Are ready-made diets any good? Our reviewer spends a week on a rapid weight-loss program

The Be Fit Food meal program yields some good dishes, particularly once fresh greens are added.
The Be Fit Food meal program yields some good dishes, particularly once fresh greens are added. Photo: Supplied

While it is excellent news that we'll soon be tasting some extra freedoms, it also means leaving the land of leggings-as-pants.

We have all made jokes about drinking quarantinis, and easing the traumas of homeschooling and boredom with wine. We've celebrated comfort carbs like never before, especially in sandwich form. I don't regret a single banh mi, truffle cheesecake or double smash burger.

Every restaurant-supporting COVID kilo is a mark of pride. But I also wondered if taking a moment to reset the self-soothe button would see me through the end of lockdown in a better state.

Snap-frozen meals from Be Fit Food.
Snap-frozen meals from Be Fit Food. Photo: Supplied

After years of rolling my eyes at ready-meal diet programs, the idea of not being able to fit into any of the clothes I bought online got the better of me.

There are plenty of companies that have sprung up to help us eat better. You can get cook-it-yourself meal boxes like Marley Spoon and Hello Fresh, and posher ones like Curtis Stone Events' semi-regular detox boxes. But this week, I wanted to peel back the mystery on the world of the quicker fix.

Be Fit Food was founded by Mornington Peninsula clinical dietitian Kate Save, who wanted to provide customers with an alternative to weight-loss programs that rely on shakes and bars by creating a very low-kilojoule diet with portion-controlled, snap-frozen meals of real food.

I felt like every sad character from TV soaps whose mark of failure is living the "freezer-to-microwave" life.

Initially, Save provided recipes, but unsurprisingly, the shopping, prep and portion control tripped too many people up. When she started offering pre-cooked meals in 2016, the business swelled 1500 per cent in a week.

The rapid program appealed to me. It starts with a 15 minute chat via phone or in store with a dietitian. We assess goals  and she explains how ketosis, where the body starts to burn its own fat when starved of carbohydrates, will make me feel (tired, grumpy, then more energised).

I'm asked about medical concerns, and we decide on a rapid-loss reset, which delivers me three meals and two snacks a day totalling 3431-3849 kilojoules. I'm told every lunch and dinner option, whether it's a naked burrito, curry or soup, has the exact same kilojoules and nutritionist-balanced profile of protein (high), carbs (minimal) and nutrients, so I can mix and match and not have to think about numbers. It is all sugar-free, gluten-free and dairy-free.

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Armed with a chest-freezer's worth of black packages and enough protein balls to get me through the week, I relocate everything except the vegetables from my fridge and assess the monochromatic week ahead with optimism but also grief.

"It will be nice not having to cook," the in-store nutritionist enthuses. But will it? Recipe-searching, shopping for food and cooking has given shape to formless weeks. To strip this from my routine didn't feel like a plus. I'm sure some drowning parents wouldn't feel the same.

On night one, my worst fears seemed confirmed. I taste-tested a quarter of four main meals on arrival home, and following the instructions to simply microwave them with a little stir between I felt like every sad character from TV soaps whose mark of failure is living the "freezer-to-microwave" life.

The "5 Veg Eggs" eggwhite omelette is a hit.
The "5 Veg Eggs" eggwhite omelette is a hit. Photo: Supplied

The cooking did nothing for the appeal of already bare-bones meals: the beef chow mein became sloppy, though the flavour was OK. The chicken satay, featuring intact chicken tenders, was a textural improvement, but the watery noodle and vegetable amalgam wasn't. I over-microwaved the vegetarian bolognese with penne to mush, and with no further joy ahead, went to bed at 7.15pm.

Surprisingly I didn't wake up hungry on day two, but that's largely because I didn't feel optimistic about what was to come. However, after heeding advice to play around with preparation methods (users have a Facebook group where they share cooking hacks), and allowable extras like the fresh or steamed vegetables you can add to every meal, I started to come around.

The 5 Veg Eggs breakfast cooked up to a proper egg-white frittata, with bright fresh veg. Cooked on the stove, plated properly, with a dash of soy sauce, it's decent. Moreover, I can see it truly is whole-food.

There are other wins. Protein balls, all rolled in coconut, come in flavours such as chocolate mint, or peanut (the best). This as a modest morning snack completely saw me through.

When I got to lunch and read the extras list, making myself a bright salad from the garden to go with lean Italian meatballs in a light sugo, I felt like I was eating properly, even though I was at about 50 per cent of my regular intake.

That thought lasted for about 30 minutes, at which point the simultaneous withdrawal from sugar, carbohydrates and alcohol kicked me onto the couch. I won't lie. Over the next three days I was exhausted and totally bored. I couldn't look at Instagram. I went to bed on average at 7pm. I sulked and properly wept throughout the day.

It wasn't the food. Many meals, like the spicy naked burrito with chicken, and a couple of soups (cauliflower and leek, and the turmeric-lentil in particular) are, when bolstered with fresh greens and served with self-respect (aka, not from the container), objectively good.

At day four, the storm passed. The carb craving subsided. I got through.

The verdict? I lost weight, but that wasn't the point. Many studies show that this is likely water weight, and, as with any other extremely restrictive diet, be it a juice cleanse to that weird 50s diet of boiled eggs and white wine that sometimes pops up, nothing but nothing will ever beat balance and the long term slog. Always talk to a doctor if you get lost in the flood of information (and misinformation) on the net. But I can say this for the program: giving up control gave me some discipline back.  

Could I have found 21 nutritionist-approved recipes and faithfully cooked them myself with more delicious results? Maybe. Would I? I doubt it. Programs like this aren't what I would chase as a lifestyle, but they can be the training wheels to help you get back on the bike. Don't be afraid of your COVID kilos, but if you want to kick them, use all the tools you've got.

The lowdown

Address: 495 Main Street, Mordialloc. Or, visit befitfood.com.au for stockists and delivery (Australia-wide).

Cost: Seven-day rapid program is $239.95 including 21 meals and snacks.

Also try: Chef Good delivers similar programs across Victoria, chefgood.com.au. Curtis Stone Events offers luxe at-home detox boxes once a month, curtisstoneevents.com.