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So, could I lose the pandemic pounds by eating...ready meals?

When writer Max Wallis gained two and a half stone in lockdown, he decided to try losing weight in an unconventional way

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Max Wallis
06 June 2022

he pandemic, for me, can largely be summed up in one word: wine. Oh, and burgers and pies, and that never-ending series about the staff of super yachts on Netflix, Below Deck. These things contrived to give me comfort and keep me sane but, most of all, they made me fat.

The process came in stages as imperceptible as the change in season when you are stuck inside. It started with a slight tightening of waistbands on my skinniest jeans, then to slight protuberances around the front of my tightest T-shirts and then, before I knew where I was, I hadn’t so much put on some timber as become the timber merchant. Or, as a friend said, over some drinks, rather loose-lipped: “What have they been feeding you?” Soon all the clothes I had didn’t fit and I was seriously considering purging the entirety of my pants drawer for larger models. I didn’t, I should say, become dangerously obese but I did put on 2-2.5 stone. Plus, I really didn’t want to have to buy a new wardrobe.

My normal plan to lose this weight would have been to run and run till there was nothing more to run off. The only problem was, I had hurt my ankle and so was as stationary as a beached whale. It was around this point that I came across Love Yourself meals. The west London based company was founded in 2018 out of a small test kitchen - and their business quadrupled during the pandemic. Now, they deliver all over the capital and the country, offering a range of freshly made, calorie-controlled ready-made menus delivered to your office or door by courier.

Love Yourself

These aren’t the normal ready meals you’d find in your supermarket fridge section. These are made fresh every day under the watchful eye of head chef Michal Snela (formerly of various Michelin-starred Marcus Wareing kitchens). There are different menus to choose from depending on what it is you want to achieve. They range from the cheapest option at £18 a day – a “mini diet” which offers 2 or 3 meals a day totalling 800 calories which you can then top up with meals you cook for yourself – to the more expensive £35 a day performance diet aimed at bodybuilders and athletes. They have a low-carb option, a vegetarian plan, as well as a halal plan, and a “balanced option”, which is more focussed on those who work long hours and simply want the convenience of not cooking from scratch. You can choose a single day per week delivery (useful for gym days), a five-day per week plan, or six out of seven days, so you can still cook for yourself if you like at the weekend. Most of the plans involve breakfast, lunch and dinner plus two snacks. Their target is clearly the busy city professional who has money but is usually knackered around dinner time.

Month one: shock to the system

So, which menu to choose? I availed myself of the in-house nutritionist at Love Yourself. After asking my aims (to fit into APC trousers!) and how I was generally feeling (like an overdone blancmange!), she was resolute in her advice. “I recommend a twelve-week programme,” Bettina said. “Our keto plan will likely be the best option. It’s really popular with our clients. It can be hard to stick to, but you’ll shed fat quickly.”

I wasn’t without my reservations about this choice. Frankly, it seemed hardcore.

It’s a plan consisting of next to no carbs (a maximum of 30g per day; instead of usual recommendation of around 200g) and carefully considered and relatively large quantities of fats and proteins. The aim is to ‘hack ‘your body into entering ketosis, which is a state in which the body uses fat stores for energy rather than carbohydrates. The problem is I love pasta and sourdough toast. At this point I weigh 86kg.

My first week was tough, but interesting. Breakfasts consisted of warming coconut porridge one day, green beans with scrambled eggs another, and on one morning I opened my box to find a peanut butter and cocoa muffin which felt, frankly, pleasingly indulgent.

Meals like aubergine and lamb curry make it easier to stick to the diet

/ Love Yourself

Quite quickly I noticed something interesting: I suddenly had more time in my day to think about things and do stuff. Some of the key decisions of my day had gone, I no longer had to think about what to eat, how to cook it and where the ingredients were coming from. Because I knew a nice delivery man would be arriving with green and white boxes stuffed full of food. I must confess I got almost faintly excited when I saw my favourite dish emerge from these boxes: the now-famous - in my house, at least - BBQ slow cooked beef. Reader, I could have married it. I was less keen on the lighter dinners: prawn salads and the like. They were very well put together but not the best on cold nights. On the scales I was down 3.5 kilograms.

Month two: misery loves company

In an act of solidarity – and, as he admitted, jealousy – my partner decided to join in at this point. He opted for the balanced meal plan – which I unkindly named Plan Cop-Out as he could eat carbs. Where I was getting cauliflower cheese hashes, and creamy Brussel sprouts with stilton, he was having penne with pesto and chicken, Moroccan fish tagine, and frittata. In truth, we were both jealous of each other’s meals – and our fridge was soon divided with a berlin wall with a carb no-fly zone on one end and his own cheese-free section on the other.

One thing I noticed four weeks in was that, apart from visits to buy coffee grounds and some vegetables for smoothies, I barely went to the shop anymore. I was no longer spending money on expensive unnecessary products – £5.20 sourdough loaves, and the Gyoza making kit, I am looking at you. Gone, also, were the drinks in the pub – I couldn’t have any sugar on a keto diet. The commitment that is intrinsic to these plans also has a habit of keeping you on the straight and narrow, because you learn horrifying things like how many carbs are in a pint (11.5g for a pint of Carling) almost by osmosis, when you are checking what you can get away with.

Love Yourself does a low-carb option, a vegetarian plan, a halal plan, and a “balanced option” for those who simply want healthy meals delivered

/ Love Yourself

What I also noticed was just how little I had to throw away. Gone was the wasted carcass of a chicken I’d forgotten about at the back of the fridge, or the limp head of broccoli hidden behind a jar of olives. Everything that was delivered I ate. Instead of my rubbish bin filling up, it was my brown bin full of trays the food came packaged in. Luckily though, they were biodegradable. Weight-check? Another two kilos gone.

Month three: OK, over this now...

Love Yourself’s special keto meals

/ Love Yourself

By month three I can admit I was a little tired. I wanted a piece of toast in the cold mornings with a tidal wave of jam on it. I wanted a pint of beer. This is of course a natural aspect of deprivation. One night, a little fed up, I went to the pub for a few swift pints and a bowl of chips. Not the best thing to eat and drink when you’re on a keto diet. Another night me and my partner did swapsies with our meals because he longed for cheese as much as I longed for pasta. Our reasoning was at least we were getting healthy versions. He enjoyed my pork shoulder with rich, buttery broccoli rice as much as I had.

Writer Max Wallis is feeling brighter and healthier after losing weight he gained during the pandemic

/ Max Wallis

When I reached the end of the twelve weeks I stepped onto the scales with a little trepidation. My time in the pub meant I must have slowed my progress. I gingerly opened my eyes at the little digital screen: 79kg – I was finally below 80kg, while still managing to eat mountains of cheese. I could have lost a little more, if I had been as pure as the driven snow staying out of the pub, but still it was a job well done. Now, I’ll just have to learn to use the cooker again.

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