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Beware of weight-loss meal replacement shakes: eating disorder risk

The diet industry makes billions of dollars promising to help us lose weight. Meal replacement shakes are one of many extremely profitable products selling weight loss under the guise of health and fitness.

For our children who are susceptible to eating disorders, these meal replacement shakes can be dangerous. With a stated goal of gaining “health” and “nutrition,” our children can use meal replacement shakes, powders and supplements to pursue weight loss without realizing they are eating disorder behaviors.

Unless our children are on a nutritionist-prescribed meal replacement program, there is almost no justification for spending our money on meal replacement shakes, and there is a good reason not to allow them in our homes due to their weight loss goal. When our kids want a shake, let’s empower them to make them at home using whole foods, not supplements and powders.

Reasons people say they need a meal replacement shake (plus what to say if your child says these things to you):

1. I’m too busy to eat: Eating is an essential part of life. It goes along with breathing, drinking water, and sleeping. It is essential, restorative, and wonderful. If you don’t have time to eat, then there is a life-balance problem at stake. Let’s assess your lifestyle and find a way to fit in a healthy amount of time for eating. Let’s talk to your therapist about what we need to work on to help you have time to nourish your body.

2. I don’t feel like eating: This could be a sign that an eating disorder is taking hold of the brain and sending disordered hunger and satiety signals. The body has a natural desire to eat real food. When natural food cues and the desire to eat fade, it’s worth exploring what is going on with the natural body-mind communication pathways. Let’s talk to your therapist about the fact that you don’t feel like putting food in your body and find out some ways to nourish your body that feel good for you.

3. I’m trying to lose weight: Your body is a perfectly balanced organism, and you don’t need to control it or diet. Dieting often leads to weight gain and eating disorders. Your body naturally adjusts and changes throughout life, especially during adolescence. Let’s schedule an appointment with a nutritionist who can help us understand what your body needs and reassure you that the healthiest thing you can do for yourself is to eat intuitively and not diet.

4. It’s healthier because I get all my vitamins and minerals: Getting vitamins and minerals through artificial means (vs. whole foods) has not been proven to be scientifically beneficial. There is no evidence that vitamin supplements make any impact on good health. Eating a whole, balanced diet is enough to keep the body fully nourished in all ways. Let’s talk with a nutritionist who can help you build a balanced meal plan that provides you with everything you need.

Multi-billion dollar companies sell shakes and nutritional supplements using “real people” on social media

The diet industry makes $70 billion per year. Beachbody, which sells Shakeology, makes $1 billion per year selling weight loss products. These businesses are growing fat off our fear of fat. When their products don’t result in lasting weight loss, rather than blame the products, we have been conditioned to blame ourselves for lack of willpower.  The better your child recognizes the marketing muscle behind the weight loss industry, the better he or she will be able to withstand the environmental factors that can contribute to eating disorder development.

Multi-Level-Marketing (MLM) companies like Beachbody deploy a workforce of independent contractors who are trained and paid to convert friends and family members to a shake-based diet plan. Social media is a prime location to sell the “I did it, so can you” message. These image-based #beforeandafter #weightloss messages can be incredibly triggering for anyone susceptible to an eating disorder.

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Responding to diet industry advertising

We see advertisements promoting ineffective weight loss products everywhere. The screenshots of promotional sliders on the Shakeology website (screenshots obtained on 5/8/17) are a template for almost every diet marketing message being circulated right now. That weight loss is good for you is assumed, and the messages are shrouded in a cloud of good health and fitness fallacies. For each of them, we have provided an Intuitive Eating rebuttal below, so that you can build your conversational skills around diet culture with your kids.

But I love shakes!


Most of our kids love shakes and smoothies. And why wouldn’t they? Shakes and smoothies are smooth, creamy, and sweet. This is not about never having shakes – it’s about avoiding meal replacement formulas that are sold for the purpose of causing weight loss.

Encourage your child to explore whole-food-based smoothie recipes because they are delicious and nutritious, but not because they will help with weight loss.

There are literally thousands of homemade healthy shaken recipes that are absolutely appropriate snacks and treats for our children. Real Simple has a good selection here.

Follow the advice of your child’s nutritionist

Some eating disorder recovery plans include meal replacement shakes. We are not demonizing all meal replacement shakes. Nor are we making a medical statement about your particular child’s nutritional needs. Your child’s nutritionist, your child’s therapist, and you yourself know what’s best for your child’s health. The purpose of this article is to raise a flag about companies that promote meal replacement shakes for weight loss purposes and to suggest that you look carefully if your child independently decides to adopt a meal replacement shake diet.

Ginny Jones is on a mission to change the conversation about eating disorders and empower people to recover.  She’s the founder of, an online resource supporting parents who have kids with eating disorders, and a Parent Coach who helps parents supercharge their kid’s eating disorder recovery.

Ginny has been researching and writing about eating disorders since 2016. She incorporates the principles of neurobiology and attachment parenting with a non-diet, Health At Every Size® approach to health and recovery.

Ginny’s most recent project is Recovery, a newsletter for deeply feeling people in recovery from diet culture, negative body image, and eating disorders.

See Our Parent’s Guide To The Different Eating Disorder Behaviors

1 thought on “Beware of weight-loss meal replacement shakes: eating disorder risk

  1. […] media accounts that provide food and diet advice, diet products (e.g. “skinny” teas, meal replacement shakes, supplements, “detox” products, […]

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