Everyone knows that you can lose weight two ways – eating normally and exercising or eating very little. I am ashamed to say that I find the second the easiest.
Two and a half years ago, I lost three stone in the same amount of months on an accidental heart-break diet. I had spent all my teen years curvaceous and plump and within a blink of an eye, my entire shape had changed. None of my clothes fit, and, in all honesty, it was BLOODY BRILLIANT.
But as a year or so passed, I realised that I couldn’t maintain the weight I had reached without becoming a.) seriously ill and b.) particularly anti-social. So I had to start eating normally again.
Since I resumed normal eating patterns, I have put about ten of those lost pounds back on. They don’t bother me that much, but occasionally I have an old dress I want to squeeze into, or a pretend holiday to fantasize about and I want to get back to where I was. So I liquidize food, cut out carbs and up my cigarette intake. And, do you know what? It works. And, actually, I find it quite easy.
But then, inevitably, those ten pounds find there way back to me. And, at age 23, I can finally see it’s sort of a back-door way of getting the body I want. It’s sort of cheating.
The problem is, I HATE exercise. I LOATHE it. I have given it a lot of time to show me that it’s not a total arse hole, but it’s yet to prove me otherwise. I’ve done gyms, I’ve done running, I’ve done exercise videos, I’ve even done Zumba. I haven’t enjoyed any of it. I find it lonely, boring and really, really time-consuming.
But, maybe I haven’t given it enough of a chance. Maybe I’ve gone into it with the wrong mind-set. Instead of spending hour after hour on my own in a gym, thinking about all the other things I could be doing, I could try a variety of things. I could start thinking of it as something that liberates me to eat what I like, rather than something that oppresses.
Now, I think January is horrible time to do a detox. What happens to all the left over booze and food from Christmas? Plus, it’s such a depressing month, must we really worsen it with a reduced-fat, booze-free, cardiovascular, yoghurt-covered carry-on?
So I chose February (the shortest month) to try an experiment. This serial dieter is going to exercise six days a week for a month. I refuse to cut out anything altogether and must eat three substantial meals a day. I don’t for a second think this is something I could sustain long-term, but am curious to see the difference between a body that diets and a body that exercises.
Initial buzz of what is to come consumes my body like it does any idiot person who is fad-prone. I dream of the Madonna abs I shall have come March the same way one gets excited about spending £50 on a pair of leggings before they’ve stepped into a gym. I spend the evening stretched out on the sofa. I drink two dirty martinis and make a generous bowl of spaghetti carbonara and indulge every mouthful as if it is the biblical last supper. “THE LAST NIGHT,” my body hums. “THE LAST NIGHT AS A NORMAL, SILLY PERSON WHO EATS SPAGHETTI.” I remind myself that it’s always so easy to give up wine when drunk or food when full.
I go to bed at 11 in anticipation of my seven AM exercise video.
I fall asleep with the words “28 days is not that long” spinning in my head.
I am not your morning girl. I like sleep. Sometimes, at school, I would shower, do my makeup and put on my uniform the night before so that I could go straight from bed to morning chapel and spend extra time asleep.
So I wasn’t surprised I slept right through my 7 am alarm today.
I decide it’s OK as I can make the most of my Fitness First gym passes and can squeeze in a session before my friend’s play if I run from work. Spare time is tight when you go to the gym. The thing I hate most about exercise is already rearing its ugly head on day one.
Get into work and have a piece of toast instead of my normal green tea and fag. Just as I expected, I am hungry for lunch far earlier than normal. I know this means my metabolism is working, but I am still convinced the “eat breakfast like a king” thing means you’re ready to eat like all the King’s horses at lunch.
Hold off for chicken and sweet potato salad. Feel fine until four o’clock comes and there is mention from colleagues of The Albion. Now, I always knew that this was actually going to be my biggest obstacle for getting healthy. The problem is, my office is directly parked in front of The Albion – otherwise known as home for the best brownie in the world. I know I have been known to use a superlative rather thick and fast, but these are properly The Best. Whole toasted almonds encased in rich, fudgey, chocolatey slabs of heaven. In portions to satisfy Goliath. Only after the very worst meeting can you warrant getting through one on your own. Only when you’ve pitched a real stinker. The rest of the time, half will do.
