Healthista’s Olivia Hartland-Robbins is kicking off a 12-week body transformation. The mission? Lose body fat and keep it off. Here is week one of her journey
I think about my weight and how I look every single day. And every day I wish and hope that one day I will be a healthier, fitter and happier version of myself.
Once I was nine stone, healthy and really, really happy. It was actually only a few years ago when I was at university. I would wake up at 7am, head to the gym before lectures, and on most days I would even go back to the gym after my lectures. As well as exercise, I ate healthily too, preparing all of my meals on a Sunday evening for the week ahead. The picture below shows me probably at my fittest.
Then, university ended and I moved back home. I wasn’t going out with my friends anymore, I wasn’t in control of my own food and fridge, I had no routine, no job, no responsibilities and no social life.
No social life meant I didn’t need to ‘look good’ anymore. I wasn’t wearing my ‘going out’ clothes, just stretchy leggings and comfy athleisure wear, which meant I didn’t realise how much weight I was putting on.
And boy did I put on weight – three stone of it in just two years. I was miserable, unhealthy, exhausted all the time and none of my clothes fit me.
Operation lose fat
At the beginning of 2018, I joined Slimming World and that was a great kick up the back side where my diet was concerned and I managed to lose a stone through diet alone in six weeks.
Then I completed an F45 eight week transformation and lost another stone which left me at 10 stone 5lbs (66.7kg). Read more about my F45 eight week challenge here.
But as happy as I was with my one stone weight loss, I was disappointed that I had only managed to lose 1.8% body fat (especially as I hadn’t touched a drop of alcohol for eight weeks). I was told that body fat was a ‘slow burner’ but my body shape hadn’t really changed at all and that is what I really wanted.
I had lost my get fit and healthy motivation all over again
It dawned on me that I still had so far to go to get back to where I once was – it didn’t seem possible or realistic.
Then Christmas happened and well, need I say more? Despite joining a gym, I put on weight again, enough weight to make me think all the weight I had lost previously was for nothing.
Plus, when I was at the gym, I was clueless and embarrassed to be there. It was always busy and I felt completely out of place, like I had forgotten everything about exercise. I had lost my get fit and healthy motivation all over again and felt like I was back to square one.
12 weeks of personal training? Sign me up
And then something amazing happened. I was offered the chance to do a 12 week body transformation at personal training gym Transition Zone in Fulham, which opened about five years ago.
Like a growing number of quality boutique gyms, Transition Zone offer only one-to-one personal training and small classes of 6-8 run by personal trainers. This way they can ensure that clients get the results and personalised attention they want. Unlike traditional crash and burn gyms, you can’t just rock up there and jump on a cross trainer, you need to be guided by the experts, as far as TZ are concerned.
Having said that, the first thing that struck me about this gym was that it actually wasn’t intimidating in the slightest.
Transition Zone believes that when it comes to health and well-being one size doesn’t fit all. They tailor programmes to fit each client’s individual requirements in order to get them exactly where they want to be.
This sounded perfect. I was told that my personal trainer for the next 12 weeks would be Mark Stanton (pictured with me below), joint head of training and development at Transition Zone.
Mark has a decade of personal training and sports performance coaching under his belt, and has completed an undergraduate degree in Sports Science followed by a Masters in Strength and Conditioning. So basically he knows his stuff. I felt assured I was in a safe pair of hands. You can follow Mark on Instagram: @insidetrack_pt
I also had a consultation with nutritionist Emma Bardwell. After filling out a questionnaire about my diet habits and overall health, Emma (Instagram: @emma.bardwell) sent me a detailed nutrition plan of dos and don’ts for the next 12 weeks – I will be explaining more about this nutrition plan in next week’s update so do check back in.
I explained to both Mark and Emma that my goal was body-fat loss, pure and simple. I didn’t want to get to the end of the transformation and see that my body-fat percentage had barely changed.
I also wanted to actually learn how to exercise properly. Right now I walk into gyms and envy people using the squat rack and free weights, looking not only amazing but as though they really know what they’re doing. I wanted to be one of those people and learn as much as I can about how to exercise to get real results.
