I've written about diets a few times on this blog, but each experience has usually been pretty short lived as I'm generally rubbish at sticking to eating plans, and have zero willpower! At this point, I tend to avoid gimmicky fad diets, because I just know what I'm like and that they won't suit me. What seems to be more realistic for me personally, is a bit of a combination of changes, which don't feel totally restrictive, and still allow me to enjoy eating out - which is usually the main killer for any diet that I try!
Last year I started giving the 5 2 diet a go when it seemed like everyone and their cat was fasting for two days a week, and it worked fairly well for a little while. My main obstacles were eating too much on the other 5 days (I think I may have overcompensated a little...) and also finding a variety of things to eat for just 500 calories, which let me tell you if you've never tried, is not easy! Those zero calorie noodles you can get literally taste like pants FYI.
So my latest foray into shifting a bit of excess flab involves a mix of the best bits of the 5 2 diet, with the convenience and speed of meal replacements. The Exante diet offers a huge range of meal replacement products including shakes, soups, bars and meals, and they've even cleverly created substitutes for yummy things like pancakes and burgers!
You can use Exante in lots of different ways. For me, I'm know I'm not going to be able to give up eating out and all the foods I love for very long, so a 100% meal replacement plan isn't sustainable. But, I feel like two days out of seven isn't much to complain about, and surely even I can muster up enough will power for that, so I've been using Exante meal replacements to do my own spin on the 5 2 diet. It takes the hassle out of wondering what to spend my 500 calories on, and nothing could be easier or more convenient than pulling a meal bar out of my handbag at work for lunch.
Each Exante pack gives you 200 calories plus all of the vitamins and minerals your body needs, and you can mix them up however you like - dessert for breakfast? No problem! To fit the 5 2 diet I'll either eat three packs, and have 600 calories, or I can eat two and a half packs (the bars halve easily) if I want precisely 500 calories, or also for a bit of a change I'll sometimes eat two packs plus an apple or a pear, which will take me to roughly 500 calories too.
The other five days of the week I try to eat consciously, sticking to mainly healthy foods most of the time and tracking it all using the My Fitness Pal app - I aim to eat no more than 1,200 calories. I've also been trying to get out and walk as much as I can, and have been making an effort to drink a lot more water to fill me up, and you can track all of those things on the app.
So that's just one way to use Exante, if you're a little more disciplined than me, and are looking to achieve faster losses, you can use Exante as an almost total meal replacement, adding foods back into your diet as you go. Sam Bailey (the prison guard with the killer voice who won X Factor in 2013) is the current spokesperson for the brand, and she's doing this sort of method and sharing her experience and progress online. On The Sam Plan, Sam is eating three Exante meal packs per day (600 calories), plus 200 calories of food from an allowed foods list, and there are suggested recipes you can follow too. You're also recommended to do 20 minutes of exercise each day alongside the plan.
It's still very flexible, as you actually have four different plans to choose from within the Sam plan - total solution, total solution plus, working solution and simple solution, which range from total meal replacement right up in including a 600 calorie meal from an allowed foods list, so you can be selective based on the level you think you can manage and also what sort of results you want to achieve.
You can find the full details of The Sam Plan here on the Exante diet website. And if you want to give it a go, the Sam Plan packs currently include three exclusive Exante products that you won't find in any of the other bundles. These are the Strawberry Jam & Yogurt Crunch Bar, Double Chocolate Chip Cookie and Strawberry Cheesecake shake... mmmm.
I've tried a fair selection of the Exante foods so far (there are a lot of choices and still loads I want to test), and have liked some a lot more than others, so I think it's a good idea to start off with something like the Sam Plan 4 week variety pack so that you can find your favourites and what suits you. Every shake I've tried has been lovely, and I really recommend making them up in a blender with ice, frappucino style! The bars are also very convenient for on the go or taking to work - personally I don't love the texture as they're very sticky and chewy, but on the plus side they take longer to eat! A lot of the other products work best made in a blender or with a whisk, so I prefer to eat those ones at home, such as the soups, which are like a thicker and creamier version of a cuppa soup, but you really do need to make them in a blender to avoid lumps.
If you're a very fussy eater, then Exante may not be for you, as you do of course have to remember that these are meal replacements, mostly made with soya and vegetable proteins, so you kind of need to adjust your tastes. If like me, you'll try anything once, then you'll probably enjoy experimenting with the different packs to find the ones you like the best. The hazelnut and coconut milkshakes are my absolute favourite and I could happily guzzle them all day, and I was very impressed by the pancakes! Some of the other foods I've shown made up here are the moussaka, carbonara pasta, and the burger.
If you fancy trying a new way to shift a few pounds before your summer holiday, Exante have very kindly offered me a Sam Plan 4 week diet pack worth £80 to give away! You can follow Sam's journey by giving the same plan a try, so enter below by the closing date of 11.59pm GMT on Sunday 12 July.
To enter, just take a look at all of the available Exante products, and leave a comment letting me know what kind of food or flavour you'd like to see Exante launch next (if you're not sure, just let me know which one of the existing products you'd want to try first!). Be sure to fill in the rafflecopter widget below so that I can contact the winner (plus you'll find ways to gain extra entries for easy things like tweeting!). The giveaway is open to UK residents only - good luck!