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Diet Shakes: Sipping to Slimness

Diet Shakes: The Simplest Way to Diet continued...

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.

How Long Can You Last on Diet Shakes?

Let's say you're losing a safe amount of weight with two diet shakes, two snacks, and a modest dinner every day. How long can you stay on this eating plan? Nonas says many people use the beverages for the bulk of their meals for about three months, then maintain their weight loss for years by substituting a meal replacement shake for one meal on most days.

Research bears that out. In a Journal of the American Dietetic Association study published in 2001, women who lost weight on a reduced-calorie plan that included meal replacement beverages maintained their losses after a year by drinking at least one diet shake a day in place of a regular meal. Their counterparts in the study, who lost weight on a conventional low-fat diet that did not use meal replacement beverages, regained most of their initial weight.

The Bottom Line on Diet Shakes

Diet shakes are not the magic bullet in the battle of the bulge. Used judiciously, they can help you get started on weight loss or help you maintain a healthier weight. "To lose weight or even to eat well while maintaining a healthy weight, you must be a vigilante and defend against the many temptations out there. Meal replacements shakes are easy, but they are also a lot healthier than most other choices you could make," Nonas says.

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Reviewed on June 20, 2008

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