Is it Healthy to Replace a Meal with a Shake?

Is it Healthy to Replace a Meal with a Shake?

Question:

Hello, I have breakfast (almond milk, walnuts, pecans, almonds, banana and oats) and dinner (salad of tomato, onion, potatoes, pepper, cilantro, rice puffs). Can I replace my everyday lunch with meal replacement shakes? I work out in the gym 3 times a week and run twice a week. I have been in good shape but can’t get a 6-pack. I would like to get there in 3 months before my vacation. Thanks in advance for your help. 

-Dean

Answer:

You certainly can replace your lunch with a meal replacement shake, although I don’t know if that would help you with your goal. Dinner already sounds super light and you’ve not described your current lunch so it’s hard to tell what’s missing from your day. The items you described are all plant-based so I’ll stick with like foods in recommending quinoa, cabbage, broccoli, asparagus, berries, flax & chia seeds, spinach, lentils, and green tea for your mid-day meal. It’s best to chew your calories, allowing your digestive system to do its job over time, thus allowing a slower uptake of energy than from a shake. 

Be sure your workouts include lots of ab-defining exercises as highlighted elsewhere on our Living Healthy Blog. 

Resources: 

  1. Brazier, Brendan. “Best Foods for Building Abs, Six-Packs.” Men’s Journal, 5 Apr. 2018,
    www.mensjournal.com/health-fitness/best-foods-for-building-your-abs-20130910/green-tea/.
  2. Willitts, Chris. “Build Muscle with Whole Food, Plant Based Diet.” Muscle and Fitness,
    www.muscleandfitness.com/nutrition/gain-mass/build-muscle-whole-food-plant-based-diet.
  3. Says:, Moonlit. “Vegan Foods That Can Help Give You Great Abs in No Time!” One Green Planet, 31 Mar. 2015,
    www.onegreenplanet.org/natural-health/vegan-foods-that-help-give-you-great-abs-in-no-time/%C2%A0.
  4. Willitts, Chris. “How to Get Abs Fast – Just Eat These 10 Fat-Burning Plant Foods.” Vegetarian Bodybuilding, 18 Sept. 2017,
    www.vegetarianbodybuilding.com/how-to-get-abs-fast/%C2%A0.

– Debbie J., MS, RD

This article should not replace any exercise program or restrictions, any dietary supplements or restrictions, or any other medical recommendations from your primary care physician. Before starting any exercise program or diet, make sure it is approved by your doctor.

Some questions have been edited for length and/or clarity.

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Nutrition for Slow Weight Loss

Nutrition for Slow Weight Loss

Question:

I have been a member at the LA Fitness in Dunedin, Florida for 5 months. I have had very slow progress in losing weight. I am down from 207 lbs. to 194 lbs.; my body fat has remained at about 133 lbs. I eat oatmeal for breakfast, have a whey drink in the middle of the morning, chicken or the like at lunch with green beans and no bread, and yogurt for dinner. Help. I am 5 ft 4 inches tall and work out every other day with a trainer then do 25 mins on a stationary bike at level 8. Do you have a menu to help me lose the pounds?

– Adam F.

Answer:

There are plenty of menus to be found on sites like Men’s Journal, Men’s Health, and FitBit, or you can attempt to create your own. Rather than following a preset menu that has nothing to do with you, consider outlining a meal plan with guidelines for you to follow. You’re better assured to stick by parameters that you identify as being relevant to your dietary habits. See other members’ success stories under the Motivation tab of the Living Healthy blog and check out how one man overcame diet plan indecision here 

My feedback on your described diet thus far is that there is very little detail or diversity and unknown portions. Remember that your body thrives on feeding it adequate nutrition including vitamins, mineral and water, not just macronutrient calories.

Why not try switching it up a bit and have egg-avocado-whole grain toast for breakfast, plain nonfat Greek or Skyr yogurt with fresh fruit for snack, tuna salad and greens for lunch, then stir fried vegetables with mukimame (soybeans) for dinner one day? 

Keep up the consistent exercise, Adam! You’re making progress and your body adapts so remember to continually push yourself by increasing the time, intensity or duration of your workouts. 

– Debbie J., MS, RD

This article should not replace any exercise program or restrictions, any dietary supplements or restrictions, or any other medical recommendations from your primary care physician. Before starting any exercise program or diet, make sure it is approved by your doctor.

