Since its launch in 1986, tens of thousands of Australians have used Lite n' Easy to lose weight or simply for its convenience as a meal delivery service.
In 2016 we surveyed 454 Lite n' Easy customers about their experiences, and the response was overwhelmingly positive. Most of our survey respondents lost weight using Lite n' Easy, and many even said that losing the weight was, well, easy.
But some respondents to our survey were put off by the lack of variety in the food, the cost, the amount of packaging, and the lack of success they had losing weight.
With many people trying to avoid the supermarket, meal delivery services like Lite n' Easy are getting a boost. We take a look to help you decide if this one's for you.
It's no magic bullet. Lite n' Easy works on the evidence-based notion that energy (calorie/kilojoule) restriction helps to achieve weight loss.
Before starting Lite n' Easy you're asked whether your goal is weight loss, health or convenience. Then you fill in a short questionnaire which asks your age, gender, height, current weight and how much exercise you do, and Lite n' Easy then recommends one of three different meal plans – 1200, 1500 or 1800 calories per day (5021, 6276 or 7531 kilojoules) based on your answers.
If your goal is weight loss, you can also choose the Jump Start program for your first two weeks. This consists of five days of normal meals and two 'fasting' days, where the breakfast and morning snack are removed.
Maryl-Ann Marshall, accredited practising dietitian (APD) and Lite n' Easy spokesperson told us, "The meal plans are developed by our team of dietitians to help customers lose about 0.5–1kg per week on average."
It can be very difficult to visualise what the daily kilojoule intake target actually looks likeClare Collins, professor of nutrition and dietetics, University of Newcastle
Essentially this means reducing your daily energy intake by at least 2000 kilojoules (about 500 calories) compared to what you usually eat when your weight is stable. And while you could attempt to stick to a recommended daily calorie target yourself, most people don't have a clue what that looks like.
According to Clare Collins, professor of nutrition and dietetics at the University of Newcastle, that's where a pre-prepared meal plan can help.
"Even when people want to follow a low-energy diet for weight loss, it can be very difficult to visualise what the daily kilojoule intake target actually looks like in terms of meals. Also people may not know how to prepare meals consistent with a lower energy intake.
"Even after just a week on Lite n' Easy they will have a better understanding of both portion sizes and what healthy eating 'looks like' in terms of meals."
Of the Lite n' Easy customers we surveyed, 68% said they were using it to lose weight but 73% said they use it because it's convenient and healthy. And the convenience of Lite n' Easy seems to be a crucial feature.
"Our customers tell us this convenience of not having to evaluate what foods are healthy or what to prepare every day for every meal is critical to achieving their goals," says Marshall.
Collins agrees, saying that having energy-controlled meal plans delivered to your door "takes away the need for meal-by-meal self-monitoring".
"You won't have to look at other food. And you won't have to think about the kilojoules you'll eat, as you already know based on what got delivered," she says.
I think the Lite n' Easy service is convenient more than anything elseSurvey respondent
Melanie McGrice, APD, thinks convenience is integral to Lite n' Easy's success, as it takes away the planning from someone who's confused.
"It saves people a lot of time, which can be a huge relief," she adds. "Finding the time to plan meals for the week, think about what the kilojoules look like, do the shopping and prepare balanced meals is a big challenge when you're busy."
It's probably no surprise then that 69% of the Lite n' Easy customers we surveyed say they found it easy to lose weight.
"I think the Lite n' Easy service is convenient more than anything else. It's easy and you don't have to think about what you are eating, there are no dishes to do and as a single person this is important," a survey respondent tells us.
Users have said the diet helps them better understand portion control.
One of the biggest learnings people gained from using Lite n' Easy seems to be portion control.
As one survey respondent explains, "While I was on Lite n' Easy I learnt about portion size and what portions we should actually be eating. I found this very helpful information to continue with after I stopped using it."
"The food is great and easy to prepare and more than anything it teaches portion control," says another.
In fact, of the Lite n' Easy customers surveyed who'd lost weight, 70% felt that a key reason for this was the smaller portion sizes.