Before the transformation began, I needed to have my body measurements taken and get that dreaded ‘before’ picture.
As awful as the picture was the measurements could have been worse. My weight was 68.9 kilograms, which is ten stone and eight pounds – certainly not the heaviest I have been so I wasn’t too upset about that.
I was convinced my body fat percentage was over 30 but it was actually 27. Mark said if I were to really smash this transformation I could minus that by 10 percent – here’s hoping.
You can check out my measurements before and at the end of week one in the table at the end of this post.
Week One: the workout
I’ll be honest (aren’t I always?) I was convinced I would walk out of my first training session feeling like a complete unfit failure, hiding the tears with sweat. But I was wrong.
To start my journey Mark explained that the first three weeks would focus on developing movement patterns and improving my muscles’ capacity to work.
That meant Mark had to look at my range of mobility and get me used to the movements and do certain ‘rehab’ movements to wake my body up and get it ready for what was about to happen to me over the next 12 weeks. He wanted to make sure everything was working efficiently by completing moves that went though the full range of motion to activate my muscles properly.
‘The first session will mainly focus on the warm up and then you will be completing two relatively light sets of each exercise to see how the body reacts initially to weights training,’ said Mark.
Compound movements work several muscles or muscle groups at one time
To achieve my fat loss aim, I would be doing mainly compound movements in upper body and lower body supersets, Mark said.
Compound movements work several muscles or muscle groups at one time. For example, a squat uses a number of muscles in the core, lower back and lower body including the quadriceps, hamstrings, calves and glutes. That’s a lot of muscles being worked in one exercise.
Deadlifts and even push ups are compound movements for the same reason, they use a number of muscles and as a result torch calories (it’s also the reason they’re so bloody hard). That’s as opposed to say, a bicep curl which is an ‘isolated movement’ that burns far fewer calories.
‘Supersets enable us to keep the intensity high and help stimulate hormone release, which in turn will aid muscle growth and fat breakdown,’ explained Mark. Supersets are basically doing two sets of exercises that use the same muscle group back to back.
Week one: the programme
Week one consisted of three weight training sessions with Mark that lasted 60 minutes on Monday, Wednesday and Thursday mornings.
When I asked about cardio and whether I should be doing anything additional to my three weight training sessions, Mark said that we would be spending five to ten minutes at the end of each session doing some cardio based exercise, but apart from that the my cardio exercise in the first week would come from getting my 15,000 daily steps and being as active as possible (see below).
Week one: example workout
This example workout is super easy for you to do at your gym. You can choose a lower weight or just use your body weight for some of the exercises.
Upper body/ lower body super-set: 2 sets each exercise
Goblet squat – 12 reps, 12.5 kg dumbbell
Pull ups – 10 reps (see video)
Upper body/ lower body super-set: 2 sets each exercise
Romanian dead lift – 8 reps, 7kg (see video)
Floor stability kettle-bell press – 8 reps, 6kg
Upper body/ core super-set: 2 sets each exercise
Prone dumbbell row – 10 reps, 7kg (see video)
Swiss ball mountain climbers (bring your knees in one at a time) – 10/12 reps
Sled push and shuttle run x5, 40kg (see video)
Make sure to stretch properly after your workout. Hold your stretches for 15 seconds.
Week One: the lifestyle changes
After our first session Mark sent over some small lifestyle changes he said would make a big difference to my results. By hitting these daily goals I would also start building lasting healthy habits. After all, this needs to be a lifestyle change and not a quick fix.
Small change #1: Take 15,000 steps daily
I needed to take 15,000 steps daily as a minimum and to not sit still for more than ten minutes at a time. I also needed to make sure I was taking the stairs wherever possible and not sitting down on the tube.
This is because I would be adding more NEAT to my life, which stands for non-exercise activity thermogenesis, which is a fancy way of referring to the energy expended for everything we do that is not sleeping, eating or sports-like exercise. It ranges from the calories you burn commuting, typing, cooking, fidgeting and walking around casually during the day.
