For most of their lives, couple Rena Ridzwan and Adlin Azman never gave much thought to healthy eating. Both loved nothing more than tucking into a large meal of rich, decadent food.
Over the years though this lifestyle began to take a toll on their health. At one point Rena was nearly 90 kilograms, while Adlin hit a peak of 95kg.
Adlin suffered from painful gout, while Rena had high cholesterol, pre-diabetic risks and high blood pressure. These pre-diabetic risks started when Rena was just 21.
The passing of Rena’s father in 2016 made them both reconsider their attitude towards food.
Rena’s father suffered kidney failure from the onset of diabetes and also had high cholesterol. Before he died, he made Rena promise to get healthy for the sake of her family.
The wake-up call worked.
Now in their mid-40s, Adlin and Rena have both dropped 30kg from their peak. How did they do it? Simple: by cutting out carbohydrates and sugar.
Inspired by their journey, they’ve opened a cafe in Kuala Lumpur called Made with Love to encourage others to follow in their footsteps by adopting a healthier diet.
Adlin and Rena adopted the weight-loss programme on the advice of a personal trainer and close friend, Chloe Lai.
“Any diet that would make Rena realise what she was putting into her mouth would work for her. The first step to weight loss is to know what you put into your mouth,” says Lai.
The early days were tough for Rena. “The first three to four months – it felt like I was an addict having sugar withdrawals. It was really bad for me,” says Rena.
After eating salad for weeks, Rena was so frustrated at the no-carbohydrates, no-sugar regime that she felt she “would turn into an angry Incredible Hulk”, she recalls.
It got a little easier when Adlin also took up the weight loss fight in 2018 – now they were in it together. Aside from cutting out carbohydrates and sugar, the couple also fasted intermittently.
Within six or seven months, they had both dropped about 30kgs. Their doctors were shocked at the speed of the change – but delighted that the massive improvement in their health meant they could stop taking their medication.
It wasn’t like they had never tried to lose weight before. They had tried the Cambridge diet and the Atkins regime, and Adlin had used caffeine pills for a while. Nothing seemed to work.
“Before our marriage, we tried so hard to lose weight. We were working out three times a week, doing yoga, but nothing could help us. We never thought we could do this,” says Rena.
It was a relief to finally find something that worked for them. “We move better, we sleep better, we have better energy. No more brain fog,” says Rena.
Photo caption: Lamb koftas with cauliflower naan by Made with Love cafe.
Healthy eating for everyone
By now the couple was feeling healthier, more energetic and happier. At Lai’s encouragement, they decided to share their success story by opening a cafe above Lai’s Get Active gym.
They wanted to give more food choices to those seeking a healthier lifestyle. They made a particular effort to offer options suitable to those on a ketogenic diet – a high-fat, protein-adequate, low-carbohydrate diet.
When Rena and Adlin first started their weight loss journey, they found few restaurants that had keto-friendly or low-sugar options on the menu, so they spent most of their time cooking at home. Made with Love was designed to fill that gap. The new venture was made slightly easier by the fact they had previous experience in the catering business.
The cafe’s main message is that being on a keto-friendly or low-sugar diet is not about denying yourself.
“It’s about finding what is good for you in moderation,” says Rena.
For them, it was important that food satisfied people’s cravings but in a healthier way.
“When you’re on a diet the last thing you want to do is to be eating unappetising meals, and most importantly you want comfort food. So we provide the healthier version,” adds Adlin.
The menu at Made with Love is designed every weekend based on public requests – generally, what customers think they’ll “crave” in the coming week.
To make the food keto-friendly and keep carbs and sugar low, Adlin and Rena knew they would have to be creative when designing dishes.
The cafe’s popular nasi lemak – coconut rice with spicy sauce or sambal, eggs, nuts and anchovies – is made with cauliflower rice instead of rice and alternative sweeteners instead of processed sugars. The Made with Love version also features plenty of colourful vegetables, while sweeteners from monk fruit (or lo hon ko) are used in the dish’s spicy sambal.
In other dishes, rice is sometimes substituted for broccoli or cabbage. Glass noodles made from shirataki (corn jack or yam) are used in place of wheat noodles. Some dishes use daikon or zucchini noodles. The naan bread that accompanies the lamb koftas or chicken tikka at Made with Love is created from mozzarella, egg and cauliflower.
Meatless Mondays are the cafe’s way of promoting vegetarianism, while gluten-free and sugar-free bread and cakes are offered as well.
Rena says they are deliberately keeping Made with Love small, at least for now. They stick to a maximum of 40 dine-in and delivery orders a day to ensure freshness and reduce wastage. The cafe’s motto – “always fresh” – reflects their principle of cooking all dishes from scratch daily.
Using fresh and specialised ingredients means their dishes are a little more expensive, at about RM25 (about SGD8) each.
However, the couple believes the price is worth it, as their portions are not only healthy but also hearty and large.
The two remain passionate about helping others as they struggle through their own weight loss journey.
“We are not dieticians or certified ketogenic coaches. But we are living proof that the regime works – under supervision, of course.
“I would have quit within the first week, but luckily both of us decided to do this together.”