Image: jay yeo
November 05 2011
Wednesday, around lunchtime. “You are always in a spa, woman; what on earth is wrong with you? Don’t you work any more?”
My client is bellowing down the blower. I’ve scrambled up from a treatment to take his call; my all-over-body ionised Dead Sea algae wrap is now dripping on to the floor, the foil ripped and crumbling.
It’s an unusual occupational hazard, I will give him that, but I can’t seem to utter a word. “I’m doing some R&D for a spa client,” is what I finally muster as an excuse, green face mask now partially plastered over the mouthpiece. It sounds wholly implausible even to me, and the line goes silent. After a minute, he laughs loudly. “Is that what you call it these days?”
“It’s really not as relaxing as you think. If this smartphone could Skype, you would see it’s far more Petri dish than feet-in-the-air,” I say, gritting my teeth. “So get off my back.”
“Well, I suggest you get off your back and get on a plane – I need you in Los Angeles this Friday.” And now he is serious.
Sadly, spas don’t come cheap, and work pays the bills. Happily, however, on the flight to LA I get bumped to First, which is a huge relief; the Business class beds on Lufthansa (as I’m sure regular readers of the FT’s Fast Lane column know) are among the most uncomfortable beds in their category.
The business lounges, however, do impress, and before the luxury of some flat-on-your-back sleeping comes the one in the form of a food spread as irresistible as Disney Land is to kids, especially if you have been on a strict 1,000-calories-a-day diet. (It might not actually be so impressive, I should add by means of disclaimer, were I not starving.) Right now my eyes are like saucers, my newly cleansed senses are highly stimulated. Suddenly transported from famine to feast, I am ensconced like Willy in the Wonka factory, with large parfait bowls brimming with chocolates, sweets and nuts at every table, trays of sushi on the buffet along with salads, pâtés, breads, cheeses, currys and cakes.
I resist. Till the Caviar and Champagne trolley passes by, that is. It’s a treat too far. And so from the heights of spa-going sainthood I come tumbling off the wagon just three hours out of the clanger. And as we land, almost as if by osmosis I have inhaled back at least one of the 2kg I have spent the past five days (and almost £5,000) losing.
The back-lashing, heart-wrenching guilt comes moments later. The diet starts again on Monday.
DAY 1: MONDAY
“You have to stop the guilt. The more you stress, the more you create a hormone called cortisol, which is involved in the metabolism of fat and can cause it to be redistributed, especially around your tummy.”
I’m sitting with James Duigan at Bodyism. Together with Dalton Wong, he has created what one can call a truly unique training environment. A converted mews house in South Kensington is where they preside over the careful crafting and sculpting of some of the world’s most beautiful and famous bodies. And they specialise in my life-long elusive desire: a flat tummy.
“Like animals, humans are designed to react quickly to danger,” continues James. “When you sense danger, the brain stimulates the release of adrenaline and cortisol. This gives you an instant burst of energy, which enables you to deal with the danger at hand by either fighting or running away. Today, the body responds to stressful situations in the same way as it does to danger, but if you don’t use up the extra energy when your body expects you to, it stays in your system and gets redeposited as fat – and it collects around your middle because from here it can be quickly converted back into energy.”
At Bodyism, each session is with a private teacher – the theory being that very often the hours one spends alone in the gym are simply not as effective. I see their point. I am an unlikely member of KX, a gym favoured by Holland Park’s yummy mummies, Italian football coaches and even the Royals. It’s the kind of gym where every body is a beautiful body, where you spend more time tea-ing than TRX-ing – the type of gym that’s so intimidating that after my summer holiday I bought a month’s subscription to Virgin Active to shape up before I’d so much as show my face there.
Well, here, James and his gang are the exact opposite. We are hanging out in the open-plan kitchen drinking chlorophyll water, talking about the 14-day Flat Tummy plan; a miniature Chihuahua called Cupcake is throwing her weight around and, in front of me, a supermodel with straps around her ankles is crouched in a squatting position, moving like a crab sideways across the room. It’s unique, all right.
But James looks serious. “I have to tell you that unless we can change your mind, we will not be successful in changing your body. That’s why there is no blaring music playing. We need to hear you, I need to get to know you and what’s going on in your life. We may become friends, we may not; but unless we break down some of the life-long mental habits, you will just be in this perpetual imbalance.
“So let’s do just a quick bit of theory. A, for Alcohol. I don’t need to tell you it’s full of sugar, and sugar is like a nuclear fat bomb exploding all over your body.” Wow. If that image doesn’t drive the message home, I can’t imagine what will.
“Women who drink three or four times a week usually end up with what I call a ‘wine waist’.” Ah, yes, that podgy and squidgy spare tyre.
James reassures me that there has never been a woman who has walked into his gym without complaining about her belly. Women, he says, are far more prone to have worries in this department. And, of course, there is pregnancy, which leaves many woman with a protruding belly. James strongly recommends two years between spawnings, so your muscles don’t actually forget you were once a beautiful, slim, flat-stomached female and not just an incubator.
As I have my measurements taken for what is called the Body Oracle, a unique assessment at the heart of the Bodyism programme, he ends the theory part of the day with one last dictum.
“You have got to cut out the CRAP: Caffeine, Refined sugar, Alcohol and Processed foods.
“Now, let’s get on the floor and do a light workout.”
DAY 2: TUESDAY
Some of London’s serious heavyweights file into the gym this morning, and that’s not in the body-weight department. As I lie on the floor, I recognise at least three punters who regularly feature in the FT front pages, all in their most comfortable kit – I even spot an old Virgin Atlantic Sleep Suit, with a hole in it, no less.
