In the lead up to Christmas, I went against societal norm. Instead of lavishing in mince pies and mulled wine, I made the crazy decision to do an eight week weight loss transformation with the help of personal trainer Ben Camara at No1 Fitness. At the start, I promised Healthista readers I would not only take half naked before and after photos (below), but that I would document every moment – the ups, the downs, and the dramatic breakdowns whilst hangry.
I lost over a stone (15lbs), 7.8 inches and 5.4 per cent body fat (read more here) – a fantastic result physically, but mentally, too, I was in a better headspace than ever. How did I do it? In the next eight weeks, I will be sharing my honest diary with Healthista readers, as well as expert advice, workouts, diet tips and the best products for those wanting to lose weight or live healthier.
My face must say it all when I walk into No1 Fitness city studio. ‘You seem very nervous’, says Ben Camara, owner of the gym and my personal trainer for the transformation. First of all we need to get my measurements and before photos done. We use a Boditrax machine, which logs your weekly weigh-ins online, to calculate my body composition.
The goal is to get me to 17 per cent body fat and in athletic looking form
Stepping onto the scales, I expected the worst. But to my glee, I sit in the ‘standard’ bubble for my gender and age and a metabolic age of 18 years. More results showed I have a BMI of 24.1 (over 25 is considered over the ideal weight/height ratio), fat mass of 25.7 per cent, and a muscle mass of 46.7kg. The numbers went a little over my head, but Ben tells me it’s not so much about the weight on the scales, but the body fat loss. The goal is to get me to 17 per cent body fat and in athletic looking form. I’m feeling doubtful – pessimism is my nature.
Cutting calories to lose weight
I sit down with No1 Fitness personal trainer Mark Hallam for my first nutrition consultation, a service all clients get upon signing up. We went through the basics such as my height, weight and what I eat in a normal day. Mark is confident that I’m not far off the correct path, considering I eat healthily the majority of the time and am aware of what foods are friend and foe. Smoothie or oats for breakfast, a salad or soup for lunch and standard mum’s comfort cooking for dinner (meat and two veg, stews and casseroles).
It’s more my bad habits that are the problem, which suddenly become very embarrassing when spoken out loud. The dessert every evening, without fail, my use of food to comfort emotion, normally dark chocolate and a lot of it, and overeating (and drinking) at weekends are my main set-backs.
1650 calories per day’ is the decided target
One thing is certain; I eat too much and to lose weight, the portions need to be cut down. ‘1650 calories per day’ is the decided target for now. This is based on my baseline calories (BMR – what you need to survive) which you can work out using the Harris Benedict equation. For someone who has never calorie counted it’s extremely daunting. Heck, eating the good foods is just half the challenge. I now have to weigh it to calculate it’s calories? Eugh!
I start counting my every bite on MyFitnessPal, which, at first, is rather time consuming. The easiest way to use the app is to input food using the barcode of food packaging. Putting how many grams (or cups, slices, ounces) does mean weighing your food for a while until you get good at ‘going by eye’. For example, the first time I snack on blueberries I figure out what 40g looks like in my hand so that next time, I don’t need to weigh it. It’s all a rough estimate and Mark reminds me not to get too hung up on the precision.
A high protein diet
Now here comes the plan I need to stick with for the next eight weeks. Mark sets out a few daily habits for me to follow, the most predominant being protein, protein and er… more protein. ‘Protein is the most satiating macronutrient’, in comparison to carbohydrates and fat, says Mark. ‘We want a diet high in protein to keep you fuller for longer, stop cravings and help repair and build muscle mass. We will set a target of about 100 grams a day, which is about 20-30 grams at each meal. If you go over that, even better.’
For the first few days, I feel like a caveman. I’ve never eaten so much protein (lunch before was often soup), and it feels excessive. But as Mark said, it does considerably reduce my hunger.
Sources of protein
Quorn and vegan protein powder are great options for vegetarians or vegans
I’m able to see the protein content of every food I eat on My Fitness Pal. For example, a large egg has 7g of protein and an average chicken breast has about 36g. Protein dense foods include white meat (chicken or turkey), red meat (lamb, beef and pork), fish (which I’ve been advised to have at least twice a week) and some dairy like milk, yoghurt and cottage cheese. ‘Quorn is a great option for vegetarians or vegans’, says Mark. ‘Vegan protein powders would also be an option. These don’t have to be consumed as a shake but can be combined with other food such as porridge, yoghurt or if you’re feeling adventurous even some baking.’
