Wednesday 24 June 2015

My Opinion of Meal Replacement Diets (Exante Diet 4 Day Trial)

Last week I agreed to put the Exante Diet to the test for four days. 

Generally, I would say I'm pretty against meal replacement diets: I think that although they often have impressive results, those results are hard to maintain once you're back to eating "normal" food, and the method of replacing your meals for calorie controlled packets/shakes/bars teaches you nothing about how to moderate everyday food - so you often find you go back to your bad habits as soon as you stop the meal replacement products. 

Although nutritionally balanced, the products in meal replacement diets don't teach you about nutrition in "real" food, nor do they educate you to make positive choices when it comes to exercise, which is also vital for healthy weight loss. 

Here's how I see it: meal replacement diets for me are useful for extreme cases of obesity where it is vital for health (maybe you need surgery, or maybe your health is failing very badly due to obesity) to get the weight off as quickly as possible. After a meal replacement diet has been used in this instance to get the dangerous weight off then I think it's pretty paramount that the person then gets lots of dietary advice and support from a professional dietician and maybe a counsellor, to work through their food issues and re-educate themselves about calories, portion size, moderation and general nutrition so that they can then keep that weight off for life.

However, in today's market, meal replacement diets seem to be everywhere, and everyone is trying them! Often marketed as a "quick fix" with "fast results" promising you'll drop a dress size in 30 seconds (okay, I'm exaggerating) - but you catch my drift. Everyone is hoping for a miracle cure for weight gain - and are foolishly led to believe that eating from packets for a few weeks will solve all their food woes. 

Before I lost all my weight through balance, moderation and exercise I would have totally been the sort of person to buy into one of these schemes. In the past I've tried shakes and bars, to no avail - sure I'd lose a few pounds here and there but I'd either a) get bored of the food and give up after less than a week or b) put the weight back on as soon as I began to eat normally again. I went round in circles like this for the whole of my teenage years and early twenties. The quality of the food back then was pretty diabolical, and realistically I was never going to stick to it for very long. 

For me, any "diet" which means you have to follow very limited food choices, or super-strict guidelines (such as no carbs, high protein, fast days, absolutely no junk etc) is just so unrealistic for a foodie like me. One of the biggest steps for me overcoming my weight problems and food addictions was embracing and accepting my love for food. All food. From the junk right through to a rainbow of fruit and vegetables - I love it all - and as soon as I accepted that and felt brave enough to shout it from the rooftops I was amazed by how relieved I felt, how confident, and how I became desperate to get into the kitchen and create delicious foods. Before this I'd been naively hoping that if I didn't share how much I loved my food and how often I thought about it, then no-one would notice how fat I was - how bizarre is that? 

Over the course of my 6 stone 9 lb weight loss, I found something interesting happening - I slowly began to understand the appeal of the "quick fix" diet: at my heaviest with 7 stone to lose the promise of dropping one dress size, or losing 10lbs in two weeks was a little irrelevant - I had so much more than that to lose, and I could see little point in these extreme diets. As I near the end of my weight loss journey (not a diet - I plan to eat this way forevermore!) with just 7lbs left to lose, I can finally see the attraction. If you only have a small amount of weight to lose (perhaps you put on a few pounds over Christmas, or you'd like to drop a bit of weight before your summer holiday, maybe you are getting married in a few weeks and would like to feel at your best and drop a little weight beforehand) whatever the reason, if you're looking at needing to lose less than a stone, then I understand why a meal replacement diet might be appealing. It's a quick way to get a small amount of weight off, its prescribed and easy to follow, and pretty fool-proof if you stick to plan - anyone can stick to anything for a couple of weeks, and on these plans it only takes a few weeks to see some pretty good results. What happens after that very much depends on what your relationship with food and exercise is like to begin with: if you generally eat a healthy, moderate diet with plenty of exercise, and the weight gain was due to christmas treats, or a holiday - then you'll probably keep the weight off and be fine until your next big indulgence. If however, you have any bad habits albeit with food or exercise (lack of) then you're likely to put on the weight you lost from the meal replacement diet just as fast as you lost it. 

When the people over at Exante Diet asked me to give their meal replacement products a try, I decided it could be an interesting experiment. I have been maintaining my current weight (10 stone 7lbs or thereabouts) for almost 4 months, and it is beginning to frustrate me! I really want to get the final 7 lbs off to get to my 10 stone target, but it just doesn't seem to be happening - I lose a pound, then gain a pound, then maintain for weeks, and can't seem to break that cycle. Would a blast of the Exante Diet be the answer I needed? Would it kickstart my body back into weight loss mode? Would it be a quick way to just get this last bit of weight off? 

I headed over to their website to check out their diet options - they have many combinations of diets from VLCD diets (Very Low Calorie Diets) of around 600 calories per day which will put your body into ketosis (burning your internal fat), to stabiliser programmes for people like me with only a little weight to try and lose now and again. 

