I read that Woman's Hour presenter Jenni Murray had joined Weight Watchers in her latest attempt to fight the flab, and thought how great it would be if she could join me for a week at Champneys boot camp to shed a few more pounds.
It is a tough regime, 6 hours gruelling exercise a day, hundreds of squats, lunges, planks and circuits, and to challenge us even more, a ban on tea and coffee so my entire body was fizzing in detox as well as surviving on a 1500 calorie diet (1700 for men). Cleverly, a dose of psyllium husks in water masked my craving for food and I was never temped to dip into the surreptitious packet of rice cakes I brought with me.
I signed up at Henlow Grange because I wanted to shed a few stubborn pounds. I thought most people headed to boot camps as a last resort after all other diets had failed. I was wrong.
Our group included people of all abilities, from the super fit who wanted to push their physical endurance even further, to the obese, who put their heart and soul into working their abs and glutes.
We took whatever challenge was thrown at us, walking swiftly through water logged fields in a torrential downpour, or swinging our hips fiercely in a hoola hoop. No two classes were the same and a soothing treatment was provided daily on the seven day package, including massage, a seaweed wrap or thalassotherapy.
Our performance was recorded daily on by a Ki-Fit monitor, which showed how many calories we were burning against each activity, as well as the calories we consumed and our sleep pattern. We were able to see these results half way through the week and this gave me a final spurt for the last few days, pushing me even harder.
There was no military style yelling from our trainers, but they coaxed us firmly with their tough love over the pain barrier and those moments we felt we could go on no longer, reminding us that we wouldn't achieve our goals unless we ignored those little voices in our heads telling us we had had enough. I'm glad they did because I started the week as a power walker and ended it as a sprinter, thanks to our regular 7am walks/runs and circuits and at every opportunity I had as I was determined to become fitter and faster.
The biggest challenge for our trainers Richard and Lewis was working with boot campers who either brought an existing injury with them which hampered their performance, or suffered an injury during the activity. That happened to me when I felt a tremendous sharp pain in my calf, pulling either a ligament or muscle, and I really feared the worst, that I would be out of action for the rest of the week.
Fortunately, it heeled within a couple of days and I was able to get stuck in with the knowledge that the big weigh in would take place very soon and I was hoping to lose 4 - 5 lbs. Another girl who hurt her back was not so fortunate and had to modify her exercises to an easier level.
The reason a continuous gruelling exercise programme is essential is because you have to burn an astonishing 3,500 calories to lose 1lb, and you need to do this regularly to achieve a good weight loss by the end of the week, which is excrutiating and hard on our bodies, but it means you do reap the results.It doesn't come easy.
When it came to the big weigh-in, we sat nervously waiting our turn. I was determined to wear the same jeans I wore for my first weigh in and not cheat by jumping on the scales with light weight joggers weighing 3lbs less which would give an inflated result. At the end of my punishing week, my weight loss was 3 1/2 lbs and a total loss of 8 cms around my vital statistics. However, the weight has continued to drop off, and, two days later, I have lost 7lbs.
When I questioned my trainers about my weight loss as I was hoping for more, they said it was lower than others because I led a more was active than them before I joined boot camp, and this makes it harder to achieve a quick weight loss. I certainly feel my jeans are baggier and I can fasten my belt tighter by two notches; I plan to bin my fat day jeans by the end of the month.
The results of my fellow boot campers demonstrates how very personal and complex weight loss is. Our best results came from two super guys who achieved an astonishing loss of 1 stone each. One of them worked himself extra hard as his goal when he arrived was to lose 1 stone, and he really sweated and pushed himself to the limits to achieve this, which was all the more fantastic considering he skipped the first day's programme to go to Wembley and watch his beloved Chelsea team play. Yet the other guy did not have anything like the same physical ability to match this, he often came last, but still worked his hardest, and they still achieved the same weight loss.
We were all gutted when our lovely larger lady who also pushed herself to the limit, and beyond, ended up gaining 2 lbs in weight, while still losing inches when she was measured. This was clearly evident to us all and we anticipated a huge weight loss for her. She did measure less, so I hope this will encourage her to keep up her diet and exercise at home, though understand how demotivating it must have been after an exhausting week. I suspect the extra weight was muscle gain and that her weight loss will show up on the scales in the next week or so as her body continues to adapt.
If you are thinking of booking up for boot camp, age is no barrier, as one of the ladies in our group was a very youthful 61-year-old, she was so impressive with her desire to succeed, while the youngest in their twenties. I was impressed to learn that one woman had just retired the week before boot camp, what an imaginative treat at the end of your working life! As long as you have commitment, no health problems or injuries to restrict your activity, and are serious about weight loss, you can do it.
As the week progressed, we could all see the improved levels of fitness in each other. Boot camp really suits all those who are young at heart and will get stuck in to whatever exercise is planned without winging about it. Boot camp is meant to be tough and take you out of your comfort zone, and it's essential to remember that; it's not for wimps; the rain drenched walk through soggy fields epitomises that. Everyone was magnificent, and I feel privileged to have been part of such an inspiring group.
Looking back, there were moments when I felt I had had enough, that I couldn't go on as I was too exhausted, hated the headaches from the caffeine withdrawal, and I dreaded yet more lunges. But the mutual support from everyone spurred me on.
Amazingly, by the end of the week, the burning sensation on my thighs and bottom had vanished, I had passed the pain barrier and felt much more energised and a tremendous sense of satisfaction.
Richard told us that we would make new friends for life and I fee this is true. My fellow boot campers were such an amazing bunch, including a couple of comedians with great wit and humour, as well the zany, and each and every one of them were good natured and supportive of each other. There is even talk of one of our group hosting a follow-up boot camp at his home in Majorca, only this one will include alcohol!
I plan to keep up my good work and am making dietary changes, reducing my caffeine intake by stocking up and redbush tea and drinking fresh lemon and ginger each morning, and I have booked up with a personal trainer for a few sessions to improve my results, otherwise it will all have been a waste of time. I even brought a hoola hoop back with me!
So come on Jenni, if you are reading this, give it a go and get stuck in to boot camp. If we can do it, so can you!