‘Other options would be pumpkin seeds, peanut butter, hemp Seeds, tofu, kidney beans, baked beans, lentils, quinoa, soy milk, green beans, oatmeal and chickpeas. However these are not as dense in protein so would need to be consumed in quite high volume.’
What about fats and carbs?
According to Mark, the other two macronutrients, carbohydrates and fats, don’t need to be tracked as much. Here comes the maths – prepare yourself. If I am aiming for 100g of protein a day that equates to 400 calories leaving me 1200 or so left just for carbs and fats. This also includes fruit and vegetables, which should be the bulk of my meals.
Sweet potato, quinoa, rice, oats and cous-cous are all carbs that provide good fuel for the tank.
What is important is where I’m getting my source of carbs – it’s goodbye to pasta, bread and pastries (which luckily for me aren’t staple in my diet). Instead, it’s about ‘single ingredient naturally nutrient dense foods’, says Mark, AKA the unprocessed stuff. Sweet potato, quinoa, rice, oats and cous-cous are all carbs that provide good fuel for the tank.
As for fats, ‘they are the most calorie dense macronutrient’, says Mark. He’s talking about the ‘good’ kind, as opposed to the ‘bad’ fats such as saturated or trans fats found in junk food. Avocados, nuts, cheese, butter, coconut oil, olives and oils all come under the good fat umbrella. Per gram, carbs and protein contain nine calories, whereas fats contain four, meaning it’s easy to rack up the calories quicker. Better watch that nut butter addiction then…
What I eat in a day
For the first 10 days of the programme, we strip it back to basics. This means absolutely nothing from a packet (that includes ‘healthy snacks’ like protein bars), no refined carbs (bread, pasta, pastries) or alcohol. Luckily, I love cooking, and have been teaching myself to cook healthily for a couple of years – check out my How To Cook Healthy For Beginners column. But for a little help, Mark suggests the website eatthismuch.com, which calculates recipes over a day based on your calories – amazing.
Getting the food right involves planning, planning, planning. Mark and I set what I should eat in a day. Here is an example:
Breakfast – A smoothie made with kefir (a fermented probiotic drink I have every day to control my eczema. Almond milk, rice milk or coconut milk will do too), half a banana, 40g raspberries, half an avocado OR a tablespoon of coconut oil, Healthista Lean Vegan Diet protein powder in vanilla and two handfuls of spinach. 390 calories.
Lunch – A chicken breast, ½ cup quinoa, roasted veg such as courgette, red onion, peppers and butternut squash, seasoned with herbs, lemon juice, salt and pepper. 480 calories.
Snack – It’s normally an apple or walnuts, or both. 1-200 calories.
Dinner – Salmon fillet with 100g sweet potato, 40g peas, 40g green beans. 420 calories.
Dessert – A small piece of fruit such as a fig or satsuma. 20-100 calories.
OR, if I have enough calories left, and I normally make sure I do, I like to whip up 60g Alpro coconut yoghurt, a serving of Healthista Lean Vegan Diet protein in vanilla, 40g blueberries, 40g strawberries and if I’m really cheeky, 70g brazil nuts. 170 calories.
I get by during the week, but the weekend is an immediate test. I have a date on Saturday night and when I say to my mum, ‘I’m going to seem really boring not drinking alcohol’, her response was ‘or he will’. I stick to my guns, however, and see the weekend through without a slip-up.
What should you eat for lunch? Press play to make sure you're fueling up properly. Have a look at @mark_hallam_'s food tips that will help hold you over until dinner time. #no1fitness #no1fitnesseducation #fituk #fitlondon #fitfam #fitness #london #gym #fit #instafit #idofitness #picoftheday #igfitness #pt #personaltraining #career #personaltrainer #food #lunch
Mark gives guidelines for a high protein healthy lunch
Total body conditioning
I had visions of me in tears on the gym floor the first week of the transformation. Instead, Ben eases me into the workouts with something called full body conditioning. ‘We want to get you used to moving in what we call ‘full ranges of motion’. Think of it like we are switching all the lights back on so that everything is more efficient and good to go. When you go to a gym class you will do squats and lunges, but you might not go through the full range or activate your muscles properly.’
