Belly fat is one of those things that tend to plague certain people their entire lives, like tax returns and awful relatives.
But what if I told you that there was a way of getting rid of it in just four weeks?
No, Im not talking about liposuction. Im talking about a little boutique gym-cum-members club nestled just off the Portobello Road, called The Library.
Its one of two 15 minute HIIT training houses (the other being The Clock on Wimple Street), founded by Zana Morris, which promises to reboot your body to burn fat and build muscle in next to no time.
Ive always been pretty fit but for some reason (primarily crisps and beer), Ive never been able to shift the sliver of fat around my belly button.
So when I was approached to join The Library for a month on the premise that theyd blitz my body of its reticent fat, I was skeptical.
I meanIve run a marathon and I basically looked the same (albeit more haggard) at the end as I did before starting training. What good would 15 minutes of HIIT do me?
Having been a runner for most of my life, Ive got strong legs but due to various injuries, have ended up with imbalanced glutes which has only further aggravated knee and ankle problems. Zana promised that shed strengthen up the left one so theyd finally be the same size, while improving my overall upper strength.And thats something Ive really needed to improve on.
Shamefully, in all my 27 years, Ive never been able to do monkey bars; Ive never had the strength to heave my body from one bar to the next. I accepted Zanas offer, hoping that this regime of lat raises, tricep moves and pull-ups might finally see me crowned queen of the jungle gym.
So, what does The Library regime entail?
Its a double pronged approach of diet-and-exercise. Every week, you get weighed and measured (rather like Weight Watchers) in a private consultation where your fat is measured with calipers and tape measures are brought out to check on biceps, thighs, calves, chest, hips and waist.
Most people are put on a high-fat, low-sugar diet to begin with before switching to a low-fat plan. In fact, Zana is a leading authority on high-fat diets, having published a book on the subject.
I, however, was put on the low-fat plan from the beginning after a lengthy consultation which involved talking about my goals, lifestyle, and taking every measurement under the sun.
Im quite fortunate in that I tend to eat the same meals every day for weeks at a time without getting bored. I ate pretty much the same breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks for five weeks but started to experiment towards the end with cauliflower risotto and pizza bases as a carb-free, low fat and sugar alternative to bread and arborio rice.
Prior to starting the plan, Id have a bowl of porridge with big lumps of peanut butter and honey for breakfast, two largepitta wraps with hummous for lunch and a dinner heavily composed of pasta or rice. Id eat a lot of crisps and carby snacks. It wasnt an awfully unhealthy diet but it was quite heavy, which when I was running very much, probably wasnt being burned effectively.
I also used to be hungry quite a lot but on the Librarys meal plan, I can safely say that Ive never been so full and satisfied.
The idea is to significantly up your protein intake and cut the carbs. Fill up on as much green stuff as possible have huge green salads with your meals. I dont eat meat and cant eat too much fish at once so I bulked my meals out with a few slices of halloumi and sometimes an egg.
Youre also allowed a few bits of dark chocolate (85% cacao and above) which can be a useful treat when youre craving something a little sweet.
Heres what I ate almost every day:
Breakfast: 250g 0% fat Greek yoghurt with flaxseeds and berries
11 am snack: two corn cakes
Lunch: big bowl of salad (spinach, broccoli, peas) + two boiled eggs/tin of tuna
4 pm snack: roasted beans and seeds
5.20 pm work out
Dinner: fish fillet with fried onions and mushrooms, grilled halloumi, big salad (spinach, broccoli, peas, asparagus)
Snack: chocolate protein shake
The key to success is preparation.
I would come home from my workout, cook my dinner and then cook my lunch and set out my breakfast. Trust me, looking for a ready-prepared, low-fat, low-sugar lunch during your midday break is a nightmare.
Two of the five weekends I spent abroad and I did panic about workouts and meals before jetting off. But the fantastic thing about this plan is its simplicity and it actually can be done anywhere which gives me hope for keeping it up, albeit with slight modifications.
Most hotels have gyms and weights and if you do want to keep your weight down, its pretty simple to swerve carbs and fats abroad if you want to. I sort of said to myself that as long as I worked out and tried where possible to stick to my dietary regime, I could afford to treat myself.