Interestingly, the smaller portions don't necessarily mean you'll suffer from hunger pangs. When we asked about this in our survey, 79% of Lite n' Easy customers said they weren't constantly hungry, significantly more than the 8% who said they were. And only 5% of previous customers stopped using Lite n' Easy because they didn't get enough food and had to buy other food.
"Weight loss isn't going to be easy. I did feel hungry but not constantly and the longer I follow the program the more I adjust to the smaller portions (a key factor of weight gain for me has been enlarged portion sizes). The program has really surprised me as I did not expect it to be as useful as it's been," one respondent remarks.
35% of survey respondents stopped their delivery because they found it expensive or not value for money.
Using Lite n' Easy isn't all smooth sailing. Various challenges and gripes were raised by our survey respondents and Lite n' Easy customers who commented on our survey posts on social media.
Lack of variety
There are 55+ dinners on the Lite n' Easy menu and these remain fairly static, but breakfast and lunch options change on a weekly basis and between seasons. Despite this, the most common reason for stopping Lite n' Easy – selected by 39% of previous customers from a diverse range of options – was being bored with the food/not having enough variety. "Very convenient – but after a while so boring. Ended up stopping as I was wasting so much food. Not even the kids would eat the desserts in the end," says one respondent.
The second-most common reason for stopping Lite n' Easy, selected by 35% of previous customers, was that they found it expensive or not value for money. As one survey respondent explains, "Lite n' Easy was good for helping with weight loss; it just became too expensive to keep using it on an ongoing basis."
For some, Lite n' Easy might be great value for money. If you live on your own and tend to buy lunch each day at work, for example, $21.71 for three meals might be significantly less than you'd normally spend in a day on food. And there's no waste and no extras to go stale in the pantry.
But if you're spending this money on top of a weekly grocery bill for the family, it can add up.
And while the dinners – which are a mixture of frozen and fresh chilled – may cost less than what you'd pay for a takeaway meal or dinner out, you can buy cheaper alternatives from the supermarket.
See more about prices.
Not always home
If you travel a lot – whether for work or pleasure – it can all start to unravel. 71% of Lite n' Easy customers who travelled said it was challenging sticking to the program when away.
The amount of wrapping and packaging of food was a concern for 52% of Lite n' Easy customers.
Since the survey was conducted, Lite n' Easy has started offering the option for customers to return their empty shopping and day bags to be recycled by leaving them in their empty esky.
Hard when doing it alone
If you're using Lite n' Easy, but your partner isn't, it can be harder to keep to the plan. Among Lite n' Easy customers who had partners, the majority (83%) said it was easier to stick to it because their partners used it too.
Lack of success
Not everyone has success using the service. Of the previous customers we surveyed, 17% say they stopped using Lite n' Easy because they felt they didn't lose any/enough weight on it.
"I was disappointed with Lite n' Easy. Despite keeping to the regimen, I did not lose any significant amount of weight. For me Lite n' Easy was too difficult for no results," says one.
Losing and maintaining weight successfully isn't just about restricting energy intake. Ideally it should also be about getting essential nutrients by eating the recommended serves of healthy food as set out in the Australian Guide to Healthy Eating, and making permanent positive changes to your eating habits.
Marshall tells CHOICE that Lite n' Easy meal plans are based around the Australian Dietary Guidelines, which is good news given that 42% of our survey respondents say they used it to stop unhealthy eating habits.
"I have used Lite n' Easy over many years during times of illness and now to learn healthy eating. I wanted to focus on healthy eating, more than just thinking about food as a restrictive diet," a survey respondent explains. "It is amazing to learn what portion size is correct for me and to add more fruit and vegetables to my day."
It is amazing to learn what portion size is correct for meSurvey respondent
"Our dietitians translate the Australian Dietary Guidelines into simple nutritional parameters that are used by our chefs to create a variety of great-tasting meals," says Marshall. All three calorie plans provide at a minimum the recommended five serves of vegetables and two serves of fruit per day (on average over a week), she says.