So I am good and go for a quarter.
Put on my trainers at six and march to the gym straight from the office. I catch my reflection in a building and realise I look like a working mum from 1987 on her way to a Rosemary Conley meeting.
Back to the sweaty stench of a Fitness First. I’ve downgraded from platinum to blue, which is the world of normal description means I’ve gone from not-so-shit to pretty shit. Basically, there’s no sauna. I start with 20 minutes on the machine I find easiest (cross-trainer) and move on to a high-impact 7K bike ride. I try and do it all in a serious, goal-reaching, fat-burning way as opposed to just floating and bobbing around on the cross trainer in a “look-I’m-at-the-gym!” sort of way. Out within the hour. Suppose it feels OK, I’m just a little, well, bored again. Looking forward to pushing a bit further next time.
I go straight from gym to my friend Tara’s play and am annoyed I can’t stay for a drink afterwards. But 10 o’clock bed beckons. Tomorrow I am up at 5.30 AM for my first session of Bikram yoga.
Beans on toast is supper. Four sleeping pills act as pudding.
So, here’s the thing about bikram yoga. In conversation and theory, it’s totally brilliant. It’s just calorie-burning yoga in a lovely warm room. You feel refreshed and relaxed and your skin will look great. Unfortunately, the reality of bikram yoga is far, far crueler. The reality left me dry heaving 15 minutes in and feeling out of sorts all day.
My alarm goes off at 5.30 and it feels like the darkest depths of the night. I turn on the light, waking up my boyfriend and fanny about in a daze, trying to get together all the paraphernalia my Bikram aficionado friend Helen has advised to take. A litre of water pre-class, shower gel, a banana for afterwards and a towel. I leave at five to six and realise my boyfriend’s housemate, an RBS banker, has already left the house and does this EVERY MORNING. I suddenly take a total political and moral U-turn and feel very sorry for Fred Goodwin. Conclude that actually all bankers should get really, really massive bonuses.
I thought the streets of London would be a hub of early-birds and joggers. Littered with all those people at social events who go on and on about how long their hours are. What are all these people complaining about? Hmm? WHERE ARE THEY NOW? Everything feels APOCALYPTIC, it’s so dark and empty. The only flicker of human life I catch is a drunk man heading home and one family car, obviously en route to Heathrow.
I am late to meet my friend Jess, a woman so experience-hungry, I knew I can rope her in to anything, from bikram yoga to reading her teenage diaries aloud in a pub. If the University of Life were a real place and needed a guild president, she’d be your girl. We run to the class.
Walk into the room that is sweltering. As hot as the hottest day I’ve ever known. I thought it would be warm, I thought we’d all be lightly glowing. No, this is hot. Really, really hot. Suddenly I yearn for the air outside, so cold it burnt my nostrils to breathe.
We begin with two rounds of breathing exercises and I try and relent to the intense heat of the room. I begin to get used to it and then we start moving. Anytime I look down and then up (which is a fair bit in yoga), my vision goes and I feel like I am going to faint. I suddenly feel sick. I run out of the room to the loo and vomit. Ten minutes later, the instructor comes in and urges me to head back in, sit and observe.
Every five minutes or so, I join in on one of the 26 postures. After a few minutes, the same feeling comes over me and I stop again. I end up participating for about 25 per cent of the 90 minutes. I lie down on the mat, edging towards the crack under the door for cool air.
I’m frustrated and disappointed in myself. I spend the day googling “vomit faint no vision bikram yoga first time” and “bikram yoga death”. I am comforted by forum upon forum of others who have experienced the same.
I get into work an hour and a half early and am manic on the buzz of sleep deprivation. But as I have experienced from pre-work exercise, I bound in with the energy of a spaniel puppy and slowly drop off after noon.
