Last year (Or was it? maybe the year before) as I was approaching my fortieth year, there was a lot of change happening here. We had moved: a seismic adjustment for all of us, mostly good; I weaned my youngest and for the first time in my adult life since I was twenty I was neither pregnant or breastfeeding. And I gave up sugar (which I talked about here) which was massive –massive– like someone just opened up a whole new vision of life for me. I felt fantastic, renewed, but I felt like I was at the start of a path rather than having reached the end. And I was at the start, wandering along, experimenting and considering; dipping my toes in here and there, Paleo, Keto, Weston Price, vegetarian, seeing what worked and didn’t. All very much based entirely on my gut.
Ha! My gut. Because, at the back of this all, this is all about my gut ( I won’t segue into talking about bowels, I swear. I know I promised a while ago, but you will have to wait), the second brain of the body, the greatest indicator of our health (if your gut isn’t right, frankly, you feel shite. Like really shite, metaphorically and physically).
This Hazelnut Chocolate Cake- from Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall’s “Light and Easy” book. I made it refined sugar-free using coconut sugar. Wheat and dairy free. Kcal per slice (cake divided in 8): 218))
When I gave up sugar initially, I had this massive surge of energy for ages, but my energy levels had started to slump again (my gut!), I had lost some weight yet kept plateau-ing (my gut!) but didn’t know why. I wasn’t even sure what I really should be eating or what kind of exercise I needed to do. And then as I approached 18 months eating cleanly, exercising moderately (as in a heck of a lot more than I had been, which was, very little) I began to get frustrated. I was reading everything; about eating well and living well, mindful that if I wanted to enact changes that would have a huge impact into my older age, I needed to start now. But I didn’t know how.
I’m not interested in specific “diets”, strict diets are boring and a lot of work; also, they are frequently filled with low-calorie rubbish foods. *No, thank you*. I needed a framework in order to understand and navigate the choices I was making so I could live happily, enjoying what I was eating and allowing my body to balance, be fit and strong.
(Another HFW recipe, these are oaty, nutty, fruity cookies, wheat, refined sugar and dairy-free.)
Enter Oonagh Duncan. I was receiving Oonagh’s free emails and I just resonated with what she was saying, confirming all the research I had been doing: that, for women, as we move quickly through our thirties we start into a massive hormonal shift in our bodies, and then into our forties this becomes more pronounced, with weight gain and low energy (among other things). Most of us have finished our child rearing and we begin to enter the peri-menopausal stage (waaaaaaah, weep) so we need to be very specific about what we eat and how we move our bodies in order to manage these hormonal shifts and to have vibrant health.
In May I received an email about the 28 Day Transformation Challenge, an online 28-day boot camp which promised miracles in the form of a sustainable habits-based system involving delicious Real Food, workouts that worked and lots of motivation. It felt like exactly what I was looking for, even though I had a million reasons why I couldn’t and should not do it.
So in a moment of madness, I signed up.
… And instantly freaked out. I couldn’t believe I had just done something so far outside of my comfort zone. But also I knew this was The Right Thing. I had just sold a painting, so I took that as a sign from The Universe that I was on the right track.
(Oh, this wonderful Flaxseed bread from Hemsley and Hemsley’s “The Art Of Eating Well”!)
This was not just about losing weight (which, put simply, is: you eat fewer calories than you burn), but I DID come to the Transformation Challenge wanting more energy, more strength, more functional mobility. To learn a way of eating, moving (*living*) that I could use daily.
I didn’t want a quick fix (they are useless), I wanted a blueprint of what worked for me and how to tweak what I was doing now for my body to work at its optimum.
So what happened?
Lots of things! 🙂 I lost loads of weight, literal inches (you do an assessment before you start. Never pleasant to see the spoils of your abundant diet in black and white), I felt so well. I woke with a clear head and lots of energy (rather than in a stupor where I felt I could never shake off a hangover of fatigue). I got fitter: functionally fit (all the bending down, getting up, supple movements, no creaky joints), faster and stronger (good to be able to run up the beach, catch a child and wrestle them to the ground without feeling like you need to pause to get your breath back. Very satisfying).
Every week you receive a large manual of information: shopping lists with exact quantities, clear, delicious menus, PDFs of the workouts (and video links too), so it was easy: I didn’t have to think what I could or couldn’t eat, it was all there, ready to reference at a moment’s notice. This, for me, someone not known for my organisational skills, was glorious. There were “cheat meals” so you didn’t have to be The Most Joyless Person In The Room, and gave you leeway when you needed it.
