Box Diets – the Good and the Bad

At the end of November last year, my girlfriend and I decided to try a diet box company. We chose wsmaq after trying one-day samples from them and one other company; the food from wsmaq was noticeably better.

We chose the diet and the number of Calories we wanted: I went for an “optimal” diet and 2 000 Calories per day, and Iza took the vegetarian option  and 1 500 Calories per day. The cost was a little under 50 zł (~ £10) each per day.

 

How Does it Work?

Five days a week, two large paper bags are left outside our door at around one or two a.m. The paper bags contains five sealed plastic boxes, each of them labelled with the name of a meal. 

My 2 000 Calories are split, roughly, into one third in “first breakfast”, one third in lunch, most of the rest in dinner, and 5%-10% in each of “second breakfast and tea.

Since I’m trying intermittent fasting, I eat both breakfast at 11 a.m., and eat the rest of the food by 7 p.m. There’s normally fish for lunch on Fridays, and sometimes other days, so when that happens, I switch the lunch and dinner around so I eat the fish at home. I am not always a people person, but microwaving fish at work would be too much even for me.

 

Is it any Good?

I think so, yes. The two main advantages are the Calorie-counting and the variety, with the convenience and the overall quality of the food as a runner-up.

I’m eating a Calorie-restricted diet without having to do the restriction myself. This is a huge benefit for me, since I need to lose some weight. I don’t have to think about what’s in my meals, instead I just have a simple rule: if it come from one of the boxes, I eat it, and if not, not. I’m still hungry sometimes, but at least I know I’ve eaten exactly what I’m supposed to.

The variety of the food is more than I would manage if I was cooking for myself, unless I was spending hours each week on meal planning. I’ve eaten all kinds of dishes I’d never tried before, and liked most of them.

I pick up my food bag in the morning, put the dinner in the fridge, and go to work. At work, I take a look at what’s in the bag, and decide when I will eat it. That’s pretty much the sum of the time and effort that my diet requires, five days a week. No shopping, prep limited only to heating, and no thought.

The quality of the food is generally good, as far as I can tell. The meals don’t seem to suffer from being sealed in a box for up to 20 hours. Normally there are one or two meals each day that are delicious, and the rest are at least decent. In about five weeks of experience so far (125 meals), I’ve only had one or two dishes I wouldn’t happily eat again.

 

And the Bad?

The first and most obvious drawback is the cost. It’s probably about five times as much as the cash cost of cooking from basic ingredients. That’s not a fair comparison in my case though. I would typically buy breakfast and lunch while already at the office, which would cost more and be less satisfying than the alternatives. Iza and I would also eat out or get takeaway one or twice during the week. A fair cost comparison is probably around 50% higher

Secondly, there are a lot of boxes to dispose of. Each meal is in an individual container, which is not re-used. I believe that some diet box companies offer options for bio-degradable plastics in the serving boxes, but I’ve never heard of any company offering re-usable boxes. (If net environmental cost is a major concern for you, you should consider the net cost of the travel as well: the food is delivered by someone who visits our flat five times a week. The marginal environmental cost of adding us to the delivery route should be quite low, but it’s probably not zero, and I doubt they’re delivering in electric cars running on green power.  Conversely, we now rarely drive to a supermarket, since we only eat our own cooking at weekends. Which brings us to…)

Lastly, we had to adjust our regular shopping habits, since during the week we rarely eat anything that didn’t come from a box. Bread will go stale before we can eat it all, fruit and veg may go off. Even cheese is in danger. We’re adjusting, but it was a problem.

 

Bad Habits

I learned something bad about myself, a couple of weeks after we started. I had developed the ability to go into the kitchen, maybe to make tea or feed the dog, and then open the fridge, take out something tasty, and start to eat it, almost without conscious thought. Kitchen => fridge => eating, no thinking required.

Being able to use an easy rule (“either it came out of the boxes, or you don’t eat it”) stopped me doing that, but even so it was disturbing to reflect on it. I have bad habits, like anyone else, but I hadn’t really thought about what the ‘habit’ part of that could mean.

 

Overall

I’m definitely positive about it. We’ve bought a second month’s supply, which came with a 15% discount. My only questions right now are whether I should buy the food seven days a week instead of five, or if I should take 1 800 Calories per day instead or 2 000.

 

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