This week’s recap is of Channel 4’s How to Lose Weight Well. In my continued quest to help first-time buyers maximise their income, can this show teach us anything about achieving health goals without destroying our savings goals?
The premise of the show is that they get six volunteers to test different diets each since we’re a nation of dieters. However, the majority of us give up in the early days. Their aim is to find the diets worth trying at all. My aim as ever is to see if there’s any value for money in any of this. Or is there a cheaper way to eat more nutritiously and get fitter without any diet and financial punishment?
Here’s what I’ve covered below:
Crashers: The Special K Challenge And The Copenhagen Diet
Lifechangers: The Banting Diet And Davina’s Sugar Free In A Hurry
Shapeshifters: The Bonus Years Diet And The Nutritarian Diet
Xand Investigates: Raspberry Ketones And Radio Frequency Fat Removal
The dieters in each episode are split into three groups.
- Crashers want to lose weight in a week or two
- Shapeshifters usually have around a month until their target event
- The Lifechangers are given plans lasting a few months with the idea that these might be permanent lifestyle changes
I haven’t included anyone’s weight even though they include before and after’s on the show. This might seem odd(!), but there’s two reasons for this.
A) Not everyone loses the same amount of weight on a diet, so I don’t think they should be used as enticement
B) I’m more interested in their health gains and the financial value
Weight is only one measure of health. They all lost some weight (which is not a given; it’s not uncommon to put weight on during a crash diet). It’s also possible to think that our goal is weight loss, when really we’d benefit from gaining strength. The latter might lead someone to drop a clothes size without losing weight because muscle takes up less space than fat, but also weighs more than fat. They achieved what they wanted without starving and while getting fitter. In these scenarios, weight before and afters become irrelevant.
Before we get into the episode recap, here’s a bit more background on the show.
The How To Lose Weight Well Channel 4 Cast
One of the mainstays of the show over the years has been presenter and doctor Xand van Tulleken. He’s written a book about the show, and lost six stone previously, so he’s “fascinated” with diets. He is their resident guinea pig for expensive exercise and cosmetic treatments. He likes to see if they are a money pit, or if the science and results behind them justify the cost.
Their resident chef Stacie Stewart makes all the sample food when the guests learn what they will trial from the diets featured. She previously lost three stone and has a no-nonsense approach to the regimes. (They don’t go into it, but she’s a pretty serious weight lifter).
I really like her sense of humour, plus she tries to make the sample recipes more nutritious. A lot of them involve cutting out entire food groups, so it can be a bit of a losing battle (no pun intended). She obviously found a way around this for her book of the show which only includes the “best” recipes.
The series I’ve recapped below also included dietitian Hala El-Shafie of Nutrition Rocks who I recognised from various other shows. (It’s important to remember that the people taking part in these programmes have got professionals supervising them!)
These episodes are from series three since my time machine only goes back so far. The diets featured on How to Lose Weight Well are fairly timeless which is why I’ve covered them even though the show is a few years ahead now. My favourite shows are the ones that age well like a mature cheese… The presenter lineup changed a bit in later series, and I’ll recap those too, so subscribe if you want to know when the recaps for all of the series so far are available. I hope this post helps you spend better without sacrificing your health.
What are your goals?
I recently recapped two other shows that try to sort diet fact from fiction:
Diet Secrets and How to Lose Weight
As I said on those posts, the diet industry makes a fortune from our obsession with “health” and fitness. However, a lot of these expensive plans are crash diets that emphasise exclusion and so don’t sound very healthy at all. I watch this shows as a skeptic therefore to see what’s promoted, and whether any of it has as much care for our wallets as it does for our waistlines.
One of my bugbears when it comes to a lot of the media about achieving health goals is the assumption that it’s expensive to eat well and exercise. I totally disagree.
If you have a massive savings goal like a house deposit, this doesn’t have to be achieved at the expense of anything else you want to change in life. Food and fitness goals are perfect for combining with financial goals as eating more nutritiously can actually save money, and it’s very possible to exercise for free.
I’m not a dietician or similar myself, and it’s best to speak to a doctor if you’re planning an extreme lifestyle change. I just enjoy learning about food facts, property and personal finance and combining all three. Jump in the comments if you’re want to add any professional know-how, or share your experiences regards budget fitness.
