Obesity fact #7 in the New England Journal of Medicine paper on obesity myths, presumptions and facts, states simply that,
“Provision of meals and use of meal-replacement products promote greater weight loss.”
This “fact” is not surprising, as obviously if all you eat are the meals that are provided as part of a hypocaloric meal plan, then this is going to result in more weight loss than trying to compile those plans on your own.
Thus, as the authors rightly note,
“More structure regarding meals is associated with greater weight loss, as compared with seemingly holistic programs that are based on concepts of balance, variety, and moderation.”
While this may well be the case, the question ultimately is not just one of efficacy but also of effectiveness.
In other words, how likely, in the real world, is someone going to stick with a highly structured diet that essentially consists of meals delivered to your doorstep or even to meal replacements (rather than “real” food)?
While there are no doubt people who would fare well with such a regimen and would be willing to sacrifice variety for a plan that requires no effort in preparation and little effort in terms of decision-making, this may well be a minority of individuals.
While such strategies may well work to lose weight – the question really is whether such strategies results in long-term behaviour change that continues once you go back to eating “normal” foods in “normal” settings. Both cost and monotony could well be limitations of such approaches in the long term.
Nevertheless, I am certain that some of my readers will have their own experience with weight loss plans that either provide meals (e.g. Jenny Craig, Nutrisystem, etc.) or plans that involve replacing meals with bars or shakes (e.g. Slim-Fast).
That both strategies can be highly effective and promote weight loss is without question – they definitely work – whether such strategies are effective in the long-term (beyond the confines of a clinical trial) is perhaps less certain.
Obviously, any diet plan only works as long as you stick with it and there is probably nothing simpler or more convenient than having someone else prepare your meals for you.