Just because you’re not a contestant on The Biggest Loser doesn’t mean you can’t win your own weight-loss battle at home

I’ve always had a love-hate relationship with food. I love it. It hates my waist. Prior to my thirties, I could eat obscene amounts of anything and still be rail thin, gleefully throwing it in the faces of my weight-conscious friends. After the big 3-0, my metabolism did a 180, adding on the lbs with every late night feeding or second helping of dessert. Don’t get me wrong—I’ve never been an unhealthy eater. I get a decent amount of exercise and drink very little soda, don’t indulge in a lot of sweets, or have any other food vices. It’s just that I love the taste of food (and have never met a buffet I didn’t like), accepting the accompanying weight gain as an inconvenient side effect. I’ve read about (and haughtily discarded) all the trendy diets—eating like a caveman, werewolf or Mediterranean— and have always been the jerk who moans extra loud while eating chocolate cake in front of dieting friends. Of course, I’d love to lose weight just like everyone else and look better in (or out of) nice clothes; I just don’t want to change my lifestyle to do it. I once asked a fitness-minded friend how I could burn calories with the least amount of effort. After thinking for a while, he told me to drink very cold water which would cause my body to expend calories warming it up to body temperature. And that, my friends, is the closest I’ve ever gotten to dieting. So when I heard of FitMeal VN, a service that delivers ready-made, 500 calorie-portioned meals, I decided to try it for lunch and dinner for 30 days. And just for kicks, I vowed to read every “health” related article that popped up in my news feed as an extra form of fat penance. This is my diary.

Day 1
179 lbs
Crockpot Beef with Rich Gravy
The delivery guy came right on schedule with two little black boxes of food. My first meal was a beef stew, surprisingly full-flavored and very Western tasting. Too bad there was only eight spoonfuls of it. I counted. This is what I would normally eat as a midnight snack, lovingly referred to as Second Dinner, and certainly not as a full meal. A friend told me that a human stomach is only the size of a fist, so that amount of food looked about right. I feel like this is going to be a long and very hangry month. What have I gotten myself into?

Day 2
179 lbs
Grilled Beef with Demi-glace Sauce
Today’s health article is about Viva Mayr, a five-star health spa on the southern shores of Lake Wörth in Austria, where a week will set you back about USD4,000. I read all about the whacky fix-its (Organic Liver Tea! Epsom salts and baking soda mixed with water! Abdominal massages!) What catches my eye, though, is the stale bread which everyone has to eat as a “chewing trainer” on the way to chewing each bite of food 30 times before swallowing. I practice mindful chewing with my cubes of grilled beef and slurp up all the gravy. The portion still feels small but after waiting another 10 minutes, I’m feeling kind of full. Could there be something to these controlled portions?

Day 4
180 lbs
Broccoli Cheddar Quinoa Egg Muffins
I dust off the scale thinking that the gnawing hunger I’ve been feeling will translate into a loss of at least five pounds. Me feeling hungry is akin to Superman seeing his blood for the first time—it just doesn’t happen. But I’ve stuck to the FitMeal schedule, endured the hunger and now it’s time for my reward. WHAT.THE. FRICK. I’ve gained a pound. How is that even possible when I can basically feel my body eating away at all my fat? I try to make sense of the world as I down Broccoli Cheddar Quinoa Egg Muffins. Well, not so much a muffin as a square, but anything with quinoa sounds healthy. Plus “quinoa” is just so fun to say. With most FitMeals, there’s a sauce that comes on the side so you can decide how much of it to put on. I, of course, empty the whole container of the creamy cheese sauce (and lick the sides). Luckily, today’s health article features a study from the University College of Dublin that says eating cheese may make you slimmer. Yay, cheese! As an aside, I am an avowed carnivore, but was surprisingly satisfied with this vegetarian meal. I think it’s how the quinoa approximated the spongy texture of meat, or meat-likeness. Plus, CHEESE.800

FitMeal VN - Grilled Pork with Mushroom Sauce - Image by James Pham-3

Day 8
178 lbs
Grilled Pork with Mushroom Sauce
The first week under my belt and I’ve come to realize that while I usually don’t eat unhealthy foods per se, I am eating too much food in general. I put today’s Grilled Pork with Mushroom Sauce and Green Beans into a rice bowl and it’s only filled two-thirds of the way. Normally, I would down twice that amount, but it seems my stomach is adjusting to the smaller portions because I honestly don’t feel as hungry as before. At the weekend, I went over to a friend’s place for a fried chicken dinner. I hardly ate any rice, had lots of salad and just one piece of chicken, and even though I ate way less than I normally would have, I felt overstuffed. What is happening to me?