Some questions have been edited for length and/or clarity.

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Losing Weight When You Love Bread and Cheese

Losing Weight When You Love Bread and Cheese

Question:

I really want to lose stomach fat and thigh fat, but I also really love food which is a problem. What tasty foods can I have but still lose the fat? I don’t do very well with an only fruits and veggies diet; can I have pasta? Maybe rice? Bread? Cheese? Thanks! 

– Abigail C.

Answer:

Once upon a time there was a potato chip whose fat couldn’t be digested. Hurray for the crisp lovers! Unfortunately, people experienced digestive issues and such products went by the wayside. Common sense prevailed that fried snacks need to be limited not re-engineered. I share the story because you seem to want “tasty” foods that aren’t fattening. That depends on what your taste buds are, of course! 

I agree a traditional salad won’t do. To me, colorful plates of mixed textures and strong/mild flavors hit the spot. Enjoying your food healthily means incorporating favorite items in a portion-controlled way. Pasta or rice should comprise only a quarter of your plate.

For bread and cheese, focus on whole grain breads (two ounces per meal) and stronger flavor cheeses (an ounce maximum). So foot long subs, mac n’ cheese and lasagna are out. Pear with blue cheese crumbles, an English muffin pizza and chicken + mushroom wild rice soup are in.  

You can achieve successful weight loss on an infinite number of diets that include or exclude one particular type of food. Don’t like broccoli? Then opt for zucchini or other green vegetables. Beef lover? Stick to 3-4 ounce servings of sirloin and tenderloin. Grossed out by the texture of cottage cheese? Substitute Greek yogurt or diced tofu. The keys are: 1) wholesome naturally low-calorie foods (like plants) should make up the majority of your diet; 2) no matter which foods you choose to eat, most should be raw, freshly grilled, steamed or baked and little of it fried (in real oil, please). 

– Debbie J., MS, RD

This article should not replace any exercise program or restrictions, any dietary supplements or restrictions, or any other medical recommendations from your primary care physician. Before starting any exercise program or diet, make sure it is approved by your doctor.

Some questions have been edited for length and/or clarity.

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Keeping the Weight Off

Keeping the Weight Off

Question:

I have had a weight problem for most of my life. For the first time, I weigh less than 200 pounds (currently 175lbs). I don’t know how to manage my weight and keep it from ballooning because of comfort or pain/stress. I walk almost every day but my diet is horrendous because I forget to eat, and by the time I realize it, I’m overeating….help 

– Tenesha P.

Answer:

Congrats on your current status, Tenesha! It seems that you’re looking for guidance on managing your weight and preventing regain with a healthier diet. Make meals a priority by planning, shopping and preparing items you can have on hand to eat. Perhaps you also miss meals then overeat because you don’t pay attention to hunger cues. Use a hunger scale* to evaluate your hunger and satiety levels so you can be more mindful to react to signals sooner.  

I’m glad you acknowledge self-soothing with food as a response to stress. We all do it from time to time! Identify and develop alternate strategies for stress reduction that can be your first line of action before you turn to comfort food. Keeping problem foods out of sight (or the house/office) while stocking healthier options up front and center will allow you to more easily reach for nutritious foods when the urge hits. 

You’re a stranger to me, but I’d suspect that your “horrendous” diet isn’t due to lack of nutrition knowledge. Since you say you’ve had a life-long weight problem, you probably need motivation and accountability, not facts or macronutrient charts. Consider investing in a reputable weight loss program so that you’re not going it alone. After assessing the reasons contributing to your weight issue, a good counselor will tailor a diet plan to your needs and support you along the way.  

Finally, keep your chin up and celebrate the success you’ve had so far. Recognize where your strengths are and identify specific areas to improve. You have the power to overcome your reactive eating and replace it with healthier habits! 

* Kristina Larue, RD, CSSD, LDN “The Simple Tool That Can Help Prevent Overeating.” MyFitnessPal blog. https://blog.myfitnesspal.com/the-simple-tool-that-can-help-prevent-overeating/ Nov. 22, 2017. Accessed 10.21.2019 

– Debbie J., MS, RD

This article should not replace any exercise program or restrictions, any dietary supplements or restrictions, or any other medical recommendations from your primary care physician. Before starting any exercise program or diet, make sure it is approved by your doctor.

Some questions have been edited for length and/or clarity.

