A challenge is a great way to get some motivation if that’s what you are lacking, or to change specific habits you may have picked up, or even to tighten and tone some areas that just aren’t happening for you on your own. Please note I am not an expert, nor have extensive knowledge in personal training and nutrition, this is just 12 things I learnt on my 12 week challenge journey, and ultimately what worked for me.
1. You need to be ready and willing to make a change
I fell into this 12 week body transformation challenge by accident and if I’m honest I only signed up for an extra PT session each week to add to my gym regime. I’ve always been sporty and quite active so never really had body image issues or worried about what I ate but moving to the Gold Coast (PT capital of Australia) opened my eyes to an incredibly healthy and active way of life. After the initial weigh in and meeting where we were handed nutrition and training plans I was still dubious. Only a smoothie for breakfast and steak as my mid-morning snack, ummm no thanks I love my eggs on toast and 3pm chocolate fix WAY too much. After careful consideration and because I’m an all or nothing person I was soon on my way to the supermarket for a set of food scales and tupperware containers. Little did I know just how much it was going to take over my life for the next 12 weeks. I was not going to set myself up for failure and I completely dedicated myself to the challenge.
2. Weight training is paramount
You just can’t build lean muscle without it and you need lean muscle to blast the fat. When you only focus on aerobic exercise you will lose fat AND muscle which may look great on the scales but not so much in the mirror. Lifting weights increases your basal metabolic rate which promotes long-term fat loss and creates what’s called the after burn effect. This means you will be burning calories even as you sit on the couch after your session as your muscles need energy to repair their fibres and so your metabolism is using calories to get back to a normal level after intense exercise. Not only will strength training get you into shape faster, your heart will be healthier, you’ll build stronger bones, improve your posture and balance, prevent diseases and injuries and boost energy levels. Women should not be afraid of ‘bulking up’ – it takes years of dedicated training to increase your muscle mass to that extent. If you add yoga, pilates and high intensity interval training (HIIT) to the mix your muscles will stay lean and elongated. During the challenge I focused on isolated muscle groups 4 x weekly, did 3-4 HIIT classes, yoga once a week and a couple of cardio sessions at a low intensity.
3. You have to eat to lose weight
I thought I would be starving for 12 weeks but with 6 small meals a day based around protein it creates satiety or an absence of hunger. Protein is also essential in muscle recovery and cell repair, but you only need a small amount with every meal (I only had 80g). I even ate vanilla icecream every single night – Yes you read that right. This is because a small serving curbs any cravings and keeps you on track, provides a small sugar spike at the end of the day and fits within my daily macros (one of the many benefits of Flexible Dieting). Basically every day your body burns a certain number of calories just by existing (digesting, breathing etc). This is your basal metabolic rate (BMR) which is based on your weight, height and age. Mine is 1352 which means if I eat less than 1352 calories a day then my body just won’t function at an optimum level. When you combine your BMR with the calories you burn through physical activity you get your Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE). Mine is around 2095 to maintain my current body weight; anything under I will lose, and over I will gain. So you must eat; the right stuff of course! I will do another post later on Macronutrients and what these calories should be made up of.
4. If you fall off the horse, get straight back on it.
I inhaled a whole bag of m&ms at one point in the challenge because when we deprive ourselves, those forbidden foods become even more desirable and difficult to resist. There are going to be times when we have setbacks but we are only human and the difference between failure and success is that you don’t let those setbacks set you off course, you dust yourself off and keep going. If you want a lifestyle change that you will stick to, then listen to your body; give it chocolate when you are craving something sweet and rest when you are feeling exhausted. One not so healthy meal, mishap, or even day won’t undo your progress, just like one salad won’t make you healthy. If you do feel you may have over-indulged then make sure you continue your day as you would of and don’t write it off completely. Definitely still eat your dinner and get those nutrients your body needs. Now that I’m off the challenge I am never going ‘chocolate free’ again – it just makes me want it more! 80/20 rule remember.
