Meal-Replacement Shakes


Photograph by Plamen Petkov

If you're trying to drop a few pounds before Speedo season, your best bet is not portion control or a daily treadmill routine but replacement shakes, those premixed meal substitutes that had their heyday in the nineties. Here's how to drink them without feeling like a Jenny Craig devotee. Katie Hintz

The Drinks: The top sellers—Muscle Milk, Slim-Fast, and Atkins—all contain between 100 and 190 calories, so let your taste buds do the choosing. Just remember: Notwithstanding the enticements on the cans (mocha latte, chocolate mint, dark chocolate royale), these don't taste like milk shakes—that's why you lose weight on them.

The Plan: "If you don't eat a healthy breakfast, you should have a meal replacement," says Dr. George Blackburn, a chair in nutrition medicine at Harvard Medical School. "You can also drink one in the afternoon." In other words, reach for a shake when you'd usually have a buttery croissant or a Snickers. To satisfy your need for chewing, Blackburn suggests an apple, carrot sticks, whole-grain crackers, or a hard-boiled egg on the side. And if you're afraid that your office wife will catch you sipping from a Slim-Fast can, ditch the original packaging and pour the contents into a sleek metal water bottle.

The Results: A recent study by the New York Obesity Center at St. Luke's Hospital found that people who replace one or two meals a day with these shakes lose 7 to 8 percent of their body weight in a year, compared with just 3 percent for those who try to eat less food. But to keep the weight off after you quit the drinks, you'll have to give up that bacon, egg, and cheese sandwich and limit your breakfast and late-afternoon noshing to about 200 calories each.

Q: Is the other liquid diet—the trendy detox (a.k.a. the Blueprint Cleanse)—really good for you?

A: No. "People feel guilty and they think they need to wash away their sins with a detox diet," says Dr. Carla Wolper of the New York Obesity Research Center at St. Luke's Hospital. "But the body doesn't need to detox—it's sterile. We all have systems to keep germs at bay." Dr. George Blackburn agrees. "Cleansing is unproven, unsafe, and short-lived," he says. "If you can't do something for the rest of your life—which theoretically you can do with meal replacements—then you shouldn't do it for one day."

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