Having lost the best part of a stone after just three weeks on our 'Amateur to Athlete' experiment with Pete Fraser Fitness, I've already picked up a few lessons on which habits and routine tweaks can help you stay on a diet, and get better results.
Obviously, exercising several times a week is crucial for increasing muscle mass, improving metabolism and changing body shape, but it's your habits in the kitchen that will ultimately decide the level of results you are going to achieve.
My trainer Pete Fraser drew up a calorie-restricted plan that focused on fuelling workouts, eating the right micronutrients but, above all, shifting fat. And here's what I've learned so far:
1 | Carbs Aren't The Enemy
For anyone researching quick-fix ways to lose weight, myself included, it's easy to think of carbohydrates as the devil, and high-protein as the miracle alternative. However, it's taken my current programme to realise that losses in carb-restricted diets tend to be mainly water weight rather than tissue, and that you can still sensibly incorporate the right carbs into your diet every day and still see dramatic results. So ditch the white, processed varieties but keep the good stuff - granary toast or porridge at breakfast, bananas before workouts, brown rice or quinoa at lunch, and then tailing off carbs after 3pm so dinner is just lean protein and veg.
2 | Pick The Right Proteins
Another diet myth that had conned me before was the idea of eating unlimited proteins from any old sources as long as carbs were low – which meant packing in way too much red meat, bacon and ham than was good for me. This time around the focus is on pushing protein high but keeping it lean – fish, chicken, turkey and egg whites. Benefiting from protein's power for feeding muscles and satisfying appetite but without the high fats and calories.
3 | Meal-planning Is Everything
Get a blackboard or noticeboard in your kitchen and write out a weekly grid with room to write out breakfast, lunch and dinner for each day. Even leave gaps for mid-morning and afternoon snacks if you can. It sounds a bit anal, but without it I would have been lost. It creates a structure around what you're trying to do, helps you look forward to meal-times, and most importantly of all, doesn't leave you opening up the fridge and wondering what you're going to eat. That's when bad things happen.
4 | Fill Up On Vegetables
The first week on a plan like this will be hard as your body adjusts, and you will feel hungry. One way to counter this, especially in the evenings, is to overstock on green vegetables and really fill your plate so you're not relying on a piece of grilled chicken or fish to keep you sated on its own. There are lots of ways to add flavour to veg without spiking calories - broccoli and a splash of soy sauce, spinach with lemon and chilli, leeks and carrots with garlic and ginger.
5 | Stock Up On Natural Flavour
Following on from the last point, it's crucial that you fill your fridge and cupboards with natural flavourings that will make your meals more interesting and even help you feel fuller for longer - take your pick from fresh chillies, chilli flakes, garlic, root ginger, coriander, mint, parsley, soy sauce, balsamic vinegar, limes and lemons, and a bit of Dijon mustard.
6 | Hunger Isn't Terrible
It's almost our automatic response to consider any kind of hunger as terrible and unbearable, and must be ended as quickly as possible, no matter what. In fact, on a diet like this it often doesn't last, is rarely too much to bear, and you can even train yourself to see it as a sign that you are on the right path. This is a hard mental switch but when it comes, it can even help you enjoy meal-times more because you are ready for them.
7 | Snack Right
You can still snack, in fact it's important that you do, just make sure you have the right options at your fingertips. Fill your work drawers with almonds and walnuts and have a small handful each times. Alternatively, try an oat cake with cottage cheese on top, or a handful of berries.
8 | Water Is Your Ally
Regular glasses of water are crucial for both keeping you hydrated and so helping to stabilise appetite, but herbal teas have also played a big part by providing regular moments of flavour and structure throughout the day - without any calories.
9 | Remind Yourself Why You're Doing It
It's easy to get bored by anything that restricts your lifestyle and spoils your fun, especially if you forget the reasons you decided to start it in the first place. Find ways to introduce prompts and reminders that it'll be worth it in the end, whether it's a different home screen photo on your phone, a quote on the fridge door to stop you snacking, a picture of yourself when you were in better shape, or even that photo of Brad Pitt in Fight Club. After all, there's nothing wrong with aiming high.