L’Oréal Blackett bids an emotional farewell to sugar

What says ‘New Year, new me’ more than a diet so virtuous it blushes at the sight of a naked salad? While Manchester geared up for the usual Christmas excess, I committed to a ‘vitality’ meal plan. For three days, I’d be free from meat, dairy, gluten, sugar and, from first impressions, free from all my sinful ways. I know what you’re thinking. Why? After all, I work at Confidentials, a home for known gluttons and proud carnivores. But, in an age of glorified veganism and the diet conscious, it felt time to step away from the all the rich dinners and get a handle on my health.

...it turns out, a ‘free from diet’ does not have to mean free from joy.

The Vitality plan was created by 3 Squared, Manchester’s brand new and first ‘free from’ restaurant at Royal Exchange Arcade. It's a holistic take on pre-prepared meal services, and they've created three plans - active, balanced and vegan/vegetarian - to help people regain control of their eating habits and lives. 

At the 3 Squared helm is Katie McIntosh and Andy McGlynn - two of the most knowledgeable ‘nutrition oracles’ in the city - who could tell just by looking that carbs, sugar and caffeine were my major vices. I’d be having far, far less of those. 

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The 3 Squared Vitality plans contain both vegan and non-vegan meals

Together they aim to redefine how we think about allergen free food and how we think about healthy food altogether. They are not just a ‘clean-eating’ takeaway for the  protein guzzling gym heads (there are no uninspiring protein boxes here), but a restaurant-café boasting talented chefs performing beautiful kitchen miracles with only a tiny bit of salt. 

And it turns out, a ‘free from diet’ does not have to mean free from joy. 

I felt smug. Like Confidentials' very own Gwyneth Paltrow.

Instead, it was free-flowing. My handmade meal plan (breakfast, lunch and dinner) would consist of massive portions. I’d eat a colourful variety of vegan curries, nutritious nourish bowls, oats in abundance, endless pots of hummus, flapjacks, 'bliss balls' and much more hummus. I could have wept with relief at the sight of carbs on my three-day menu.

There was no laborious calorie counting either. The motive is a positive impact on my cognition, my memory and energy- this was much more than just a weight loss fix. “I don’t know how many calories are in your meals,” said Katie McIntosh, “We want people to be more mindful about what they eat and by reducing addictive ingredients you will regulate your hunger hormones and become more satiated by what you put in your body.”

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Katie McIntosh and Andy McGlynn, co-founders 3 Squared
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3 Squared, Royal Exchange Arcade

So the meals. 

Breakfast was overnight oats, swimming in almond milk, date syrup and topped with nuts and berries – the ultimate Instagrammable brekkie. I was given enough to feed the entire office. For the first time in a long time I remained satisfied until midday (and did not become a ravenous sugar-deprived demon by 3pm). At lunchtimes, I felt the green-eyed glares from colleagues as I enjoyed dishes such as a roasted winter vegetable soup topped with pastel coloured flowers, and bread so light I was suspicious it was actually gluten free. 

I felt smug. Like Confidentials' very own Gwyneth Paltrow.

Each meal was a joy to open, especially at dinner times. My personal favourite was a chickpea, coconut and tomato stew with brown rice, again topped with 3 Squared's signature flowers. It tasted and looked like who I wanted to be: well presented, expertly coordinated and full of personality.

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Chickpea, coconut and tomato stew with brown rice

Waking up each morning knowing that I had beautiful, healthy, great tasting food waiting for me was a daily delight. I've often said that I could be much healthier if I didn't have to cook for myself (wouldn't we all?). All my usual 'back of the cupboard' temptations were thwarted by the convenience of better food in my fridge.

So the vegan Vitality plan succeeded - I felt revitalised and importantly, satisfied. I didn't feel like I was on a diet, in fact, I felt like I was indulging. The 3 Squared team have mastered healthy cooking that doesn't feel restricted or deficient in taste. They do offer non-vegan and exercise focused meal plans, but can also tailer your plan to your individual needs. Plus, with the team's holistic yet non-preachy way to health and fitness, I felt I could actually stick to the 'free from' lifestyle.

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Snacks included hummus and lots of it
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'Bliss balls'

Again, there's the question of why. As of last year, there was an estimated 3.5 million vegans in the UK, and in 2016, 8.5 million people classed themselves as gluten free. But for many more, a life without cheese and bread is not a feasible option. And yet, 3 Squared restaurants are already helping to turn the tide with a promise of both a better physical and mental health. "Allergens and high sugar diets are a stress to the body in varying degrees," say 3 Squared, "and our mission is to be that one place that you can escape to, knowing that you're guaranteed to leave feeling less stressed than you were when you arrived."

I concur. Three days later - free from sugar cravings, free from gluten, free from food guilt and all diet related stress - I think they may have transformed me. 

Find out more about 3 Squared restaurants here.

Visit them at 3 Squared Restaurants, Unit 19, Royal Exchange Arcade, Manchester, M2 7EA

Vitality plan

Options range from two meals per day to breakfast, lunch and dinner. Vegetarian / Vegan - from £70 per week, Balanced - from £75 per week Active*- from £80 per week *recommended for gym goers & those with an active lifestyle (extra protein and carbs).

Head to vitality@32restaurants.com to arrange a brief consultation with the 3Squared Vitality team. When you sign up to your first two week collection, you’ll immediately receive a 3 Squared Members card which will give you 10% off food, 20% off drinks at 3 Squared and 5% off Vitality Collections for life.