I had carrot cake for breakfast every day in Italy and pistachio-filled dates in Dubai. But I did try and opt for fish and salads where possible. You cant go on holiday and martyr yourself you just have to pick your battles.
There are never more than about five people in the gym at any one time. In fact, the most I ever saw were about three meaning that every day is pretty much a PT day.
The Library and Clock gyms are unique in the equipment they use. There are no free weights. No treadmills. The workouts revolve around a single machine with eight stations.
You rotate from legs to arms to back and shoulders, doing three rounds of six reps. It sounds like nothing and its over in a flash but the results are mad. I started squatting 52kg and within three weeks was squatting 100kg on the machine. The progress you make is crazy.
Every day, you take your weight card, hand it to the trainer and theyll tell you exactly what to do. Theres no humming and hawing over what you should do that day you dont have any say. And if youre a bit nervous or new to weight training, thats a major anxiety already dissolved. It can be hard going into a weights room if you dont know what youre doing to say nothing of it being dangerous.
While the workouts are super quick, the whole process is pretty intense. Youre in and out before you know whats hit you leaving you with way more time in the evening to relax or meal prep than youd normally have if you were hitting the gym after work. But the amount of preparation that goes into the food element it is quite immense.
In just five weeks of quick-but-relentless weight training sessions and a very simple meal plan, I lost 5% of my body fat including that belly padding.
I started out, according to their calculations, with 22% body fat and ended at 17.9% converting most of it into muscle.
And every single week, the numbers came down. My first weigh and measure, Id already lost 2%, and from there it was a steady trickle.
Weight: 135.6lbs (9st 7lbs)
Waist: 26.5 in
Abdomen: 28 in
Body fat percentage: 22%
Weight: 131.4lbs (9st 3lbs)
Body fat percentage: 17.9%
I also lost a load of fat from my back (did I have an unusually padded out back before?!), the calipers going down from 12 to 8.5.
Ive never come across a more effective regime for burning fat and gaining muscle. If you follow their advice, youll achieve exactly what they promise.
Its hard, dont get me wrong. But if youre serious about your goals, then this is a regime that will get you there.
Really, youre supposed to go to The Library or Clock five times a week but for many of us, thats impractical especially when you have to book in. If you dont turn up, you get fined. If you dont book in for a prolonged period of time, trainers will chase you.
For me, I found that I could make it three or four times and then would often work out on my own for the other one or two days. But getting that core weight training in is key and having one-on-one training is absolutely invaluable.
Dieting is hard and something that Ive never really done before. This is a very restrictive plan, and the trainers are aware of that which is why theyll ask you how its going and if they can help out with suggestions or modifications. Talk to them.
I found that going completely carb-free was killing my soul so started to make things like cauliflower pizza. I also ate lots of protein seed mixes and corn cakes. I cant not snack but rather than snacking on high fat or sugary things like crisps or croutons, I could satisfy my cravings with foods that were either very low calorie or were much more nutritious.
I found that I could get quite stressed about what to eat but after three weeks, I got used to it. I started opting to eat out in slightly nicer, better quality restaurants where I knew Id get a nice piece of fish and salad or great vegetarian food that didnt rely on sweet potato fries to carry it through. Ive had some of my favourite meals since being on The Library plan, simply because I opted to try something I wouldnt normally go for, choosing better quality ingredients and menus.
Since finishing, Ive been on holiday and really relaxed. Ive still been working out but Ive drunk wine, eaten ice cream and churros. A 10 day blow out once a year is necessary. But Im now back and on the plan although this time, Im adopting an 80:20 approach to make it more sustainable. Im undoubtedly the fittest and leanest Ive ever been and when its so simple, it seems crazy not to keep it up.
And, youll be pleased to hear, I finally conquered the monkey bars on holiday. The sense of achievement was definitely up there with going past the finish line at the London Marathon.
So, if you want to really kick start a fitness regime, get in shape for a particular event, or see what your body can do, then head along to The Library.
After all, who doesnt have 15 minutes to spare?
MORE: Fitness blogger Anna Victoria urges people to stop feeling guilty for cheat days
MORE: 8 common fitness mistakes that are stopping you from reaching your goals
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