Think about the main reasons people are overweight today. Overweight people fall into one of two different categories.
Either they have an unhealthy lifestyle – they work long hours, eat out all the time, don’t get enough exercise – or they just eat too much, often in a compulsive way.
This type of food – forexample, eating when one is not hungry, or eating for emotional reasons instead of physical hunger – is in fact a type of addiction. It should be understood as an addiction, and it often is.
For example, the Overeaters Anonymous group functions according to many of the same principles as AA or other twelve-step programs. Overeating is treated as an addiction because that is exactly what it is.
But if so, it’s easy to see why this addiction may be more difficult to treat than some others. The way to deal with an addiction is to stay away from out of control behaviors – alcoholics shouldn’t touch alcohol, for example. The idea is not to do it at all until the addiction is a thing of the past – in fact, for many addicts, they can never give in to their addictive behavior, not even once.
With food addiction that is of course impossible. People have to eat – there is no way around it. That’s why food addiction, while an addiction to a non-lethal substance, may be the hardest thing to deal with. And that’s why companies like Slim-fast, which manufacture and market meal replacements that people can consume on a weight-loss diet, actually succeed in helping some people.
The idea behind meal replacements is that you don’t eat at all for much of the day – instead, you have a special shake or other product that will give you all the nutrients you need and won’t leave you hungry. This works in two ways: First, it controls the calories you take in because the meal replacements are relatively low in calories. Second, it breaks the cycle of addictive behavior because you don’t actually eat. You can get rid of the behavior just as an alcoholic can (and should) get away from alcohol, and that gives you a greater chance of breaking the addiction process.
While most meal replacement plans recommend that you eat one “normal” meal a day, some people serious about losing weight don’t even do that. That’s exactly how Oprah Winfrey once lost a lot of weight – about fifty pounds. She said she found it easier not to eat at all (living with meal replacement shakes and bars) than to control her eating. Knowing you won’t be eating “real food” at all for a while takes the guesswork out. Everything becomes very simple and the fact is that many people have lost weight due to this method of weight loss.
However, there are drawbacks. For starters, while a weight loss program should teach you how to eat for the rest of your life – in other words, to learn healthy habits – using meal replacements clearly doesn’t. When you start eating real food again, you will find that your problems controlling your food intake still exist. Although you have lost weight, if you have not learned healthy eating habits, you are more likely to regain it.
There is also the danger that some people will continue to use the meal replacements for extended periods of time just because it is easier and more convenient. Thought they are designed to give you a minimum of calories and nutrition, meal replacement bars cannot be a substitute for real food over an extended period of time.
However, if you know or suspect that your food problem resembles an addiction or compulsion, it may be worth your while to think about using meal replacements for some weight loss. However, try to make the time you spend on it as productive as possible. Really come to terms with your past behavior and learn what it feels like to be full but not filled. If you come up with the answer to these and other aspects of healthy eating, you can make your weight loss lasting.