The aim at the start of this 12 week experience was to “achieve and sustain a healthy body in the long run.” Well, I’ve lost nearly 10 per cent of my body mass – most of which was fat – and I’m fitter and stronger than ever. My waist to hip ratio is grazing the top of the “healthy” range, as is my body mass index, and as you can see, fat has disappeared from almost every area of my body and you can see a hint of muscle tone around my belly.
It’s affected me in unexpected ways: I’ve had to adjust my watch straps because my wrist fat has disappeared, I’ve had to buy new jeans and jumpers to fit my thinner body, and there’s generally “less” of me so I feel like climbing stairs and cycling to work is less of an effort. Stress at work is more manageable, sex is better, and I sleep like a log on days when I’m working out. I’ve saved money from reducing my drinking and enjoyed it more because when I did drink, I bought one stunningly expensive cocktail and enjoyed every sip.
In short, losing weight is brilliant.
There were difficulties in the last month of the experience. At one point I got ill, which I think wasn’t helped by the increased intensity of the exercise, failing to eat enough of the right food, and Donald Trump’s election. Overall, I’ve also lost a few kilograms of muscle mass, mostly because I wasn’t eating enough protein. Lesson learned.
At the end of the three months I’m more aware than ever that this was the easy part. Sustaining and maintaining my weight loss is the key. Thanks to the excellent programme devised by Roberta Watts and the team at Integra, I’ve discovered my personal keys to long term weight loss…
1) Regular exercise
It sounds obvious, but 90 per cent of success is showing up, and showing up to a gym regularly is the first stage of weight loss. One of the biggest benefits of a personal trainer is that there is someone there to disappoint if you don’t turn up. Spend the money. It’s worth it.
2) A flexible diet
Don’t deny yourself. It’s important not to beat yourself up if you do have one drink too many or eat a slice of pizza, as long as you’re generally eating well. Use a food delivery service, order the healthy option from Deliveroo (Farmer J saved my life), and put aside a few hours on Sunday evening to cook some healthy meals.
3) A very public goal
The fact that I was having a photo taken of my body which would be published in a men’s magazine and website was a very useful tool. Mainly because I knew if I didn’t show a substantial improvement I would embarrass all the people who had helped and supported me. You’ve got an Instagram account, use it.
I’ve also learned what is completely unhelpful for achieving my goals. I did not need…
I’ve not given up drinking entirely, yet I’ve progressively lost weight over three months, and I’ve not denied myself the occasional treats, I’ve just found slightly healthier ones. About the only thing I’ve given up for good is pizza delivered to my door.
2) An obsession with the gym
On average, I’ve only visited the gym three or four times a week and I’ve stuck to a very specific resistance training programme which was informed by science about how the body works. Whenever I’ve felt any pain, Roberta has stopped the exercise and investigated the problem. I’ve discovered that there’s an alternative to the “Just do it” gym bro approach that uses your brain as much as your brawn.
3) Instagram hashtags
You don’t have to be a #cleaneating #legday #bodyinspo obsessive to lose a bit of weight. Do it your own way.
There’s a reason you see “12 week body transformation” adverts plastered all over London and your Facebook feed. It’s a very compelling way to catch your attention. You clicked this link, didn’t you? But actually, you don’t have to achieve these results in such a short period of time. I hope to look back on this experience as the first three months of my “12 year body transformation”, and I hope you’ll tune in again in 2029 to see the results.
The final results after month three
Body weight: 87.2kg to 80.3kg
Body fat: 26.6 per cent to 23.3 per cent
Muscle mass: 64kg to 61.6kg
You’re probably expecting my first update at the end of month two to talk about the pain that I’ve been experiencing from all the exercise I’ve been doing. I’m sorry to disappoint you. I feel fine. I’ve barely felt the aches, pains or muscle soreness that you might expect to experience after a month or two of intense exercise. That’s all thanks to Integra’s tailored approach to my body. If the first month was about finding my body’s limits, the second month is about increasing my muscle’s capabilities (or, more technically, “increasing my contractile output”) without causing me any injuries or undue pain which might delay my progress. We’ve only got 12 weeks, remember.
The exercise is the simplest bit. I arrive three or four times a week for my 6am sessions, have a catch-up and a shot of espresso, and do what Roberta tells me. My exercises are divided up into three groups: one which works my arms, one which works more core and my legs, and one which works my back and chest. Whenever I feel a pain that isn’t just muscle burn, we stop, investigate it on the treatment bench, and try and activate any of the smaller musculature which isn’t contracting.
It’s a slow and steady approach unlike any other exercise routines I’ve experienced before. And although Roberta is pushing me by making me lift weights to the point of failure – making me swear like a sailor towards the end of each set – any pain from muscle burn or lactic acid build-up is fleeting. As soon as I finish a set I get an instant burst of adrenaline and say “that was fun”. I’m doing relatively small numbers of reps (10 at most) so I have a lot of recovery time. So far, so good.
