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Sneaky Saboteur: Meal Replacements


If you were to walk into my office right now you would find a bowl of nutrition bars that I have for my clients (everyone is much nicer when they are not hangry!).  If you scroll through my blog, you will find multiple times where I recommend different bars and shakes as a quick and easy way to get your nutrition. If they are made with wholesome ingredients, I am very much a fan of certain supplements to make your life easier…because let’s be honest a bar is going to survive my purse much better than a banana.

However, due to their convenience (and taste) they can often become the foundation of our nutrition rather than a supplement to our nutrition.  Meaning, your whole food snacks can slowly be replaced by bars and your meals by shakes.  Although this may be a non-issue (especially if it is short term) sometimes our bodies can stop responding as well.  In this series where I am talking about sneaky saboteurs, this is an important factor to consider. Let’s learn why!

Easy access

The fact that these foods are so easily accessible and convenient is one of their main benefits…it can also be the reason that we overeat them.

In Why You Feel Out of Control Around Food we talked about hyperpalatability (whoa, say that 10 times fast!). This is basically they way food is manufactured to create a flavor and mouth feel that makes you want to eat more as well as packaged in a way that makes it easy to eat more.  In other words, you can eat it quickly and access it easily.

This can create two issues.

The first is that it takes our body time to tell our brain that we are satisfied and don’t need anymore food.  When you can eat something very quickly, you may feel hungry immediately afterwards causing you to snack until your brain catches up.

The second is that since it is so accessible, sometimes you can justify eating it because it is there…or easy…or more fun than work.  If it was even slightly harder to eat (for instance an orange with all the peeling, pulp, juice and messiness) you may think twice.

Digestion is in the details

It is not what you eat, but rather what you absorb. In Is it All About the Macros, we talked about how the calories from processed and ultra-processed foods were more easily absorbed.  This can play a role when you are relying heavily on meal replacements.

Perhaps even more interesting, is the role that your microbiome (or gut bacteria) can play on your health and weight.  Research shows that there is a correlation between a higher diversity in gut bacteria and lower weight.  Prebiotics are a form of fiber that feeds you gut bacteria.  Prebiotics are found in many whole foods like asparagus, garlic, apples, bananas, chickpeas, lentils and oats.

This is not to say that high quality bars and shakes damage your gut health.  Still too much reliance on them may take up space where you could get in more whole foods to promote more gut bacteria diversity.

What do I do with this information?

Again, please don’t read this as manifesto against meal replacements.  I will continue to use them and recommend them.  In fact, if you are in the neighborhood and hungry, please pop in for a snack.

However, if you feel like you are doing everything right and not seeing results.  Or if you look in your trash can and there are more wrappers than apple cores, it is worth trying to integrate some more whole food options and see if it helps. 

Abby Cannon (an RD from NYC) coined the term Snack Naked.  This simply means choosing snacks that don’t come in a wrapper.  I love this idea!  It is also much better than what I originally thought it meant…turns out that can be quite messy?

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