Did I do it? Except for two of the days, I managed 15,000 to 20,000 steps because I walk everywhere. Here are my FitBit results to show how I got on…
But the getting up from my desk every ten minutes? Impossible. I have never made so many green teas (or needed the toilet so much as I have this week). An office job is not a great job to have when you are trying to be ‘as active as possible’.
Small change #2: Sleep
Of course if you’re an insomniac you won’t see getting your requisite eight hours sleep a night as a ‘small change’. It might instead be in your ‘impossible’ arena. Having said that, sleep matters not only to overall health but especially to body fat loss as it helps regulate the hormones that govern our appetite, such as ghrelin and leptin.
Mark and Emma suggested I make a few small sleep friendly changes to my life, such as not using any screens for two hours before bed (very, very hard since you ask). They also suggested limiting the amount of coffee I drink and avoiding caffeine after 12pm as well as taking a walk outside as getting enough daylight helps reset our sleep/wake cycle.
for the first week I averaged just 6 hours and 20 minutes worth of sleep
Sleep has been an issue for me. I often get home around 7:30pm. I have a shower, than I have dinner and then BLINK it’s 9:30pm.
My wake up time is usually between 5:30am and 6am, so to get a full eight hours sleep I need to be in bed and asleep by 9:30pm and not scrolling through Netflix resenting the fact that I feel like I have only just got home!
My FitBit told me that for the first week I averaged just 6 hours and 20 minutes worth of sleep. Why do I feel like one of my biggest challenges is going to be one of the things I love to do most.
Small change #2: Have protein at every meal and snack
Protein is absolutely essential to the human body because it contains amino acids that are the building blocks of all our cells, that our bodies can’t make on their own. Protein foods as you’re probably aware, include all types of meat, poultry, eggs and fish, but also vegetarian sources such as tofu and tempeh, lentils and pulses, beans and nuts.
One of the key reasons Mark and Emma wanted me to eat protein at every meal was because it helps the body build lean muscle tissue and it gives the body shape, which is great when you’re training hard because it means you don’t get any muscle wasting, but instead are constantly fuelling your muscles to shape and grow.
another key benefit of protein at each meal is because it helps keep you fuller for longer
Lastly, another key benefit of protein at each meal is because it helps keep you fuller for longer. This is because protein foods are thermogenic, meaning that simply digesting them uses up more calories than say, carbohydrates eaten alone. That means having protein at each meal and snack translates to fewer calories between eating opportunities.
What does that mean in real food terms? Well, a lot of chicken, for starters. I am having chicken breast, eggs and vegetable or salad for at least one meal each day, fish and vegetables at dinner. My snacks? Usually a small piece of fruit and eight almonds, or some yoghurt (see below).
Small change #4: brace your core
Ok so the words ‘brace your core’ are now ingrained in my mind as much as Justin Bieber’s pop song Baby was when I was back at school. Turns out this small change of ‘bracing your core’ should be done a lot of the time as it can make such a big difference to the results of your workouts.
When I think of my ‘core’ I think of the six pack abdominal muscles or the lack of them in my case. But apparently the core is much more than those six muscles we all wish we had.
Picture a cylinder of muscles surrounding your spine like a corset. This group of muscles are what provide your spine with stability.
The good news? You can perform exercises in certain ways that will allow these core muscles (transverse abdominals, multifidus, deep obliques and pelvic floor) to turn on more readily. This is what is called ‘bracing your core’. For some this may come quite naturally but for others it can be tricky to master and take some time.
How to switch on your core:
- Lie face-up with knees bent and feet flat on the floor.
- Gently brace (tense) the abdominals.
- To make sure you are doing this properly, try poking the side of you abdomen with your finger at rest – it should be soft. Then after you brace your core – it should feel harder. (Don’t just ‘suck in’ the stomach area).
- Maintain this brace as you continue to breathe normally. Take five deep breaths.
- As this becomes easier and more natural, you can practice it in other positions, such as when you’re doing your squats, lunges and push-ups. This can include moving the arms and legs simultaneously to challenge the muscles while still maintaining a strong brace and a neutral spine.
