Your experiences with meal-replacement-type diets

Specifically, I’m interested in hearing your thoughts on the diets like the Smart For Life cookie diet. It says to eat one cookie for breakfast, one for lunch, and eat a sensible dinner.

The way my life is going now, I find it difficult to eat healthfully on a regular basis. I know that I could pack my own healthful meals, but, frankly, I wish I didn’t have to eat at all during the day. I am very stressed with working on dissertation-related things and I feel constant pressure from my advisor to produce something he can review. I’m not as smart as he thinks I am, so it takes me a lot of effort to give him anything at all. Most of the time now, I find myself having eaten cereal for breakfast, eating nothing for lunch, and then eating a plain turkey sandwich, baked chips, and an apple for dinner.

Taking time out to eat is important, I know. But, frankly, right now I’d be much more likely to eat a cookie consistently at lunch time than to eat a full meal. That’s progress, right?

Does anyone have experience with meal replacement diets? I also exercise at least three times per week, which I know is also a must for any diet to be truly effective.

I would recommend not doing this.

Not only will you become incredibly sick of the “cookies” (which doubtfully taste little like actual cookies), they are incredibly overpriced - about $5 per meal packet, according to their website. Not a good deal. If you just want to replace meals, there are about a billion shakes and bars on the market.

From what I can tell, you get 3 cookies per meal, each cookie is about 80 calories and 4g of protein. Easy to replicate this in a protein bar and save yourself a lot of money.

Instead, why not just take that 240 calories and make a simple meal – like a yogurt and crackers? Something you can grab and go is ideal. When I’ve been really pressed for time, I go to Costco and buy big containers of easy to use stuff. Some of my staples:

  • Greek yogurt, but other yogurts are fine, watch the sugar
  • String cheese / little cheese packages
  • Tuna (or your meat of choice) on a whole wheat wrap; Costco carries Flat Out flatbread, which I often use
  • EAS Protein Shakes, 110 calories
  • Hardboiled eggs. You can even buy them already boiled and in little plastic things at the store if you don’t have time to make 'em.
  • Little cans of V8, also from Costco
  • Flavored whey protein powder and milk (I use a Blender Bottle, available online or in nutrition shops)
  • If I’m really pressed for time, protein bars (usually Pure Protein or Balance bars)

My diet is intentionally high protein. I don’t watch fat, just calories. Works OK for me.

Oh, and one other thing: I’ve had a variety of Slim Fast shakes, they were varying amounts of dreadful. The low carb ones in particular were so bad that, even when I had no other food, I could not bring myself to eat them. And I am by no means a picky eater. Foul.

Ensure is pretty good if you just to drink a small meal quickly sometimes and it isn’t that expensive. I like the way it tastes and it is given in hospitals and nursing homes for people that have trouble completing a regular meal among other things. I have one for breakfast a lot. You can get it at most supermarkets and pharmacies in 6 packs or cases.

Wow that is not a cheap diet. $280 for 5 weeks of cookies?? My cousin did some sort of diet where she had smoothies/shakes for breakfast and lunch and a regular dinner - so pretty similar to this one - she was hungry all the time, and shakes are probably more filling than cookies.

105 calories for breakfast and again for lunch doesn’t seem like enough to me, especially if you’re working out. I’m an active 5’2" female and eat at least double that for breakfast and triple for lunch, with snacks in between. And you’d have to pack 5 serves of vegetables, some dairy, protein, etc. into your dinner, which seems like it would be pretty difficult. Those cookies don’t seem particularly nutrient dense - you’re probably better off having some fruit or muesli bars for breakfast and lunch.

Can you pre-make some food to eat for breakfast/lunch during the week? Stuff like sandwiches, hardboiled eggs, salads, chicken breasts and fruit. If you don’t care about variety you could make a week’s dinners in advance too. A friend of mine who is trying to eat a healthy diet has the same thing for breakfast, lunch and snacks every day, and about 4 dinners that he rotates through.

I would say that a good diet is a must for any exercise to be truly effective. Your daily meals don’t sound like they’re enough to fuel you for a sedentary day, let alone one where you’re working out. If anything, you’re better off taking care of your diet and skipping the gym.

Sounds like you could benefit from microwave meals. There are actually some decent ones out there, including vegetables and pasta (for the most part, they control portion).

Food aside –

if you got where you are legitimately (rather than through some elaborate grade-changing prank, blackmailing, etc.) it sounds like you have a case of impostor syndrome.

Apparently ‘it is typically associated with academics and is widely found amongst graduate students.’

Ideally, this is exactly what I would do. Or, as someone else suggested, take healthful frozen meals. I used to do the latter, but I still hated having to basically pause what I was doing to eat. For a while, I had the Campbells’ drinkable soup in a can every day, but that still required prep and a quickly grew tired of “chicken and stars.”

I know all of this sounds pathetic, and probably belies my present psychological state, but I’d like something that I could just bring to my office in a plastic bag in the morning ready-to-eat at lunch time. Drinkable or chewable, it doesn’t much matter to me.

You mentioned “muesli”. Did you mean mueslix? If so, I have heard of them, but if you really meant the former, I don’t know what those are.

