials – https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/10408398.2020.1829539

  4. Medical Press – New EU rules could make total diet replacement products unviable from 2022, study warns – https://medicalxpress.com/news/2020-09-eu-total-diet-products-unviable.html

While we've ensured that everything you read on the Health Centre is medically reviewed and approved, information presented here is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. It should never be relied upon for specific medical advice. If you have any questions or concerns, please talk to your doctor.

Further reading

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