One more disclaimer because I’m thorough that way: the following post contains some items marked affiliate links at no extra cost to you. If you sign up for a free trial or purchase via those links, I earn a commission from the seller that I pray goes some way towards covering the cost of hosting the blog etc. Since I’m big on analysing value for money rather than big on big spending for its own sake, I obviously only recommend anything I think is genuinely good value. I hope you save on your spending priorities that way. On that note, if you want to jump straight to Dr Xand’s and chef Stacie’s books on Amazon, these images are affiliate links:
At the end of the post I’ve got a way you might be able to read Xand’s first edition or Stacie’s tome for free if you want to try before you buy.
IF YOU ARE IN DEBT, please do not try and support the blog through my affiliate links. Speak to National Debtline, StepChange, your local Citizens Advice, or all of these about your debts. If you want to support the blog, tell someone you know about it and the free mailing list instead.
Crashdieters: Becky has a love affair with salt and Sheena has a love affair with prosecco.
Target event: Hot tub party
Diet #1: Special K Challenge
Sample food: Erm, Special K!
Can: Replace 2 meals a day with a 45g serving of Special K. At least this reflects that most cereal boxes refer to a serving as 30g, when most of us pour out far more than that.
Can’t: Skip breakfast, or drink fizzy drinks or alcohol.
Early days: Becky looks forward to the obvious side effects of eating so much fibre…
Diet #2: Copenhagen Diet
Sample food: Eggs and spinach
Can: Have three high protein, low fat meals daily.
Can’t: Snack, cook with oil, or drink alcohol, or forget to take her vitamin supplements since it’s a restricted diet.
Early days: Sheena is not enthused about the supplementing information that recommends not to repeat the diet for another two years. This is not a glaring signal of a healthy endeavour! Sheena leaves a dinner party early because she can’t eat any of the food available and because “dieting fog” has descended.
Verdict: Sheena would never do the Copenhagen diet again. Becky felt she had stopped thinking so much about her next meal because it was a choice between Special K or Special K, so her outlook had changed. (I wonder if this stayed true when she started eating a variety again though?)
What about value for money?
Special K is not only higher priced than similar cereals, it’s also sold in smaller boxes, so per weight it costs even more than it seems initially. Porridge oats can be bought for only 75p per kilo, whereas a 500g box of Special K can easily cost £4! What if Becky had swapped her breakfast to oats? Hm.
Sheena’s high protein diet could be achieved cheaply especially if buying things like the eggs in bulk and frozen spinach. It’s possible to freeze egg whites and yolks if you’re worried about getting through the big packs, but they will usually last past the best before anyway too. Put an egg in a bowl of water if you’re unsure; if it floats, it’s rotten inside. If it sinks, it’s still good to eat.
In these two recaps I’ve covered why vitamin and fitness supplements are a
waste of money for most of us not on a restricted diet:
Disclaimer: Every week Xand has to point out that crash dieting…
…won’t give you lasting results
…can be dangerous
…is “generally frowned upon” by health professionals
…so you should only do it after consulting a doctor first
Lifechanging Dieters: Callum has a love affair with sugar and Jake has a history of stroke in his family, but loves fast food.
Target event: Garden party
Diet #1: Banting Diet
Sample food: Pork and crackling with cauliflower mash
Can: Eat more fat and less carbs on 1900 calories daily, and drink unsweetened tea and coffee.
Can’t: Have most grains, processed food, sugar, fruit, or large portions.
Diet #2: Davina’s Sugar-Free in a Hurry
Sample food: Baked three grain risotto
Can: Have fresh fish, meat, vegetables, wholegrains, coffee/tea, and even alcohol.
Can’t: Have refined sugar, but sweetness from fruit is okay.
Early days: Callum tucks into chorizo and cauliflower.
After 2 weeks: Callum stays off the Coke, but “gives in” to Guinness.
After 6 weeks: Colleagues and friends torture them, but Jake has been converted to spin classes. Callum “caves” on another holiday, but says a cheat meal is better than a cheat day. His brother is a professional footballer, so they go for a run together.
Verdict: Callum found it easier than expected as once he cut out sugar, he realised he could cope without it after all. Jake also enjoyed his diet enough that he wanted to continue, but he might be a bit more relaxed on weekends.
What about value for money?
