Well of the many health and fitness scams exposed by me on my Youtube channel, there was a repeated request to expose one of the biggest industries in the world, i.e. of WEIGHT LOSS/MEAL REPLACEMENT shakes.
The reasons for me to expose the lies of this industry for two reasons mainly:
- Requests from people who have been harmed physically, psychologically and financially by these brands, and
- Multiple people who joined my GENESIS online training program, narrated the horrors of these companies, and what dangerous measures they had to undergo, after shelling thousands of rupees.
I then, started researching on the frauds of this industry, and found plenty of evidence and common sense logic to bring about the real picture in front of you.
Right from where it all started, to the research behind these products, and the marketing tactics they use to scam the people, we will discuss it all.
So, let’s begin…
WHERE DID IT ALL START?
The concept of ‘meal replacement shakes’ actually came from the US, when in 1959, a company called Metrecal, introduced the first ever meal replacement shakes for dieters. The company became an instant success, and sold products worth $40 million in the first year and $100 million by the end of 1961. The market turned hot and by 1963 there were more than 700 meal replacement products on the market.
As the name suggests, a ‘meal replacement shake’ is there for the same purpose, i.e. to replace your meal. In short, the companies convince you to drink these meal replacement/weight loss shakes, instead of consuming your regular solid meals, which will help you in faster weight loss.
Sounds Stupid? It really is.
These meal replacement/weight loss shakes are generally very low calorie shakes (app. 200-400cal/shake) with most vitamins and minerals added to them.
Some meal replacement shakes are prescribed for weight loss, others for gains, and some are medically prescribed in certain medical cases, where solid meal consumption is not possible, generally for a short term period.
Now there are certain parts of our population which may benefit from the short term consumption of such meal replacement shakes:
- soldiers on special missions
- medically ill individuals, who are not able to digest solid food for some time,
- people who have limited access to any kind of food, for e.g. natural disaster survivors, extremely poor people etc.
- people who have a psychological issue,
- some elder individuals
- people struggling from an eating disorder
But all these individuals consume such shakes mainly on medical prescriptions, and that too for a short term.
The problem is the selling of these products to common people, for the purpose of weight loss, combined with multiple other malpractices.
Most of these weight loss/meal replacement shakes are sold under the MLM (Multi-Level Marketing) schemes (pyramid selling schemes). Some are sold by individual supplement or FMCG companies too, because they have great demand in the market, and everyone wants a piece of the pie.
When we talk specifically about MLM companies, remember that they are not set up to make you healthy, they are there to make their founders and staff rich. Pyramid schemes only work while people keep buying the product, so the goal is to get you in, get you on the program and keep you buying – your health and weight loss has nothing to do with it.
Many people have been duped into such scams, and people get attracted to them due to the lure of easy money. This type of marketing is based simply on more sales, by hook or crook. You have tons of such companies in the market now, selling weight loss/meal replacement shakes, and promising you overnight, magical results.
I put these MLM companies and these shakes in the same line as the scam run by slimming centres. They are here to make a fool out of people by luring them into believing their fake schemes. These are the companies and individuals, which make a mockery out of the health & fitness industry, and give it a bad name.
These MLM companies have a proper program in place to lure the customers into not just buying one product, but multiple ones at a time. They always have their own exclusive distributors to sell you such products. This creates an aura of exclusivity and limited availability. But shit sold exclusively is still shit.
When you meet their distributor, they explain you the various programs and schemes being offered by the company. These programs consists of not just the weight loss shakes, but a lot of multivitamins, and bullshit caffeine filled fat burners, with fancy names like metabolism-boosting & energy-boosting. These are supplements are useless and harmful fat burners, which have caffeine as their main ingredient and rest of the ingredients are clearly proven to be absolutely useless for fat loss in all the studies. For e.g. chromium, garcinia cambogia, BCAA, green coffee bean , CLA etc.
Then there are other crap, self-made supplements, which are sold to you with the promise of detox and reduction in water retention. Again, these supplements are 100% worthless and have absolutely no researched evidence that they work. On the other hand, they have ample research to prove why they are worthless. This is not over, as more and more supplements keep getting added, depending on your paying capacity.
Then they will tell you a simple trick of consuming their shakes and supplements, generally but replacing two meals with the shake, or in simple terms, just eat less, but don’t eat, have our low calorie shake. This is along with multiple times, you would be advised to take their fat burners, and other rubbish supplements.
