The Independent Pharmacy

Weight Loss Shakes and Supplements: Do They Really Work?

Scott McDougall
Scott McDougallMPharmDirector & Registered Manager

Reviewed on 12 Jun 2023

You’ve seen them on TV, online, in the supermarket, and perhaps even hidden away in one of your own cupboards: weight loss shakes have been part of the dieting culture for decades.

But while weight loss shakes and supplements are well-known, how effective are they really at helping you to lose weight?

What are weight loss shakes and supplements?

Whether it’s Slim-Fast, Medifast, LighterLife, or Protein World, the purpose of weight loss shakes and supplements is simple: they replace the meals that you would normally eat in order to help you lose weight.

There are many different examples of these types of products, including:

  • Weight loss shakes
  • Protein drinks
  • Meal replacement bars
  • Smoothies
  • Soups

How do they work?

Weight loss shakes and supplements are low-calorie energy composition foods, with studies showing that they work by increasing compliance levels to a low-calorie diet.

They do this by:

  • Reducing how much you think about what you eat
  • Removing your need to control the portions of food that you eat

Do they work?

The NHS covered a report on four diet plans which looked at 293 adults (73% of these being females) aged 18-65 years. These four were:

  • Dr Atkins' New Diet Revolution
  • Rosemary Conley's "Eat Yourself Slim" Diet & Fitness Plan
  • Slim-Fast Plan
  • Weight Watchers Pure Points Programme

Of these four, those partaking in the Slim Fast Plan diet were given meal replacement shakes.

Accounting for 18% of dieters not completing the course, the results saw weight loss in all four diets, with an average in the four being:

  • Atkins group: 5.2kg
  • Weight Watchers: 4.7kg
  • Rosemary Conley: 4.0kg
  • Slim Fast: 3.7kg

From this, it can then be said that weight loss shakes and supplements have been shown to reduce weight.

However, the reality is they do not offer a long-term answer, as inevitably people stop taking them once their weight-loss diet is over, return to old eating habits and gain the weight back.

Apart from not being sustainable, meal replacement shakes can also cause suboptimal intake of certain nutrients, as well as slowed metabolism due to the severe restriction in calories. Reduced fibre intake due to the liquid nature of this diet can also affect gut health and leave you feeling hungrier.

The other downside with some shakes and supplements is that they contain ingredients that may not be healthy to consume in large quantities. As they are not medical treatments, they are not as heavily regulated as weight loss pills and could be largely ineffective.

Never buy unverified or unlicensed diet pills online, as they could end up being dangerous. Never misuse laxatives in the hope of losing weight either.

What other weight loss options are there?

There are many different options available to help you to lose weight. The NHS has its own weight loss plan and there are innumerable companies offering their own.

When seeking to lose weight you should always start by adhering to a healthy diet and exercising regularly. You may then decide that you want to take weight loss shakes and supplements alongside your meals.

If you feel that this is not sufficient, or you have failed to lose weight this way — there is also some safe & effective weight loss medication available:

Orlistat – this comes in capsule form and is one of the only medications that is approved to help with weight loss. Clinical trials have shown that people taking Orlistat have lost 10% of their body weight in one year of taking the medication. You can read Orlistat reviews here.

Alli – this also comes in capsules. It is a branded version of the drug Orlistat and has helped people to increase their weight loss by up to 50% per week.

Xenical – like Alli, this is a branded version of the drug Orlistat. When taking it alongside a healthy diet and exercise schedule, it has been proven to help you lose 1 additional pound of weight for each that you drop naturally.

Alli is available to buy over-the-counter in your local high street chemist or online. To buy Orlistat and Xenical, a prescription is required - you are able to buy them from a registered online pharmacy, or from your local NHS or private GP.

Weight loss shakes & supplements are popular and, alongside weight loss medication, can aid weight loss. While they can be effective, it is always recommended that they are used alongside a healthy diet and exercise schedule.

You need to decide which method works best for you and if you would like more information on the best weight loss approach for you, we recommend speaking to your GP, or a registered health professional.

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