Despite having tried nearly all of them, I’ve always been somewhat of a skeptic when it comes to fad diets and even more so when it came to meal delivery services. I guess I’ve always been under the illusion that these types of weight loss and nutrition management are not sustainable, whether this is due to cost or simple hunger pangs.
I was recently introduced to Live’ly, which is a specialized health and nutrition establishment that was launched in Dubai over ten years ago and has since expanded its reach to several regional cities. Live’ly is perhaps the most well-known of all nutritionists and meal plan services in the Middle East, offering diet services that are coupled with proper nutrition and health awareness. An area where other services sometimes lack in. The Live’ly team consist of clinical dieticians and specialized chefs that marry to offer a solution to weight loss and disease management through a tailored meal delivery service alongside an ongoing body assessment.
I popped along to the Jumeirah branch to visit Tina Choueiri Chagoury, Chief Clinical Officer and licensed Dietician at the end of last year to have a chat about Live’ly and my own personal nutrition goals.
Upon initial consultation with Live’ly I was whisked into a measuring room to have my body composition analyzed by a very clever (if slightly scary) set of scales. Having never actually had my body composition analyzed further than stepping on a digital scale in the gym every now and then, I was amazed at the information that this single machine could process. It’s advised not to eat or drink caffeinated and alcoholic beverages 24 hours before as well as avoiding physical activity before taking the test to ensure an accurate ready. After taking off everything that could possibly alter my reading without removing my actual clothes I stood still for the next two minutes an waited nervously for my results.
Being somewhat small in size, with an average height and slightly lower than average build, I knew that I would ultimately not be surprised by the reading in terms of body fat percentage and waist-hip ratio, however I did learn that although my weight and body fat were normal that my body water, protein and mineral components were quite worrying low. All of these measurements taken when composed together give you an overall score and a clever way for the dietician to properly access your nutritional needs, as this had already shown, Live’ly Arabia is not just for weight management but also changing the way you approach food.
Following up with Tina, she confirmed this and put me on a meal plan tailored to my specific goal. I was also advised to increase my exercise routine to increase muscle mass which would balance out and reduce body fat percentage. Being sedatary all day at a desk job is not good for long-term health so it is advisable to approach these things now before they become a problem in the future.
I was put on a month-long meal plan that would see fresh and healthy meals, chosen by me, delivered to my door each day in a special Live’ly cooler bag. Each of these bags would contain the following that I had selected from a new fortnightly menu: Breakfast, AM snack, Lunch (appetizer and main dish), PM snack, Dinner (appetizer and main dish), Fruit, Water. Each of these meals chosen would equate to the total number of calories that was suitable for my size and body shape, in this instance 1,200 calories per day.
Armed with a Live’ly a la carte menu and a printed sheet with the next two weeks laid out for me, I was asked to choose my initial meal choices. Having done a meal delivery plan before, the thing that immediately struck me about Live’ly is the amount of choice that you get. The menu is no more geared towards the Arabic clientele than it is the expat community, with a wide selection of food spanning several international cuisines.
Livel’y use only the freshest of ingredients and premium fruit and vegetables to ensure the highest quality of meals on your plan, something that justifies the steep monthly fee. All meats are Halal and locally produced and the deserts themselves are prepared with very little fat and no cane sugar which means you can still indulge whilst on your diet.
Depending on your body or health complaint there are certain factors that you should take into consideration when deciphering your meal plan. For example, those with diabetes such limit the number of deserts to a maximum of 3x per week and should also avoid over choosing egg based dishes for breakfast where as those suffering from Irritable Bowel Syndrome should refrain from choosing gas-forming foods such as cabbage, broccoli, capsicums, beans and spicy dishes.
Armed with my seasonal a la carte menu, I began excitedly to choose my meals for the next two weeks and there was something overly pleasant about knowing I wouldn’t have to step foot in a supermarket for the forseeable future. Live’ly is as convenient as it is good for you.
The menu has a choice of two dishes each day alongside an a la carte option for you to choose should you not like one of Live’ly’s recommendations for you. I actually found that more often than not I would opt for a dish that Live’ly had suggested but occasionally did refer to the a la carte menu for that added bit of variety. Below is fortnightly diary of my Live’ly journey:
Week One & Two – the initiation
For my first Live’ly installment I was less adventurous than I would learn I could be. Deciding not to go against the grain too much I mostly opted for the Live’ly selected dishes on the menu sent to me. My approach was both apprehensive and excited, mostly at the thought of not having to go to the supermarket for the forseeable future.
