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Shake diet and wholefood diet road test

"Fake shake" Shelly Horton and her adversary wholefood nut Sarah Berry document their meal replacement diet and their subsequent wholefood detox diet.

PT4M5S http://www.canberratimes.com.au/action/externalEmbeddedPlayer?id=d-2ylof 620 349

Meal replacements or real meals; what's the best way to rein it in?

Shelly and I debated the virtues and vices of each over a few thousand wines one night.

She revealed her fondness for the meal replacement or "fake shake" as we came to call them. I revealed my fervour against them.

Meal replacement powder.

Meal replacement powder. Photo: Brian Balster

Why would you willingly consume fake food, I asked, let alone fake food that doesn't taste good and won't fill you? I mean, surely the excellence of, say, good chocolate outweighs the bodily corruption, but meal replacement shakes ... really?

I expressed my annoyance at marketing campaigns aimed at exploiting insecurities. Take, for example, the recent "Self-esteem? Powered by protein" ad for a low-carb bar.

If you want to lose weight and feel good, why not just stick to healthy wholefoods?

One of the breakfasts from Eat Fit Food.

A breakfast from Eat Fit Food.

Shelly knew, she said, that the diet industry takes advantage of our inadequacies but insisted that fake shakes were easy, effortless and essentially removed choice. Plus, the sweet taste appealed to her.

Dr Ginni Mansberg monitored our experiment and is a fan of meal replacement diets for obese and overweight people needing a kick-start to weight loss.

"If you have more than 10 kilos to lose there's nothing more frustrating than sticking to a diet and only losing 100 grams a week. The meal replacement diets are not protein shakes, they are perfectly balanced meals that are very low calorie."

Most people know what they "should" do - more green vegetables blah, blah - but doing it is another matter. Shortcuts are vastly more appealing.

During 2013-14, Australians will spend an estimated $643.7 million on weight-loss counselling services, low-calorie foods and dietary supplements.

The global weight control products market is expected to reach almost $47 billion by 2015.

Short-term studies show that meal replacements work when it comes to weight loss. In the long-term however, results (where the study hasn't been funded by the meal replacement company) are inconclusive.

Nutritionist and founder of The Right Balance, Kathleen Alleaume, acknowledges that meal replacements are an option that is convenient and can aid weight loss.

But "it's kind of like dead food," she says, questioning whether such products can teach long-term behaviour change. "Returning to poor eating habits once you stop is likely – therefore almost certainly pile the weight back on again."

It can also lead to bloating and bad breath, she says.

"It's also another form of low-carb diet which is designed to bring on a mild form of ketosis (a type of a metabolic reaction) ... The increased fat burning produces ketones, which causes bad breath."

Other health experts, however condone meal replacements in certain cases.

"I do find that for breakfast-skippers, busy executives who often miss meals and for those who need a weight-loss kick-start after finding themselves on a tough weight-loss plateau that meal replacement products can support weight loss," says dietitan and author Susie Burrell.

With this in mind Shelly and I decided to go head-to-head, try both ways and see how we feel.

The meal replacement week

We're allowed one "real" meal a day plus two of the shakes and bars, supplied to us by Optislim.

According to the company: "Meals are replaced with Optislim products, which are designed to restrict calorie/kilojoule intake, whilst still maintaining healthy nutrition."

Shelly Horton reaction to fake shakes

The first couple of days were hell. I was so hangry - that's hungry and angry. 3pm was the worst time for me. But I stuck to it. I exercised most days but I was also moving house (not the ideal situation to be in while hangry). Then by day three everything kind of evened out. I really upped my water intake. I normally drink a litre of water a day so I doubled that. Finally I had a revelation - it's OK to be hungry.

My whole life I've panicked when I was hungry and instantly sought food to shove in my gob. But the meal replacement shakes and bars made me realise I can get hungry for a few hours between meals and the world won't end. There were some side-effects. I had the runs at first and then some serious wind issues - thank goodness I work from home. But by the end of the week I had lost 2.5 kilograms. I felt an enormous amount of pride that I'd stuck to such a strict diet. Plus my blood test showed my insulin was back in the normal range. It was incredibly motivating. This diet is not designed to be a long-term solution, so as a quick fix it really worked for me. I cut back to a shake for breakfast plus regular meals for the next week and lost another 500 grams.

Sarah Berry:

I had a real resistance to even doing this part of the challenge. I couldn't pronounce half the endlessly long list of ingredients. "See, it's got everything," Shelly laughed. Unconvinced, it was only when I was about to chew my arm off on the third day that I crumbled and ate one of the bars.

I didn't enjoy the taste of the powder and tried hard to disguise the synthetic, sugary taste by blending it with coconut water, frozen berries and banana. In terms of side-effects, I was tired, hungry and grumpy the whole week and didn't sleep for a couple of the nights, but I didn't experience bad breath or as much bloating as I was expecting.

I did lose weight, but if you don't really eat for a week that kind of makes sense, right?

Wholefoods week

We had three gluten, dairy and sugar-free meals a day plus snacks, supplied by Eat Fit Food, whose philosophy is fresh wholefoods.

Created in consultation with dietitians, their programs are for those "looking towards losing weight and developing healthier eating habits, including portion size education and healthy recipe ideas."

SH:

I really didn't want to do this detox. I had some home delivery issues so my food wasn't there when I needed it so that added to my stress. But I can't fault the food, it was delicious. Lots of seasonings - which left me with some serious garlic breath. However I'm just not the type of girl who's content with a salad and a poached egg.

I hated the meals that didn't have meat - I just didn't feel full. Day three was the worst - my sugar cravings were off the charts. I haven't had lolly musk sticks since high school but that day I would have snatched them from a toddler.

Over the week I lost 300 grams. I was disappointed with that.

PS: The next day I ate a packet of musk sticks.

SB:

The food was great, but it was a lot more than I normally eat. I actually found myself giving some leftovers to my housemate.

I was surprised though that, on the three substantial meals, I was hungry, which I put down to how clean the food was. I eat pretty well, but as a vegetarian, I probably rely too heavily on dairy and, as a hedonist, am too liberal with chocolate.

My weight remained the same from the previous shake week. This was heartening in the sense that you can eat, relatively, a lot of food, food that is "real" and seriously tasty, and retain weight loss. If you are eating cleanly.

Like Shelly, my only issue was sugar cravings. So when they included a raw cacao mousse on the fourth day I was unnaturally happy.

Verdict:

SH: I'm team OptiSlim. Diets are hard and this one is really hard but the results were worth the effort (and wind). I'm on the go all the time so I found them really convenient. I have continued having a shake for breakfast and I'm planning another full week before Christmas. I understand it's better to make a change of lifestyle and only eat healthy whole foods but like most people I've been saying I'll do that for 20 years.

SB: I'm team wholefoods. The whole way. The only thing I got out of fake shake week was how great smoothies are (when you don't put synthetic stuff in them). I've been having them every day and instead of the powder, substituting with spinach, avocado and a greens supplement. They're delicious and taste ... natural. Crazy, I know.

Meal replacements, in my eyes at least, are based on an utterly unsustainable model. That said, most of us do eat too much (at least in terms of energy density, not nutrient density). What I've got from this challenge is that there are clearly different approaches for achieving similar aims. I'm taking a little from both camps - I'm having the green smoothies still (sans powder), plenty of whole foods, less dairy and just a little bit of fabulous fake food ... in my case I'll take the chocolate over the powder. So far, so body good.

With Shelly Horton