The atmosphere as we train in the converted garage is fun and friendly. An urban wellness centre is what the guys have created. It’s structured so that you can either pay per session out of a pre-paid amount or sign up for an all-inclusive flat fee that, depending on the plan, allows you to attend up to 200 sessions per year to train with anyone on the team. You get daily texts to see if you can still attend your chosen sessions, and you are encouraged to come in even on a lazy day for a massage. Your massage, acupuncture, kinesiology, yoga and nutritional supplements are included, so no money changes hands on the premises. They do stress, however, that not everyone can join; after all, the trainers have to spend hours with individual members, and if they have bad energy it affects the whole joint.
Meanwhile, Natalie, one of the several genuinely kind and good-looking trainers, is breaking my Body Oracle test results to me. “I’ve calculated your body fat at 24.2 per cent. Your Suprailiac skin fold – aka the love handle – is where you store fat; and this is a sign that simple carbohydrates are not your friends. These are forbidden for the next two weeks.
“Now, the Pectorlaes skin fold” – that’s the unsightly bulge beneath the bra strap – “this could be due to high levels of oestrogen, which could be brought about by consuming non-organic dairy products, as they are packed with female hormones. Soy, too. And alcohol, which some studies suggest is linked to raised oestrogen levels. All these are forbidden.
“The Umbilical skin fold” – she means my little spare tyre – “is measuring way too high.” No surprise there; you could drag me around like a Labrador by this so-called fold. “This, dear, is a lot to do with stress. This fat area suggests long-term, stress-induced cortisol levels. It’s stress induced from eating the wrong foods, eating late at night, burning the candle at both ends and, obviously, working too hard.” In a nutshell, stress makes you fat and gives you that sticky-out tummy.
“You have to make a conscious effort to take on less responsibility and slow your life down,” continues Natalie. “I’ll also provide you with a list of supplements to restore your body’s hormone levels.
“We will focus on reducing the all-over body fat and shaping your waist, and we’ll lift up your bum and sculpt your arms. With the help of the nutrition, supplements and training, you will lose fat, look leaner, get stronger and feel healthier very soon. But our main focus is to flatten that tummy.”
She explains that it’s clear from where my body stores fat that I need to be very careful with my sugar intake.
“You are naturally prone to gaining weight, despite being healthy and fit. Unfortunately, you have to be really mindful and allow these treats only once a week.”
“It’s only going to get worse, dear. As your body heads into the late 30s and early 40s, you’ll be surprised at how diligent you will have to become to retain a great shape. Start now and avoid a life of pain.”
She reels off the diet plan that has been drawn up for me, hands me packs of supplements, and we set about programming my first week’s schedule before I start training with James again.
DAY 3: WEDNESDAY
“Reducing your carbohydrate intake is the most significant factor in shedding body fat.” Natalie has a turn to train me today. “You have to increase your protein intake drastically. Aim to eat a large portion of protein at each meal – the most important one is breakfast.” A protein-rich diet ensures that muscle mass can restore itself after an exhausting workout, and the lean muscle it helps develop encourages fat to burn.
I’m supposed to be having eggs and salmon – some people’s dream meal – but I am intolerant to eggs, according to the SHA macrobiotic spa, and I should be on a mainly vegetarian diet, according to Villa Paradiso, as there is too much acid in my blood. So frankly, I am confused; and if I’m confused, heaven knows what the general public must be feeling.
Natalie listens and agrees to review the diet according to the test results.
The protein-versus-carb debate seems to come up a lot; it brings to mind the dairy-versus-soy debate currently raging. Just a few years ago, we were told to throw out dairy and replace it with soya, which many of us religiously did. Only to then be told that the soya latte every morning might be the reason for the weight gain. And now, of course, they are touting rice and nut milks instead; who knows what sinister side effects we’ll find out these hold one day?
Natalie concurs about the surplus of contradictory advice, adding that if you suffer from any food allergies or intolerances you should always consult a doctor before committing to any diet, to ensure it’s suited to you. And while the Bodyism eating philosophy is heavily protein based (though not a scratch on Dunkan or Atkins), it also includes a lot of vegetables, which can be substituted for meat for one meal a day, though ideally not the one before or after a workout.
Later, on the treadmill with James: “I feel like we are not doing enough,” I say. “I can go much faster, you know. I’m just not feeling like I am getting enough of a cardio workout – can we take it up a few notches”?
“No,” he says bluntly.
Now that’s a first. I’m so used to army-style boot-camp training that I almost come off the machine.
“I know you are used to crazy-mad workouts, but for the first week we are going to take it slow. Doing cardio on its own increases your cortisol levels and can actually make you fatter. Your training sessions need to be restorative, believe it or not. By calming you down we’ll improve your stress levels and sleep patterns, and you will see a difference, especially around the stomach.
“This is not just a seven-day programme; this place needs to become an integral part of your life. If I wear you out, you just won’t come back. Trust me; the routine we are doing is going to help you create long and lean limbs and get rid of the excess adipose on your midriff.
“But I need you to commit to a schedule of training and stick to it as you do to important work meetings.”
I digest what he says. Does this mean I will literally be sleeping myself skinny? Where do I join for life?
He hands me what will become my bible for the next few weeks: his Clean & Lean Flat Tummy Fast! book.
“This has all the rules I want you to follow.”
Spa Junkie pays for all her own travel, treatments and accommodation.