Meal Replacement Bar Question
April 23, 2007 10:47 AM   Subscribe

Is it really impossible to lose weight (in a healthy manner) by substituting two meals a day with some sort of bar?

I find that I have pretty good dieting willpower, but only in black & white instances. So, if I say, "No sweets for two months", that's fine and I don't cheat. If I say, "Don't eat too many sweets", however, then it doesn't work for me.

As such, I've had extremely poor luck with diets. "Eat healthy food" is just too nebulous. I also don't have a lot of time, so I frequently cannot pack my lunch, which means I purchase (mostly unhealthy) food frequently.

What I want is a no-thought-required, eat-this-one-thing-twice-a-day meal substitute so that I don't have to worry about it, and will lose weight (this approach being coupled with thrice-weekly gym visits and reasonable dinner). I don't seem to be able to pack a healthy lunch, or measure out my salad dressing, or to remember how many croutons are permissible, &c.

There are a lot of energy bar threads on Ask, but they all seem to be either about snacks, or about how awful energy bars are. (Apologies if I missed the relevant thread that answers this question). It seems like we know enough about nutrition these days that one could manufacture the equivalent of a healthy, balanced fixed-calorie meal in a bar--is this not the case?
posted by Squid Voltaire to Health & Fitness (26 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite

Best answer: Slim Fast Bars are designed specifically to do what you want - they're low calorie meal replacements - you eat two and have one healthy meal a day. There are lots of meal replacement bars on the market - Atkins makes one, as does a company called Edge/Advantage. Most also make a meal replacement shake as well, in case you'd rather drink your meal instead of eat it.

Note: I'm not vouching for how healthy or effective these bars are, just answering your question.
posted by iconomy at 11:09 AM on April 23, 2007

Best answer: You may very well lose weight this way, but study after study has shown (look in any reputable medical journal for weight regain studies) that such crash diets produce weight regain, often to levels higher than the starting weight, once the crash diet ends. That means that you may lose weight while you're eating the bars, but once you start eating real food again, you're more likely than not to regain most if not all of the weight you lost, and you may end up weighing more than you weigh now. That's not good for you.
posted by decathecting at 11:14 AM on April 23, 2007

The bars are usually 250-260 kCalories, which is a little more than a candy bar, but packed with more whey protein and less refined sugar. Would a candy-bar's worth of calories substitute for an entire meal? I'm not so sure.

As for the all-or-nothing willpower, try this: make a careful meal plan for the week, and use your iron will to STICK TO IT. Only officially designated snacks at previously designated times.
posted by Mozai at 11:16 AM on April 23, 2007 [1 favorite]

We need to get SlimFast to admit that this is a total fraud. You would be better off having a bowl of cereal and a small plate of fruit. I quit smoking four weeks ago and then bought two huge boxes of Lara Bars, which are now going to sit in my pantry never to be eaten because I got bored with the regimen in two days.

Here's what I did instead:


8 oz glass of milk
1 banana
half a bagel with cream cheese

work out at the gym in the morning for 30 minutes on weights.


Normal lunch, usually a tiny quesadilla with meat and cheese.


Cold cuts, berries or other fruit, a big salad.

I try not to drink cola, but stray sometimes.

I work out three times a week working on nothing but muscles. I have already lost 10 pounds in a month, about 2-3 pounds each week. The key, I think, is muscle confusion at the gym and confusing your mind with good, nutritious food so I don't get bored again.
posted by parmanparman at 11:18 AM on April 23, 2007 [3 favorites]

My mom lost a lot of weight on the L.A. weight loss program, and has kept most of it off for a few years. The program does include meal replacement bars. However it also includes other components like special juices, and weekly check-in appointments. Also frequent meals of salad with fat-free grilled chicken and dressing. So I'm not sure exactly how much of the weight loss can be attributed to the bars... but over all the program seemed to be quite successful for her (she had been trying to lose weight for many years unsuccessfully). I have sampled the bars and they are quite tasty. They are a little pricey, though.
posted by crackingdes at 11:22 AM on April 23, 2007

I did the "eat cereal instead of meals" diet for awhile, and I lost weight because I was FUCKING STARVING. I went to a friend's party and ate the whole cheese platter and thought, um, perhaps I should rethink this plan.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 11:42 AM on April 23, 2007 [5 favorites]

Just make a simple sandwich to bring for lunch every day. It takes about as much effort as putting some sort of meal replacement into your bag.

