Are Meal Replacement Shakes Good For You?

Nutrition // Sarah Link // 15 October 2015

We’ve all seen it – and possibly been tempted – by the huge claims of those ‘weight loss smoothies’, or Meal Replacement Shakes. You know the ones: replace one or two (or even three!) meals a day with a smoothie or shake, and you’ll lose kilo upon kilo. Right? Wrong!

We asked 12WBT dietitian Lisa Donaldson about why those Meal Replacement Shakes just don’t work.


What is a meal replacement shake?

There are a huge range of Meal Replacement Shakes on the market. Rather than a whole food smoothie, Meal Replacement Shakes are often a powdered concoction you mix with water or milk.

The macronutrient combination can vary from brand to brand, but most focus on the protein content and very few have enough fibre. Given they are very low in calories, hunger can certainly be a problem. Plus, it’s a heavily processed ‘food’, which is never a good thing.

Why don’t I feel full after a meal replacement shake?

When you consume predominantly liquids, the process of chewing and savouring the meal is lost. It takes the body around 20 minutes to register fullness and if you are ‘drinking’ your meal, than that sensation of fullness may not occur.

When a body consumes a proper meal, made up of real, whole foods, the process of chewing, tasting and digesting is slower and more satisfying. For people who consume up to three shakes a day, ‘taste fatigue’ can be a huge problem.


But the packet says it contains fibre – that’s good for me, right?

Fibre plays a huge role in helping us feel full, as well as helping our bowels stay regular.

Even if a Meal Replacement Shake has added fibre, this won’t give you the satiety factor that a meal of vegetables/fruit/whole grains/nuts/seeds will give.

The body has to break down the cell walls of those whole foods, giving the digestive system a good workout. The consumption of a liquid meal will not leave you feeling full for a decent period of time.

Can it help me make long term changes?

In a word – no. A healthy lifestyle involves preparing real, nutritious food, and that takes time to learn how to do. Huge learning with great, life-long rewards!

The reason many people try Meal Replacement Shakes is because it takes the thinking out of what to do. The shake is already calorie controlled and it takes little preparation and no cooking.

In terms of weight loss and maintaining that weight, you don’t learn anything other than how to add powder to water or milk. It’s little wonder many people regain weight quickly after returning to ‘real food’ – living on shakes is just not sustainable.

What should I focus on to lead a healthy life?

A healthy life is about eating whole foods that not only give us the nutrients we need, but that we enjoy. We must not overlook that food is more than the nutrients it contains. It’s also about the social factor, the sharing and enjoyment of a meal. Can you imagine having a birthday party without a cake? Or sitting in a restaurant drinking your shake while everyone else shares a fabulous banquet? Definitely not!

Learning how to balance meals and cook easy and tasty recipes is far more important that those empty ‘Lose five kilos in two weeks’ promises, believe me!





  1. Emma Gregg Reply

    How about homemade fruit and vegetable smoothies for breakfast that are about 300 calories? Is this a healthy breakfast?

    1. Leila Nemra Reply

      Hi Emma,

      Homemade fruit and vegetable smoothies are a great breakfast alternative. Try and make them as balanced as you can by adding in some natural yoghurt, oats and perhaps some chia seeds. This will expand the nutrient profile of your chosen smoothie combination and keep you fuller for longer. If making a straight fruit juice style smoothie, use mostly vegetables and no more than 1 serve of fruit.


      12WBT Support Crew

  2. Nicole Reply

    I can’t help myself, I have to comment on this. I completely disagree with this information as I’m using a shake system for the first time in my life, and after lots of hesitation and some strong convincing I decided to give it a go. If it didn’t work, I’d just stop, its that easy and its my choice. Don’t judge me, I’m a mature, healthy minded person and certainly understand having that balance between eating, exercise and rest. It’s not rocket science and goes without saying doesn’t it???
    HOWEVER… having struggled with finding that balance ALL of my life, even as a child (thanks mum), I’m finding that It works for me, I’m more than satisfied after a shake ‘meal’ and I’m eating and feeling better every day. It just works for me!!! Believe me when I say I’m not caught up in the marketing or hype either as my focus is not just weight loss. I would be happy to lose 7-10kg and certainly no more.
    I’m single so the the convenience and costs are both very reasonable and suit my lifestyle. I’m seriously not craving my morning coffee and not drinking alcohol to try and relax in the evenings and my exercise routine has become more reasonable also. I no longer feel like I have to punish myself with a hard and fast workout when I’ve had an out-of-control carb binge because I’m so hungry. I have a very good lunch or dinner meal, depending on my day and calorie free vegetable snacks (I really like snow peas, capsicum, cherry tomatoes, & cucumber, and cheese of course) in between seem to keep me on track too. It’s not for everyone but then again, not every weight loss/get fit/get healthy system is. You need to find what suits YOU and YOUR LIFESTYLE and YOUR BODY and YOUR MIND. If you lose focus easily and get discouraged and can’t maintain the discipline needed to reach your goals then you’re going to fail miserably and probably, like me, keep beating yourself up about it. We all have choices and I’ve made a very conscious choice to get off the roller coaster.
    Btw, I’ve had type 1 diabetes for 31 years now and use an insulin pump 😉

