Last week I started my 12 week bikini body challenge, in prep of my luxury holiday to Cuba. The challenge being that I am not going to resort to any fad dieting or extreme measures. After reflecting back on the mistakes of my 20s I realised that fad diets and quick fixes never work in the long run. As a qualified personal trainer and Weight Watchers leader I have more than enough knowledge on how to eat healthy, but like many people my relationship with food is a complicated emotional one. One of the biggest difficulties I have suffered in the past has been restriction induced binging. This is where a period of restricted dieting leads to excessive, uncontrolled or compulsive eating, often followed by feelings of guilt and self-hatred. I have never recognised myself as having an eating disorder, though looking back there are probably times in the past where I would have benefited from some additional support. And I think many people follow this same cycle of restriction-binging, so I hope some people will relate and learn from my journey.
As I kick start my 30s I want it to be in a sensible, healthy way. My 12 week healthy bikini challenge is not about trying to lose the most weight. The aim is to prove to myself that I can follow a ‘diet’ and get myself to a place where I feel happy in confident in my bikini without restricting foods, without completely depriving myself and without extreme exercise. Back in 2007 I lost 7 stone with Weight Watchers, and it has been the only plan that has safely and successfully worked for me. I am now a Weight Watchers leader, and so naturally I am following the ProPoints plan.
So this has been the first week in my challenge. In regards to the foods I have eaten I would say my week has been varied and relaxed. This week I have had pizza and fries, ice-cream (twice), alcohol, chocolate and even pie! Yet despite all this I feel very satisfied with my food choices and how the results will fair come Tuesday when I weigh in with my Weight Watchers class, and take my measurements. So how come I feel so good after eating all these things?
Well the difference this week is that I have been completely in control and mindful to the choices I have made, whether good or bad. Plus I have factored these ‘treats’ in by balancing them with a very healthy diet the rest of the time.
So I knew at the start of the week I would be going for a pizza with my friend Shelley on Wednesday. I did consider opting for a salad, but really I knew I would want a pizza once I got there. Pizza is one of my favourite foods, and I have promised not to deprive myself. Sometimes I am happy to have a ‘clean’ pizza or a healthier version- other times I want the whole doughy pleasure. Shelley suggested Pizza Express, so I checked out their menu in advance and decided even before leaving the house what I would have. They actually do a a few options for people who are trying to eat a little healthier, with a range of starters, mains and desserts called the Leggera range. I opted for one of their Leggera Pizzas which are smaller and come in under 500 calories, around 11-13 ProPoints. A little of what I fancy seemed a good option. I wasn’t sure if Shelley would want dessert or not, but having a sweet tooth myself I knew I wouldn’t refuse if the offer was made. So on Wednesday I planned to have a lighter breakfast and lunch, giving me some wiggle room for a dessert. I am a massive ice-cream fan and don’t really eat cake without a face (a story for another blog post) so ice-cream is a safe option to satisfy my sweet tooth without blowing the budget. We also decided on the night to split a portion of polenta chips. I don’t actually like chips, but I do like polenta so I was intrigued. They were OK, but I thought about it and decided I wasn’t going to eat something nutritionally a bit rubbish if I wasn’t going to enjoy it, so I chose to leave the rest. So one small pizza, a couple of fries and an ice-cream for dessert, all enjoyed with no feelings of guilt or failure.
The wine, second serving of ice-cream and the pie all came at the weekend. Again, like many people I tend to ease off my
healthy eating ways at the weekend. I do not however write off everything from Friday night to Monday morning. I used to do that in the extreme dieting of my 20s- but I spent most of Monday- Thursday pretty miserable and very hungry. In the past when setting off on a new diet, or detox or fad, or whatever stupid promise of results, then I would have pledged a weekend of total focus. More often than not that resulted in a failure as I caved in to the temptation of something ‘wicked’. These days I prefer to factor in and plan for a few treats at the weekend.
I usually decide in advance what treats I am going to have, and then I can look forward to them. The thought of my weekend indulgence can be enough to fuel an extra 10 minutes of cardio work, or push out that extra couple of squats. More importantly I can then enjoy them without feeling guilty. The weekend is a pretty special time for me; my other half works away most the week and I work long hours, including evenings at set U free, and then Saturday morning at my Weight Watchers meeting. So the weekend is the only time we really get to spend quality time together. I have come to realise that I enjoy treats more when I share them with loved ones. I will never be one of these people who can think of food as just fuel. I will always get an emotional pleasure as well as nutritional satisfaction from eating, and so what better way to add to the pleasure than enjoying it in good company. A glass of wine and dessert can transform a casual dinner in to something of a date night, which is just what we did on Saturday. We enjoyed a quick and healthy dinner of baked sweet potato with tuna and salad, accompanied by a glass of wine, and finished off with a very nice bowl of strawberries, ice-cream and a broken up crunchie.