From Labneh with olives & oats bread to Peanut butter & toast, choices were diverse and delicious. Even mini packs of Kellog’s Branflakes were delivered to my door, meaning that I still got to enjoy cereal as part of my meal plan. For me one of the hardest parts of starting this meal plan was learning to eat regular meals. I never normally eat breakfast apart from at the weekends, preferring to ‘grab and go’ during stolen moments of my busy working day. The great thing about Livel’y breakfast options as opposed to more traditional diets is that it didn’t require me to come to work armed with a frying plan, whisk and cupboard full of ingredients; the dishes were simple and required little or no preparation.
Probably one of the hardest parts of the Live’ly meal plan were the appetizers. Having only just had breakfast I did not feel hungry enough to eat again mid morning, especially an appetizer of Livel’y’s sizable portions. After a quick chat with Tina and being reassured that eating more than I normally would, would not result in me putting on weight, I attempted to force myself to eat more food. Something I’ve never said whilst dieting before! Appetizers for the first week you can again, either keep from the prepared menu or choose from the a la carte. The first fortnight I opted for Arabic salads, assorted lettuce & carrots and some spicy garlic shrimps which became somewhat of a staple during the course of my meal plan.
Lunch is always a welcome meal and anyone that works in an office will tell you that midday cannot come around soon enough. Again, not used to eating a proper meal at lunch time this initial period was spent trying to train my body and my stomach to eat a main meal at lunch time as opposed to the evenings. Out of all the Live’ly courses on offer, lunch quickly became my favourite meal of the day purely for the sheer variety on offer. I found that most days there were several dishes that I fancied and found it hard to choose between dishes such as sweet & sour chicken and rice, grilled fish fillet and everyone’s favourite, Spaghetti & meatballs. There were also vegetarian options for those that don’t eat meat, something that I got to grips with more as my meal plan went on.
Ashamed to say that at the beginning this was definitely the part I was most looking forward to, the PM snack came to be my stolen ten minutes around 3pm where I let myself indulge in seemingly naughty treats that actually, coming from the Live’ly cupboards, were anything but naughty. Chocolate cornflake treats were chosen alongside biscotti and gluten-free popcorn. The Live’ly chocolate biscuits were something I tried to pick as often as possible without getting a call from my nutritionist telling my I was missing the point of the diet! Delicious!
As mentioned, dinner is easily my favourite meal of the day. It’s the time post work, post gym, post everything that I can sit down and relax with my husband for a while, discuss our days and enjoy some good food lovingly prepared by me (or dialed in). Having become accustomed to carb heavy dinners such as pasta, mashed potato and noodles thanks to my other husband’s fast metabolism, I was slightly concerned as to how I would take to drastically reducing my portion sizes. I admit I found this hard the entire way through my Live’ly journey, softened only by the amount I had consumed during daylight hours. Each dinner consisted of a starter and main course. Starters included a Garden Salad and Curried Vegetable Soup. For your main dish you again had lots of choice; there were vegetarian options such as Penne Arabiata (yes pasta!), Cheese & Herb Fatayer and Pineapple vegetable rice as well as a normal main dish and a gourmet option, and of course a la carte. Over this period I opted for a Beef Escalope with veggies and bread, chicken burger, Tuna Melt and a Mediterranean Pizza. Although initially protesting that there would not be enough to satisfy me, I actually got full very quickly, such is the Live’ly brilliance that everything you eat during the day fills you up to exactly the point of happiness. You are never too full and certainly never get a chance to go hungry.
Last Two Weeks – The Final Stretch
After successfully achieving two weeks on the meal plan, I was really rather enjoying my Livel’y experience and had become accustomed to my daily delivery, happily greeting the courier that arrived at roughly the same time each evening to an overly grinning woman at the door. Halfway through however, my final two weeks posed more of a problem. With a busy schedule of work, social events and a fluctuating diary, I knew that I would find it hard to show the true commitment to the Livel’y service that it deserved. The great thing about this meal plan in particular is that you can freeze your deliveries on days that you know you are not going to be home or need it, which makes sense for those people who like me, lead increasingly schizophrenic and busy lives. It is important to note however, that stopping and starting your Live’ly meal plan is going to be detrimental to the end results, as I found out. Over the course of the last two weeks, I was able to commit to no more than 6 days in total; these additional days were added on to the end of my contract so that I still achieved a whole month.