  3. Monika Reply

    Great article especially when it mentions fibre and protein content. I personally think-after trying “a wholesome nutrition shake” a meal replacement system, that most of them should be taken with caution if one really doesnt have 20 min to make a healthy meal. If I didn’t purchase fibre tablets to go with the protein shake, I wouldn’t go to the toilet for days and struggle on the loo 😉 I think they are certainly not for me. I was promised to lose weight but i hadn’t and my family had put on weight during the program as everyone kept snacking trying to deal with the hunger. 12 WBT meals are amazing, quick to make and nutritious. Thanks Mish!

  4. Debbie Rowe Reply

    Absolutely sound advise . No way can anyone sustain replacing a meal with a shake once you go back to “real” food that is when you going to have an issue . Learn to eat nutritious varied meals while also learning potion control . I personally don’t think anything that is so refined could be good for you . i have never really struggled with my weight i have done the 12wbt about 2yrs ago and lost 10kg that has slowly creeped on & now im in my 40’s seemed harder to lose . i do cross fit 4 times a week & have never felt better . Eat clean and exercise and make a choice each day to be healthy . unfortunately there are no quick fixes to weight loss so simply replacing meals for a shake will not have a lasting effect.

  5. Wendy Reply

    Amen. Very great advice and I couldn’t agree more. After years of yo-yo dieting including shakes, I have finally managed to get rid of 60+ kg. Admittedly I had hypnotherapy and that has lead me to now live a lifestyle that includes lots of exercise and yummy, healthy food. I haven’t felt so good in all my life…. Physically, mentally and emotionally. I love my new lifestyle, the new body that has come from all the hard work and of course the feeling of satisfaction after every single workout.

  6. Gwen Reply

    Tempted to trial one of these things, not so much for weight loss, as for the ‘meal replacement’ that they promote themselves to be. As something to keep at work for days when a lunch break longer than 5 minutes is impossible, they are pretty tempting (as an alternative to the muesli bars I use now)
    Any advice on this situation?

    1. Leila Nemra Reply

      Hi Gwen – Why not try a fast meal like some wholegrain corn cakes with hummus, lean turkey, tomato and baby spinach? Or a wrap with seeded mustard, lean ham, salad mix and some feta? Or a hard boiled egg smashed on some toast with sliced tomato and baby spinach? With some prep and organisation, a meal can be put together in very little time without resorting to a meal replacement shake. Fullness and satisfaction!

      All the best,
      12WBT Support Crew

  7. Gail Reply

    I am interested to find out what you think of the Herbalife range. I have tried the shakes and the multi vitamins (which I found great) there seem to be such a high amount of these people around the world selling these products. Is it all hype or are they are as good as they say.

  8. Cindy Reply

    I disagree, and since Michelle also puts her name to protein powders and the Biggest loser shakes, I find this a little hypocritical. I used shakes for some time and lost 20kg which I have kept off for 5 years. During the shakes time I revamped my diet, worked on emotional eating and increased exercise. It may not be for everyone, but it does give you a period of time to work on issues, while you are losing weight. Of course if you go back to old habits the weight goes back on, but there is not a diet anywhere that will cope with that aspect, because maintaining needs a permanent lifestyle change.Shakes are another tool, and maybe a life saver if you are seriously obese.

    1. Leila Nemra Reply

      Hi Cindy – Michelle has a range of protein powders that are designed for use post exercise to help with muscle recovery and replenishment. This article is to highlight the benefits of eating real foods rather than replacing meals for ‘Meal Replacement Shakes’. As for the Biggest Loser Range, although Michelle is on the television program, she has nothing to do with that product range. This article is an interview with Lisa Donaldson who is an Accredited Practising Dietitian, these are her views which align with the Michelle’s 12WBT Nutrition Approach. Eat whole food, and use protein powders for post strength training but not as a replacement for Breakfast, Lunch or Dinner.

      All the best,

  9. Rosie Reply

    Hey, i’m in the process of trying a meal replacement shake for lunch but it was nothing to do with the losing weight it solely about working in the hospitality industry where i take my own meals to work and then i never get time to eat them during the shift work hours as we dont actually have set breaks. normally one of the chefs makes a meal that is full of fat and carbs and if i turn down their food and say i have my own then they get very offened, where as lately ive found it easier to say ive already eaten and no one is offended

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