The pie was inspired by a photo on Instagram posted by a fellow Weight Watchers leader who made a nice looking tart (thanks @halobay). I love Instagram for meal inspiration, both healthy meals, wicked treats, and some healthier versions of wicked treats. Which is just what our chicken pie was; a healthier version of what could be a very wicked food choice. I am not bothered for pastry, I very rarely eat it, but Mr B is a fan, and with a weekend of painting and decorating planned a pie seemed like a good way to keep him motivated! I knew after hours of grafting I wouldn’t fancy whipping up my own pastry, so I used readymade as a topping. Then I packed the filling with chicken breast, butternut squash and broccoli. I made a low fat sauce with quark, chicken stock and a little cornflour, and it was delicious, just what was needed on a Sunday night after a weekend of hard work.
The only non-planned treat was a beer on Sunday afternoon, and even then I was mindful and didn’t feel guilty. Decorating is one of the ultimate relationship challenges, second only to pitching a tent together. Painting our loft space proved to be a real epic battle, with angled walls, awkward beams, and a rather hideous peachy salmon to try and cover. We reached that point where our shoulders ached, our hands are sore, and despite every inch of the floor being covered in dust sheets, someone has got paint on the carpet. Tolerance levels have dropped, patience has been tested and a boost in morale and motivation is needed. We didn’t head straight to the fridge in a fit of anger. Instead we took a deep breath and promised to finish that wall and then enjoy a beer in the garden with some fresh air. That was one well earned, well enjoyed beer.
But the week hasn’t been all about treats, as I said, I balanced these with a very healthy diet the rest of the week. So what is a very healthy diet for me? Well of course I am following the Weight Watchers plan, tracking what I eat and sticking to my daily and weekly ProPoints budget. Currently I am tracking all my meals and snacks on Instagram, so if you are interested in what I eat on typical day then check me out there. I have posted my meal summaries in this blog post to give you an idea.
As a general set of rules I try to; limit my sugar intake, pile high the greens, fill up on protein, and don’t skip the good fats like nuts, avocado and oily fish. I do not avoid carbs, but I do opt for smarter carbs like wholemeal breads, brown rice and pasta, quinoa, couscous and sweet potato. And I eat them in line with my activity levels. So on the days I exercise I will eat a little more carbs and on those days where I am stuck at my desk I limit carbs and opt more for protein and veggies. In regards to the times I eat or the number of meals, well I have never found one way that works for me. Some days I am too busy to plan, prepare and eat 5 small meals, then other days (usually when I am at a desk) I want to do nothing but graze all day. Similarly I can’t set a no eating after X oclock, as sometimes I just don’t get chance to eat from lunch until 9pm. I tend to take it on a day by day basis. I always have healthy snacks to hand so I am less likely to make bad choices when hunger strikes. Some healthy snacks this week have included: 20g of seeds with a piece of cheese, a protein shake with berries, a rice cake with houmous and peppers, and quark and fresh lime and grapefruit. Some less healthy, but equally as considered snacks included; a sugar free cookie, a square of dark chocolate and a few options hot chocolates. I do have a sweet tooth, and in line with my challenge I am not depriving myself, so these smaller, lower ProPoint treats satisfy my sweet tooth without overloading on sugar.
I am yet to see the results on the scales or with the measurements. But I honestly cannot believe the difference in just a week. I don’t mean the physical difference, but a massive difference in the way I am feeling. (Although I do already feel the difference in my body- even if it’s not yet showing). The feeling of being in control is much greater than any numbers. This is of course just week 1, I can imagine that the number of indulgences may reduce as the holiday draws closer, and that is when the real challenge will come in. If I can carry on this way of being mindful, in control and following a sensible balanced diet for the next 11 weeks then I genuinely won’t care how my bikini looks, as I will have achieved much more than any diet could ever have given me.
I am Jennie, founder of set U free fitness and a Weight Watchers leader in Leeds. In 2009 I got to goal weight after loosing 7 stone. I believed that once I shifted the excess weight my life would be perfect, and I would live happily ever after. The truth is, it’s still tough. Life After Goal is my ongoing journey to stay healthy and happy. It is a collection of my thoughts, the lessons I have learnt, and the mistakes I have (and still do) make in battling my relationship with food and keeping up an active life.