So for the last three months I have been on a mission to shed some weight, as despite being confident and loving my body, there are days when I wish I would love it more, and for me, my weight was a huge happiness factor at times.
I tried not to post up too much on here, but my social feeds have been a flood of food and workout and reflective posts about my “”"journey”"”, and these have always been met with several questions each time, and so I thought I would do my best to answer these in a blog post!
If this is all new to you then click here for the final post and summary of my twelve weeks of weight loss and exercise.
I have talked a fair bit about my exercise and eating in my weekly exercise diaries, but I wanted to go into a bit more detail with regards to my eating, my exercise and my workout clothes.
So prior to me starting this I was in the best place mentally. I had accepted that weight loss would be hard, it would take effort, it would require huge diet changes as weight loss success comes from making changes to eating plans, and it would take a very long time for changes to happen. As much as I was desperate to be successful, I knew that wanting it wasn’t enough – consciously making better choices every single moment of every single day and not beating myself up for sometimes not being able to do my willpower justice, those would be hurdles that I would come across. Sometimes short term gratifications take the place of longterm desires and if you don’t prepare yourself for that you can end up punishing yourself and feeling shit and disheartened, rather than learning from your actions and just doing your best moving forward.
I was a little nervous about my gym sessions, as I worried that a gym full of super fit trainers used to working with beautiful slim fit celebrities would really judge me for my body and make assumptions about my health. I am body happy but I am also so easily swayed by others, and very conscious about how others perceive me. I didn’t want them to view me as weak or disgusting or any other of those irrational things that passed through my head. I didn’t want to be made a mockery of or pitied or seen as inferior for the body that had never ever held me back or hindered my life. I wanted to compact it slightly and feel a little fitter in the process.
Luckily, the Bodyism team went above and beyond my expectations, especially JB and Mike. They never made me feel like I couldn’t do anything or was too unfit, they kept the workouts fun and varied and the only aches I ever felt afterwards were in my muscles, not my bones. They were a lot of fun to talk to and work out with which is necessary when you’re sweating and grunting and in all the awful positions in front of someone. Ahem. They allowed me to pester them with food photos and crude jokes and they never made me feel bad for the few slip ups I made with eating. They educated me with food in ways I didn’t even know were possible, and they have really given me the tools needed to go forward with and maintain my weight loss and fitness levels.
I think the key thing for me with food was trying to ignore things that I thought were good practice (but had oddly never worked) and replace them with actual knowledge. For example, calorie counting is not to be sniffed at and low calorie diets work for some. But looking at sugar actually helped me more. There was a salad that I used to eat loads as it contained 199 calories. But it also contained around 14g of sugar – and every 4g is a teaspoon full. No wonder I always craved more sugar once I had finished eating it! I also thought that having breakfast was good, and of course cereals are breakfast right? But cereals are full of sugar, so yes, having breakfast is best, but having something like chicken and vegetables is infinitely better than a sugary fix first thing in the morning. Likewise, I thought that skipping dinner due to lack of appetite was a good idea, but in reality, it’s better to have a small dish containing some greens and some protein to keep the metabolism ticking over rather than letting your body go into starvation mode.
I used to shun protein shakes as a fad made up by companies desperate to cash in on the exercise bug, but I now really love the Clean & Lean supplements and use them at three different times – post workout if I am not about to eat. They help fill that hunger gap and as far as I know help with muscle repair. I also drink them when I am desperate for a sweet fix after eating, or to fill that gap after lunch and before dinner at 3pm when I have about an hour of walking to do to and at work and I am really tempted by all the sweet treats in the cupboards at my job. I also really like the ‘Berry Burn’, ‘Beauty Food’ and ‘Ultimate Clean’ to have post breakfast or pre workout, although none of them taste quite as good as ‘Body Brilliance’ or ‘Protein Excellence’. They are a little pricey but I don’t drink them all day every day, and given that they often replace snacks or pricey shakes, they are worth the money in my opinion.