The Banting Diet has some in-built savings as processed foods and piling more energy than we need on our plate are two easy ways to overspend. It’s bananas though that he wasn’t allowed to eat fruit (pun intended). Compared to other cheap sources of energy, fruit has so many other benefits. Read more on what qualified nutritionists say about that here (under “Are there good and bad carbs?”)
How to Lose Weight Well featured the Banana Diet in series five, so no wonder we’re confused when we’re prescribed such opposites!
Davina’s three grain risotto uses rice, spelt and barley. Risotto rice tends to cost more per kilo than other rices, and barley is somewhere in between the two (spelt is more expensive than all of them). On the programme Save Money Good Food they’re a big fan of using up ingredients in risottos. Risotto rice pays off if it goes towards using up all your leftovers, but cutting it with barley will also make it go further.
Guess what? I recapped Save Money Good Food too and I’ve included them in this early stages recipe index of all the recipes on the blog. Risotto to your heart’s content.
I’m affiliate linking to Davina’s Sugar-Free in a Hurry because contrary to what the title implies, the book doesn’t encourage excluding carbohydrates entirely. Instead the recipes encourage cooking quick balanced meals with less refined sugar. I follow the majority of experts that believe total exclusion leads to more problems than it solves, and that instead the conversation surrounding food should focus on including more nutrients, without needing to villainise entire food groups.
Like me, Davina also acknowledges in her intro that she relies on the experts for information, so her nutritionist features in the book also. They also don’t use a narrative of “good” and “bad” carbs, and make the distinction instead that some carbs release energy quicker than others which is a more helpful comparison.
Davina’s Smart Carbs follows a similar theme on how to cook with carbohydrates while consuming less sugar overall, and Davina’s 5 Weeks to Sugar Free was the predecessor to both of these if you’re wondering what the difference is between all her books. Davina’s Kitchen Favourites is simply her most recent recipe book for cooking for friends and family. These are all affiliate links, as are these images if you want to visit Amazon:
If you are in debt, it doesn’t matter whether a good deal is 99p or £99, you should seek advice on getting out of debt before spending another penny. See the links at the top of this post.
As for Jake’s conversion to spinning, coronavirus has obviously changed our view of home exercise and gym membership. To try spin classes when world events permit, get a free pass first instead of signing up to a gym membership you might not use. If you like it, see if you can’t get a pay as you go pass via Hussle. This gives the flexibility of switching to free exercise in case your circumstances change.
Shapeshifting Dieters: Bex lives to eat and Lea lives to eat cheese and chocolate specifically. Nom, nom, nom.
Target event: Lea’s 50th birthday party
Diet #1: The Bonus Years Diet
Sample food: Poached fish with almond rice, dark chocolate and red wine
Can: Have seven “miracle ingredients” daily including fish, nuts, fruit, vegetables, red wine, dark chocolate, and garlic.
Can’t: Get smashed on wine and chocolate.
Early days: Bex finds the combination of fish and garlic antisocial.
Diet #2: Nutritarian Diet
Sample food: Buddha Bowl, or what Stacie likes to call a 20-veg chilli, followed by gluten and dairy-free ice cream. Basically it’s a vegan diet.
Can: Replace meat and diary with vegetables and beans, and have one glass of wine a day.
Can’t: Cook with oil, snack, drink fruit juice, or lots of coffee.
Early days: Lea cooks without cheese. The world does not implode.
After 2 weeks: Bex and Lea try to find anything they can eat at a local scooter rally, and find a Thai food truck that lets them modify their orders. They then get hammered though.
After 3 weeks: Bex has pizza, but she walks there and back. Xand says it’s not enough to burn off pizza.
Verdict: Bex only recommends The Bonus Years Diet if you don’t have a job and hire a chef, and she found the ingredients expensive. Lea much preferred the Nutritarian diet.
What about value for money?
The seven “miracle” ingredients from The Bonus Years Diet can all be procured cheaply. I’ve listed most of these on this page:
The same page applies for cheap veggies and beans as part of a vegan – or Nutritarian – diet.
For the red wine, Save Money Good Food found taste testers at Greenwich Market preferred Aldi’s Merlot to other budget brands (£3.49).
In one of the recipes on The Bonus Years website, the author lists “pre-cut” vegetables as an ingredient. I can see then why Bex found it expensive. Cut your own vegetables if possible unless you’re Liberace. If it’s not possible for health reasons, frozen veg is often cheaper per kg AND pre-chopped.
