Bride-to-be and utter foodie Emma Barnett has decided to finally get fit for her big day. In the first of a new six-week series, she begins the ‘Body Plan’ fat-burning programme.
Just recently, much to my surprise, my boyfriend of six years popped the question.
Having got over the shock (I was so startled I accidentally blurted out, 'No’), I have been on cloud nine ever since. Except for one tiny detail, that has cast a shadow over it: the fact that I have to get fit. After years of eating exactly what I want, interrupted briefly by attempts to get fit, I can’t say I’ve kept in the best shape. But I always said that I would Do Something if (and when) I became engaged.
I am now 26. I expected my other half to continue in happy non-committed partnership until I was at least 30. Consequently I had figured on four more years (at least) of happy feasting - rich meals, plenty of booze - tempered by the occasional Zumba course when an offer came up on a digital discounts site. (Although the only time I booked myself into a course I failed to attend a single session before the voucher expired.)
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not huge (although I’ll come to that in a minute). Nor am I going for a size zero. In fact, I don’t want to lose tons of weight - except, obviously, around the derriere (what girl wouldn’t?). What I really want to do is change my lifestyle, and start a new chapter feeling fit and energised.
The wedding takes place in October, so there’s plenty of time. I’m aiming to start a big gym push to set me on my way for the rest of the year. I’d like to avoid that waif-ish semi-starved look on the actual day, as several of my friends have done.
So, back to the fat. I know, from a previous failed fitness phase, that my body fat percentage is too high, at around 30 per cent. I am 'overfat’, mind. Not 'overweight’.
This is not uncommon in British women – with many still mistakenly thinking they are in good shape because they are at a good weight. While women carry much more body fat than men, we should have no more than 25 per cent body fat, while men should have around 10 per cent.
Hence why, when scouring the websites of the various personal trainers dotted around London, Mark Anthony’s 'six week body plan’ caught my eye. He promises to burn fat reserves (which are the hardest to shift in normal exercise) and transform fitness levels, and, handily for me, his beautiful gym-cum-health suite is also just situated around the corner from my house.
I explained my requirements and before I knew what I was actually committing to, I said yes to the lovely Mark, as thousands of others have done before me – including British designer Amanda Wakeley, Mr Elton John – David Furnish and X-Factor TV presenter Caroline Flack.
A few days later, I reminded myself of this bright-eyed willingness to burn fat for six weeks, as I blearily awoke at 6am in the cold pitch-dark of my flat and pulled on some lycra gym-wear – shaking out of a mixture of fear and the wintry nip in the air.
However, upon walking into Mark’s amazing training centre (think health spa smattered with a few pieces of fitness apparatus and waist-high candles housed in shiny silver lanterns), my terror subsided somewhat.
After Mark had finished measuring my fat with a 'Tomorrow’s World’-esque machine and taking down my vital statistics, he explained how the next six weeks of my life would work, to a soundtrack of oddly comforting electro-pop.
“Your 30 per cent fat is about average for women in the UK - but I want to get that down 24-25 per cent in the next six weeks. This is a fat reduction plan and we are going to tackle your pure body fat – which when reduced – is very hard to put back on,” he says.
Every week for the next six, I am to have a different part of my body worked out by a highly experienced trainer for an hour between 6-7am, four mornings a week.
This sort of treatment costs £1,800 and I soon see why.
We start the session with a series of strength-training exercises, rather than the standard cardio-vascular routines, focusing on my arms for 40 minutes. Weights are put into my hands in all different types of ways, while Mark spurs me on to new levels of pain and sweat.
Then a series of abs-crunching exercise ensue while I balance on a giant inflatable ball. And finally we finish off with the compulsory 20-minute high paced walking session at a painful gradient. By doing the cardio at the end, Mark swears that fat reserves will burn. By this point I want my whole body to burn in hell.
Then wonderfully, I am stretched out by Ross, my trainer for the session. While he stretches my tight hamstrings, I cry sweat and tears.
I ask him through gritted teeth if anyone has ever cried on his watch before. He jokily replies: “They are usually sweating too much for me for me to notice.” On reflection, I don’t think he was kidding.
The atmosphere in this gym is very calm and focused – with each person having invested the time, energy and crucially a fair sum of money to change themselves - using a high class personal trainer who is dedicated to the same goal.
Now five days into my regime, I have been pushed so much harder than ever before. When I don’t want to do another squat, while balancing a weighted ball between my knackered thighs, I am forced by a smiling trainer to do another 50. These lovely purveyors of pain are worth their weight in gold – as this is the first fitness regime I have ever stuck too.
I am also following. as best I can to a meal plan – which consists of mainly porridge and fruit in the morning, salad for lunch with some mackerel or roasted meat and then some roasted fish or chicken in the evening with vegetables. Snacks are tough – just five walnuts or crudités with cottage cheese or berries. But Mark says I still have to 'live’ and allows me a few vodka and slimline tonics on my birthday a couple of days into training.
Naturally I almost fall over with the first sip – but my new-found stamina prevails and I push on through, managing another couple of rounds. Even though it hurt my tired arm, I enjoyed raising a glass to the new nearly-married me.