Considering that more than 96% of Australians aren't eating the recommended daily amount of vegetables – on average we're eating just 2.7 serves – following such a meal plan would improve at least that aspect of most people's diet considerably.
"Lite n' Easy isn't just a weight-loss solution. Especially in these times, we're seeing even more customers start just for the healthy convenience," adds Marshall.
Losing weight is one thing, but keeping that weight off can be an even bigger challenge, particularly in the long term.
We asked previous customers if they were successful in keeping off the extra kilos after stopping Lite n' Easy and found 36% said their weight has remained (fairly) stable, 14% weren't sure, and 10% lost further weight after stopping Lite n' Easy.
But 40% told us they gained weight after stopping Lite n' Easy.
One survey respondent tells us, "I was able to lose weight on Lite n' Easy and maintain it for some time, however I then started eating unhealthily again and gained weight."
"Lite n' Easy is an expensive temporary fix. You need to buy it for the rest of your life to stay thin and they offer no education on nutrition to assist you [in] maintaining a healthy lifestyle after you finish using it. It's a quick fix and an easy way out," says another.
How to maintain a balanced diet when you stop Lite n' Easy
Take note of any new healthy eating habits
"Take note of what is different compared to the meals delivered, what aspects can you incorporate to make healthy eating habits sustainable and enjoyable," says Collins. "Three regular meals a day. Bigger portions of vegetables, for example."
McGrice adds: "Try and follow the meal spacing going forward – e.g. three main meals and portioned snacks in between – and keep up the routine."
When you come off a pre-prepared diet like Lite n' Easy, try to include larger portions of vegies in your meals.
Maintain portion sizes (and use smaller crockery)
"Take note of the Lite n' Easy portion sizes and the crockery it fits into, then serve up food on the same sized crockery when you stop," suggests McGrice.
'Wean' yourself off gradually
"Buy the dinners only," suggests Collins, "but make them last for two weeks rather than one, and cook every other night using the same principles."
Plan your meals
"When you stop Lite n' Easy, the time you previously spent on the computer placing your orders can now be spent planning meals," suggests McGrice.
Make an appointment with an Accredited Practising Dietitian
"Lite n' Easy can help you lose weight. But it doesn't deal with underlying issues," says McGrice, which could be emotional or environmental.
"You'll need to work on behaviour change so that when you come off it you're ready to maintain. It would only take a couple of consultations to discuss what you've learnt, what worked and didn't work, and strategies for going forward."
Eat for Health calculators are based on the Australian Dietary Guidelines and let you calculate your daily energy needs, your daily nutrient requirements and your average recommended number of serves of food from the following five food groups:
- Vegetables and legume/beans
- Grain (cereal) foods, mostly wholegrain and/or high cereal fibre varieties
- Lean meat and poultry, fish, eggs, tofu, nuts and seeds and legumes/beans
- Milk, yoghurt, cheese and/or alternatives (mostly reduced fat)
The FAQ section on Lite n' Easy's website covers a comprehensive range of topics, but some questions are asked time and again on online forums and product review sites.
A particularly timely one is about contactless delivery. Like most food delivery businesses, Lite n' Easy has introduced a new contactless delivery procedure. Customers can leave their empty esky outside their door and the driver will pick it up and replace it with the new esky.
Lite n' Easy recommends having someone else in the household help you bring the esky inside, but the delivery driver can still offer this service if required. They'll follow new protocols including sanitising their hands before and after entering your home.
Here are answers to a few of the other common questions.
About our survey
Our online survey was sent to Voice Your Choice members and promoted through our social media channels. It was in field from 14 to 25 September 2016.
A total of 454 past and present Lite n' Easy customers completed our survey. 106 (23%) were current users – of those, 24 were first-time users and 82 had stopped but then returned. In the article we refer to this group as 'Lite n' Easy customers'. 348 (77%) had used it in the past but weren't using it now.
In the article, 'previous customers' refers collectively to the 82 respondents who had stopped then returned to Lite n' Easy and the 348 respondents who'd used it in the past but weren't using it now.
Stock images: Getty, unless otherwise stated.