Ready meals are not normally considered as part of a healthy diet. However, a new study suggests that the portion-control aspect of these meals might make them a promising weight loss tool.
[A person eating a ready meal]
Researchers found that people who ate portion-controlled, prepackaged meals twice daily for 3 months lost more weight than those who self-selected their meals.

Published in the journal Obesity, the study reveals that adults who ate prepackaged, portion-controlled meals twice daily for 3 months lost more weight than those who selected their own meals.

Furthermore, adults who ate the prepackaged meals also fared better when it came to cholesterol levels and other risk factors for poor cardiovascular health.

Obesity is a major health concern in the United States, affecting more than a third of adults, and raising their risk for stroke, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and some types of cancer.

Lack of energy balance is a key cause of obesity; when the calorie intake from food and drinks is greater than the amount of calories used through physical activity, digestion, breathing, and other body functions, over time, this can lead to weight gain.

Overeating is a primary contributor to energy imbalance, and reducing portion sizes is considered an effective way to lose weight and combat obesity.

Now, lead researcher Dr. Cheryl Rock, of the University of California-San Diego School of Medicine, and her team suggest that portion-controlled ready meals may be an effective weight loss strategy.

Increased weight loss with prepackaged meals

For their study, the team enrolled 183 adults and allocated them to one of three diet groups for 3 months.

One group ate two prepackaged, portion-controlled meals daily, one group ate two prepackaged, portion-controlled meals daily that were higher in protein, while subjects in another group self-selected their daily meals.

Fast facts about obesity

  • Around 78.6 million American adults are obese
  • Obesity rates are higher in middle-aged adults than younger adults
  • In 2008, obesity cost the U.S. around $147 billion.

Learn more about obesity

All subjects attended a 1-2-hour counseling session with a dietician, in which they received personal weight loss goals, exercise recommendations, and learned behavioral techniques to help them meet their goals.

At the end of the 3-month study period, the researchers found that 74 percent of participants who consumed two prepackaged meals a day achieved greater weight loss than those who ate self-selected meals.

Around 74 percent of participants who ate the prepackaged meals achieved a 5 percent weight loss, compared with 53 percent of participants who ate self-selected meals.

On average, subjects who ate the prepackaged meals lost around 8 percent of their initial body weight, compared with around 6 percent for those who chose their own meals.

Additionally, the researchers found that subjects who ate the prepackaged meals showed reductions in low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol – known as the “bad” cholesterol – and other risk factors for cardiovascular disease.

“What’s more, our study found that food satisfaction was comparable among all groups, which is a critical factor that may determine long-term usefulness of this strategy,” notes Dr. Rock.

Based on their results, the researchers suggest that consumption of prepackaged, portion-controlled meals may be an effective weight-loss strategy, eliminating the planning and preparation of healthy meals that some individuals find challenging.

“Reduction in energy intake is a key factor to weight loss, but it can be difficult for most individuals with overweight or obesity to put into practice. This type of strategy is a step toward implementing effective, evidence-based solutions to obesity.”

Martin Binks, Ph.D., spokesperson for The Obesity Society

The authors note that a key study limitation is that they had limited detailed information on the dietary intake of participants.

They say future studies should assess how prepackaged meals affect weight loss longer term.

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