I meet Helen for supper that night, eyes blood-shot and limbs weary. She spends the evening convincing me it will get better, reminiscent of the conversations I had with my very promiscuous friend aged 17. Decide to give it a few more goes.
Bound out of bed and power-walk the four and a half miles to work. I really enjoy this time to think and arrive at the office with boundless energy that lasts me through the day.
It’s only day three and I have already started doing smug things like walking up escalators and snacking on crudités. I feel like I could go on like this forever.
I head to Lauren’s house for an evening of low-key music writing. We have an upcoming gig with a set of original material and it’s time we got our heads down.
Three am comes and we’ve consumed all her parents wine, written half a song called “John, The Arsonist” and have begun the score for a musical based on Michael Barrymore’s life.
I fall into a cab and pass out in bed with my clothes on. Can’t face the thought of the bikram yoga tomorrow. “John, Jo-oh-oh-oh-oh-on, you’re on fire!” are the only thoughts that keep me awake.
I wake up feeling like my head has been turned inside out. I try and resist the temptation to lie on a sofa and eat all day, but it proves incredibly hard.
I go onto my phone and find that the last thing I had googled was “Disco Sylvester Mighty Real lyrics” and recall a cover of this attempted on an acoustic guitar at midnight.
I go for a three mile run and sprint the last leg, desperate for it to be over. I sweat sauvignon, my head burns and feel like I may cry. I spend the afternoon in the bath listening to Desert Island Discs and I scorn the smugness of yesterday.
Drag myself over to Battersea for dinner and pre-drinks before Sophie Wilkinson’s birthday. We’re all rendered similarly from the night before, so drink two bottles of wine and a bottle of vodka as what was intended as a pick-me-up.
I get to Shoreditch and I am drunk. Constant exercise seems to be turning me into a total light weight. I act like a case-study for a programme about Broken Britain on a Saturday night in city centres. I remove clothes, fall over and have a go at an acquaintance from university about not following me on twitter.
I am taken home.
I wake with the worst bout of morning after guilt I have experienced for a while. I slide through the snow in my pyjamas and pick up some bacon from Tescos. I elect this day as my sabbath.
I also wake with calf muscles like bricks. They’re stiff and painful and it’s totally my fault for sprinting hungover in the freezing cold with no warm up or stretching.
My all-too-caring friend is worried about my sorry state and doesn’t trust me to take public transport. She drops me off at The Ship where I spend the afternoon/evening drinking wine and eating lovely food with the equally lovely Oliver Thring, James Ramsden and Rosie Hogg.
I turn up at my boyfriend’s house, stinking of booze and intent on a glass of whisky before bed. It’s a Sunday night. He’s convinced I am developing an alcohol problem to cope with the exercise.
I wake up and three days of drinking hit me. I’ve already had my day off for this week, but the thought of moving unnecessarily makes me heave. I get out of bed and my calf muscles feel like they have been shredded into an oblivion.
I can barely press my heel to the ground and so wear my huge, comfy French-exchange-student trainers across London. I force my feet into five inch suede wedges in the lift. I walk around the office looking like I spent the night before in bed with the England rugby team.
I put my trainers back on at six and try to jog to Vauxhall, but my legs aren’t having any of it. I reluctantly hop on the 344 and head to The Bonnington Cafe for supper. I drink two glasses of wine and refuse to let alcohol break my regime any further.
I decide to weigh-in and see what my first week of daily exercise has achieved. Taking into account the bottles of wine I have consumed and that constant exercise means I’ve been eating teenage boy portions, I do not have high hopes.
I have lost a rather astonishing eight and a half pounds. I worry that this is far too much but speak to a fitness fanatic who assures me that this isn’t unheard of at the beginning of a health kick.
Decide to bump up my calorie intake to make sure that I start losing it more steadily.
Week one down, and I am feeling pretty good. I just wonder if I will be able to continue having both an exercise life and a social life. But my calves are healing, my skin’s looking pretty fresh and most importantly, I haven’t been hungry once.
But I am still dreading bikram yoga tonight.