I also have to say, at times it was incredibly HARD. The workouts, for someone who has never done High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT), felt like masochism in the extreme, but! while the workouts are *hard*, they are deeply satisfying (I never, ever thought I would hear myself utter that last sentence).
Probably, though, one of the most brilliant aspects of this whole challenge was the social support through the private Facebook group.
Somewhere, with my fellow Transformers who were finding it as f*cking hard as I was, we could all moan together. Having someone (there’s a trainer and nutritionist available all the time) who would and could answer all my questions and explain things clearly. Someone keeping an eye on how you were doing, asking whether the modifications they suggested worked. I felt incredibly supported the whole time.
I was still eating highly nutritious meals (the recipes are excellent) but I was eating a lot less of them. I was eating specific amounts of foods, much less fat (much fewer nuts!) than I had been, no dairy (I found that dairy does not like me, no matter how much I love ice-cream and cream and lots of butter and cheese), no sugar and few grains. I was experimenting with foods I had never tried before, I was figuring out how much of certain foods I needed or which ones I needed to be mindful of.
I found I was never hungry, even though I was eating a fraction of what I would have normally eaten. I looked forward to my meals. I cut out caffeine (from 8-10 cups of tea a day (!) to 2-3 a week) and instantly had so much energy, slept well, could actually wake without feeling tired and sluggish for hours. My mood was calmer and happier and less contrary (I still have my moments, but, hey).
(This is a gorgeous recipe from Rebel Recipes )
And since? I’m still following the parameters/habits- since they worked and fast! I’m conscious of what I eat. I downloaded a calorie-tracker app to give me an idea of how many calories I am *actually* eating just so I’m not fooling myself (easily done!). I tracked for a week, and just check out new foods when I need to (I’d prefer to poke my eyeballs out rather than to have to anticipate counting calories for life). I am still doing the workouts 3-4 times a week. Giving myself the permission to take the time was huge for me (like money, there was always something that needed my time more). But this has been so invigorating, like extreme self-care. I realised if I didn’t practice it on myself, no-one else would practice it for me.
I have found that (apart from keeping an eye on the calorie count and eating real food), consistency is the key. And if I eat a meal of all the things I shouldn’t? Oh well, I make sure I eat clean for the next one. It has been the forming of habits that have made the difference for me.
A year before I did the challenge I gave up sugar in a bid to lose weight, get fitter and stronger. Shortly after, I had a dream where I was peeling back all this excess fat and skin and I was emerging from under the weight of it. I’ve a long, long way to go, but finally, since doing the Challenge, I feel it is happening: just, rather than it peeling away like the skin from a banana, it’s melting away; like all of a sudden I’m coming out of a blurry fog into high definition.
I’m SO proud of this body of mine, thrilled to feel stronger and happier in my skin. I’ve a long way to go, but I now have a map that works and I’m looking forward to slowly, but steadily, witnessing my own becoming.
(and no, I don’t benefit in any way from you joining other than knowing it will be A Great Thing for you 🙂 This is NOT a sponsored post. These are all my own word/thoughts/findings).
Emily! If I didn’t know you in real life, I would think this was some sort of con because it sounds so wonderful. I … might consider this. I can’t do it right now because we go on holidays right when it starts, but maybe later in the year. I’m certainly feeling sluglike, and have never managed to get into exercise, and probably eat too much sugar and blah de blah. But I hate people telling me what to do.
Is the price on the website in Canadian dollars?
However much you hate people telling you what to do, I hate it even more!! I tried (in vain) to adjust recipes etc but there was a lot of Tough Love administered and I desisted (I am very glad 🙂 ) Think it’s an Irish thing, lol!
It really IS wonderful, I felt like I was going mad, like I had all these jigsaw pieces in my hands and not quite sure what picture they made or how to put them together. I cannot recommend it highly enough. It IS hard, but it’s only 28 days, and feedback from past pupils have been fantastic, that they kept up these habits consistently after the challenge. When you see such great results, it really makes you WANT to keep going!
The price is American dollars AFAIK. But email Oonagh, she is a dote and very approachable. Good luck!!
Well done Emily. You look fantastic.
Thank you Fionnuala <3 <3