On the subject of drinks, for the first month or so of the ‘Stella Shape Up’ (which is not a plan, it’s just the name given to Stella magazine’s weight loss feature and subsequent social postings) I didn’t drink alcohol. I don’t drink that much anyway, but I’m liable to have a few glasses of bubbly at a press event and then go all out on a night out. And after going all out there’s the kebabs and then the dirty food and lack of motivation the next day, not to mention the money spent on the whole affair. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not every weekend and I do still want to have those nights out, but my skin and purse certainly thanked me for easing up a little, and helped me justify the cost of those protein shakes. I stuck to drinking soda and lime on nights out as it looks like a boozey bevvy, tastes pretty nice and is good for me. It’s those little changes every so often that make the different. This has to work for life and it also has to make me happy. I can’t sip fizzy lime forever, but I can try to keep the boozing to a minimum. I have a very outgoing personality and I happily don’t rely of booze to keep me having a good time. Sometimes I do lament being the sole sober party goer, and sometimes I do end up drinking when I have sworn off it. It’s all about taking each situation as it comes.
Another drink related change I made was with smoothies and juices. I fell hook, line and sinker for the idea that smoothies and juices are amazing. An extra large berry laden juice HAD to be good for me, right? Well, kind of. But with great fruit comes a great deal of sugar – and yes, sugar that is better than the white refined stuff, but sugar nonetheless. And so gone are the days of me smugly sipping giant cups of liquidised fruit, or buying those pre packaged smoothies that contain 34g of sugar, and hello even more water than I already drank and the odd juice – usually containing a tonne of veg as well. My personal faves (that I really have to gulp down) contain some combo of avocado, ginger, celery, kale, lime, carrot and apple, and they are a little less frequent!
Snacking has been the hardest thing to get under control. I’ve always eaten fairly well, but then ploughed my way through more chocolate than I’m comfortable to admit to, nuts, crisps, cheese… I cannot resist. And of course, I wondered why I could never shift the weight after my healthy meals had been consumed!
Getting the snacking under control was a crazy hard process, I can’t lie. After my first few Bodyism sessions I proudly took myself to the local health food shop and stocked up on ‘healthy’ crisps and chocolate bars and sent Mike some photos. He was less than pleased, and gently reminded me that packeted snacks are rarely good for anyone, and the best snacks are no snacks, or something homemade. I then had to gently wean myself off snacks, but I also did make a few healthy(ish) snacks along the way!
Raw baking isn’t the cheapest pastime, but it’s definitely a great option for certain times of the month or low points when something sweet is the only way to pacify a craving. I can’t lie, I’ve had my fair share of chocolate since starting to lose weight, but everything in moderation, unlike before.
I also try to prep meals and elements of meals in advance and healthyish snacks, such as my take on guacamole (tomatoes, avocados, spring onions, chilli, parsley, a tonne of garlic, lemon and lime and salt) and hummus (chickpeas, sesame oil, red onions, parsley, chilli, lots of garlic and lemon and salt). I roast a lot of veg in…you guessed it, chilli, garlic, salt and coconut oil, I pre boil eggs and chicken, pre squeeze lemons and limes to add to waters and salad, I make pickled carrot and cucumber salads and I try to make it easy for me to go to the fridge and prepare myself a large breakfast or a delicious ‘clean & lean’ lunch.
Meal wise, I have been beyond inspired by James Duigan’s ‘Clean & Lean’ book as not only is it packed with yummy recipe ideas, it also contains exercise ideas, commentary about the effects of sugar and alcohol, and my favourite – the ‘Bad, Better and Best’ chart where you can see which snacks and meal options can replace other to help with weight loss/cleaner meals.
I have followed a few of the recipes, but I do like to do my own thing as well as I love to cook. Staple things have been: chicken or turkey, smoked salmon, eggs, quinoa, bulgar wheat and lentils and avocados.