Well, like it or not, if you’re interested in improving your diet, this is exactly what you’ll have to do. You can’t just pop a Soylent Green. Eating well does require some effort.

But that’s exactly what fluiddruid and kayeby suggested. What’s wrong with those? If you absolutely can’t bear the thought of taking 10-15 minutes during your day to eat a small meal, then yes, perhaps you need more help than you can get from a message board.

If you’re really pressed for time could you skip one of your workouts to spend the time needed to make a week’s work of food? I think that if you ate properly you’d see a huge improvement in your energy levels.

You can eat fruit or wraps while walking, and pretty much anything else at a desk while you type or read notes. You don’t have to specifically take time out of your day to eat - I’m eating my lunch in between typing this post. I had my breakfast and morning snack while browsing eBay.

If you learn to cook a few simple, healthy things, it will become second nature and you’ll just incorporate it into your weekly schedule. And it’s more likely to become a sustainable change to your lifestyle than an expensive low-nutrient low-calorie cookie diet.

I think maybe you guys call it granola or something? Basically a mix of oats, dried fruit and nuts, but in bar form.

The French vanilla basic ones are okay. I drink them as after-run recovery drinks when I’m in a hurry 'cause Runner’s World says they’re as good as the pricey “specially for running recovery” drinks. Chocolate milk also got good ratings for recovery, but if I drink milk nobody wants to be around me for the rest of the day.

Not eating sufficiently will also make you fuzzy-headed and make it hard for you to concentrate, so not an ideal state for getting work done. I wonder if you feel incapable of your work in part because of this - I know that I feel depressed and unable to wrap my head around difficult concepts when I don’t eat well.

For me, it’s a terrible cycle because when I’m busy and stressed my stomach gets so wrapped in knots that I can hardly stomach solids, let alone complex foods. So I live off coffee and simple carbs, which in turn makes me more jittery and fuzzy-headed. So I don’t get good work done and feel more stressed, and so on.

I’ve started enough threads about my clinical depression and anxiety. I also started one about my therapist a while back. I’m seeing a psychiatrist in two weeks, so I am getting help. I just figured no one wanted to hear any more of that bullshit from me.

Thanks, though, for confirming what I already know about myself.

Yes, I fear that this is the cycle that I’m in. In my case, whenever I eat, I feel as if I’m wasting the time that I should be using to work on productive tasks. It seems to take me longer than my advisor would like to fully understand everything he wants me to do. He is a bigshot in statistics, and other professors in my college have candidly told me even they are intimidated by his intelligence and pub record. So I feel constant pressure to perform at a level that I don’t know if I can ever reach. All of this pressure makes it that much harder to take time out to eat, because I already feel pressed for time.

Sorry, I haven’t been keeping notes on your personal saga. You hinted that perhaps underlying issues were to blame, and I meant to confirm that that might be an avenue worth pursuing. Had no idea you were already doing so. Thought it was something you were open to discussing, or you wouldn’t have brought it up.

Sorry for snapping back. It just seems that every post I make nowadays has to bring in my depression, and it’s making me feel like a broken record. My fault, I know, for bringing it in, but sometimes it just falls out. There’s little chance that you could have known anything about me or what I’m going through. I apologize again for responding as I did.

Easier said than done, I know, but your advisor has to accept you being human. You only have 24 hours in a day and you have to eat and sleep. Despite the superhuman status your advisor has gained in your mind, he does those things as well. He might even take vacations.

I like to make giant pots of soup and then freeze it in individual bowl-sized tupperware containers, and take one to school each day. Soup doesn’t take much time to eat (you can type one-handed with a spoon in the other, if need be), it’s full of nutrients, and low in calories. I enjoy cooking so it works for me to take a mental health break every so often and spend an hour or two in the kitchen, chopping vegetables and listening to music. I know science students who keep entire cases of tinned soups in their labs.

My sympathies. My supervisor is widely considered to be the most intimidating person in the department because she’s incredibly efficient, accomplished and self-confident. I, however, am lazy enough for both of us. I managed to underachieve so badly that she nearly gave up on me, which is not a technique I’d advise but did have its merits. (I’ve also made a big weight gain and loss over the course of grad school - I think fluctuation is very normal.)

Dude, if you can make time to go to the gym, you can make time to pop something into the microwave for a minute. Hell, you can make time to spend 10 minutes a few times a week chopping stuff up to throw in the oven/soup pot/crockpot. If, that is, you’re willing to make eating a priority like you have working out.

I made a pot of beans Tuesday night. Took me about 5 minutes of actually being in the kitchen, and a portion takes about a minute to heat in the microwave. I can eat it one-handed (we’re out of cereal, so I had some and a banana for breakfast) and there’s enough that I had dinner Tuesday, lunch and a snack yesterday, and could continue to eat it for the next few days. Give it a shot, just one pot next week, and see if it helps you any.

I know where you’re coming from. In the past year I’ve developed a complete un-interest in food, also to the point where I think waiting more than a minute for something to be heated up is not worth my time. Shopping’s a chore, cooking and then cleaning up after cooking is a chore, cleaning up after eating is a chore, re-heating stuff is a chore. Plus, nothing seems to attract my palate. If I could eat anything in the world right now, without having to cook it or clean up after it, I couldn’t even name anything.