5. Surround yourself with a good support network
It is impossible to do it alone, it may feel like you are the only person in the world that is putting a lot of dedication and focus into being the best version of themselves, but you aren’t. It may feel superficial that you are doing this to ultimately ‘look good’ but this translates into all areas of your life. It promotes self-love, boosts confidence, invigorates health and wellness, increases endorphins making you feel happier, and we need challenges in life to make us learn, grow and become stronger both mentally and physically. The more open you are and the more you talk about it you will find people who are interested, or have done it or even want to give it a go. Ignore the ones that urge you to eat a muffin because they are, don’t understand or put you down. I couldn’t have done it without the two girls who were on the journey with me. We all messaged each other daily and held each other accountable for training, and talked each other out of dangerous chocolate overload situations. My best friend was my biggest rock throughout the challenge; she didn’t judge me when I cheated, took away temptations, trained with me and listened to me 24/7 when I would complain about how sore or hungry I was. Your PT is the most valuable resource – ask as many questions as you can to gain knowledge. They are also proof in the pudding; when Dave said to me to trust in the process I didn’t question it, because he is in incredibly great shape. Yew Dave!
6. Cheat meals suck
We started the challenge out by incorporating cheat meals to stop your weight loss plateauing. It is designed to increase leptin levels and provides more glucose to the muscles which in turn fires up your metabolism. Leptins main function in the body is regulating both hunger, food intake and energy expenditure. When these levels are low it signifies a slowing metabolism so your body will begin to decrease its metabolic function in an effort to “make due” with the amount of fuel it’s being given. The premise is that a cheat meal will kick your leptin levels back up, you will put on weight, but that it will drop off at a faster rate when you return to your diet. I found myself going a bit overboard and devouring food like I would never be allowed to again, craving things I would never normally eat and then also struggling to go back to my diet the next day. Although the cheat meals didn’t hinder my progress, I definitely did not feel great afterwards and actually woke up feeling as if I was hungover! Towards the end of the challenge we learnt how to re-feed which is essentially for the same purpose but calculated and done with complex carbohydrates like brown rice and sweet potatoe and not pizza, donuts and frozen yoghurt. Not only do you increase your carb intake by 50% you also need to factor in dropping your protein by 20g and fats by 10g. You will benefit a lot more if the majority of your excess calories come from good sources of carbs that will turn into glucose, rather than from extra protein, fats, or simple carbs.
7. Challenging yourself is healthy
Take one day at a time, I only ever looked at it in 2 week sections and tried to not use the words 12 weeks or 3 months. That’s a quarter of the year, a whole season, and a very long time to stay dedicated. I felt high on endorphins all the time because I knew every day was one step closer to achieving my goal. Start by setting small goals which can be as simple as doing one more rep, increasing your weights, dragging yourself out of bed in the morning to go for a jog, and even downing that chicken and broccoli for the 2nd time in one day. Real progress happens outside our comfort zone as how can we expect to evolve in our lives if we only stick to habit and routine. It’s all for self-improvement and that isn’t a selfish, vain or superficial thing. It was more than just a fitness challenge for me, but both a mental and physical one that helped me learn, try new things and grow as a person.
8. Abs are made in the kitchen
I have always been active and sporty; growing up playing Netball, Basketball, Touch, competitive swimming and been a member of a gym for as long as I can remember. Although, I have never seen definition in my stomach until I cleaned up my diet. By cleaning up I mean no sauces which are full of sugar, additives, preservatives and nasty colours and flavours, starting the day with protein and not sugary muesli, yoghurt and fruit, filling up on fresh veges and lean meat, lowering my carb intake (not having a sandwhich for dinner, 3pm biscuits and pasta for dinner) and increasing my water consumption. Sadly you just can’t out-exercise a bad diet and falling into the trap of “Ah I’ll just burn it off later” is not the best mentality to have. Spot exercises such as just doing a thousand crunches a day will also not provide you with the illustrious toned stomach – stick to all over body exercises as you will be using your core in every single one. Everyone has abs, it’s just a matter of making them visible and they will appear if you move your body and clean up your diet and nutrition.
9. Willpower is your strongest muscle
My first test of willpower came on Day 2 when a Tim Tam Cheesecake circulated for a colleague’s birthday. That is just my ultimate favourite dessert – but I said no and heated up my chicken and green veg. This continued to happen for the next 3 months; morning tea treats, birthday cakes, shared baking, Friday night drinks, friend’s dinners and parties. It is so hard for me to refuse food, and some times I caved in thinking a little wouldn’t hurt. But once you start saying no, it becomes easier and that willpower muscle gets stronger. If you change your mindset and the ‘association’ we all have with food and activities then your journey will become a lot easier. For example I still went out with friends but chose to have a soda water and lime, I still went to the movies but I took green tea and almonds to snack on, I still went out for lunch I just ordered a salad and I still attended work events but chose not to eat the muffins, cupcakes and pies. All it takes is a shift in mindset and you will be on your way.