Rather than boring you with endless recipes here, please do check out my Instagram. I have tried to post my most exciting/photogenic meals up on there, and searching the hashtag ‘#stellashapeup’ will bring them all up for you. Please note that I am the type the just wing it in the kitchen, and exact measurements are not really my style. I prefer to make things to my taste, as you should to yours if you want to enjoy a dish.
The biggest things that I have had to learn and change have been portion sizes. Bigger breakfast, smaller lunches and mini dinners are perfect if you want your body to start decreasing, and of course it makes sense. You have more of the day ahead in the morning, prepare yourself. I never ever drink caffeine as I don’t like or need it, but if you are a fan then try cutting back. I like to drink warm water with lemon first thing (when I have time) and sometimes a shake after breakfast as well. I don’t always have time for or feel up for breakfast, sometimes I eat something small or full of sugar – I am not a machine and my willpower isn’t always great. But generally, that’s how I try to operate.
The hardest thing I’ve learnt is that being away from home all day or out for meals can sometimes not result in ‘perfect eating’, and it always pays to check the sugar content on those so called ‘healthy’ supermarket salads, and try to avoid temptation in a restaurant when everyone around you is ordering burgers – that’s if you want to. It sucks that the healthy options cost more, but if you try to avoid fizzy drinks and extra snacks/a pud and booze you can sometimes still do ok.
I seem to have been asked as to whether these new healthy choices are costing me more or are expensive several times a day, and to that I haven’t got a clear answer. Like I said, I’ve always tried to eat fairly well and so meat and veg has always been on my plate at most meals. I try to make better choices when out and so I really haven’t felt the pinch too much. Besides, cutting down on booze and snacking and carbs such as rice, pasta and potatoes has meant that spending a little extra on having chicken for breakfast and coconut milk instead of skimmed has been a doddle. I realise that my wage might be different to others reading this, but I can only speak from my own experience. I do believe that you can eat healthily on any budget, it might just vary for others. Less meat and more beans, less juices and more water with citrus – there are still healthy tweaks that can be made if you want it enough. But, as stated, I am fortunate with my income and I cannot speak from experience about eating healthily on a lower wage and I don’t mean to suggest that it is easy or viable. I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments.
Now – onto the exercise and all of the fun stuff that comes with that!
Typically I got asked about my work out clothes. A lot. And so I am hoping to clear up all the queries now!
I bought most of my clothes in my local Sweat Shop in Teddington. They often have huge sales on and I take full advantage of them! I now wear a size 14-16 in most stretchy sports stuff, and my absolute favourite brand is Karrimor. Their size 16 leggings stay up despite my larger bottom, and they are thick enough to cover my cellulite and not show of my knickers of choice for that day. My quirky bright green pair are from the Adidas sale and they are so hideous but I love them! I also like the Karrimor tops, although bigger boobs can make them come up a little small on me. The best boobs coverage came from some old tops that Robbie owned that were made by ‘Lowe Alpine’. I like my sportswear quite fitted to stop my belly coming out to play, and these did the job for me. The trainers that I wear are by ‘New Balance’ and I cannot fault them. I had them fitted in Sweat Shop after they recorded me running and walking in them, and they really do feel like they were made for me.
I do have a whole category on here that is dedicated to my foray into the world of sports bras, and so I won’t go into too many details about how much I adore my underwired Panache sports bra, but trust me, it is good! I sized down to a 34H a few weeks into the weight loss as I lost a back and a cup fairly quickly and then nothing for a while. I love the shape, the support and the style or the bra, as well as the racer back option. Be warned though – washing machines are it’s nemesis, and one slip up will ruin it forever. Super high impact exercise still do leave me bouncing, but I tend to avoid those anyway as they aren’t necessary in every workout plan. I do do a lot of exercise that have me on all fours, bent over and lying on my back (stop it with your filthy minds!) and the bad boys stay in place throughout, so I call that a win.
