he pandemic, for me, is largely summed up in one word: wine. Oh, and burgers and pies, and that never-ending super yacht staff series on Netflix, Below Deck. These things managed to comfort me and keep me sane, but more importantly, they made me fat.
The process happened in steps as imperceptible as the change of seasons when you’re stuck indoors. It started with a slight tightening of the waistbands on my tightest jeans, then slight bumps in the front of my tightest t-shirts and then, before I knew where I was, I didn’t have so much put wood than to become merchant wood. Or, as a friend put it, over drinks, rather vaguely: “What did they feed you?” Soon all the clothes I had weren’t fitting anymore and I was seriously considering purging my entire trouser drawer for bigger ones. I haven’t, should I say, become dangerously obese, but I have gained 2-2.5 stone. Also, I really didn’t want to have to buy a new wardrobe.
My normal plan to lose that weight would have been to run and run until there was nothing left to lose. The only problem was that I had injured my ankle and was as immobile as a beached whale. That’s when I came across Love Yourself Meals. The west London-based company was founded in 2018 from a small test kitchen – and its business has quadrupled during the pandemic. Now they deliver across the capital and the country, offering a range of freshly prepared, calorie-controlled ready-to-eat menus delivered to your office or door by courier.
These are not the normal ready meals you find in the fridge section of your supermarket. These are prepared daily under the watchful eye of Executive Chef Michal Snela (formerly of various Michelin-starred Marcus Wareing kitchens). There are different menus to choose from depending on what 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 totaling 800 calories which you can then supplement with meals you cook yourself – to performance more expensive £35 a day 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 geared more towards those who work long hours and just want the convenience of not cooking from zero. You can choose a one-day-a-week delivery (useful for gym days), a five-day-a-week or six-a-week plan, so you can still cook for yourself if you like the weekend. Most plans include breakfast, lunch, and dinner plus two snacks. Their target is clearly the busy city professional who has money but is usually exhausted by dinnertime.
First month: shock to the system
So, which menu to choose? I called on Love Yourself’s in-house nutritionist. After asking about my goals (to fit into APC pants!) and how I generally felt (like overdone blancmange!), she was resolute in her advice. “I recommend a twelve-week program,” Bettina said. “Our keto plan will probably be the best option. It’s really popular with our customers. It may be hard to stick with it, but you will lose fat fast.
I was not without reservations about this choice. Frankly, it sounded hardcore.
It’s a plan with almost no carbs (a maximum of 30g per day; instead of the usual recommendation of around 200g) and relatively large amounts of carefully considered fats and proteins. The goal is to “hack” your body into ketosis, a state in which the body uses stored fat for energy rather than carbohydrates. The problem is, I love sourdough pasta and toast. At this point, I weigh 86 kg.
My first week was difficult, but interesting. Breakfasts consisted of warming coconut porridge one day, green beans with scrambled eggs another day, and one morning I opened my box to find a cocoa peanut butter muffin that was, frankly, pleasantly indulgent.
Fairly quickly, I noticed something interesting: I suddenly had more time in my day to think about things and do Things. Some of the key decisions of my day were gone, I no longer had to think about what to eat, how to cook it and where the ingredients came from. Because I knew a nice delivery man would arrive with green and white boxes full of food. I have to admit, I was almost a little excited when I saw my favorite dish come out of those boxes: the now famous – at home, at least – BBQ Stewed Beef. Reader, I could have married her. I was less fond of lighter dinners: prawn salads and such. They were put together very well but not the best on cold nights. On the scale, I had lost 3.5 kg.
Second month: misery loves company
In an act of solidarity – and, as he admitted, jealousy – my partner decided to join at that time. He opted for the Balanced Meal Plan – which I maliciously named the Cop-Out Plan because he could eat carbs. Where I got cauliflower cheese hash and creamy stilton brussels sprouts, he had pesto and chicken penne, Moroccan fish tagine and frittata. In truth, we were both jealous of each other’s meals — and our fridge was soon divided by a Berlin wall with a carb exclusion zone at one end and its own cheese-free section at the other.
One thing I noticed in four weeks was that, other than going to buy coffee grounds and veggies for smoothies, I barely went to the store anymore. I was no longer spending money on expensive and unnecessary stuff – £5.20 sourdough breads and the Gyoza making kit, I’m looking at you. Also no more pub drinks – I couldn’t have sugar on a keto diet. The commitment built into these plans also has a habit of keeping you on the straight and narrow, as you learn horrible things like the number of carbs in a pint (11.5g for a Carling pint) almost by osmosis, when you are checking what you can get away with.
What I also noticed was how little I had to throw away. Gone was the wasted carcass of a chicken I forgot 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 filling my trash can, it was my brown trash can full of trays the food was wrapped in. Fortunately, they were biodegradable. Weight check? Another two pounds lost.
Third month: OK, let’s get it over with now…
By the third month, I can admit that I was a bit tired. I wanted a piece of toast on 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 evening, a bit fed up, I went to the pub for a few quick pints and a bowl of crisps. It’s not the best thing to eat and drink while on a keto diet. Another night, my partner and I swapped our meals because he craved cheese as much as I craved pasta. Our reasoning was that we at least get sane versions. He enjoyed my pork shoulder with rich, buttery broccoli rice as much as I did.
When I reached the end of twelve weeks, I stepped on the scale with a bit of trepidation. My time at the pub meant that I had to slow my progress. I cautiously opened my eyes to the small digital screen: 79 kg – I was finally below 80 kg, while managing to eat mountains of cheese. I could have lost a little more, had I been as pure as packed snow staying out of the pub, but still it was a job well done. Now I just have to relearn how to use the stove.