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Diet Shakes: The Simplest Way to Diet

Diet shakes and other meal replacements are a boon when you lack the time or motivation to shop for and prepare balanced meals. They also help when you just don't want to think too hard about what to eat to lose weight. Even Wright admits they are useful -- to a point. "If you are consistently missing a certain meal, such as breakfast, then a meal replacement shake is better than nothing. That's because studies show eating breakfast fosters long-term weight control."

The makers of some ready-to-drink meals recommend sipping one each for breakfast and lunch, and eating a sensible or healthy low-fat dinner, keeping food preparation to a minimum. You may make it through the day on automatic pilot by relying on diet shakes, but you can't completely escape thinking about calories and other nutrients. Even when diet shakes stand in for two out of three meals, you still need to interpret "sensible" and "healthy low-fat" when determining dinner.

"Dinner is where people who use meal replacement shakes can get into trouble," Nonas says. That's because many people eat at night to relieve tension from the day. Going overboard at dinner (and after) can effectively wipe out the calorie deficits that contribute to weight loss. Limiting dinner to 4 to 5 ounces of cooked poultry, seafood, or lean meat; a medium baked or sweet potato or a 1/2-cup cooked rice or pasta; and a cup of cooked broccoli or other vegetable seems a sensible way of getting nutrients without excess calories.

You may simply be too hungry to control yourself at the evening meal. If two diet shakes, which can amount to 450 calories or even less, is all you've had by dinnertime, you've only used up about one-third of your daily calorie allotment, so it's little wonder you're ravenous. Two midmeal snacks for a total of 400 calories help take the edge off evening hunger. Another option for keeping evening calorie consumption in check: Eat more at breakfast and lunch and choose a diet shake and salad for dinner instead of a full meal, always working within your calorie allowance.

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