We enter October, spooky season. And what better way to start off than with something truly horrifying: meal replacement shakes. This is a classic example of
broscience #hoescience, and something that unfortunately is not a thing of the past. We are going to look some of the characteristics of current popular meal-replacement shakes directed at women, evaluate their claims, all have a good laugh and then offer up some actual helpful alternatives.
The Sell: What Are We Dealing With?
Oh, have a seat baby. If I didn’t know any better, I’d be stocking myself up on these protein-based panaceas. A brief Google search of “female meal replacement shakes” brings up many of the top brands in sports nutrition, and what they can offer us in shiny pink packages. We have a litany of different brands and names, and I don’t really fancy getting sued, so I’m not gonna name and shame them. But, you can do the research yourself.
All of the meal replacement shakes have similar characteristics and promises, all loosely promising to:
- Help weight control
- Support toning and shaping *shudders in patriarchy*
- Help keep you fuller for longer
- Aid muscle mass maintenance
- Support healthy weight loss*
- Make your ex fall in love with you again/garner likes on Instagram/solve all current problems by making you lean and hot and toned
Ok the last one is a dramatization obvs, but it’s not far off what some of them promise.
Dismantling the Hoescience
Claim: Helps Control Your Weight/Supports Healthy* Weight Loss
The hoescience: We all want to control our weight, don’t we ladies? Nod, smile and be pretty, thank you. This meal-replacement shake can help you stay lean and support weight loss. All for an inflated price! Who doesn’t love that? Not only that, we now say it supports “healthy” weight loss, because we can ascribe health to a product based on zero rationale!
The science: Of course, controlling energy intake is paramount to altering bodyweight. We’ve all been exposed to enough influencers banging on about the need to be in a calorie deficit to lose weight. This is indisputable. However, this is where these meal-replacement shakes give themselves more credit than they are due. Technically, any component of your diet you consume whilst in a calorie deficit is aiding weight loss. If you chewed on a shoe every day, but remained in a calorie deficit, isn’t the shoe helping control your weight loss?
Maybe I’m being too dramatic here (most unlike me), but how is replacing two meals a day (as some of these shakes direct!) healthy AT ALL? If you can only have these liquid meals for as long as you want to control your weight (which most of us would hope to do for our lives) is that healthy? To be at dinner with your family and be dry-scooping sludge into a shaker bottle?
It’s also not educational at all (and highly convenient) that the purported “only way” to control your weight comes in the form of a powder conveniently sold by this one company. Long-term sustainable change comes from education, and empowering you to make better choices with your diet. Simply necking these shakes and not thinking about it isn’t that “healthy” long-term, is it?
Claim: Aids Toning & Shaping/Supports Muscle Mass Maintenance
Hoescience: Listen up delicate ladies. Want to tone up, and keep those booty gains whilst you steamroll towards disordered eating? Got you fam.
The science: Now in fairness, most of these meal-replacement shakes actually meet the minimum effective dose for muscle protein synthesis (it’s 20-35g of a complete protein source, don’t you know). An elevated protein intake is essential in maintaining muscle mass during periods of low energy availability (i.e. a calorie deficit). So, yes, these shakes can help you maintain muscle mass.
*gasp* Michelle, do you mean to tell me you support the use of these shakes for muscle maintenance? Are you going to conveniently announce your discount code now?
Hold onto your high waisted leggings girlos, we haven’t become a sell-out just yet. I cannot argue with the science. There can be a role for a meal-replacement shake that is high in protein to maintain muscle during a dieting phase, yes.
Before you come for me though, I am not saying you need to drink a meal-replacement shake to keep muscle when dieting. Read that again. And one more time. These shakes are not essential. AT ALL. If you are considering a supplement that will help maintain muscle mass, you could save yourself a fortune in mark-up by simply purchasing a protein powder (whey etc.). The protein in a protein shake will still work just as well to preserve muscle mass. If you want to buy a meal-replacement shake purely for muscle maintenance, go ahead, but you’ll be paying a tax for having no critical thinking skills.
Claim: Keeps You Fuller For Longer
Hoescience: “This shake filled me up for longer, and I didn’t crave anything all day!”.
The science: *cracks knuckles* Let’s go. Yes, protein is satiating and consuming higher protein foods can definitely help reduce the perception of hunger. Sure, adding in fibre can certainly help you feel fuller. These are the characteristics of these shakes that act to increase satiety or fullness.
It is not the magical meal-replacement shake fairies that enter your body via your digestive tract and stop you from chowing down on a pint of Ben & Jerrys. It’s just our friends, protein and fibre. Which, you can actually get from real food! Who would have thought it? I would argue that it is a lot more beneficial to eat meals with these properties than it is to drink them. I don’t know about you, but I would much rather yoghurt with berries than chocolate-flavoured aspartame with a side of GI distress.
In addition, replacing food with liquid can actually be less satiating. Consider how quickly liquid is absorbed by the body. I would argue you would be hungrier after a meal-replacement shake of 300 calories than 300 calories worth of food. And my good friend science can back me up on this (Tieken et al., 2007, Craig, 2013). Food is obviously typically bulkier than liquid, and will take up more physical room in the stomach, which can help aid fullness. Sorry, meal-replacement shakes, it’s a no from me.
Claim: This Will Fix Everything
Hoescience: Here’s this beautifully packaged panacea for all that ails you. Bet you can’t wait for your ex to be back in your DMs!
The science: Mother of god is nothing sacred? Shove your pink packaging and pick-me men.
The first in the hoescience series, aimed at dismantling stupid products marketed to females has revealed that meal-replacement shakes are nothing but hoescience. Sure, they can be helpful if you’re on the go, don’t want to think about what you’re eating and are relatively convenient. If you wish to consider long-term adherence to your diet, and actually learning how to eat in a way that is realistic for your life and contains solid food, you’re better off taking that money and investing it in protein powder and a coach that gives a shit. Namaste.
- Tieken, S.M., Leidy, H.J., Stull, A.J., Mattes, R.D., Schuster, R.A. (2007) ‘Effect of solid versus liquid meal-replacement products of similar energy content on hunger satiety and appetite-regulating hormones in older adults’, Hormones and Metabolism Research, 39(5), pp. 389-394.
- Craig, J. (2013) ‘Meal replacement shakes and nutrition bars: Do they help individuals with diabetes lose weight?’, Diabetes Spectrum, 26(3), pp. 179-182.