Having got a bit more used to the menu, I was a lot more savvy and at times, adventurous with my choices, reordering my favourite dishes and choosing to sort my location for the day. Most of Live’ly meals are pre-cooked and easy to warm up but if I knew I was going to be out of reach of a microwave, I opted for a sandwich for lunch instead. The flexibility of the meal plan really suited my lifestyle and something that made Live’ly stand out ahead of its competition.
Having indulged in a Live’ly bagel (my weakness) with Turkey slices & Philadelphia more than once, I decided to vary my first meal of the day and played with pancakes & jam, boiled egg & toast bread and mini Zaatar. The psychological effects of choosing breakfast had actually, in a relatively short space of time made me learn to want/need to eat first thing in the morning and had kick-started a healthy eating routine that was helping me get my meals into a more regimented style.
Still struggling with the appetizers, I regularly opted for Hummus B’Tahini and Sauteed Veggies for they did not fill me up quite as much as some of the other dishes on offer. The potatoes with garlic and coriander, although delicious, meant that I simply wasn’t ready to eat lunch for a good few hours, if at all, thus knocking my schedule out of sync. The great thing about Live’ly is that if you’re used to eating quite large portions you won’t be inundated with hunger pangs during your diet.
Still enjoying my lunches, I enjoyed various dishes such as Penang Chicken with Coconut Sauce & Rice, Beef Strogonoff, Classic Beef burger and Grilled Chicken Taouk – all of which made me the envy of my office thanks to the alluring fragrance of each dish. I found myself being quite sad when lunchtime was over, replacing the feeling I previously associated with dinnertime. It seemed that my mindset was changing…
With chocolate fingers, Kit Kats and velvety biscuits on the menu, this was a well received course. For those with a sweet tooth, the PM snack made sure that you didn’t go without and made the entire plan more bearable unlike fad diets that restrict you o heavily you can end up gorging on everything you were trying to avoid.
During the last two weeks I attempted to reduce my meat intake. Being a carnivore at heart and eating too much red meat, I wanted to try to train my body to enjoy vegetables just as much. The vegetarian dishes at Live’ly are well documented and options such as Halloumi & veggie burgers, Foul Modammas and Arabic Bread and Asparagus Frittata made this all the more attractive. However, favourite dishes from the last two weeks included the Jamaican Grilled Chicken with Veggies & Bread, Club Sandwich and the Lamb Kofta with Greek salad. In fact, I found that there were more choices I wanted than actual days so there were some dishes that even after a month of following the plan every day, I still had not tried them all.
After over a month of following the Live’ly meal plan as best I could, bar more than one oversized Christmas dinner and champagne fuelled office party, I was apprehensive about the results. Following a meal plan makes you want to see the end goal, it creates a different mentality than that of doing your weekly shop, you become a lot more savvy to what and crucially, when you are eating.
I approached the scales with caution.
I was pleased to find out that I had seen results! And even happier that I could face my dietician minus cookie crumbs around my mouth. I had not only reduced my body fat percentage in a short space of time, but had lost weight overall and increased muscle mass thanks to a more frequent exercise regime. I was told that the results would have been higher had I stuck to the plan religiously for the entire month which I understood going forward, but nonetheless I was very happy to see progress and that Live’ly had delivered on their promise.
Seeing such substantial progress even after only a month of following the Live’ly meal plan not only gave me the confidence to vary my meals but also gave me an education on what to eat when. We all know the age-old rule of not eating carbs after 8pm but what I found out was that you can still have them, just at different times in the day and by swopping around your meals, you get everything you need and then more but you start to train your body not to crave the things you used to. Since finishing Live’ly, I have adjusted not only the foods that I eat but how. I have started to make my own lunches and re heat them at work as opposed to grabbing a sandwich from a coffee shop, I have reduced the number of carbohydrates included in my nightly meals and I have started to eat little and often and opposed to nothing all day and too much in the evening, feeding my cravings rather than silencing them. I have even started to enjoy experimenting with new foods and recipes to create different dishes that substitute some of my old favourites. Yes, Live’ly is expensive on the surface but you are not just buying into another meal delivery service you are buying into a lifestyle change and in my opinion, you cannot put a price on that. It’s an education for both body and mind, designed by some of the world’s best nutritionists that really can alter the way you perceive food. For anyone that needs to lose weight or has a health concern, it starts and ends with everything that you put in your mouth. Live’ly will become a positive extension of your life and a helping hand on your nutritional journey.
For further information or to book an initial consultation please visit www.livelyarabia.com