It was recommended I try the Stabiliser programme, and I decided that 4 days before I headed off to BritMums Live for the weekend, would be a great time to do it. I had many doubts, and lots of pre-conceptions, but anyone can stick to anything for just 4 days, right?

How would I feel on the diet?

What would the foods taste like?

Would I feel hungry?

Would I see good results when I jumped on the scales?

Stabiliser Programme (amounts per day)

  • 1200 kcal in total
  • 80g approx. carbs
  • 2 x 200 calorie or 3 x 150 calorie Exante Diet products
  • 800 kcal extra food (for me in the form of dinner)
My plan was to eat an Exante diet product (each around 200 calories) for breakfast, and lunch, followed by 800 calories of extra food - usually in the form of a small snack and my usual dinners. 

When the packets arrived I was pretty dubious - when a third of my food for 4 days would be coming out of silver packets when I'm used to eating fresh, homemade from scratch dishes a lot of the time, I was more than a little bit nervous. 

My 4 day supply of Exante Diet products: from shakes and bars to meals such as noodles and shepherds pie.

Over on their website they make the food look pretty appetising - realistically I know this is down to great photography and some serious food styling, so I wasn't expecting miracles to come from the little silver packets...I was genuinely interested as to what I would find. As a foodie with reasonably high food-standards would I find this palatable? 

The pictures of the food from the Exante website...would they seriously look like this?

Here's how my 4 day planned looked on paper:


Breakfast - Exante Chocolate Coconut Bar 

Lunch - Exante Strawberry Cheesecake Shake 

Dinner - Spicy chicken nuggets (homemade) with new potatoes roasted in rapeseed oil and callaloo gratin (Jamaican spinach mixed with egg, parmesan, breadcrumbs and seasoning and baked in the oven) - 766 calories

Snack - 1/2  a packet of Exante Choco Balls (79 calories)


Breakfast - Exante Chocolate Coconut Bar

Lunch - Exante Creamy Coconut Shake

Dinner - Jerk chicken thighs x 2 (homemade), with potato salad & coleslaw - 800 calories.

Snack - 1/2  a packet of Exante Choco Balls (79 calories)


Breakfast - Exante Breakfast eggs with one slice of wholemeal toast.

Lunch - Exante Shepherd's Pie

Dinner - Baked eggs with feta and peppers with half a part baked wholemeal baguette - 783 calories.

Snack - 1/2  a packet of Exante Choco Balls (79 calories)


Breakfast - Exante Strawberry Shake

Lunch - Exante Sweet and Sour Noodles

Dinner - Baked Potato with baked beans and half fat cheddar (672 calories)

Snack - 1/2  a packet of Exante Choco Balls (79 calories)

Most of the Exante products are super-simple to prepare - with the shakes you just add cold water and blend/whisk, with the hot meals you add boiling water and then microwave for a short time, and the snacks are pretty much ready to eat. I undoubtedly therefore spent far less time in the kitchen over the four days: the only meal I had to spend any time on was dinner. At first it was quite liberating and I felt like I had so much more time to do other stuff - but after a day or two the novelty wore off, and I was missing being in the kitchen and preparing my food from scratch.

How Did It Taste?

Okay, so most importantly - how did it taste?

Honestly, overall it was tastier than I imagined it was going to be. Would I choose to eat it every day? No. Could I eat it once in a while for a few days to get a little bit of weight off? Yes. 

My favourite item was the chocolate coconut bar which I actually found to be really delicious. It was SO FILLING I couldn't quite believe that one bar could make me feel so full all morning, but it really did, and it was a joy to eat - chewy and glucose-y in the centre, it reminded me of a coconut flavoured boost bar, minus the biscuit pieces. It felt like a real treat, but is packed full of vitamins and nutrients, and only 207 calories - so for a breakfast or lunch substitute it worked really well. 

In fact, I liked the chocolate coconut bars so much that I'm going to order some to have at home on the days when I don't have time for breakfast or I need an easy but super speedy lunch. Each bar retails usually at £2.20 (so they're not cheap) but remember it is meant to replace a whole meal, so it's definitely cheaper than say buying lunch out, or a breakfast on the run. They're currently on offer for £1.99 - and if you're serious about giving the Exante Diet a go they currently have an offer on for 60 of their diet products for £60 - which is pretty great value (thats 20 days worth of 3 meals - considerably cheaper than your food shopping, I bet). 

My four days of meals on the Exante diet.

The shakes tasted good, and had a nice thick texture - they were creamy, and the flavours on the whole were really nice. My favourite was the strawberry cheesecake flavour as it was extra-creamy and tasted pretty decadent. The shakes are priced at £1.59 each, so pretty good value for a whole meal replacement. What I will say, which I found to be true of all the shakes I tried is that they all have that slight vitamin tang to them - I don't mind that at all, but please don't expect it to taste like the creamiest of real ice cream shakes that you'd get at your favourite burger joint, as you'll just be disappointed- these are diet shakes after all.

