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Meal replacements – an educational tool for longer-term healthy eating?


This project aims to determine whether very low energy diets (VLEDs) based on meal replacements differ from food-based diets in terms of teaching people to self-select a healthy diet in the longer term.


Associate Professor Amanda Salis.

Research location

Camperdown - Boden Institute of Obesity, Nutrition, Exercise & Eating Disorders

Program type



VLEDs via supervised meal replacement programs are the single most effective non-pharmaceutical, non-surgical obesity treatment (1). VLEDs can induce fast weight losses of approximately 0.5 to 2 kilos per week, which some people find motivating. Moreover, recent work from our team has shown that VLEDs prevent the increase in hunger that is typically associated with weight loss (2).

Despite these advantages of VLEDs, many dietitians and other health professionals are hesitant to prescribe such programs for the patients. Among reasons cited for this is a view that VLEDs do not teach people how to self-select a healthy food-based diet. This could theoretically compromise longer-term maintenance of the reduced body weight upon completion of the diet.

Interestingly, preliminary findings from our team suggest that VLEDs may be more effective than moderately energy-restricted food-based diets for teaching people to self-select a healthy diet. This is contrary to the view that VLEDs do not educate people about healthy food habits.

In order to fully assess this possibility, this project involves 3 phases:
1. Face-to-face food diary data collection. The student selected for this project will have the opportunity to contribute to the ongoing collection of accurate food diary data from participants in the TEMPO Diet Trial (Type of Energy Manipulation for Promoting optimum metabolic health and body composition in Obesity), an NHMRC-funded trial that aims to determine the long-term (3-year) effects of fast (VLED) versus slow (food-based) weight loss on physical and psychological health. Food diary data collection is done via face-to-face semi-structured interviews with participants, who use food diaries for 1 week at -1, 1, 4, 16, 17, 26, 52, 104 and 156 weeks relative to the start of the diets (a 52-week moderately energy-restricted food-based diet, or a 16-week VLED followed by the same food-based diet until 52 weeks).
2. Food diary data analysis. FoodWorks (Xyris Software Australia Pty Ltd, Kenmore Hills, QLD) will be used to analyse a sub-set of food diaries collected as described above. The analysis will be done using a standardised research protocol. Food diary analyses can commence immediately using diaries that have been collected to date in the TEMPO Diet Trial.
3. Data write-up. The selected student will be coached by the research team for the write-up and presentation of their findings in rigorous scientific formats (e.g. abstract, talk, manuscript). This will provide research training for the selected student, which will be of benefit for further research in dietetics.

1. Anderson JW, Konz EC, Frederich RC, Wood CL. Long-term weight-loss maintenance: a meta-analysis of US studies. Am J Clin Nutr. 2001; 74: 579-84.
2. Gibson AA, Seimon RV, Lee CM, Ayre J, Franklin J, Markovic TP, Caterson ID, Sainsbury A: Do ketogenic diets really suppress appetite? A systematic review and meta-analysis. Obes Rev 2015, 16:64-76.

Additional information

Benefits to the successful candidate
• As part of The Boden Institute of Obesity, Nutrition, Exercise & Eating Disorders at the Charles Perkins Centre, you will be part of an internationally recognized multidisciplinary research environment dedicated to reducing obesity and associated complications
• PhD candidates will be mentored for submission of a competitive application for an Australian Postgraduate Award or a University Postgraduate Award (APA/UPA, for domestic students) or an equivalent award for international students. Further details.
• Opportunity for a Top-Up Scholarship for APA or UPA- or other scholarship-funded PhD students of high standing, with the possibility of Top-Up Scholarship extension for students who are productive in publishing their research on this topic
• You will receive mentoring to help you develop your career, with individual and group training on scientific writing, conference presentation skills etc.
• You will have opportunities to present your research findings at local, national and potentially also at an international biomedical conference
• You will have opportunities to publish your research findings in world-class peer-reviewed biomedical journals of high standing

Selection criteria
• An undergraduate degree in nutrition
• Good clinical skills (e.g. being non-judgmental about food or other choices, respect for participants, etc.)
• Good working knowledge of food and cooking techniques, and experience with FoodWorks software
• First class honours or equivalent (for PhD candidates)
• An excellent undergraduate academic record (for Masters and PhD candidates)
• A strong commitment to health and medical research in the field of adult nutrition and lifestyle interventions, obesity, weight management and chronic disease prevention
• Exceptional communication skills that will enable you to engender support from participants volunteering for this randomised controlled trial
• Ability to work productively both within a team environment as well as independently as required
• Excellent organisational skills
• Reliability and punctuality

For further information

Please contact Associate Professor Amanda Salis

To apply
Please e-mail a cover letter addressing the above selection criteria, a copy of your CV as well as your academic transcript(s) to Associate Professor Amanda Salis. Incomplete applications will not be considered.

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Opportunity ID

The opportunity ID for this research opportunity is 1585

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