Option 1: particularly healthy bread, hummus, sprouts

Option 2: bread, organic peanut butter

And more along those lines. Sandwiches have the same amount of calories as a bar but are, unlike bars, actually filling.
posted by mustcatchmooseandsquirrel at 11:46 AM on April 23, 2007

A tasty meal replacement bar is a banana.
posted by idiotfactory at 11:47 AM on April 23, 2007 [3 favorites]

i'm a huge fan of soup. one can of something without cream in it and a hunk of whole-wheat bread is a great, filling meal.
posted by thinkingwoman at 11:50 AM on April 23, 2007

Response by poster: parmanparman--so at the gym, you only do non-cardio exercise? I find that I'm pretty lucky to get to the gym for a half-hour workout three times a week, and I've been assuming that I'd be better off spending that half hour doing cardio stuff. I used to ride my bike there, do half an hour of cardio and then half an hour of weights, but now I have to be at work earlier.

Thanks for the input. I might try tylermoody's suggestion--that seems simple enough for me to follow.
posted by Squid Voltaire at 12:00 PM on April 23, 2007

There are two separate issues here, the nutrition and the calories. The nutrition is not too much of an issue as long as you eat good meals for your "non-replacement" meals, since nutrition is measured in the long term, not meal to meal. The real issue, and a reason these approaches sometimes don't work, is that people eat too much at their regular meal because they're really hungry. It's pretty easy to blow a day's worth of restriction with an evening's worth of eating. Even more so if your thinking about the evening meal(s) is that you have some wiggle room because you ate little during the day.
posted by OmieWise at 12:08 PM on April 23, 2007

first easy to read link i found about why straight "cardio" for your 30 mins at the gym could be better spent doing something like interval training, no matter what your personal goals are (weight loss, strength, looks etc)

posted by teishu at 12:50 PM on April 23, 2007

putting the link would help...
posted by teishu at 12:51 PM on April 23, 2007

They can be too high in sodium, but frozen meals, like lean cuisine, are pretty balanced and can teach you about proper portioning. Of course, you would need access to a microwave.
posted by Airhen at 12:53 PM on April 23, 2007

Also be careful of energy bars like Powerbar etc. as a substitute. Those things are filled will all kinds of stuff that unless you are really active, may actually hurt you. Backpacker magazine had something about that awhile back (couldnt find link). Much of the nutrients (amino acids etc) in those require a lot of water to metabolize and the lack thereof can cause liver and kidney damage. Not a good diet food.
posted by elendil71 at 12:58 PM on April 23, 2007

You can use eDiets to plan a no-thought balanced diet. My parents used it, lost weight and kept it off - I know they used it at least two or three years if not still using it. You select your meals, it gives you a grocery list and recipes, the recipes I saw were pretty simple. I know they were able to select frozen boxed food for lunches like Healthy Choice and Lean Cuisine so breakfast and lunch were very straightforward.
posted by Melinika at 1:00 PM on April 23, 2007

I've been doing Slimfast now for just under three weeks (I'm in the UK, like you; US and UK Slimfast products are different).

I have a shake for breakfast, a protein bar for lunch, and then a 'proper dinner'. I also have two Slimfast snacks each day, and one/two pieces of fruit. So far I've lost around 10 pounds. I have a lot more to go, however, and have been exercising a lot too...

The shakes and bars are around 200 calories, and the snacks around 100 calories. If you add it all up, you'll find that you're on 1,500 calories a day, which is the standard "calorie controlled diet" amount that should let you lose 2-3 pounds a week.

My experience of the diet has been mixed. The first four days were sheer hell. Pretty much cold turkey. Then it got easier, and I became more confident. But, over the last week, it's become really hard again. I think my initial difficulty was getting over the habit of eating. Now I'm facing-up to real hunger, and trying to defeat it. I get bad cravings for bread in particular.

All that said, I like Slimfast. It asks you to pay up front for your weight-loss, rather than trying to trick you into losing weight by a complex points system, like Weight Watchers. I also like how it's very efficient. I've never been one for cooking, and now I only have to cook one meal a day.

But it's just very hard work and, on my experience so far, doesn't stop being hard work.

Health-wise, Slimfast is pretty dangerous. People use it for 'spot' weight loss (ie wedding in a week, need to drop two dress sizes). This leads to yo-yo dieting, which is said to be extremely unhealthy. Additionally, you'll find yourself drinking less water, and that can lead to kidney/gall stones.

On a commercial level, I think Slimfast is a rip-off, because it doesn't work for 99% of people. I'm lucky because I have a personality that seems compatible with Slimfast. Entertainingly, I signed-up for the daily inspirational emails on the Slimfast site, but they stopped after seven days. It's like even they don't envision people lasting beyond a week.