If you don’t have time because you work too much, then it’s counter-intuitive to then spend those hard-earned wages on fresh prechopped veg. Frozen, or fresh whole veg are usually cheaper. Maybe we could work less in future if we didn’t give all our earnings away. If we have to work more to pay a premium for convenience because we’re too busy with work, then we’re paying to work, no?
Vegan diets don’t have to be expensive
Buying specialist gluten free foods if you’re not diagnosed coeliac is a surefire way to pay far more than you need. Otherwise a vegan diet, “Nutritarian” or not, doesn’t need to be expensive and there are definitive savings to be had by abandoning meat.
If you look at the can’t list too, these are restrictions that automatically save money while also likely cutting down on the amount of sugar and caffeine consumed… HOWEVER, I’ve never met a nutritionist that promotes restricted diets long term, or the kind of diet speak on the show of “giving in”, or “caving” to temptation. The cans and can’ts above are actually “dos” and “dont’s” on the show. I don’t know how they became can and can’t in my notes, but I really dislike the word can’t in association with any conversation about achieving goals.
The Nutritarian Diet bans oil altogether. Certain oils have unsaturated fat and certain vitamins are fat soluble, so we need some fat in our diet to get the nutrition from other food groups…So the nutrition logic behind banning oil is flawed. Don’t be afraid to buy olive oil!
- Do raspberry ketones really work?
- Radio frequency fat removal review
Do raspberry ketones help you lose weight, or are they a waste of money?
Xand took some weight loss pills containing raspberry ketones and was unimpressed as he didn’t notice any of the benefits claimed on the bottle. So far the research has been trialled on rats and mice which doesn’t tell you enough about the effect on humans.
Professor Carper devised a fat burner and carb blocker test for the show therefore. A group of volunteers was given either a carb blocker, or a placebo. They were all given the same meal and had their blood tested regularly.
The volunteers that took the carb blocker showed no difference in their blood glucose levels compared to those who took the placebo. Then they repeated it with the fat burners.
Do raspberry ketones actually work?
The volunteers who took the fat burner had slightly higher ketones after 17 blood tests. What does this really mean though?
The Professor compared it to the same effect as having a cup of coffee. Therefore they wouldn’t expect these volunteers to lose weight over time. However, they also conceded that it was a short study with a small group testing one brand of pill, so other research might get different results.
I linked to Save Money Good Health higher up in this post on the subject of fitness supplements. This echoes what Dr Ranj Singh says on that show: the caffeine from an 18p cup of coffee means we likely don’t have to spend extra on energy drinks, or cold tablets with caffeine in them…It seems that 18p cup of coffee can save you buying raspberry ketones too.
Would you pay for radio frequency fat removal?
Xand doesn’t ever want to do ab exercises. He asked Dr Paras Dalal at Harefield Hospital who normally blasts tumours if he could remove his belly fat with radio frequencies instead.
They demonstrated radiowaves heating and destroying fat cells in a piece of pig fat. If Xand doesn’t paired it with a lifestyle change after, new fat cells will form after the temporary effects of the treatment wear off though…So it’s not really a way to get out of doing ab exercises forever!
They didn’t mention prices, but it’s easily £50 to zap just one body part for less than half an hour at most salons. Then they’ll recommend a course of treatment in the hundreds for the “best results”.
Xand’s review: he basically had a 45 minute nap during his treatment (expensive nap!). He didn’t notice any benefit, but he also believes in no pain, no gain, so he was dubious of a treatment that was so easygoing. Maybe just skip to the lifestyle change?
So…How Do You Lose Weight Well?
It’s a tricky title, isn’t it? If we mean “well” as in good, then all of the volunteers lost weight, so in theory any of the diets featured will do. (The opposite can happen on diets though also).
If we mean “well” as in good health, then see Xand’s disclaimer again regards crash dieting. Also see episode three of my recap of Diet Secrets and How to Lose Weight for other experts views on crash diets.
One of the lifechangers trialled The Banting Diet. These plans are supposedly more sustainable longterm, but I don’t see how anyone can gain in health by going the rest of their life without fruit, even if they thought they gained by losing weight… At least Davina’s Sugar-Free In A Hurry acknowledges the benefits of fruit. (No scurvy, anyone?)