Using my brain while I exercise is a much bigger challenge. Integra demands that their clients be physically and mentally present for their sessions which means I must use my brain to actively seek out my muscles and activate them consciously when I lift. If I feel myself getting stressed by an exercise, I must calm myself down through breathing. It’s quite a daunting prospect focussing on a particular muscle when said muscle is screaming at your brain that it wants to stop.
On the food front I’ve surprised myself. I haven’t fallen off the wagon and ordered a pizza, I’ve managed to limit myself to about a drink every week, and I even resisted having a proper plate of this unbelievably tasty chocolate mousse we covered the other week.
At the end of my second month I’ve lost 5kg and barely skipped a beat. I could get used to this.
The results after month two
Body weight: 85.1kg to 82.3kg
Body fat: 25.3 per cent to 24.3 per cent
Muscle mass: 63.6kg to 62.3kg
Like a lot of people who struggle with balancing fitness and an office job, I’m on a roller coaster ride of weight loss and weight gain. Once or twice a year I’ll get back into fitness, start running and cycling to work. It never lasts. Before long I’m ordering a pizza every week, eating sausage baguettes for breakfast and generally “treating myself” so much it’s not a treat any more.
This has to stop. Although I’m very happy with how my body looks and my motivation is not to achieve a certain body type, I want to achieve and sustain a healthy body in the long run. I want to lose weight fast and lose it for good. Having a normal BMI but with a big belly is deadlier than obesity according to several studies, and I’d like to enter my 30s without a spare tyre holding me back. I don’t particularly need or want the muscle, but it helps fill out my shirts and my girlfriend likes it, so I’m not complaining.
To help me step off this body weight
Before my first session my body is tense. I’m preparing mentally and physically for the pain that I expect will be inflicted upon me. It doesn’t happen. It turns out my programme to lose body weight fast and gain muscle is the anti-12-week fitness plan. Although I will train intensely, have to stick to a strict diet and give up drinking for the entire three months, it’s made very clear that I will only achieve my goal using my brain, not brawn.
Getting my body ready
The first month of my programme involves Roberta preparing and investigating the integrity of my joints and my muscles and their contractile ability. The investigation is conclusive. I can move my left leg significantly less than my right, and my left arm – which I dislocated when I was a teenager – is also limited in terms of its range of motion. To fix this Roberta uses low level isometrics, a type of resistance exercise at a very light level in order to prevent my body from cheating and recruiting my stronger muscles to help. In layman’s terms that means lying down on a bench with my legs extended while Roberta applies very light pressure.
The results are impressive, and after only a few weeks my left side is reaching parity with my right. I notice the effects in my day-to-day life, from walking up escalators to sitting at my desk. My posture is improved and I find that general aches and pains are disappearing. This was the easy bit.
Getting my belly ready
I’m informed that diet is 90 per cent of losing weight, which I think I knew already, but have safely ignored for most of my adult life. For food I’m given a “macro”, which describes the split between the different food groups I must eat. It’s heavily swayed towards protein (273g a day) but also doesn’t eliminate carbs (I must eat 137g a day) nor fat (a whopping 121g per day). Although my diet does look a lot like a professional weightlifter’s, it does mean I can cook with butter and continue to eat bread (although bread will be cut out, later on). This, again, makes the process a lot easier to deal with.
Fortunately, I’m sized up effectively from the start. Although I must give up drink, I’m not told to take on a puritan approach. If I need to have a drink, Roberta says “she’d rather I have one than go off and binge.” It’s hard to emphasise how much this relaxed me, certainly more than any pint could – I haven’t had one since I started four weeks ago, and I’ve barely noticed. Over four weeks I’ve had roughly two alcoholic drinks each week, none of them beer.
Getting my mind ready
My central nervous system has apparently picked up just as many bad habits as the part of my brain that wants pizza. We have to shock it out of its apathy, so my general mental task in the first month is to get me used to the idea of thinking about certain muscles while I exercise. That will be essential in the second and third phases of my programme where I’m lifting increasingly heavier weights. It feels weird actively telling my brain to squeeze my bum muscles to move my leg out, but apparently it works.
The results after month one
Body weight: 87.2kg to 85.1kg
Body fat: 26.6 per cent to 25.3 per cent
Muscle mass: 64kg to 63.6kg
In the first month, I’ve mostly worked on the treatment table during my sessions, have cut down my drinking (not quit entirely), and my diet is still acceptable to me. I’ve lost 2kg, reduced my body fat percentage by 5 per cent (about one percentage point), and my measurements around most of my body have dropped dramatically, particularly around my waist and thighs. I feel fresh from cutting down alcohol, and I’m already noticing bits of my body changing. My belly is not just one amorphous mass, my shoulders feel stronger and my skin is clearer and softer.