My hipster/Beyonce jumper was an eBay find – just search ‘Kale jumper’. The skeleton leggings were an ASOS Halloween find.
And what about the exercises? Well, as with the recipes, I do have a few little videos and tips about how to do some of the elements of the workouts using the #stellashapeup hashtag on Instagram, as well as some descriptions in my weekly diaries. My trainer led and own workouts last around an hour, and always start with me using a foam roller to warm up my muscles and break down and knots in my muscles. It hurts like HELL but feels pretty good in a weird way. When I was first asked to do it I was in shock at the pain and couldn’t believe that I was being asked to do something that hurt so much – something had to be wrong! But nope, that’s just how it goes and it doesn’t really get easier! on days when my muscles ache it is excruciating, but it’s really good for them, you just have to bear the pain.
I then moved to warm ups – Supermans (staying on all fours and raising the opposite arm and legs fifteen times and then holding it for fifteen seconds, then switching sides), chest openers (lying on my side and opening one arm at a time til it touches the floor), hip extensions, leg flexors…the list goes on, but these were all taught by the ‘Performance Specialists’ at Bodyism who helped me perfect the technique. I would really recommend a few sessions with a PT or similar to help you get familiar with a gym and teach you how to fill your time and keep your workouts varied. It’s really hard for me to adequately describe exercises to you on here and then hope you can carry them out without injuring yourself, as repeating an exercise with slightly incorrect form could really fuck things up!
After the warm ups I sometimes did some cardio – intervals on the cross trainer, hill walking on the running machine, session on the spin bike, and then circuits – lunges, mini band work, pull ups on the TRX, squats, planks, dead bugs, shoulder taps…the list goes on! However, thanks to seeing the Bodyism guys I now know my limits, I know which exercises to pair together, and I love doing circuits with Robbie. We usually pick about three exercises and do 15-20 reps of each three times without pauses. Even he, the professional athlete is knackered by the end. We then pick another three to do three times at a gentler pace and then go our separate ways to do some cardio (me) or weight machines (him).
Is it hard to motivate myself to go to the gym? It’s gotten easier. I’ve gotten stronger, felt more confident and less self conscious in the gym and truth be told I sort of enjoy going! I feel so good afterwards, so smug that I have managed to shift my arse there and work up a sweat. Plus, my gym (Anytime Fitness) logs your attendance and send you a cheeky email if it’s been a while, and so the obligation to go is at it’s peak! I usually go after work as the bus I take drops me straight there and then it’s an easy ten minute walk home. My old gym was a little further away and my motivation waned a little as it was always such a chunk out of my day to go. But this local, cheap 24hour gym ticks all the boxes for me and the combination of everything is perfect.
Another frequent question that I get asked is one that I cannot help with – the weight loss rate and distribution. I lost 2kg a week pretty steadily initially by simply cutting down on the junk. I then levelled off but have continued to slowly drop the pounds. My body has lost the weight fairly evenly, and that’s just pure luck. I don’t know of any way to lose weight in certain areas, it’s a stubborn bastard about that. All I know is that once you have lost enough you can build certain areas such as the booty or the legs. My exercises haven’t targeted any specific part of me, but I do have an hourglass figure that is becoming more defined with the weight loss. It’s all down to genetics and sadly we are stuck with our own pool!
I really hope that this epic essay has answered most of the questions that I have received over the last few months. Remember, my weekly musings can be found in my diaries on the Stella website, and a combo of that and this should answer most queries.
If you are looking to lose weight then good luck to you. Remember that it takes times. Remember that you eating that fry up or ice cream isn’t a cheat or a fail, just move on and keep going. Don’t weigh yourself hundreds of times per day as wouldn’t you rather the mirror was more pleasing to you than the scales? Don’t compare yourself to other. Do remember why you started and your long term aim Vs short term satisfactions – but do give in to them at times. Do live your life without too many restrictions, as well as trying to make changes. It’s all about finding that balance, still enjoying yourself and making those changes.