Meal replacement diets: The pros and cons

With any luck the British summer will be kind to us this year, and that means many of us will be hoping to head to the beach with a bikini body to show off.

Meal replacement diets

Pic: Getty

But getting to that fabulous figure isn't easy, and for many, following a strict diet plan or counting calories is just too complicated or time consuming to fit into their busy lives.

That's where meal replacement diets come in. We look at the pros and the cons of these weight loss products.

How do they work?
It's no secret that to lose weight you need to burn off more calories than you consume. While so many of the fad and celebrity-endorsed diets we hear about involve cutting out food groups or simply starving yourself, meal replacement products are bound by a European Directive to contain protein, fibre, and 23 vitamins and minerals. Combined with one, or possibly two, healthy meals, follow the plan and you'll be consuming between 1,200 and 1,400 calories a day, amounting to a healthy weight loss of one to two pounds a week.

What do they involve?
Possibly the most famous of the meal replacement diet plans is Slim Fast, and the plan itself is simple. Replace two meals with a Slim Fast shake, soup or bar, tuck into a healthy 600-calorie meal in the evening, and you can even enjoy the odd 100-calorie snack during the day. There are even ready meals available so that you don't have to think about cooking if you're rushed.

The pros
To a large degree it is the simplicity of plans like Slim Fast that appeal to dieters. There's no complicated dos and don'ts, the products are readymade and calorie counted for you, and ultimately there are no foods that are off limits, though most meal replacement plans do advise plenty of fruit, veg and lean protein in your one home-cooked meal if you are to achieve your weight loss goal. And the truth is, they do work.

The cons
While some dieters enjoy the hassle-free aspect of meal replacement diets, others find the lack of variety very tiresome, which could lead to regular slip-ups in following the plan.

But has concerned experts most over the years is the longevity of the plan. It has been suggested that while the weight loss may be gratifying and many find such diets easy to stick to, meal replacements do little to educate consumers about healthy eating habits and behaviour. That means it's all too easy to slip back into bad habits and pile the pounds back on as soon as you stop using the products.

However, these days the majority of these plans provide plenty of information and support to advise dieters on how to eat healthily in the future. The Slim Fast website, for example, includes advice about changing and managing healthy eating habits and leading a more active lifestyle in order to maintain a healthy weight. Going a step further, the LighterLife diet plan is combined with weekly counselling designed to support and inform.

All in all, meal replacement plans are a great way to kickstart your weight loss if you have struggled with the usual diets. But it's important to use the other resources and learn how to eat well if you are to keep the pounds off once you stop.

Have you tried a meal replacement diet, and did it work for you? Leave your comments below...