Should we be using low calorie shakes for obesity?

Is This True?

Have you seen the news today? “Low-calorie soups and shakes diets ‘recommended for obesity’”.  What is this information based on?

The Study

It was a study which looked at 278 people in Oxfordshire.

Half of the group:

  • followed the Cambridge Weight Plan programme for 8 weeks
  • had only 810kcal per day
  • and for the next 4 weeks, food was gradually introduced back (but the formula food products were recommended as one of their meals a day)
  • they were given a session with a trained counsellor every week for 12 weeks, and then monthly support for 3 months, to help keep the weight off and maintain their diet

The other half of the group:

  • were given the usual weight management advice and support from their GP

The study found that those on the replacement programme lost more weight in a year than those who were getting advice from their GPs. Is that surprising? Not really. Is it flawed? Yes, it is.

Are you Surprised?

Is it any wonder that the first group above, were able to lose weight? This group where they were given the low calorie, daily diet replacement shakes, received support and advice from professionals for a long period of time ie. for 7 months, with 4 months of that having weekly support sessions.

The participants were also allowed to return to the stage where they were only having the meal replacements for up to 4 weeks (an extra month). This programme was also free of charge, until week 24.

What assistance did the other (second) group get?

Nurses from their GP practice were asked to offer a programme for 12 weeks, at a frequency which is usual for the practice. This could be weekly, biweekly etc. Participants also received a 47-page booklet called ‘So you want to lose weight… for good’, which included information on goal setting, monitoring, feedback, advice on food groups, portion control, and physical activity.

This support is completely different from the one-to-one advice that the other (first) group received, to help them enable change. This second group was also not offered any National Health Service referrals during this study.

Who Funded This Study?

Funnily enough, I bet you wouldn’t be surprised if you heard that it was funded by Cambridge Weight Loss UK. 

Personally, I don’t think it’s the diet replacement that helped with the entire weight loss, but the contact and support from a professional. It would be interesting to see what would happen if they had another group working with dieticians and see what happens long term after the 12 months.

This kind of headline indicates that it’s the replacement meals which make the difference, not the support that they were provided with. It is misleading and leads us into a diet culture of restriction and deprivation. We should be promoting a lifestyle of physical activity, water, fruit and veg consumption and a healthy balance of protein, fats and carbohydrates.

The other issue is the accessibility and availability for all individuals to have the opportunity to speak to a health care professional who can direct and guide them into making informed choices. We know that if someone is struggling, handing them a large booklet isn’t always going to help, and may make them feel even more confused or lost.

Obesity isn’t just caused by one simple factor, there are a multitude of reasons behind it, which is why having a professional counsellor’s advice and input could have made such a difference in the second group.

In my opinion, it is irresponsible to post headlines like this, especially for those people who listen to this and try these replacement meals, without the support to make changes which are sustainable and for life. Often, the weight just comes back on, and guilt and the feeling of failure usually follows.

We should be trying to positively help and give the opportunity to those who want to make changes, so that they don’t get caught up in a cycle of guilt.

Always look behind the headline and what articles say. It’s usually not always black and white.

Daisy, MSc PGDip ANutr, is a Registered Associate Nutritionist with a Master's Degree in Public Health Nutrition, and a Post Graduate Diploma in Eating Disorders and Clinical Nutrition, both of which are Association for Nutrition (AFN) accredited. She, also, has a BSc degree in Psychology and Cognitive Neuroscience; and has completed an AFN accredited Diet Specialist Nutrition course.

Daisy has worked for an NHS funded project, the Diabetes Prevention Programme; and shadowed a nutritionist in Harley Street. 

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