What can I eat on total diet replacement (TDR)?

If you’ve just started on a total diet replacement (TDR) programme (or perhaps you’re about to start!), you likely have lots of questions about what you can and cannot eat as part of this new, temporary nutritional substitution programme. And you’re not alone! For many, this will be the first time undertaking a TDR programme, and we’re here to help make things easy for you.
Napala Pratini
3/12/21
4
min read
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Quick summary

  • Total diet replacement (TDR) is a nutritionally-complete food replacement diet designed to help you lose an average of 15kg over 3 months
  • Whilst you're meant to avoid most foods whilst on TDR, there are a number of spices, drinks, and supplements that are allowed as part of a TDR diet

First, a quick recap on total diet replacement. A TDR diet is one in which you switch away from normal food entirely, onto a nutritionally-complete diet of powdered meal products. Patients on TDR typically consume four sachets per day, each containing approximately 200 kcal. Whilst some programmes recommend a lower daily calorie intake (closer to 600 kcal), there is no evidence that this is actually any more effective, so on the Habitual programme we recommend approximately 800 kcal per day.

After an initial period on TDR, you should slowly reintroduce whole foods into your diet to build the habits needed to maintain a healthy lifestyle (this is what we specialise in here at Habitual). If you're looking for more information about what TDR is and whether it's right for you, check out this more in-depth summary of total diet replacement.

The benefits of total diet replacement

The benefits of total diet replacement are many. In scientific research, a 3-month period of total diet replacement followed by food reintroduction and accompanied by behavioural change has been shown to lead to an average of 15kg weight loss, and type 2 diabetes remission in up to 60% of patients. But if you're considering total diet replacement to achieve your health goals, it's worth understanding what you can (and cannot eat) on TDR.

If you've ever tried to search for nutritional advice, you'll likely feel that it's near impossible to get reliable answers to your questions (try searching "can type 2 diabetics eat oranges" if you don't believe us!). But for total diet replacement, the rules are incredibly simple. The general rule of thumb is that, beyond your TDR sachets, you should not eat anything that contains calories whilst on total diet replacement.

I was amazed how much energy I had considering the calories and really didn't feel hungry!

Michelle, a Habitual patient


Luckily, this isn’t quite as simple as it may seem (which works in your favour, as there are a number of additional flavourings and drinks you are still allowed).

What can I eat on total diet replacement?

Here is a list of what you can have whilst on TDR 🥳:

  • Tea & coffee (a splash of low-fat milk is OK)
  • Herbal tea
  • Tabasco or other zero-calorie hot sauces
  • Dried or fresh herbs, including small amounts of garlic (can be added to savoury sachets)
  • Cinnamon (some people like this in their shakes)
  • Mint leaves (this can add a nice flavour to vanilla or chocolate shakes)
  • Zero-calorie sauces such as Skinny Syrup
  • Diet soda (though too much of this may cause stomach issues)
  • Sparkling water
  • Flavoured, zero-calorie water
  • Sugar-free gum
  • Fibre supplements or drinks such as Fybogel (whilst these may contain a small amount of calories—typically around 5 kcal per sachet—they can be helpful in treating bowel issues that come along with TDR and are thus acceptable on the programme)

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What can't I eat on total diet replacement?

Given that you should avoid most other foods whilst on TDR, here are a few things that are not allowed 🙅:

  • Gum with added sugar: There are some gums with sugar added, so make sure to check the ingredients before you buy
  • Celery/cucumbers/tomatoes: While these foods are low calorie, we generally recommend avoiding any non-TDR foods beyond zero-calorie drinks and flavourings. In fact, people tell us that it’s easier to simply stick to a routine of 4 shakes/soups per day when they don’t allow themselves cheats like this, which can open up a slippery slope towards other foods.
  • Low-fat yoghurt: Keep in mind that low-fat does not mean low-calorie. Whilst low-calorie, yoghurt does still contain calories and therefore isn’t part of a TDR diet.
  • Fruits: Although fruits are generally a part of a healthy diet, they are quite high in naturally occurring sugars (and therefore calories!), and are thus not permitted on TDR. Part of the beauty of TDR is that it allows you to significantly cut down on sugar intake.
  • Sweetened milks or milk alternatives: Whilst you can make up your shakes with skimmed milk or unsweetened milk alternatives, it’s important to check the label to make sure there are no added sugars (particularly if you’re buying a milk alternative). “Plain” almond milks, for example, often contain a natural sweetener such as apple concentrate. Not only do sweeteners add additional calories; They can also be dangerous to your blood sugar levels which would otherwise be controlled whilst adhering to TDR.
  • Juices or other calorie-containing drinks: Again, even juices without added sweeteners can contain a high amount of natural sugars. This includes aloe juice and other drinks you wouldn’t necessarily think or as “fruity”.
  • Natural sweeteners such as honey or agave

References

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