Those of you who know me will be aware of my feelings about meal replacements. I don’t like them. I don’t like the idea of them. I think they can promote an unhealthy attitude towards food and I believe that they should only be taken under the supervision of a medical professional. I certainly don’t believe that they should be readily available, masquerading as health food on the high street. Nor do I believe that they should be allowed to be sold by just any unqualified individual, in the style of Juice Plus, Herbalife, etc. In fact, regular readers will remember the #EndGreatRunHerbalife campaign that my friend Stephen and I led.
So I was surprised when So Shape recently reached out to me to ask me if I would be interested in reviewing the product. I had a look and I immediately had reservations as it looked like another meal replacement scheme. However, to give them some credit, they have spent a lot of time coming up with different flavours and a few different types of product. I thought about it and finally decided to go for it, with the intention of giving an honest review of my experiences on the product. After all, how can I be such a critic without actually ever trying one of these plans?
So Shape – Get in shape, the healthy way
The idea of So Shape is simple. I was sent 28 days worth of Smart Meals, which allegedly contain everything you need to lose weight, including a high protein count to keep you full for longer. Each meal contains just over 200 calories and the idea is that you have one for breakfast and one for dinner and then you can have an “open” lunch, as long as you are sensible. The meals are prepared by adding water and shaking in the convenient shaker bottle, or in some cases, microwaving.
It doesn’t take much to work out that it is easy to see where the weight loss comes from. Following the plan and enjoying an open lunch, you are likely to only be taking in 900-1000 calories a day. That is a big deficit, especially if you are active. So Shape do have a list of “open foods” such as chicken breast, tomatoes, peppers, that you can snack on between meals if you are struggling. They also stress ‘no fruit’ which is interesting because tomato is a fruit.
I kept some notes from my first 4 days following the plan which I’ve replicated here as a diary.
Breakfast: Lemon Cheesecake shake Smart Meal
Lunch: Smoked salmon and avocado on rye
Dinner: French Garden soup Smart Meal
Snack: Cherry tomatoes, rice cakes with Marmite
I couldn’t finish the lemon cheesecake shake. The shaker bottle is extremely difficult to drink from, so I decanted into a mug. It looked unappetising, it tasted processed with a vague lemon aftertaste and I managed to drink about half of it before gagging. I eagerly looked forward to lunch, which I ended up having early because I was hungry. The French Garden soup was more palatable and I finished this. It was a reasonable portion, but was much like cuppa soup, which I must confess to secretly enjoying. However, by bed time, my stomach was growling and I had a few cherry tomatos with a couple of Marmite topped rice cakes to try to stop the hunger. I took to my bed and contemplated eating my own leg.
Breakfast: Cappuccino shake Smart Meal
Lunch: Minute steak, spinach, broccoli and sweet potato
Dinner: Cheese pasta Smart Meal
Snack: Carrot sticks and humus
I woke up hungry and decided to give the cappuccino shake a go. I thought somewhat optimistically that if I nuked in the microwave, I could con myself it was coffee and finish it. I found this shake extremely sweet and once again, couldn’t make myself finish it. I snacked on carrot sticks and humus mid morning, as I was feeling shaky with hunger. That evening’s choice was a cheese pasta Smart Meal. It looked like wallpaper paste, but I am happy to report that it tasted much better than it looked, almost like hot, mushy Quavers. I wouldn’t call it a pasta meal though. I went to bed feeling less hungry, but not great.
Breakfast: Chocolate shake Smart Meal
Lunch: Tuna salad with new potatoes
Dinner: Pesto pasta Smart Meal
Snack: Grilled chicken breast, tomatoes
I couldn’t stand to try the chocolate shake as a shake, so I followed the instructions to turn it into a cake. It resembled dog poo. It felt like a discus. I managed a couple of bites and left it. I was grumpy and sat upstairs trying to work, quite literally obsessing over food. My husband suggested I call it quits as he was concerned about my moods and how lethargic I was. I ignored him, but accepted his lovingly prepared chicken and tomato snack mid morning. I tried the pesto pasta that evening and although I was able to stomach it, I felt like I was eating a bowl of watery sauce with the occasional broken piece of pasta in it.
I went to bed trembling.
Breakfast: Raspberry shake Smart Meal
Lunch: Avocado, bacon, tomato on rye
Dinner: Tomato soup Smart Meal
It won’t surprise anyone to know that once again, I couldn’t finish breakfast. Dinner was like tomato cuppa soup. I weighed myself this morning to discover I was 3 kilos down, but I was ratty and tired. I burst into tears after dinner and my husband forced a slice of toast on me. It was the most beautiful thing I’d ever tasted.
We had a chat and it was at this point I decided I had to stop.
These meals promote an unhealthy relationship with food. Artificial meals are not a substitute for a meal. I lost weight quickly due to the calorie deficit, but my skin was pale, I was tired and I was literally obsessing over food, thinking about when I would be able to eat. I was grumpy and difficult to live with. I got very little work done as I was simply unable to concentrate. I was making life difficult for everyone around me. I had to stop.
I do not believe this to be a sustainable method of weight loss and I would query how safe it is to undertake such a low-calorie diet without medical supervision. I would certainly question whether it is safe to engage in meal replacements without medical supervision and this is something I have no qualms about saying to any seller of meal replacement products. Powdered food does nothing to promote a healthy diet, plus the taste just isn’t the same as enjoying fresh ingredients. By a way of experiment for the following couple of days, I stuck to roughly the same calorie intake, but swapped the shakes for actual food. Although I still felt a little hungry, I definitely felt much better for eating. But it seemed a shame to waste so many Smart Meals.
So Shape for weight gain?
As mentioned, I lost 3 kilos taking So Shape, but my husband is extremely underweight and is trying to gain. He decided to make up a shake each day with milk, giving him an extra 450-500 calories a day. He did this every day for a week and was able to gain 3lb doing so. To put this into context, my husband is nearly 6ft and was down at nearly eight and a half stone. Weight needs to be gained. So Shape shakes made with milk gave him an easy way of getting those extra calories in, although he said they didn’t taste great.
So Shape – The Good Points
I’ve been negative in this review and I make no apologies – these are my entirely honest experiences. However, I must give the company credit for the following:
- Friendly with good communication. I’ve been following their Twitter feed and they demonstrate excellent customer service and should be applauded for that.
- Depth of information provided. Their website is informative and the book they provide you with outlining the meals, what you can eat, etc, is extremely detailed.
- Although I wasn’t keen on any of them (except from perhaps the cheese pasta or vegetable soup), a lot of effort has gone into developing different flavours.
- They have a very pretty Instagram account.
The Bad Points
- It’s expensive. £3 per meal is a lot.
- Meal replacements don’t promote a healthy attitude towards food.
- Despite the variation of flavours, they taste artificial. Nothing beats fresh cooking.
- There have been body shaming elements on their social channels.
Please, please, PLEASE, listen to the advice of drinking water. And if you think you’ve drunk enough? Drink some more for good luck. Otherwise you could be in the bathroom for a long time…
If you must consider giving meal replacements a go, then So Shape offer great customer service. However, please consider seeking the advice of a medical professional before undertaking a low-calorie meal replacement diet.