Put basically, only do Slimfast if you like a massive challenge, and are prepared to face-down your demons. Otherwise do Weight-Watchers or Slimming World (in the UK), both of which have proven results, and will probably offer the same kind of weight loss.
posted by humblepigeon at 1:26 PM on April 23, 2007

Just realised you're not in the UK—apologies! I thought from your language (sweets rather than candy) that you were a Brit.

I hear bad things about US Slimfast, compared to UK. It seems the UK bars are more rigourously nutritional, perhaps because of EU laws. Your mileage may vary.
posted by humblepigeon at 1:34 PM on April 23, 2007

I totally second the suggestions for bananas and soup. both options are filling and the banana is super easy. Sometimes, when I know I won't have a ton of time in the mornings, I hard boil a whole bunch of eggs and shell them. Eating one, paired with said banana, is fast and easy. It is filling and you get a lot of protein and fiber between the two items to keep to satisfied for a while. Very packable.
posted by Foam Pants at 1:37 PM on April 23, 2007

I place no value in those bars, they feel like a marketing scam and do nothing for the real problem of dieting - the hunger pangs. How I hate them.

What I want is a no-thought-required, eat-this-one-thing-twice-a-day meal substitute so that I don't have to worry about it, and will lose weight (this approach being coupled with thrice-weekly gym visits and reasonable dinner). I don't seem to be able to pack a healthy lunch, or measure out my salad dressing, or to remember how many croutons are permissible, &c.

I've recently started dieting again, and I can't recommend Fitday any stronger. Trust me, once you start measuring how much you eat to the precise calorie/fat/carb/protein/fibre content, you learn how to cut it down and when to stop eating, and what is more worthwhile to eat. You might start off shakey, but a visible list of statistics, accompanied with the time and thought it takes to input them, will really hammer into you what you put into your body.

An example of an easy meal to take to work with you: Miso Soup is your friend. You can buy jars of the paste (ie: cheap) and make your own soup (ie: add water), and it's incredibly low in calories. Fill a flask full of that + a piece of fruit + maybe some wholewheat crackers, and voila, you will be full. Be careful of the MSG content though.

or measure out my salad dressing

I would just stop using it. Or switch to using vinegarette only, as it's the lowest calorie dressing I've come across.

And remember, you can eat as many vegetables and fruits as you like, because none of that is going to adversely effect your weight.
posted by saturnine at 1:50 PM on April 23, 2007 [1 favorite]

Well, I went on the Luna Bar diet as a freshwoman because it was cheap and quick to eat Luna Bars instead of real food. I did end up losing about 15 lbs (13% of my starting weight, so nothing to sneeze at) and it hasn't come back (I'm a senior now with more time and money) but it was mostly because I was working so hard in school that I was forgetting to eat. In other words, this weight loss was not deliberate.

Basically, I wouldn't recommend my inadvertent Luna Bar diet to anyone I cared about but it did help me lose weight.
posted by crinklebat at 2:43 PM on April 23, 2007

Uh, why wouldn't calories from fruits and vegetables affect your weight just like any other calorie? Yeah, you'd have to eat an awful lot of carrots to equal the calorie intake of one hot fudge sundae, but calories is calories.
posted by Justinian at 4:02 PM on April 23, 2007

If you want to have the choice and thought process taken out, while still having variety and balance, you could try one of the home-delivery weight loss packages like Jenny Craig. There are heaps of different options out there. HOWEVER, I'm not necessarily advocating this and you definitely should research their nutritional value before you sign up. Watch out for high sodium content.
posted by Lucie at 4:55 PM on April 23, 2007

I third the soup suggestion. Since you're in the northern hemisphere, look into cold soups you can make in large batches and pack. Gazpacho, cucumber soup, vichyssoise, etc. The liquid does make you feel fuller than the same caloric equivalent of solid food.

Cereal for breakfast, though.
posted by timepiece at 9:20 PM on April 23, 2007

Slimfast is lousy crap, and full of cheap, poor quality soy protein. Please don't do that to yourself.

Get a quality MRP like MetRx or Ye Olde Tub O' Protein from your local fitness store. T-Nation makes a good quality protein. Shakes/smoothies are much better than bars, and you can do more with them, adding yogurt, fruit, cocoa powder, flax oil, etc. If you bring a shaker bottle full of the dry ingredients, all you have to do is add skim milk or water. You don't need a blender.

Slim-fast may be cheap or easy, but you'll regret it.
posted by Mr. Gunn at 7:11 AM on April 24, 2007

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