Is just a healthy balanced diet and regular exercise enough to make a real difference in just 12 weeks? What results can you realistically expect from 12 weeks effort? Will you see the difference or are more drastic measures needed? 12 weeks ago I received a lovely surprise birthday gift of a dream holiday to Cuba. I was giddy with excitement at the thought of a week in the sun. I was less excited at the thought of putting on a bikini. After making lots of dieting mistakes in my 20’s I vouched not to do anything stupid, but instead promised to get myself bikini ready without resorting to any magic beans! Read on to find out what I did, how it’s gone, and if I am ready to hit the beach…

 The challenge

Back in January Mr B pulled out all the stops for my 30th birthday and surprised me with a luxury holiday in Cuba. I was so excited at the thought of a week in the sun, and I have always wanted to go to the Caribbean. But it didn’t take long before it hit me: going on holiday meant getting in a swimsuit. Although I wasn’t in the worst shape I have ever been in, I wasn’t happy with my body, and the thought of putting on a bikini made me anxious. We went on a short break to Italy last year and I wasn’t feeling very body confident then. I will be honest it did spoil the holiday a bit. There are not many pics from that holiday, simply because I wasn’t feeling good about myself. This holiday things were going to be different. I wasn’t going to ruin a dream holiday being conscious of a podgy tummy and wrinkly bottom.

Like many women, I am a life long dieter, I have done them all. I have in the past fallen for every fad diet and quick win promise there is. I am not proud to say I have made some unhealthy mistakes. It was Weight Watchers that changed my life, and I lost 7 stone following the plan. Alongside losing all that excess weight I stared getting active. Then through exercise I transformed my body filling in the excess skin with lean muscle. I am now a Weight Watchers leader, as well as a personal trainer, so safe to say: I should know better than to fall for the fake promises of unhealthy diet plans. However, knowing better doesn’t stop the temptation of wanting to crash diet when a holiday is looming. But I vouched not to this time. I wanted to feel good, I didn’t care what the scales said, I just wanted to feel confident in my bikini without punishing myself.

So I set off my challenge with the aim of making lots of healthy choices, simply just a sensible balanced diet, no guilt, no extreme measures, nothing completely restricted, just sensible healthy eating and moderate exercise. So, was it enough to get me bikini ready?

The start

A healthy snack for me= to boiled eggs with spinach

A healthy snack for me= to boiled eggs with spinach

 

Brimming with enthusiasm and motivation I hit the first week all guns blazing. Everything was carefully weighed, tracked, and documented but nothing was restricted. I decided I wasn’t going to strive to perfection, and felt better for realising I didn’t have to be perfect, and I wasn’t going to feel guilty about enjoying some treats. In the first few weeks I enjoyed lots of treats like pizza, cake and wine, but it was OK, I was in control and feeling fabulous. Taking photos of all my meals and snacks was a really good way to not miss anything in my food diary. I find there is something more honest (brutal) about a picture of the biscuit I ate than just ‘biscuit- 3PP’ written at the bottom of the page. Plus taking photos of all my food choices meant I could look at the day overall and get a good impression of how healthy it was, based on how colourful it looked. A simple way to assess the quality of your diet is to just look at the colours. Most fruit and veg are pretty colourful, and a lot of less healthy foods are beige. Within just a few weeks I felt so much better. Firstly, I felt better because of the immediate changes in my body such as less bloating, but also for just being back in control of my food choices.

Monday of week 2 was pretty good, I was on form and in control.

Monday of week 2 was pretty good, I was on form and in control.

The middle

The middle is always the hardest part. The motivation has worn off, it’s becoming a chore, and the end is nowhere in sight yet. Somewhere in week 4 my motivation really started to drop. I had a few bad days and slumped a little. I felt myself slipping down the negativity spiral and not sure how to get myself back on track. I have been very honest about my issues with emotional eating and comfort eating, something I know more people struggle with than who care to admit. To try and get myself back on track I decided to make one good decision, and fortunately it was contagious. More healthy choices followed until I felt more positive and back in control.

I continued to follow a balanced diet using the Weight Watchers ProPoints system to keep a check on portion sizes and my overall daily intake. Everyone’s ida of a healthy balanced diet is different, so overall here is my interpretation. As a general rule I try to limit carbs to more active days. Note I don’t cut carbs completely. When I do have carbs I go for things like sweet potato, brown pasta, wholemeal pittas or wraps. I do also love the odd crumpet. The next step in my healthy balanced diet: I base meals on lean protein (chicken, turkey, lean beef, eggs, tuna, white fish, quark and greek yoghurt) and lots of green veg (kale, spinach, broccoli, courgettes, leeks, salad).  I also try to include at least one portion of healthy fats a day, which for me is usually avocado, oily fish (salmon or mackerel) or a small portion of nuts (usually almonds or cashews). My biggest problem is limiting sweet treats, alcohol and controlling portion sizes. The Weight Watchers ProPoints plan helps with all of these.

During m 12 week healthy bikini body challenge I had good weeks and bad weeks. But by about week 8 I noticed it was starting to feel pretty routine. It stopped feeling like a chore, and it just started feeling like everyday life. They say it takes about 8 weeks for something to become a habit, and I guess the same is true for your food choices. Towards the end of my challenge I didn’t need to remind myself to do things, healthy choices were coming much more naturally to me again.

