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Are Protein Shakes Really a Good Idea For Weight Loss?

In a word, “yes”. Here’s why. A real weight loss expert explains.


New clients and readers ask, “What should I eat to lose weight? What should I avoid?” I don’t answer with lists of foods and diets. Instead, I teach a method for permanent weight loss that includes the foods they like, holidays, dining out and all the things they’ll want for the rest of their lives. Success comes from building habits that include your favorite things while they keep you at your optimum weight. “Dieting” with schemes that won’t last only leads to yo-yo dieting and continuous weight gain.

However, I’m sometimes asked questions about specific foods that are easy to answer and provide immediate effective help with no study and effort. One of the questions is about the advisability of protein shakes. The answer: yes, they are a good idea, and here’s why:

1) Protein shakes are an easy way to achieve your daily caloric goals.

To lose weight, women generally need to limit their intake to about1000 calories per day consistently for an extended period of time, and men, about 1500. In our culture of big breakfasts, lunch in restaurants, meetings and break rooms with snacks and vending machines, you’ve undoubtedly discovered it’s impossible to do. It’s easy to be at 2000 before you’ve even gotten home for dinner.

By keeping your breakfast light with a 300-calorie egg-based breakfast, and then using a 150-calorie protein shake as a meal substitute at lunch, it’s easy to limit your intake during the day to under 500 calories (especially when you use my meals-and-fasting method), leaving you 500 in the budget for a satisfying home-made or prepared meal at the end of the day.

2. Protein shakes suppress your appetite rather that stimulate it.

Simple carbohydrates, like the sugar in prepared foods and fruit, act like a drug that stimulates your appetite. You feel hungry soon after you’ve eaten and it’s hard to resist eating more. Simple carbs are digested quickly and sends your blood sugar way up. This triggers an overproduction of insulin by your pancreas, which sends your brain the message that you need to eat more. We experience this as hunger and cravings. A grain and fruit breakfast often makes people ravenous by 10, while going without doesn’t.

Protein, on the other hand, takes a long time to digest and keeps your blood sugar even, without the spike in insulin and the hunger and cravings it creates.

So, you’ll find that a 150 calorie protein shake will fuel you for a whole morning or afternoon without feeling hungry again a few hours later.

You’ve got to be careful, though, in selecting a “meal substitute” shake. When you look at the nutritional information, some are loaded with sugar and they are low in protein. Some so-called “healthy” shakes and snack bars are just sugary drinks and candy bars in diguise. You’ll end up hungry in a short while just like with other sugary foods. All shakes are not equal. You’ll see some with just a few grams of protein and mostly carbs, and you’ll be hungry right away. When you have those, you can never get enough. Some of the better shakes have as much as 30 grams of protein. Those will stay with you all afternoon.

3. Protein is especially important nutritionally when you eat less to lose weight.

You’ve probably heard of the “RDA”, the recommended daily allowance of nutrients the dietitians talk about. If you don’t get enough protein, carbohydrate, fat (yes, even fat), vitamins, minerals and water, you risk compromising your health. Usually, in America, we don’t have to give it much thought because we eat so much that you can’t help but get more than enough of everything.

However, when you cut back enough to start losing weight, you risk hurting your body rather than helping it if you’re not getting enough of the right nutrients.

Remember that reducing your weight and body fat requires you to “undereat”, consuming fewer calories than you burn. (Read my article about the science of weight loss). Most of the calories in typical American foods come from carbs and fat. Our usual diets are low in protein. When you cut back, unless you pay attention, you won’t get sufficient protein.

When you undereat, if you don’t get your nutritional needs met, your body will “eat” itself to get what it needs. That’s great if it gets what it needs from your stored fat. But if you are not getting enough protein, your body will consume it’s own muscle and organ tissue, and that’s very bad. You’ll see the scale drop, but you’re losing muscle instead of fat. You’ll look and feel worse, not better. And your metabolic rate will decrease. It will become harder to lose weight and keep from gaining!

By using a protein shake with 30 grams of protein as a lunch or breakfast substitute, you can make it easy to get enough protein to prevent muscle loss even when you are eating much less than your metabolic rate.

So, yes, protein shakes are a good idea for weight loss, especially when you make them a habit for life. I’ve been using them on a regular basis to keep the calories down for over 30 years. They’ve helped me maintain my ideal weight using my method the entire time after years of being obese. I highly recommend them.