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Regaining Weight in Older Adulthood

Regaining Weight in Older Adulthood

Question:

My wife is 86. She has lost a lot of weight. How do I get her weight back? Are there any super foods in terms of calorie count? Are there any additives, like whey powder, that can help her gain weight? She always says she can’t eat another bite! I give her Nutrament and ice cream to get some calories in her, but this is liquid. She has been given an appetite enhancing pill (Dronabinol 2.5 mg) but it has not shown any effect.

– John

Answer:

Thanks for reaching out John. Glad that you are on top of her nutrition and have sought medical attention first. Certainly, there are very high calorie foods to incorporate I’ll address below. However, I must say in my experience with geriatric nutrition and long-term care residents, the body’s ability to process and assimilate the calories consumed is often the limiting factor. There may be impairments anywhere from gut digestion and absorption to cellular uptake and utilization. 

You’re right to focus on solid foods as weight gain supplements should be given between meals not as a replacement. Nutrament by the way, is marketed as an energy drink for active persons and it’s half sugar1! [360 Cals, 10 g Fat, 47 g Sugar, 16 g Protein] If you’re trying to stay away from medical weight gain supplements, then a comparable 12 fl. oz. of Carnation Instant Breakfast High Protein2 would be more suitable (330 Cals, 9 g Fat, 18 g Sugar, 22 g Protein).  

Cheese, avocado, fatty fish (salmon, trout, sardines, herring), full-fat yogurt, nut butters, olives and coconut (meat and milk, not the water) are the richest in calories. Incorporating eggs, beans, olive oil, potatoes and whole-grain starches will provide additional protein and energy. Meal and snack suggestions include: eggs benedict, pudding, nachos with guacamole, mashed potatoes, potatoes au gratin, pumpkin mousse, yogurt + fruit smoothies, shepherd’s pie, avocado on toast, peanut butter on crackers, bisques and chowders, olive tapenade with crostini, granola, and trail mix. 

Several condiments can be used to supplement additional calories and protein, such as: syrups, gravies, cheese sauces, creams, spreads, butter, icing/frosting, honey, jelly/jam, pesto, tahini, hummus, and tamari. Use these to coat, cover, top and soak into the main foods (e.g. whipped cream and maple syrup on French toast).  Additional food preparation tips are available from the Institute on Aging, the Dietitians of Canada, and the Cleveland Clinic.  

Regarding medications24: Dronabinol has been available for three decades and is effective for stimulating appetite in the majority of elderly HIV and cancer patients who take it, although some don’t respond to it. The liquid solution form is showing promise over the capsule form for a quicker onset of action. For people experiencing loss of weight and lack of appetite in the absence of conditions like HIV or cancer, Megace is the drug typically prescribed, though it has limited effectiveness. 

References: 

  1. “Nutrament Home Page.” Nutrament Home Page, Harvest Hill Beverage Company, 2019, www.nutrament.com/. Accessed 10.21.2019

  2. “Carnation Breakfast Essentials® High Protein Ready-to-Drink.” Carnation Breakfast Essentials®, Société Des Produits Nestlé S.A., 2019, www.carnationbreakfastessentials.com/products/carnation-breakfast-essentials-high-protein-ready-drink. Accessed 10.21.2019

  3. Wilson MM, Philpot C, Morley JE. Anorexia of aging in long term care: is dronabinol an effective appetite stimulant?–a pilot study. The Journal of Nutrition Health and Aging. 2007 Mar-Apr;11(2):195-8. 

  4. Badowski ME, Yanful PK. Dronabinol oral solution in the management of anorexia and weight loss in AIDS and cancer. Therapeutics and Clinical Risk Management. 2018;14:643–651. Published 2018 Apr 6.

  5. Persons RK, Nichols W. Should we use appetite stimulants for malnourished elderly patients? The Journal of Family Practice. 2007 September;56(9):761-762 doi:10.2147/TCRM.S126849 

– Debbie J., MS, RD

This article should not replace any exercise program or restrictions, any dietary supplements or restrictions, or any other medical recommendations from your primary care physician. Before starting any exercise program or diet, make sure it is approved by your doctor.

Some questions have been edited for length and/or clarity.

Ask our Dietitian

Have a nutrition question? Our registered dietitian is ready to help!

Email nutrition@lafitness.com or submit your question below and it may be featured in an upcoming article!

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