The biggest issue is not just the useless ingredients added to these supplements, but also the fact that these companies and their products are absolutely unregulated. Because of this there have been multiple cases of serious liver toxicity issues, with the use of these products (Article 1, Article 2, Article 3, Article 4)
The term ‘meal replacement’ is not a medically or government defined term. It is not defined in Food and Drug Administration regulations . It’s just a marketing term used to sell such drinks. But these drinks are a multimillion dollar industry. The global meal replacement products market size was estimated at USD 16.10 billion in 2018 and is expected to expand at a rate of 6.5% during the forecast period (Click here to know more).
Hectic lifestyle coupled with the rising demand for tasty, high-quality, and healthy food products is anticipated to drive the market growth. Additionally, long working hours and a rising number of people leading a sedentary lifestyle are expected to drive the market for ready-to-eat meal replacement products.
And that’s how these shakes are marketed.
- The customer is exposed to Rosy lines and attractive ‘before-after’ pics, by these MLM companies. They promote it as a perfect alternative of a meal, which can be taken as per your convenience, especially when you don’t have the time to prepare a meal.
All the before-after pics which you see, along with the testimonials, are mostly fake, bought up pics. The real pics too, is simply due to the effect they got from eating less calories, and cutting down junk; 2 reasons every diet in the world will work for a short time. Meal replacement shakes offer ‘a solution in a can’, a quick-fix in glossy packaging. These solutions appeal to so many people who are lost, confused, searching for faster results.
- These crappy shakes, cost a bomb. As they don’t come alone. They come with a full package of meal replacement products, to be consumed for a very long time. Such shakes are way too costly for most people to consume in the long run.
- You will find a lot of studies supporting the fact, that these weight loss/meal replacement shakes are an effective strategy for weight loss. Surely they would be, as the simple thing they are doing is reducing a large portion of calories from your diet, and mostly carbohydrates, which lead to a faster water loss.
That’s it. There is no magic, these are just processed low calorie flavoured drinks, and nothing else. Also, most of them are company funded studies, which only take into account the factors that they need for marketing.
In a 2019 meta-analysis study in the journal Obesity Reviews, a University of Oxford research team, led by Nerys M. Astbury , reviewed 23 studies with over 7880 participants, which compared the effectiveness of meal replacements for weight loss in people who followed a meal replacement diet with a weight-loss plan that didn’t include meal replacements.
After 1 year of following a meal replacement plan, lost 1.4kg more than people using other diets after one year. This means, that after spending thousands of rupees on such shakes, the real difference found, after 1 full year was just 1.4kg. Had the subjects done a little extra workout, they would have seen a much bigger difference, along with tons of other physiological & psychological benefits.
Further the study found that, those who followed a meal-replacement diet, combined with support from a dietitian or healthcare professional, lost 2.2-3.9kg more. This means, there is still an additional expense of a dietician. Does that make any sense?
- It Makes You Hungrier – another major issue with long term intake of such weight loss shakes is that it makes you more hungrier and does not curb the appetite, thus increasing cravings.
In a 2008 study in the Journal of American Dietetic Association, a US research team, led by April J. Stull, assessed the influences of liquid vs solid meal replacement products on postprandial appetite ratings and subsequent food intake in healthy older adults.
The results indicated that meal replacement products in liquid and solid form do not elicit comparable appetitive and ingestive behaviour responses and that meal replacement products in liquid form blunt the postprandial decline in hunger and increase subsequent food intake in older adults.
- Typically, most of these commercially available weight loss/meal replacement shakes contain sugar and artificial sweeteners, artificial flavours, colours, stabilizers, and hydrogenated oils, along with a lot of cheap fillers and preservatives. Some shakes do contain fibre, but the amount is significantly less than the amounts found in whole foods like fruits, vegetables and legumes.
Your body needs to eat real foods, not supplements. The word ‘supplement’ means additional to food/diet, not instead of it. The reason they can never replace whole foods is because they may have some vitamins and minerals, but not all of the nutrients real food has, like enzymes, antioxidants, and phytonutrients (plant nutrients) that work synergistically with each other.
- Such shakes never work for long term weight loss. For a long term weight loss, the strategy is more psychological than physiological. The aim is to have a sustainable long-term healthy lifestyle. You have to form healthy habits of eating quality food and controlled quantity, working our regularly, moving more, sleeping adequately and managing your stress levels. Weight loss is not just one aspect.
Food is not a punishment for god sake. People have been scared to death by these scam companies and their salesmen dieticians and marketers. Food is a pleasure of life. It gives body nourishment. Whole foods have a vital function in the body, and it can never be replaced by anything which is not food, or which simply resembles food.
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