Changing your body shape is no mean feat. First, you have to decide that you really, really want to do it. And this want must overpower your desire for cakes, biscuits and bread.
Second, you need help - professional help.
Trust me on this - I tried to go it alone once and I bulked up the wrong muscles, got a lower pain for my troubles and worse, didn't change my shape.
But it's not impossible, and if you're set on the idea, it's actually surprisingly achievable.
I signed up for a three-week programme with the Nordic Balance gym in London, which included three personal training sessions a week.
It required commitment on my part, but the end result meant I dropped two kilograms in the space of two weeks (and no, I wasn't eating gruel or swearing completely off alcohol), and I reduced my body fat by 3%.
The first thing my trainer Alessandro Alviani asked me was the kind of shape I wanted. Now in my 30s, I wanted to make a big push to get the toned body I've always wanted. More importantly, I was ready to do the work. So, I tell him, I want to look strong.
This is the right answer, says Alessandro, because in his books, strong is the best kind of body shape to have. Most women are scared of doing weights as they are worried they will bulk up, and of course, we don't have the right kind of hormones to do so.
Alessandro puts together a 45-minute program that interestingly enough, has no cardio. "You could spent 45 minutes on the cross trainer," he says, "and it won't do anything. If you do this programme for two or three months, you will see a big difference."
Let's see, shall we.
The first week is a Mr Miyagi-style lesson in humility.
For instance, when your trainer hands you 1kg dumbbells, don’t snort with laughter because the chances it’ll involve an exercise that will make you weep as much as one involving a 30kg weight.
My first session was fairly straightforward – a mix of weights, cardio and resistance training.
We tried bench press and deadlift, and it was essential to get the technique right.
“It’s good that you want to get strong,” said Alessandro, “most women are afraid they’ll bulk up when that isn’t physically possible. So they do lots and lots of cardio and you don’t get a good shape doing that.”
The second and third session of this week involved a sequence of exercises that really work every part of the body. This includes lat pull-down, tricep dips, barbell squats, pull-ups using TRX and lots and lots of press-ups.
Each session started with a two-minute rowing burst – “I don’t want to see that meter go below 2.20”, says Alessandro, after which I already feel half-dead.
But the biggest lesson I’ve learned this week is that your brain is a wimp. It will try and make you stop doing the exercise a lot sooner than your body is actually ready to.
Alessandro set me 15 – 20 reps per exercise – most were easily 10 reps above what I normally would’ve done. At around the 13 – 15 rep mark I’d need to stop and have a moment (usually cry) but because I had someone pushing me on, I’d eventually complete it.
By the end of the week, I felt stronger and thoroughly pleased with myself.
I was not in a happy place in week two. A combination of work stress and a sugar ban made for a very grumpy customer.
This week was about refining the exercises to my capabilities, working out what would push me and make me stronger. This was also the week that my motivation dipped as I couldn’t see a discernible difference in shape.
“Nutrition plays a big, big part in changing your shape,” says Alessandro. “If you can keep your diet healthy, you’re already halfway there.”
I always pride myself on being up to date with nutrition (I do cover Lifestyle, after all), so while I already know some of the things I should reduce (wheat, for instance), it helps to have someone keeping me on the straight and narrow.
My key downfall is eating out, but the science is irrefutable. My body doesn’t care that I’ve had a bad day and am treating myself, it processes the calories just the same.
At each session, Alessandro asked me what I ate the day before and what I will be eating that evening.
This helped avert a few unhealthy meals, or rather, made me make better choices. Instead of heavy pasta dishes (that I knew were wrong for me but ate them anyway), I had chickpea curries, quinoa and spiced chicken, salmon with a soy sauce glaze, and lots and lots of broccoli. For those new to quinoa, I'd advise buying the microwave pouches - less faff.
Although I didn’t feel I performed well physically in this week, the biggest change I made was around diet.
The dietary changes made a discernible difference – I was flatter around the stomach, and had more definition around my arms.
The biggest realisation of this week was that cardio is not the be all and end all, and we're so brainwashed to think that lose weight or get trim, we have to do lots of it.
Moreover, Alessandro's programme works and it can be done in a 45-minute slot. I thought it was too good to be true - that I'd need to train five times a week and eat like a bird to see the results I've had, and it's good to know that three times a week is enough.
Apart from a three-day biscuit binge (which I paid for on the weighing scales and Alessandro's sad eyes), I've stuck religiously to the programme. The biggest benefit has been shaking up my routine.
I didn't realise how stagnant my gym-going had become, and re-acquainting myself with that feeling of burn was necessary. Even more so as I get older and less able to melt off fat.
That doesn't mean I'm resting on my laurels either - in two months, I'll go back for an update and continue adding more strength to my routine. For now, I'm pretty happy with the results.
For more information about Nordic Balance, visit the website.