Mark suggested that even as I am walking I should try to see if I can slightly maintain some activation of my core muscles in this way, which I have been doing. But I did at one point get a little too carried away with ‘bracing my core’ and nearly got hit by a car, so be careful and maybe don’t brace your core when crossing the road…
Week one: the challenges
My first challenge came four days in when we were going out for work drinks. This meant no Prosecco or sweet potato chip nibbles for me (yes, we often let our hair down even at Healthista HQ). I stuck to water for the entire evening. It was actually quite fun being the sober one for once.
I know everyone always feels super motivated in their first week but I had a weekend away planned as well. I spent the weekend at a luxury bed and breakfast called Crossways Farm in Suffolk.
From the moment I got into my friend’s car I knew I was in for a tough weekend – she only went and got a drive through McDonalds! Don’t worry, I had a clementine instead. Then on the way we stopped off at the Co-op and my friend bought a bottle of red wine (my favourite) and well, I bought more clementines.
So far so good, but it was a Friday night and I SO wanted a drink. When we arrived, I was challenged yet again – there was a Lindt chocolate bunny on my pillow. I didn’t touch the wine or the chocolate bunny.
The next challenge? Breakfast. I stuck to yoghurt, fruit and seeds followed by an omelette with tomato and mushrooms. But my friend? She had granola, stewed rhubarb, honey, sausages, bacon, eggs the full works. I was very jealous.
I did have some homemade bread though, I just couldn’t resist. I had the smallest amount of butter but no jam and no honey.
We spent the weekend trekking round National Trust places, so naturally the want and need for a cream tea was unbearable but I had a soya latte instead.
Then it was dinner time. One thing I will probably mention every week of this transformation is the fact that I love pasta, it’s my favourite meal ever. Well, believe me when I tell you that going out for dinner and not ordering pasta is stupendously hard for me. Need I even mention garlic bread? Anyways, I went for a butternut squash salad and just olives for starters.
Are you impressed? The only naughtyish thing I had was the homemade bread.
Oh and has anyone noticed a theme here? All the challenges I faced this week involved food. I didn’t realise just how much my days are revolved around food. I guess this transformation will come with its fair share of self-realisations, that’s for sure.
Products that got me through the week:
During exercise we use our calcium stores to facilitate muscular contractions, and as we sweat, we start to lose potassium, sodium and magnesium. This results in an imbalance which can also give rise to painful cramps after exercise.
Magnesium plays a key role in muscle contraction by acting as a calcium blocker. When calcium binds to proteins in the muscle it causes a contraction. With too much circulating calcium, or too little magnesium it can cause involuntary contractions of the muscles which causes aching and cramps or DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness) as they are also known.
I have been taking two tablets daily with water. They can be taken at the same time or as a divided dose.
This yoghurt has been my staple breakfast all week. FAGE is an all natural Greek strained yoghurt. It is also made with live active cultures to help regulate your gut bacteria.
Plus it’s actually packed with protein, calcium, vitamin D and potassium, all essential healthy nutrients.
One of my targets was to make sure I am having protein with every meal or snack so this with pumpkin seeds and almond butter was the perfect protein portion for breakfast.
I’m a huge fan of Pip & Nut products. Their chocolate orange almond butter is perfect to satisfy those sweet cravings. Plus it goes so well with my yoghurt. This nut butter is almost liquid in form and drizzles onto your food perfectly.
Almonds, walnuts, macadamia nuts, you name it – nuts are high in healthy fats and fibre and are a great plant-based source of protein, vitamin E and magnesium.
Results at the end of week one
|Before||End of week one|
|Body fat %||27.0||25.8|
|Overall weight loss kg||N/A||1.5|
Can you believe it, after just one week I have lost 1.5 percent bodyfat, and pretty much all other measurements have decreased too. That’s what I lost doing a whole eight weeks of F45 training!
I already feel so much better and my clothes aren’t as snug. I haven’t received any comments yet, but looking at the pictures I can see why. They just look like a really difficult game of spot the difference.
But although the pictures only show the slightest change I have actually lost 1.5kgs, and an inch off my waist and stomach. And that’s I repeat, in just ONE week. How’s that for a start? Long may it last.
Come back every week to read Olivia’s week by week diary of her weight loss transformation with Mark Stanton at Transition Zone.
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