10. Scales are the devil
Measuring weight alone is just your gravitational pull to earth and is totally misleading as muscle tissue is more dense than fat. I have never really weighed myself but towards the end I started weighing myself every couple of days just urging it to drop. During the second month I put on weight! And then in the last month it started dropping off dramatically, hence the reason for sticking to it for the whole 12 weeks (point 12). For some though our weight is our accountability and since finishing the challenge I am keeping a steady eye on it so I don’t rapidly undo my progress. In saying that I am only weighing myself weekly, it should not become a daily habit as too many factors come into play and can not provide accurate results – not to mention it doesn’t do your emotions any good.
11. Eat delicious to look delicious
This one is straight from my PT’s mouth….and he pretty much means you can have your cake and eat it too. I truly believe in the 80/20 rule; a lifestyle change that can lead to sustainable weight loss. Forget strict diets banning whole food groups or silly fad juice cleanses. If you eat simple, whole and natural foods 80% of the time you can allow yourself to indulge 20% of the time in soul foods; food you really enjoy. It truly is all about moderation and portion control; 2 squares of dark chocolate every day won’t hurt if the rest of your day is filled up with variety of seasonal fresh produce, lean organic protein, unprocessed wholegrains and good quality essential fatty acids. If you apply this rule you are less likely to binge on foods you have deprived yourself of (Point 4). It’s all about progress not perfection and life is to be enjoyed; a major aspect of a joyful life is food and drink. When you focus on nourishing yourself rather than controlling yourself, food will become less of a battle zone. Food shaming or the guilty feeling is definitely worse for your body and emotions (by raising the stress hormone – cortisol) than those pancakes you just ate.
12. Consistency is key
They say it takes 4 weeks for you to notice, 8 weeks for friends to notice and 12 weeks for the world to notice. That statement couldn’t be more true. The first couple of weeks it is such a novelty and fun to weigh your food and complete all your required workouts however you do feel a little rubbish as your body is detoxifying and handling a dramatic shift in diet and exercise. This results in quite a substantial drop in mainly water weight by the end of week two but if you don’t, just remember all the necessary changes are happening on the inside for it to soon reflect on the outside. By the end of week 4 I wanted some reassurance even though my clothes felt a little looser, I felt stronger and fitter, my skin was brighter and I was sleeping better. Just for someone to notice your hard work is enough to keep you striving on. By the halfway mark it is hard to think you have to do it all again – I even put on weight at this point. I had to remember to trust in the process and realise my muscles were getting denser and the fat was oxidising. By Week 7 your body gets into a routine, so make sure to increase the intensity of training and push yourself harder every week. By week 8 I was feeling disproportionate, I was beginning to notice my arms and legs becoming more defined and toned, but my stomach and thighs wouldn’t budge. This is because our body stores fat there for an emergency; I’m not sure what kind of emergency but nonetheless, push on from this stage and the world will start to notice. Week 10 brings new determination to finish the challenge, and by Week 11 I tried to exercise as much as possible as I was nervous the end was near. I sometimes exercised x3 times a day – just remember rest is just as important here and to train smarter not harder. I achieved under my goal of 15% body fat so was in a great place by the end of the challenge, I knew I gave it my all, was disciplined and the results showed.
The reward of feeling great in your own skin is almost beyond description and the sense of achievement was over-whelming. It truly is amazing how much personal growth and power you can gain from simply re-shaping, toning and sculpting your body. Health and fitness is a never ending journey and a challenge is just a way to kickstart that journey. It’s a constantly evolving process that continually needs adapting. I am now reverse dieting for 12 weeks, to slowly re-adjust my body back to maintenance level while putting on as little body fat as possible. Everybody has different body types and therefore experiences so it is just trial and error to find what works for you. Health and our general wellbeing is our most important asset; we only get one body so we have to nourish and nuture it to really benefit from this wonderful roller-coaster we call life. I hope this has inspired or motivated at least one person to make a change for the better.