A man who used to weigh almost 22 stone and would be left in tears in changing rooms turned his life around after discovering ‘meal prep’. Bolton-based John Clark, who managed to lose nine stone, says he went from spending £60 a day on food to spending just £17 on his weekly shop for him and his partner.
John spends six hours each Sunday with his fiancée Charlotte Deniz preparing every single meal for the working week ahead, and credits this organisation with them both keeping off the pounds and sustaining their balanced diets. The 42-year-old made the transition 20 years ago after he struggled to fit in clothes. He was working as a lorry driver, stopping off at service stations for hot lunches, and going to the pub for his tea.
Now, he still eats all of his favourites, including kebab fakeaways, chocolate donuts, and pizzas, but all made from scratch in healthier ways in his kitchen. The meals are then stacked neatly in his fridge in Tupperware, which has impressed millions of users on TikTok.
“I was extremely unhappy,” John told the Manchester Evening News . “I started to want to lose weight because I was sick to death of not being able to fit into clothes, it got to the point where nothing would fit, and I’d be in tears in the store changing rooms.
“I used to eat as much as I wanted whenever I wanted. I would order massive baguettes at service stations, then eat steak and chips from pubs for my tea.”
Eager to make a drastic change, John began to batch cook meals to take on the road with him – saving him time and money – and at the time ensured he was in a calorie deficit. He lost nine stone in 18 months, and has sustained this for 20 years, still weighing in at 13 stone.
“I saved on food waste too, I’m a big advocate for not wasting food,” John said. “I fell for fad diets, I tried every diet, until I went to the library and taught myself the fundamentals and importance of having a balanced lifestyle.
“Eat what you want when you want with moderation in mind.” No longer afraid or embarrassed, John’s weight loss encouraged him to get fit and work out in the gym.
John quit his job as a lorry driver in 2004 and was taking on all sorts of jobs, including a stint working in a gym. It wasn’t until 2017 when he met his soon-to-be-wife, Charlotte, 37, who is a receptionist at an orthodontist, that he stepped up his meal prep game with Instagram-worthy presentation and, since 2019, has done it as a full-time job.
The pair met via social media. “Charlotte was a size 18 when I met her, and she was trying to starve herself to lose weight, which was upsetting to see,” John explained.
“She wanted to try my meal prep and we really got into it together, cooking at a weekend, it brought us closer together in all honesty.” John laughed: “Couples who prep together stay together. She lost six stone in 10 months.”
John says this was achieved by her following the recipes in his new cookbook – The Meal Prep King: Prep Yourself Slim – which shows readers how to meal prep to make the most out of your grocery shop, keeping costs down while providing tasty and healthy meals.
The couple eat everything from cheeseburgers and chips, to salmon, kale, prawns – ‘everything’, John, who will still eat out a couple of times a month, says. “It’s important for a sustainable lifestyle to enjoy what you’re eating,” he continued.
“We all have to eat food. I think people think meal prep is just rice, chicken and broccoli, whereas we meal prep steak pies and pasties, chocolate donuts, you name it, but with meal prep you put yourself in control, you know what’s going into your meals.”
The pair trade in their time at the weekend to be able to have a hassle-free week from Monday to Friday. They will head to Bury market on Saturday mornings to pick up fresh fruit and veg, with John calling it the ‘best market on the planet’, and do a supermarket shop in the evening.
On average, they will spend £150 a month on food. But they can do it for cheaper and some weeks spend around £20 a week.
“The most affordable meal prep we do is £17 a week for every meal Monday to Friday for two people. To be exact it’s £17.34,” he said.
“We do have to compromise for that, so we can’t have meat every day, but we will have chicken one day, tuna on another instead of salmon, use lots of chickpeas and butter beans for stews and curries. We split up the carbs, so we’ll have white rice, brown rice, and something with potatoes.
John added: “Times are really hard at the moment. We will go to local markets, shop at Aldi, and I’ll always look in the reduced sections. I got a loaf of bread yesterday for 8p and put it straight in the freezer.”
John and Charlotte then spend six hours on Sundays preparing the meals – three days’ worth of meals for the fridge each, and the rest in the freezer – which includes having a cuppa break at a friend’s house and washing up.
“We have loads of time during the week instead,” said John. “We’re not then spending every night cooking in the kitchen and then doing the dishes.
“We go to the gym for an hour or two, walk the dog every night, we spend quality time together.” On whether John thinks it’s easy to stick to this way of life, he added: “I’ll always stick to it, it’s been so successful for me.
“It’s become a lifestyle, you just do it automatically. I don’t believe in the word diet, there is an end, so for me the lifestyle is automatic, we don’t think, we just do it. It’s like driving, you don’t think about it once you’ve learned how to drive.”
For those who don’t have the best culinary skills, John says it’s important to learn. And for those who might think they don’t have time to meal prep, he says it’s about adjusting your time to fit it in.
“I’m not a chef, I just enjoy cooking, but it’s a good thing to learn, so get in the kitchen and just start doing it. Start off small, for example, it’s hard to ruin a stew.
“I imagine it would be hard trying to meal prep as a single mum for example, but perhaps parents could prep whilst their children are asleep and adjust it to their lifestyle. It will save you time and money in the long run. One of my TikTok followers in the US is a busy mum in the navy and she cooks for her family for six weeks at a time.”
Featured in the new cookbook are John’s fakeaway recipes for less than 500 calories. He takes inspiration from foods he enjoys, and makes his own versions.
He has recreated the McDonald’s Big Mac and supermarket chocolate donuts for 130 calories instead of 400. His favourite is the doner kebab creation – where he uses lower fat mince, seasonings and spices, and then wraps it up in a clean, hollowed-out baked bean tin, and cooks it in the oven with water to let it steam.
This method is filmed for one of his TikTok videos – a social media platform where he has more than 1.5 million followers. “People really do get a kick from checking out what we do,” he said. “They can see we are normal people so they feel they can do it too.
“Food prep can motivate you to be healthier, you see it, you’re less likely to eat rubbish and buy stuff you don’t need, it puts you back in control, it has lots of different benefits.
“I’ve always dreamed of helping others and we are helping so many people around the world. Twenty years on I’m still doing it, so there has to be something said in that. It’s important for me to pass it on and continue to advocate it for others.”
The Meal Prep King: Prep Yourself Slim by John Clark (Penguin Michael Joseph, £20) is out April 14.
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