FitMeal VN - Beefsteak with BBQ Sauce - Image by James Pham-3

Day 11
175 lbs
Beef Steak with BBQ Sauce
I’ve been feeling different lately. My shirt collars feel slightly looser and I don’t feel ready to pass out just bending over. I do a double take when the scale, normally a vengeful Cyclops, says I’ve lost four pounds. At my foot massage today, I experience another pleasant surprise. Where normally I’m greeted with “You look fatter today!”, in that irritatingly straightforward way most
Vietnamese have of blurting out the most unflattering statement possible based on appearance, my masseur asks me out of the blue if I’d been exercising more (I hadn’t). “Your body feels firmer,” he says. I stifle a tear. It’s the nicest thing anyone’s ever said to me.

Day 16
175 lbs
French Onion Soup
Ever since reading an article entitled 5 Strategies to Stop Late-Night Snacking, I’ve been mindful of what I’ve been putting into my body after dinner. Instead of a second bowl of spaghetti while binge watching my favorite shows, it’s now carrot sticks or fruit which I’ve cut up earlier in the day LIKE A BOSS. The article pointed out that we tend to gravitate towards ultra-processed, sugary or salty snacks at night, a time of the day when our bodies metabolize foods differently. Instead, it encourages eating regular meals and snacks during the day, setting a cutoff time of about 8 or 9pm, and giving yourself a 15-minute breather before raiding the refrigerator to allow the cravings to pass. While I’ve been doing well with pre-preparing healthy snacks, there are only so many cucumber sticks a man can eat. So I was thrilled to hear that FitMeal VN was introducing snacks as an optional add-on. Today’s was French Onion Soup with a hint of cinnamon and with almonds and walnuts as the protein (alas, no cheesy croutons), a much tastier alternative to my own unimaginative snacks.

FitMeal VN - Vegetable Squid Rolls - Image by James Pham-1

Day 18
175 lbs
Vegetable Squid Rolls
Ah, celebrities. They’re just like us. Except when they aren’t. Today’s article is about the Goop, none other than celebrity diet queen, Gwyneth Paltrow. Apparently, she’s on a week-long goat’s milk cleanse and won’t eat octopus because “they’re too smart to be food.” “Octopus (sic) are too smart to be food,” she told her staff. “They have more neurons in their brains than we do.” While
that’s not true (octopuses have around 500 million neurons, while humans possess closer to 100 billion), I decide I need all the extra neurons I can get as I happily munch on today’s lunch, a vegetable bouquet held together by a ring of squid.

Day 20
174 lbs
Today is a Saturday and I’m having dinner at friend’s house. Among the guests, one person isn’t having the curry and pita bread we all are, but has brought his own grapefruit to eat. I silently pray that I’m never going to be “that guy.” FitMeals only cover weekdays, so weekends are a chance to cheat or to continue the pattern of healthy eating. I continually surprise myself with my choices—just a small bowl of curry and a quarter piece of toasted pita. I still enjoy the taste of food, just not the feeling of being overly full afterwards.

FitMeal VN - Sheet Pan Swedish Meatballs - Image by James Pham-2

Day 30
173 lbs
Sheet Pan Swedish Meatballs
It’s been 30 days and I’ve lost 6 lbs. It doesn’t even feel like I’ve deprived myself very much. Today’s health article quotes Christmas Abbott, author of The Badass Body Diet who says that “food is your foundation, and fitness is the accessory.” She advocates embracing the macronutrient trifecta of proteins, carbs, and healthy fats to reduce overall body fat instead of entirely cutting out certain types of food. I feel like the past month has taught me to be much more mindful of what and how much I eat, a habit that I can see as potentially life-changing. Having restaurant-quality meals delivered straight to my door and not having to decide what to eat every day has been equally liberating. But it’s time for my final test. I’m going to get a haircut and my barber is the Regina George of Saigon, the original Mean Girl who always quips that I look fatter/darker/have more gray hair than usual. But today, he simply blurts out: “Have you been exercising? You look slimmer.” I just shake my head with a smile.

FitMeal VN offers packages ranging from 1 meal per day to 3 meals plus a snack, starting at about VND60,000 per meal. Find out more at www.fitmeal.vn