Walking the Walk

8th February 2019

Deputy Editor Lisa - 'before' and 'after' pics

In our 29 December issue, Jill Glenn announced that she and three colleagues had begun a 12 week body transformation programme, which would finish at the end of January. At their three week weigh-in, they’d collectively lost 18lb – but they still had Christmas and New Year to navigate under their new diet and exercise regime. How did they get on? Lisa Botwright takes up the story…

“Come and see me and I’ll help you lose a stone,” Darren Glenister, founder of #AFitterMe told me when I met him. Could those words have been any sweeter to my ears? He also said that I had some common misconceptions about food and dieting. Me? What could he possibly mean? I write about health and nutrition for a living. I cook from scratch every night and know all about avoiding processed food, upping my fruit and veg intake, that kind of thing…

Only I hadn’t managed to lose the weight that had been creeping on me ever since I hit my 40s. I’d given it a big push last summer, just before I’d gone on holiday. I’d given up sugar, reduced my carbohydrates, and was hitting the gym twice a week – but still hadn’t managed to drop a single pound. I’d put this down to inevitable ‘middle-aged spread’ and was getting to grips with the fact that I’d never get into a size 12 again. I was quite down about it, to be honest. Now Darren was telling me he could magically transform not just my body, but my colleagues’ as well. It was tempting. Very tempting.

So that’s how I came to join Darren’s 12 week body transformation challenge, along with editor Jill Glenn and two more of our lovely behind-the-scenes colleagues; even my husband came on board. We all had different concerns, different lifestyles and different dietary ‘weaknesses’ – from a fondness for a mid-morning chocolate bar to a regular evening glass (or two) of something alcoholic – and now we were all addressing our problems together. It was exciting, but it was also pretty daunting. One of us even said she felt it was her ‘last chance’ to lose some weight and put her health first. No pressure, then.

To recap, #AFitterMe is healthy lifestyle programme involving moving more and eating… not ‘less’ necessarily, but more sensibly, and limiting yourself to a set amount of carbs within a three hour lunchtime ‘window’. There are seven daily principles to commit to, including drinking two to three litres of water, and walking at least 12,500 steps – and once we’ve completed these, each evening we ‘tick in’ to an online group. Darren uses Facebook Messenger, which means mobile numbers aren’t publicly visible. Steps and circuits (exercises that can be done at home with hand weights, or even with tins of beans) are to be completed five times a week (we’re allowed two rest days), but a ‘focused mindset’ – arguably the most important of the seven steps – is a 24/7 commitment.

At first I was terrified that I’d never be able to fit everything in. I was already mentally maxed-out by the demands of a full-time job and rushing home to my two teenage children. I didn’t know at that stage how many steps I was usually completing a day, but I knew that my desk-bound role meant that it wasn’t many.

I invested in a step counter the weekend before I started the plan (I bought a Garmin watch, which I love, but you can use a smartphone app or there are plenty of budget options available – trust me, if you do this, you become obsessed with counting your steps) and, with it newly strapped to my wrist, went shopping with my girlfriends. After a whole afternoon on my feet, I’d only amassed a pitiful 8,000 steps. At this point, I got really worried; what on earth had I signed up to? How could I manage 12,500 on a normal working day, when most of it was spent sitting behind a computer?

The other initial prep was to look at my diet, and figure out exactly what I was going to eat every day. The no-carb-in-the-evening rule didn’t phase me at all, but avoiding this food group in the morning too was harder: I love my toast and porridge. In the end, I had eggs or fruit for breakfast, and simply pushed my favourite carbs back until 11am, and calculated them as part of my daily allowance. The point of the carb window is that no food’s off limits – it can even be seen as a ‘cheat window’ – but you have to prioritise accordingly. Have that packet of crisps by all means – but, as Darren points out, you’re going to get a lot more ‘fuel’ out of a jacket potato or a pasta salad.

