Why Meal Replacement Programs Fail


Lose 20 pounds in 20 days!

We see these ads, slogans, and posts all the time. And here is the thing – they DO actually work*

For the time being.

If you look into ANY program that claims you will lose “X” pounds in “X” days (at a crazy appealing pace) – most of them are some type of meal replacement program.

For the purpose of this post, meal replacement programs are any program in which you don’t have to think about what to eat, you just eat whatever is put in front of you – most of the time this being bars, shakes, soups, etc.

Yes, you can lose 20 pounds in 20 days, 100 pounds in 12 weeks. It is very possible. Will you enjoy the process? Probably not. Will you KEEP the weight off? Maybe. However, if you gain it back (some, all, or dare I say – more?), then did it really work? I would argue NO.

While there are certain reasons and situations where quick, and dramatic weight loss are important, possible and sometime necessary, for most people looking to lose weight, it’s just not maintainable.

Here are my three biggest beefs with all meal replacement programs:

1. They Don’t Teach You A Thing and Remove Personal Accountability

We have all heard the saying, “Give and man a fish, and he will eat for a day. Teach a man to fish and he will eat for a lifetime”

Same goes for teaching dietary changes. By taking away choices, and simply telling someone to eat this bar at this time, then have this shake at this time, and don’t eat this ever, and so on you are creating a controlled environment with limited free choice. Too bad that outside of this 12 week block we can eat whatever we want.

A lot of people go through meal replacement programs blindly, and often end up creating an even more negative relationship with food when all is said and done. We crave what is forbidden, and begin to despise what we are forced to eat – eventually rebellion will happen. 

Eat this, never this. Lose 20 pounds. ITS EASY!

Here is the deal. ANYONE on an extreme caloric restriction WILL lose weight. No matter what foods you eat, if you are eating 1000-1500 calories UNDER your maintenance, you will lose weight – and fast! But then what? What happens when you stop paying the hundreds or thousands of dollars for your cardboard bars, and your chalky protein shakes?

I have heard horror stories of people going on these extreme programs, then their first day off they either go crazy, eat 5000 calories a day and gain 10 pounds back in a week, or gain weight back even by adhering to a 900 calorie a day diet! Disclaimer: you should NEVER gain weight on a 900 calorie/day diet. 

What happened to accountability and being responsible for making good food choices for ourselves? On meal replacement programs it’s great! We have no accountability or free choice! As soon as that program ends…then what?

We all know what foods are good choices, and which ones might be less optimal for fat loss. Everyone is quick to stress “personal accountability” for things like credit card debt, excessive spending, alcohol consumption, legal and lawful decisions – but as soon as we want to make them for dietary choices people forget about it and blame their kids, or their busy day, or some other crazy reason why they had to finish the whole pie…

No one forces you into the drive thru at McDonalds, and even then, no one forces you to order a Big Mac with Fries. Be accountable, and do not sit back passively and expect results to happen. Awareness is the first step in fixing your eating habits – for the long term.

2. They Are Often Times Overpriced Protein Supplements with Lacking Whole Food Nutrients

I love protein, not gonna lie.

It helps with fullness, muscle and immune repair, and I enjoy eating most protein sources. Increasing protein is very important and helpful when it comes to fat loss. As I have stated on here before, I recommend getting .8-1.2 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight.

This amount can be challenging to reach without supplementation. Which is fine. My problem with MRP’s and pyramid scheme type supplement companies is they sell under-dosed products at overpriced rates.

Any one of the popular protein supplements found in these programs will run you about $3-$4/serving! The only reason you are paying that rate is so someone further up the food chain can get a little check in the mail.

I have tried several of the MRP’s protein powders, and they don’t even taste good.

I am all for supplements, IF you need them – hence the name supplement. If you are trying to get in 150 grams of protein per day and you are stuck around 120 and just can’t find the time or will to eat another piece of chicken – then go for a shake.

If you need my personal favorite protein powder – click here (all flavors are great, but I like chocolate PB, Cookies and Cream, and Chocolate Milk) – at only $0.87/serving!

However, if you are living off of shakes and bars, then we need to reassess your dietary priorities. There is a reason that fruits and vegetables are stressed in just about every healthy diet. Any MRP that says you need to limit these is full of …., and I would get your money back asap.

You need to establish a eating plan around REAL food. Most people who have successfully lost a considerable amount of weight AND kept it off, have done so by preparing their own food and being aware of portions and intakes.

3. They Fail To Address the Bigger Picture

Going off of Number 1, most MRP’s don’t address the bigger picture. How did we end up where we are today, looking to lose 20 pounds?

Was it simply because we really like food and just kept eating until we couldn’t eat any more?

Or was it because we got fired from a job, lost a loved one, got swamped with stress at work, had a kid, or are coping with any other emotions with food?

I hate to sound like a cold hearted person, but when you go on a MRP because you gained 20 pounds after [INSERT NEGATIVE EVENT], you will lose 20 pounds – but if you don’t address the heart ache and suffering that remains – you will gain the weight back as soon as the MRP ends.

There is also pure mindless eating that needs to be addressed as well.

So many times we eat mindlessly. This could also be emotionally triggered – or just completely thoughtless! Have a snack bowl on the island in the kitchen? Do you grab a handful every single time you walk by? Thought so! I would do it to.

This is mindless eating. There is no reason you should be snacking every time you walk by a bowl full of snack foods aside from the only reason being that it is just there. Hide it, throw it away, whatever you need to do to get rid of that mindless trigger.

When it comes to pure emotional eating, it can be much much harder – which is when MRP’s completely miss the point.

We need to look at exactly WHY are we not losing weight. Sometimes the answer may be deeper rooted than you think, and it may not be a happy answer either. But until we start working on that issue, the REASON we eat when we aren’t hungry, we will always resort to food as our coping mechanism.

Look, Meal Replacement Programs work…for the duration of the time you are on them.

But then what? You need to have a plan going forward, seek out real help, coaching, dietitians, psychologists, or whatever kind of professional can help you with your habits, triggers, or whatever your REAL reason is behind why you want to lose weight/how you got to where you are, before just blindly jumping into a meal replacement program.

Take Action NOW:

Write down what your goal is (if you have a weight loss goal).

  • 10 pounds? Then give yourself a goal date 10-20 weeks out. Yup, that long. Trust me, you WILL get this, and it WILL last.
  • 50 pounds? Then give yourself at least a year. This may not be appealing – but with the right mindset and help – this can be fun, manageable, and fulfilling.

Write down what you truly struggle with. This could be:

  • Lack of time to make meals
  • Lack of knowledge
  • Mindless snacking
  • Emotional Eating

Then figure out who and what you need to work with to fix this problem. Contact that person today, and save yourself from the restriction of sub-1000 calorie, bland diets, and chalky bars that will cost you hundreds and likely thousands of dollars.

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Stay healthy my friends,


Published by Mike Gorski

Registered Dietitian and Fitness Coach OWNER OF MG FIT LIFE LLC

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