The ultimate post-Christmas regime

City A.M. journalist Alex Dymoke tries out a ten week body transformation regime

WHEN I was 16, I swapped tennis and football for something altogether less taxing – drinking. Since then, the closest I’ve got to doing any kind of sport was a game of pub golf during freshers’ week.

Occasionally I was enlisted as a last resort for my college football team, but I was immobile, useless; the football equivalent of room-meat. You wouldn’t necessarily have been able to tell how out of shape I was. At 6’1 and superficially slim, you could reasonably deduce that I was athletic – if I was wearing clothes. Clothes off was another story; for as long as I can remember I’ve been covered in an inch-thick layer of flubber that has protected me from cold temperatures, hard objects and the urge to wear a tank top.

It occurred to me last year that, barring any miracles, I was probably going to stay that way forever. But personal trainers Harry Thomas and Ben Camara disagreed. They own a gym in the City called No. 1 Studio Training, and wanted a City A.M. journalist to be a guinea pig for their 10-week body transformation programme. Ben won Personal Trainer of the Year last year so I figured he must be good – and he’d have to be if he was going to get anywhere with me. He showed me photographs of Sam, a City worker who he turned from pallid lump to a chiselled Adonis in under three months. The transformation was dramatic (more dramatic than mine – he was more committed than I was).

If I was to get anywhere, I was going to have to get over my general fear of the gym, that terrifying hall of mirrors full of judgment and narcissism. Gyms are scary. To step into a gym is to announce “I am unhappy looking like x and I’m going to try and look like y”. It’s a public airing of insecurity, and you open yourself up to accusations of vanity, the possibility of failure, and derision from musclemen when you sheepishly lower the weight on the bench press. Sometimes my gym-aversion spirals into self-aggrandisement. I’m too smart, I tell myself, too preoccupied with matters of mind and spirit to want to have anything to do with those temples of body-worship.

Excuses, excuses. Some of the best thinkers of all time expounded the benefits of working out and studies show that exercise improves brain function. Having done the regime I can confirm; working up a sweat has as much of a streamlining effect on the mind as it does on the body. And gyms aren’t so scary after all. I felt a little self-conscious at the start, trying and failing to lift puny weights, but I soon got into the spirit of it. There’s an element of truth to the narcissism, of course, but because people are preoccupied with themselves they’re too busy to care how inept you are. And because No. 1 Fitness is an appointment-only personal training gym, there’s never more than seven people in there at a time.

Despite my general sedentariness I did briefly attempt jogging. I would get a few hundred metres before a little voice in my head piped up, “Why are you doing this, Alex? This is horrible, Alex. This is really painful. Stop running, Alex. Masterchef is on. Stop running. Why are you running?” This is where having a personal trainer really, really helps. It’s much harder to give in to that voice if you know you’ll get told off. You’ll hate them at times, but beneath the muscles, personal trainers are angels, guiding you away from temptation, coaxing out your better nature. Despite my initial misgivings, with Ben and Harry’s help I made fast progress lifting, lunging, and squatting.

The gym was an unexpected success. More problematic was outside the gym. One of the things they told me when I started was that it’s impossible to significantly change your appearance without significantly changing your diet. I was relieved to learn that fats – providing they are “good” fats – are broadly okay. The ingredient you really need to avoid if you want to lose weight is sugar. And guess what, everything that’s nice – chocolate, sweets, bread, pasta, beer, wine, love, friendship, Christmas – is made of sugar. Before I started, Ben told me that Sam didn’t drink for three months. This appealed to me as I’d always wanted to drink less, but complete sobriety for almost three months turned out to be a little over-ambitious.

Two weeks into the programme I had to travel to international carb mecca Tuscany to research an article on the Italian white truffle. I defy anyone to keep up a low-carb diet in Tuscany. It’s impossible. I also had a few blow-out weekends, including on my birthday when I stayed at the pub for so long that I had to eat both lunch and dinner there. Lapses like these meant I didn’t end up looking like a Men’s Health cover star.

However, the results speak for themselves. I lost a stone and even though I didn’t get as ripped as some of the people Ben and Harry have trained, my body fat went down from 27.5 to 17.2 per cent. It’s a fitness cliché, but I don’t only feel healthier now, I feel happier, too. Everyone asks whether I'll keep it up now that it’s finished, and the answer is no, not as intensely. But I will keep a close eye on things. I am happy to say that my body will never be a temple. But neither shall it be the satanic den of indulgence it once was.

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