The actual hot meals I tried came in the form of a Shepherd's Pie and Sweet and Sour Noodles. I was most scared of these products! A meal that comes in a silver packet in powder form is never going to get me excited - and although they both smelt okay, they looked pretty grim. 

In order to get through this diet you definitely have to ignore how the food looks, and have to lose all hope of getting a variety of texture in your hot meals - the shepherd's pie was reminiscent of the baby food shepherd's pie that I fed Bert as a baby, granted, it tasted slightly better than its baby food contemporary, but a shepherd's pie as I know and love it was not. 

The same goes for the noodles - if you are a regular eater of Pot Noodles, Super Noodles or the such then you might quite enjoy these, but to me they just aren't a meal. It takes minutes to cook some brown pasta, or cous cous, and there are some very easy sauces you can make from scratch and even some great shop bought ones these days, which are infinitely better for you. Yes, the Exante products are all fortified with vitamins etc, so I was getting goodness in some form from these hot meals, but the pleasure element just wasn't there - I missed cooking, and I missed being excited by the fresh look of my plate of food. 

Was I Hungry?

Over the four days I didn't really feel hungry, which I was surprised at - I had a couple of extra snacks here and there, but nothing major - on the whole I felt satisfied. I did find I was really looking forward to my evening meal of "real" food, and totally relished every mouthful of my dinner. I would definitely struggle to eat only Exante products on one of their more extreme diet plans, and don't think I could stick to it without losing my tiny mind a little bit. 

The Results

On the Monday morning on the day of starting the diet I weighed in at 10 st 7 lbs

On the Friday morning after my 4 days Exante experiment I weighed in at 10 st 6 lbs 

So, I lost 1lb in 4 days.

Not overly impressive, I hear you cry, and no, it isn't - I could confidently lose the same amount using My Fitness Pal to count 1200 calories a day for 4 days - that is how I have lost my weight up to this point, and it works. 

I would enjoy a diet of balanced and moderate "real" food each day so much more than I would eating diet replacement products, and I'd be learning so much about portion control and wise choices as I went along. 

So, why haven't I been losing over the past four months then? 

Well, because I've been eating more. I now average around 1600 calories per day, and have been enjoying being able to eat more (still balanced and in moderation, but those extra 400 calories per day make my eating day so much nicer). I have found that 1600 calories per day is just the right amount for me to maintain my current weight with the amount of exercise I do - and so in order to plough on and lose this final 6 lbs of weight to get to my 10 stone target I either need to lower my calories once again, or step up my exercise. 

Moving Forward

From now on I'm planning on trying a combination of lowering my calories to 1400 per day, and upping my exercise. By doing this I hope that I can finally get to my 10 stone weight goal by the end of the summer.

I'm going to continue with the large amount of walking I already do, but I'm going to add into the mix two new workouts: a 100 squat challenge workout which I found on YouTube and started this week. It works on strengthening and reshaping your legs, bottom and core - and it feels just brilliant - I felt stronger literally after the first workout. My plan is to try and do it 2-3 times per week for the foreseeable, and see how I go.

I have also found an arms workout with dumbbells that I'm desperate to try (I plan to start it this week) - my arms are definitely the part of my body I like the least, and I'd love to work on toning them, and making them stronger. I love that both these workouts can be done at home (probably while Bert is napping, or in the evening), and cost nothing to do. I won't count the calories I burn doing these workouts, and so twinned with a 1400 calorie per day diet, I hope to see weekly losses. I will, of course, keep you posted. 

So, To Sum Up

Would I recommend the Exante diet to others? To those who have less than a stone to lose for a specific occasion (Christmas, wedding, holiday etc) then yes, it could work in the short term for you, if you are only working off a brief indulgence, or wanting to just drop a little bit of weight swiftly. If however, you have a complicated relationship with food, and you have lots of weight to lose, then in my opinion, meal replacement isn't for you. 

If you have a serious amount of weight to lose and your health is failing because of your size, then it may be an option to explore - please go and talk to your GP before you embark on anything like this, and if you have food addiction, emotional eating or binge eating tendencies then please seek the help of a dietician and counsellor who can help you fight those demons. 

For me going forward I think that some of the products in the Exante range would be useful for replacing the odd meal here and there. I trust that the products are fortified with balanced vitamins and minerals which means I could rely on them for being a nourishing quick breakfast or lunch on the run. I would see the bars/shakes as 'health food' rather than full-on diet replacement products, and will definitely use them going forward for weight management. 

Have you ever tried a meal replacement diet? 

What are your thoughts and experiences? I'd love to hear from you...

Mrs B


For more information about their diets, and if you'd like to give them a try then why not head over to the Exante Diet social media pages...

@exantediet on Twitter
Exante Diet on Facebook
Exante Diet on Pinterest
Exante Diet on YouTube

Disclaimer: I was sent all 10 Exante Diet products for the purpose of this review/experiment. However, all words and opinions are firmly my own, as I feel it vitally important to be 100% honest and upfront with my readers about the products I try, especially on a topic so important to me, like weight loss. 

Super Busy Mum