We are predominately working the posterior chain which is the muscles at the back of the body
To do this, we spend the first couple of PT sessions going through basic moves such as squats and lunges, keeping the movements very slow and tense throughout. We are predominantly working the posterior chain which is the muscles at the back of the body, and the largest – the glutes, hamstrings, back, and neck muscles. ‘They use more energy and therefore burn more fat’, says Ben. ‘We need to get those working, and able to repair, recover and rebuild properly.’
‘We are also getting you cardiovascular and fitness levels better,’ Ben continued. ‘That’s so that when we get into the weeks where we are really getting into the areas we want to tone, you are a more efficient athlete’, says Ben. I like that word athlete.
I do three Full Body Conditioning fitness slots (30 minutes) led by other No1 Fitness PTs Alex, Carl and Branislav. They involve weighted moves such as squats and lunges, combined with short bursts of heart-raising cardio such as box jumps or sprints on the Skillmill – a self powered running machine that’s hitting all the top-end gyms. Take a look at the video below.
The hard work started this week 💪 this is what a fitness slot at @no1_fitness (full body conditioning) looks like. ➡️10 reps of 5 exercises. 60 second break. 9 reps of the same 5 exercises. 60 second break. Repeat lowering the reps until 30 minutes is up! ➡️ I'll find out the names of the exercises next time 🙈but they include weighted squats, TRX, box jump, press ups and the skill millllllllllll I thought 30 minutes wouldn't be hard but my god.. they kill you. 😀
Workout of the week
To start, use this workout without weights to ‘condition’ the whole body.
TRISET: 3 sets of each. 60 second rest in between sets.
- Elevated split squat LINKS. 10 reps.
- Push ups. 12 reps.
- Bent over row using resistance bands LINK. 12 reps.
METCON: 20 seconds on. 20 seconds rest. 3 sets
Lateral ice skater jumps LINK
TRISET: 3 sets of each. 60 second rest in between sets.
- Step-ups. 10 reps.
- T-Stabilisation. 16 reps. LINK
- Lateral raise. 15 reps. LINK
METCON: 20 seconds on. 20 seconds rest. 3 sets
Hollow back plank. 20 seconds on. 2 sets. 20 seconds rest. LINK
Side plank with knee touch. 15 reps. 2 sets. 45 seconds rest. LINK
3 products that helped
I have had this every day without fail for nine months, I am totally addicted! It’s my favourite protein powder on the market because of it’s a formula created by Rick Hay, nutritionist and lecturer in weight management at the College of Naturopathic Medicine. It contains ingredients that are proven by science to keep appetite at bay, encourage fat loss and aid muscle recovery, such as inulin, matcha tea, konjac root and glutamine. The vegan blend is made with mix of pea, hemp, rice and pumpkin seed proteins. I use it instead of the whey, because whey can potentially flare up my eczema. The best part is it tastes delicious with only stevia rather than calorific sweeteners.
Lean Vegan Diet Protein Vanilla £24.95 is available from Healthista.com. Click here to see the full range of flavour and blends.
So fizzy drinks, squashes and above all alcohol are a no-go. I was desperately seeking something other than water to quench my thirst. Sparkling water has become my new must-have with a big chunk of lemon. The bubbles make it feel a little more decedent and I’m so pleased to know it has no impact on calories at all. The new SodaStream Fizzi sits in the corner of my kitchen and at the push of a button, it turns tap water into sparkling in less than 10 seconds. It’s so guilt-free, I love it.
We are obsessed with this stuff at Healthista. If you have a sweet tooth, this tea will hit the spot and curb afternoon cravings (just). It also has a warming element of spice which is soothing on a chilly winter day.
Results at the end of week 1
|Before/Week 1||Week 2|
|Waist below belly button||91cm||88cm|
|Overall weight loss||N/A||1.6kg|
|Overall cm loss||N/A||3.9cm|
Come back every week to read Vanessa’s week by week diary of her weight loss transformation with Ben Camara at No1 Fitness, with tips and advice from the experts.
Ben Camara has worked with some of the most famous faces in the world with training and health coaching clients including Madonna, Kate Moss and Vogue photographers Mert & Marcus. Having carved out a career in professional football, Ben Camara wanted his next career step to allow him to continue working in the field that he was passionate about, that of health, fitness and nutrition. He and Harry Thomas co-founded No1 Fitness seven years ago, offering bespoke personal training in two locations in London.