How do you lose weight well on a budget?
If we’re including financial gain in our success definition then the volunteers could have done “better”. While The Bonus Years Diet was financially punishing for Bex, all of the diets had money savings potential except for the Special K Challenge.
Kelloggs markets Special K as diet food, hence the inflated price. It’s cereal. If you want to eat a cereal with added salt and sugar twice a day in the name of health, you can do it much cheaper. Or you could try making any breakfast that doesn’t have added salt and sugar, and it will still likely cost you less than Special K for a week. (£4 for a box! Crazy. This thought alone is enough to kill any appetite).
What do you think? Have you tried any of these and did you find them expensive? What do you do to eat well without blowing your budget? Do you think you can save for a house while single-handedly funding the diet industry?
If you have any tips on getting fitter without paying over the top for the gym and food, then the comments section is waiting for your blessing.
Want to know more about how to lose weight well?
If you decide that Xand and/or Stacie’s book are an investment then be aware that Xand’s book has an updated edition. This is sometimes cheaper than the first edition contrary to what you might expect (aff links).
Stacie’s book The Complete Diet Plans has a third subtitle: “All the best recipes from the TV series, plus simple diet plans for healthy weight loss.” Fill up on words instead of food, I guess!
Just a reminder that while a good book can put us on the road to spending and eating the way we want, if you are in debt, please visit the resources at the top of the post instead, and read what you can for free. The book will still be there when you get out of debt if you decide it’s a priority when the time comes.
How Can I Read For Free And Eat For Less?
My free ebook is available via the form at the bottom of this page. Oh, that’s not what you meant? I’d read my PDF about the quickest routes to managing your money anyway as I also talk in that about how every goal is a financial goal including our health aims.
You could see if Stacie and Xand’s first book are included in the Kindle Unlimited free trial (aff link). (The updated edition doesn’t have a Kindle version yet. Let me know in the comments if you notice this has changed and I’ll update this post!) You don’t need a Kindle to take part, as Amazon provides an app for your device, and then you have unlimited access to over 1 million ebooks. You can also read magazines or listen to thousands of audible narrations during the 30 days.
I heard a rumour that there’s these things called libraries, but their selection is often too limited for me, and they do inconvenient things like close during pandemics. The audacity. (My lack of wit is also free).
To save you the effort, the last time I checked, none of the books were available on Audible (this will come as a shock to you, but there is also a free trial for Audible *aff link*. It works a bit differently though because you get to choose a book when you sign up, and then you get one audiobook monthly if you decide it’s within your spending priorities to keep Audible, plus you can obviously buy as many audiobooks as you like anyway). I don’t know if Xand and Stacie’s titles will ever be available on Audible, so in case audiobooks are the only way that you can consume books anyway, I will investigate some trustworthy alternatives and update this post in future ideally.
If you are already a member of Amazon Prime, then you might save on your food shopping with Amazon Fresh. True to form, a 30 day free trial (aff link) lets you test run the weekly deliveries. This is for you if you insist on buying brands, don’t have a discounter near you, and easily spend £40 on your essentials.
It’s also for you if you rely on deliveries usually anyway, and have used all the delivery coupon sign up offers for the major supermarkets.
They have a wider range than most supermarkets, but you can also add produce from independents for hard to find items if you don’t have that choice locally, or the travel costs are prohibitive. Their products from Morrisons are sometimes cheaper than going into Morrisons if that’s your supermarket of choice ordinarily. The deliveries are cheaper than paying annually at Tesco etc., on the basis that deliveries are same day and you can choose a one hour slot.
Next time on How to Lose Weight Well…
In episode two they trialled The Egg Diet, The Strawberry Diet, The Dude Diet, The Skinny Bastard Diet, The Ayurvedic Diet, and The New Nordic Diet. Also Xand investigated fat dissolving injections and fluid retention.
I recently caught up on How to Lose Weight Well 2020 and it should be back in 2021 as they were casting for another series. I’ll recap all the later series too. Subscribe if you want to keep up with the rest and anything else new on the blog. I’m also sending weekly tips at the moment on other ways to kickstart your income and your savings.
I don’t know that I want to encourage anyone to apply for How To Lose Weight Well, but basically the production company Little Gem finds their applicants via email and the Channel 4 website.