Also, pre-made stuff, including those drinks and frozen dinners, are so full of sugar, salt and preservatives that they turn me off too. I don’t feel that they’re worth it because they will not make me healthy.

But, I do know that eating is so much healthier than not eating.

I haven’t found a magic bullet to help me, other than getting further out of my depression. I’ve started cooking more, but making sure everything I make is as high-protein, low-salt, low-cal and high-vitamin as possible, while using the fewest dishes and fewest steps in the kitchen. I’ve come up with about 5 things I’m willing to cook and eat.

It’s a start, but I already feel better and I know my recent cholesterol tests will be good.

Good luck. I think you’ll do better as you battle your depression. I think there will be lots of steps to being able to eat well again, it’s not easy.

A crock pot can make a huge difference if you’re pressed for time - for example, dried beans are way cheaper, tastier, and better in every way than canned beans. Seven hours in the crock pot, no fussing. Freeze beautifully.

Pot roast is gorgeous, makes great leftovers, cheap, etc. Throw a roast in the pot. Halve an onion and put it in too. Carrots if you like. Then put whatever you like in your pot roast - a can of cranberry sauce and a splash of soy sauce is fantastic. Water and red wine is great. If you want to be shamelessly like your mom, put in a packet of ranch dressing mix, a packet of italian dressing mix, and a packet of gravy mix with a cup of water. Low all day, then half an hour before you want to eat put two more cups of water in and turn it on high.

Can you eat while you work, or do you have to stop one for the other? If you can, I would recommend taking tons of finger food type vegetables–every day I bring 350 grams of baby carrots and 300 grams of frozen strawberries to work. That is easy, healthy, and I munch on them all day. You need to round it out with some protein: I do chicken breast, but if that’s too big of a PITA you could pack string cheese and a protein bar or shake. Again, I never stop for lunch: I just pull out 4-5 carrots and munch as I grade papers or whatever.

If you shop with easy meal prep in mind, you can eat very decently without actually working much, especially if you’re willing to pay a little extra to let the supermarket do some of the work for you (eg buy a rotisserie chicken, rather than roasting your own.) A few suggestions for meals and snacks are below. None of these should take more than about 4 minutes of prep time, excluding boiling the water for some of them, and they’re all reasonably healthy. None require any chopping, or any cooking skills beyond use of the microwave or ability to boil water:

Boil a dozen eggs at the beginning of the week, and eat 1-2 with a salad for lunch (below). Place in a pot with cold water to cover, bring just to a boil, cover pot, remove from heat, and let eggs sit in hot water for eight minutes. Remove from water. Put back in their container in the fridge and eat as needed.

Salad: buy a bag of prewashed lettuce, baby spinach, or prechopped cole slaw or broccoli slaw. Toss with bought salad dressing and a handful of nuts (optional) or anything else that seems like it’d be appealing in a salad.

Buy snow peas, baby carrots, celery, grape tomatoes, and other vegetables that require no peeling/cutting (you might want to rinse them first), and eat with hummus or other healthy, buyable dip.

Buy a box of not-too-sugary cereal. Add milk.

Buy a rotisserie chicken from the supermarket. This easily covers the protein for 4-5 lunches for one person.

Buy decent frozen veggies (the IQF ones, not the ones that come as a frozen block in a box.) Follow the package directions for microwave preparation. Season with any of: butter/soy sauce/bought salad dressing/anything other sauce that seems appealing. (Microwaved green peas, tossed with salt and toasted sesame oil, are delicious.) Eat next to your chicken. You can make and season one bag of veggies at the beginning of the week, then scoop a serving into a container each morning.

Eat lots of fruit. Most of it requires no prep other than washing.

Buy tortillas, a can of spiced refried beans, some shredded cheese, and bag-o-salad. Make wraps. You can add bits from your rotisserie chicken if you like.

Buy a container of chopped-up fruit at the supermarket. Mix with cottage cheese.

Poke a few holes with a fork in a potato or sweet potato, wrap in a paper towel, and microwave until soft, 4-6 minutes. Slice in half, and top with your preferred baked potato toppings, or just a sprinkling of salt.

Plain yogurt, with a dollop of jam/handful of nuts/some defrosted frozen fruit/a few spoonfuls of granola/nothing at all. Or flavored yogurts, if you don’t mind all the sugar (they’re amazingly sugary if you check the nutritional info.)

Boxed soups, like these, can be very good and require only microwaving.

String cheese, cheese slices, or your preferred type of cheese.

Canned tuna or salmon. Eat as is, or make into sandwiches, or wraps with tortillas and greens from your bag-o-salad.

Instant oatmeal. Or regular oatmeal (take 1/2 cup oats, 1 cup water, place in bowl, microwave for two minutes; season as desired - I like honey and raisins.)

Nuts - peanuts, almonds, pecans, cashews, whatever. Don’t go crazy on these if you’re watching your weight, but if you have to remind yourself to eat, I wouldn’t think that’d be your problem.

Dried fruit.