The final countdown!

As Cuba drew closer the temptation to do something drastic got greater and greater. From my effort so far I was feeling a lot better in my body, and the quality of my diet, and despite what the scales said I could see and feel the difference in my body, but I wanted a little last minute boost.

I resisted doing anything stupid, but in the last week I decided to step it up. I wasn’t going to fall for any magic beans promising quick results, I wanted something to challenge me, but realistic and healthy. So, I made my own one week weight loss rules based on what I have learnt about myself, and my strengths and weaknesses when trying to lose weight. I set myself 10 rules to follow for the week, but promised myself not to be too punishing if I didn’t achieve them all. So really they were more good guidelines.

my star chart stuck on my fridge, it shows how many of my 'rules' I managed to follow each day

my star chart stuck on my fridge, it shows how many of my ‘rules’ I managed to follow each day

Something else I have learnt about myself (and many others) is that you are never too old for stickers, or stars! So to keep me on track I printed out a chart with all my guidelines and the days of the week, just like a kids chore chart or good behaviour chart. At the end of each day I gave myself a nice big yellow star for each of the guidelines I had stuck to. Maybe this is really really geeky and a little bit sad, but I don’t care, it worked!

Of course Monday was full of motivation and I smashed them 10 stars down like a proud toddler using the potty correctly. Tuesday I slipped up, I had a very long day, got home tired from work and had a few peanut butter fingers, breaking two rules in one. Hey ho! Not to punish myself. Wednesday was non-stop busy, busy and I don’t think I drank enough water. Thursday I was at my desk, which drives me straight to sugar and coffee! Friday- Sunday was a frantic blur of finishing up work and packing, but I was pretty impressed at how much I stuck to it despite the manic rush. Looking back now the stars were a pretty good idea as it really shows up my weaknesses in the guidelines I most struggled to stick to, and which I was fine with. Everyday I managed to base my meals around lean protein and veg, kept carbs to more active days and committed to my workout schedule. I was less successful in limiting my coffee in take (though I don’t think I had more than 3 any day) and I was simply terrible at limiting sweet treats (I am a total sweet tooth) but I was only having very small things like a rich tea biscuit, or a square of dark chocolate, so not totally disastrous. Overall I got 54 out of 70 potential stars, a 77% success rate. Not bad, pretty nicely fits the 80:20 rule of being good 80% of the time. And considering how much I had to do last week, I will take that.

The results

So overall did it work? Was 12 weeks of a sensible balanced diet and exercising enough to get me bikini ready?

Well the truth is that each week the scales fluctuated in an almost random pattern. Some weeks I would be really good but gain weight, the next week I was terrible and lost weight! At the start of the challenge I was 10st 8lbs, it then sporadically upped and downed each week. The lightest I was over the 12 weeks was 10st 4lbs and the heaviest weigh in was 10st 11lbs. I finished at 10st 6lbs just 2lbs lighter than I started. Despite what the scales say I am over the on with the results. Why? Well despite what the scales say every other measure tells me I have done pretty awesome. I feel fitter and healthier, my clothes are looser, people have commented, I can see the difference in my body. Without sounding totally big headed, I don’t think the pictures do much justice to the difference. I can see definition in my shoulders, arms and stomach that just didn’t exist 12 weeks ago. To my own amazement I can see my hip bones, which 12 weeks were about as easily noticeable to the naked eye as my appendix.

I took my measurements in week 1 and lost them! So started again in week 6 and took them every week. I lost in inches every week. OK some weeks it stayed the same. But overall I lost no less than 3inches from my underbust (a place I don’t even carry much fat) an inch from arms and legs, nearly 2inch from my waist, 2inches from my hips and a pathetic inch from my stubborn bottom which just refuses to let go of its squishy warm padding!

The lack of difference in the scales is down to a notable increase in muscle mass which I can tell by the decrease in my body fat percentage. Over 12 weeks I have lost approximately 6-7% body fat, not an achievement to be snubbed.

Coming at you from beautiful sunny Cuba, feeling pretty damn bikini ready no matter what no scales say x

Coming at you from beautiful sunny Cuba, feeling pretty damn bikini ready no matter what no scales say x

I write to you now from sunny Cuba, and I can assure you this, no matter what any scales say, I definitely better, more confident, happy, in control and not starved. Overall, a massive victory. So I am sorry for the short ending, but I have rum to drink and bikinis to look awesome in!

Jennie xx

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Various stages along my 12 week healthy bikini body challenge. Some weeks I looked better than others, simply down to how much or what I had eaten on the day. But overall I am very happy with the results. I can see and feel the difference round my waist and my shoulder and arms most. However, any comments I have had in the last few weeks have been about my legs an bottom looking slimmer!

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I tired to be as fair as possible with these pictures and took them at the same time each week, same poses, same bikini, no makeup, no trickery, just me

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I am Jennie, founder of set U free fitness, and Weight Watchers leader in Leeds. I lost 7 stone with Weight Watchers and transformed by body through exercise. I always dreamt that life after goal would be easier, but the reality is- it’s not. This personal blog is my ongoing journey to stay healthy and happy. It is a collection of my thoughts, tips, lessons learnt and mistakes made in trying to create a balanced healthy lifestyle that I can follow for life. I always love to hear your thoughts, and hear from people undergoing similar journeys, so please comment or get in touch.