Two years ago, my mornings were a train wreck. My workday started at 9:00 a.m., but for whatever reason I waited until the last minute to drag myself out of bed. I’d stumble to the kitchen, make coffee, and fall into the shower. Eating breakfast or preparing a lunch for the day wasn’t a thought nor was a meal-replacement alternative.. Even worse, any kind of exercise for the day wasn’t even on my radar. My only goal was to survive the day and make it to the weekend.

My mindset was as unhealthy as my lifestyle. I was eating drive-thru, hitting the vending machine, or even worse, skipping meals altogether. And the results reflected in the mirror. I was pudgy, unhappy, and far from living my best life.

Something had to change. A friend saw how unhappy I was and pulled me aside. Instead of trying to alter my entire life, he suggested I make a small adjustment to my morning routine.

“You know, breakfast is the most important meal of the day,” he said. “Why not try drinking a meal-replacement shakes every day for breakfast for a week?”

This changed my life.

Small Changes Add Up to Big Results

I was skeptical at first to try a meal-replacement shake, thinking it would be a waste of both time and money. But I hate backing away from a challenge. Going online, I found USANA’s Nutrimeal™, a meal-replacement shake advertised as a perfectly nutritious alternative for weight-loss support. What could it hurt?

I ordered a French Vanilla Nutrimeal gusset and one of their shaker bottles (with one of those wire whisk balls inside). The day my Nutrimeal arrived, I made a sample shake to see what I was getting myself into. I put three scoops into the shaker bottle, some ice, and topped it off with cold water. After shaking it for about 30 seconds, I took a small sip. Not bad, not bad at all. It had a light, slightly sweet vanilla flavor and was super easy to make. Checking out the nutritional label, it was low in calories but had a ton of nutrition I wasn’t getting with a McBreakfast sandwich.

“All right,” I thought. “Maybe I can survive a week drinking these things.”

The First Week

Because I was excited to take on my first meal-replacement challenge, I actually got up when my alarm went off. After showering and getting ready for work, I made a shake before heading out the door. I drank it during my commute and showed up to work feeling pretty good. It was definitely filling, and I didn’t even think of going to the cafeteria before lunch.

Let’s chalk that up as a victory.

My energy level was higher (even on a Monday), and I didn’t feel like garbage in the afternoon. Tuesday was even easier. Through the rest of the week, I found I was enjoying drinking a meal-replacement shake—and it was leading to better choices. Because I felt full, I was able to walk past a box of bagels, instead of eating my usual two. I felt lighter and even decided to pack a salad for lunch. By Friday, I was doing something I never thought I would ever do—I was on a sustainable diet.

Shedding Pounds

There’s no mystery to weight loss. Think of your waistline like double-entry bookkeeping: what goes in and what gets spent. Your body burns calories every second. And your basal metabolic rate is the number of calories required to keep your body functioning at rest. For example, a 30-year-old man should burn 2,000 calories a day, even if he never leaves the couch. The trick to weight loss is to burn more calories than you consume.

My Nutrimeal shake contains around 250 calories per serving. That’s a lot less than a fried egg sandwich from a drive thru. Substituting a bad breakfast choice for a nutritious one, saves calories to invest later. Success creates success. As I started to care about my breakfast choice, I was more inclined to do other things to help with weight loss. []

I started walking. I know it’s not competing in an Iron Man, but it was the first step. Walking for 30 minutes burns about 300 calories—hey, that’s more than my meal-replacement shake—and was easy on my knees. I began parking my car further in the lot and finding reasons to walk up the stairs instead of taking the elevator.

It’s pretty incredible what a bunch of small changes can make.

Shake It Up

There’s a simple answer to why we get hungry—it’s our body telling us we need energy to power our cells. The food we eat provides us with a range of nutrients: vitamins, minerals, fats, water, carbohydrates, fiber, and protein. And our bodies need all of these nutrients to function. They become the building material to construct tissue and organs as well as the components of the molecular machinery to keep our cells running.

Without food, you can’t function.

Yes, you can survive on cheeseburgers and fries, but you won’t be living optimally. You need a balanced diet of whole foods, fresh vegetables and fruits, and healthy proteins.

Meal-replacement shakes are good for one or two meals a day, but you still need to eat real food to properly fuel your body. There’s a biological benefit to chewing and swallowing. By committing to a health-friendly Nutrimeal shake every morning and eating a reasonable lunch and dinner, I achieved some weight loss. 

Making a Commitment

There isn’t a magic pill (or shake) to lose unwanted pounds. 

But you can build a foundation for healthy weight loss by replacing bad habits with good ones. I started by swapping out one nonexistent meal for a delicious Nutrimeal shake. As this became part of my morning routine, I began to exercise, watch what I ate, and get better sleep. And once you start seeing results, you‘re even more motivated to make changes.

I’m grateful my friend helped me discover USANA.

Take the challenge for yourself. Try replacing one meal a day for five days and see if you like the results. You’ll probably have questions, but don’t worry. USANA has a terrific resource called Ask the Scientists. They’ve got great information about weight-loss programs and the benefits of meal-replacement shakes.

Ben Raskin is a writer and food blogger. He enjoys sharing taco recipes and exploring backwater restaurants. Follow him on Twitter @BennyRaskin.