Do Weight Loss Shakes Work?

Shakes have a lot going for them: they come in tasty flavors, they're portable, they're the peak of convenience and they provide nutrients in a compact package. When you use their shakes as occasional meal replacements, companies claim you can lose several pounds per week. However, weight loss depends on what's in your shake, what else you're eating and what your willpower is like.

A woman drinks a meal replacement shake in the park. (Image: Starcevic/iStock/Getty Images)

Scientific Results

Several scientific studies, including one published in 2010 in "Nutrition Journal," have demonstrated that drinking weight loss shakes as meal replacements does produce positive results. As the "Nutrition Journal" results reported, weight loss shake subjects lost an average of more than 12 percent of their body weight during a 40-week period, while food-based diet subjects lost less than 7 percent. In another study, published in the "Journal of Nutrition and Metabolism" in 2012, subjects who used one or two meal replacement shakes daily lost about 2 percent more of their total body weight over a six-month period than subjects who followed diet book suggestions.

Feeling Full

Weight loss shakes are more likely to work when you feel full and satisfied after you drink them. If you drink a shake and then feel hungry 20 minutes later, it can be hard to wait for your next meal, and you may end up reaching for a candy bar or another high-calorie snack to supplement the shake. In an interview with ABC News, Jefferson University Hospital registered dietitian Emily Rubin suggests that if you're going to use a shake as a meal replacement, find one that has high protein and fiber amounts and a low amount of sugar, a combination that works well in promoting satiation.

A Short-Term Plan

Because shakes and other dietary supplements can't provide the same quality of nutrition as whole foods, dietitians and physicians typically recommend that people use them only on a short-term basis. That means even if you lose weight during the time you use shakes as meal replacements, you may gain some of that weight back when you return to your regular diet. According to the 2010 "Nutrition Journal" study, subjects who used weight loss shakes during the trial period gained back "significantly more weight" after the trial than subjects who had followed a food-based diet.

Using Shakes Successfully

Not all diet shakes have the same ingredients, nutritional values or satiation qualities. To successfully lose weight with a shake, it can be helpful to make your own to ensure that it has satisfying, nutritious ingredients and is within your goal calorie count. It may also help to have a small amount of food with your meal replacement shake, such as brown rice or an apple, since liquid calories tend to be less satiating than food you have to chew. Finally, combine overall healthy eating and regular exercise with meal replacement shakes to see the best results, and get your doctor's approval before using any shakes.

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