On the inaugural day of the plan came the first of Darren’s many motivational messages: ‘Morning November group, let’s do this.’ It was early. Darren likes to show us all up by posting pictures of himself at the gym at 5.30am; at least we know he practises what he preaches. It was a cold, dark day and I was groggy from all the roast potatoes and red wine I’d had the night before (don’t judge – who’s not going to binge a little when facing 12 weeks of austerity?). I’d set my alarm earlier than usual, and drove towards work as usual, but parked my car a couple of miles away. Forty minutes later I arrived at the office energised and elated at the four and a half thousand steps already under my belt, all before 9am. Wandering around the shops, I learned, is not the same thing as striding purposely. For the first time, I thought, ‘I can really do this’.

#AFitterMe is both the easiest and the hardest thing I’ve ever done. It’s definitely the only thing I’ve ever done that’s helped me to lose weight. Easiest because if you do everything on Darren’s list, You Will Definitely Lose Weight, and hardest because sometimes you’re too busy or too tired to do the walking and the exercises: you need to work late, or ferry children around – or you just want to curl up on the sofa. But once you start to see the results it really galvanises you. One of the best pieces of advice I had along the way was ‘take each day as it comes.’

Time was only ever going to be my biggest enemy, but a clever friend helped me re-frame the extra hour or two it takes up, not as a chore, but as time for myself. After nearly two decades of being a mum, I was ready to put ‘me’ first – if the children had to wait a little while longer for their dinner, then so be it. In return, I went on to gain more energy, a new waistline and to see a lot of beautiful winter sunrises as I strode through Bushey.

Another highlight has been the support and camaraderie from the #AFitter Me group and from my Optima colleagues. Darren also offers corporate packages, and facing the challenges alongside your team (or your friends or partner) works really well, since there are definite ups and downs. Looking back through the diary I kept during the 12 weeks, I noted words like ‘tired’ and ‘despondent’, but also ‘elated’ and ‘buzzing.’ Interestingly, never the word ‘hungry’.

Everyone interprets the daily challenges and fits them into their lifestyle in different ways. One colleague – a night owl – did her circuits at midnight after her family had gone to bed: after years of being an exercise-phobe, she’s now working out regularly with 2kg weights. I’d do mine as soon as I got in from work, and became an expert at putting the dinner in the oven and working out in the kitchen while it cooked.

Adjusting to carb-free evenings wasn’t too much of a struggle for me, although my husband initially looked as though he was going to cry when I loaded our sporty teens’ plates up with pasta or potatoes in front of his very eyes, while serving protein and vegetables for the pair of us. Once he got used to eating breakfast and bigger lunches, though, he was fine. As my colleague pointed out, ‘once you knew what you could eat and when, food wasn’t an issue’; another enthused: ‘I felt my food overall became more interesting and adventurous’.

It certainly wasn’t all easy; one colleague yearned for her night time KitKats and I missed wine the most – not an easy thing to factor into your lunchtime carb window when you have a busy afternoon – while Christmas socialising was a minefield… but I still lost weight, even with *whispers it* a couple of Saturday night glasses of red or the odd prosecco at a party. Darren expects us to make positive changes, and if we are doing so overall, we’re bound to see results – despite occasionally falling off the wagon.

The biggest thing I learned is that it’s not enough to eat healthily, it’s also important to move every day. Darren teaches us to see the fuel-and-burn-cycle (calories consumed versus energy expended) in 24-hour, rather than weekly cycles. “You can’t burn fuel tomorrow that you take in today,” he told the group in our induction. I realised my twice-weekly gym visits weren’t cutting it, because I was sitting behind a desk so much for the rest of the week.

The nation’s typically sedentary lifestyle, known to be extremely damaging to our health, is something that’s been highlighted in the news recently. Public Health England launched a campaign telling us that even ten minutes’ brisk walking a day ‘counts as exercise’ and ‘can reduce our risk of serious illnesses like Type 2 Diabetes’.

Testimonials on Darren’s website talk about his methods becoming life-changing, and I know I’ll carry on following his advice. Half of Team Optima have signed up for another 12 weeks of the plan, a fact that speaks for itself.

The outcome is that – Christmas and New Year treats notwithstanding – the five of us lost a total of 55lbs in 12 weeks. On a high after our final weigh-in, we celebrated by going out to breakfast… we all ordered a lovely plate of food – eggs, smoked salmon, whatever we fancied. But we realised we’d been officially ‘afitterme-d’ when we chanted in unison: ‘hold the toast please.’

For more information visit www.afittermedg.com

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