When I first went to see Alejandra, the dietitian on 'figure magician' Louise Parker's team (read my first post here ), I was fully submerged in post-baby health havoc. Willow was four months old and I was eating bagels for breakfast for ease (you try breastfeeding a baby, getting two other children ready for school and cooking eggs and avo on toast), supper was often toast because, having fed three kids, I then couldn’t be bothered to cook. I was consuming an inordinate amount of chocolate mid-afternoon and living on lattes. Yes there were salads and yes there was fruit as well as vegetables but there were also lots of unhealthy snacks and wine drunk in the evenings, something I hadn’t done for years (I gave up alcohol on week nights years ago).
But whether it was post-baby exhaustion or my diet, I didn’t feel great. Some days I would feel as though I could hardly wake up all day, and I was shocked when I jumped on the scales in Alejandra’s office to find out I was over 1.5 stone over my normal weight.
After four months of being on the plan, I’m feeling a whole lot better and have lost 11lbs. My body is starting to look like my own again but there’s still a long way to go. So what is it about the Louise Parker plan that helps so many women (apparently including royalty) reach their ideal body shape? Here are the key things I've learned and what I'm planning to stick with going forward – when Alejandra is no longer kicking my butt.
1. At every meal ask yourself "where’s the protein?"
Why do personal trainers bang on about protein? Because protein really helps when it comes to weight loss and muscle tone. Louise Parker explains that the body requires energy to break down food. Whereas fat and carbohydrates increase your energy expenditure by five to 15 per cent, protein uses up to 30 per cent of your energy expenditure, even when sleeping. Protein also helps build muscle (don’t panic you won’t get Madonna muscles overnight). And the more muscle you have the more fat you burn. Louise’s programme doesn’t suggest we eat a stack of protein bars; instead, she suggests we get it from our food which is far more nutritious.
2. Make your calories count
I remember talking to Alejandra about calories and whether they matter. Yes, was the answer, they do, if you create a calorie deficit you lose weight. What she told me though about the quality of calories we consume really stuck with me, “You and I could eat the same calorific content every day for three months,” she said, “But the difference being that you would eat healthy fresh food with vegetables, protein and healthy carbs, and I could eat fast food, burgers and chocolate bars washed down with lots of coffee. Even though we may have both eaten 2000 calories a day, by the end of it our bodies would look completely different and you would be much nearer to your goals than I.”
3. Not any old snack will do
After I had Willow in February 2018, I got into the habit of grabbing any snack that would give me instant energy – peanut butter eaten straight from the jar or a few chunks of dark chocolate. When I met with Louise’s team, however, they gave me much better snack suggestions to keep me fuller for longer and my blood sugar levels stable. Every snack should contain one portion of protein and either one portion of low GI wholegrain or one portion of low GI fruit or veg. Examples include: 1 level tablespoon of nut butter with one apple or pear; 25 g of good Parmesan cheese and 20 cherries; 1 Ryvita with 100g of cottage cheese and black cracked pepper. I have stuck with these ever since.
4. Exercise needs to be a habit
I know all too well that exercising once a week isn’t going to change your life – you often spend the rest of the week recovering with muscle pain before you do it again. While most of the personal trainers I’ve ever met suggest exercising a minimum of three days a week, Louise Parker suggests five to really ramp up the results. The key is, I find, to do it so regularly that you really miss it if you don’t do it.
5. Beware of unnecessary food ‘naughties’
The strict instructions from Louise Parker’s dietitian made me realise how many unnecessary ‘naughties’ I was consuming throughout the day. By ‘naughties’ I’m talking about food you don’t really consider as food, but if you were to cut them out you’d probably drop 500 calories a day. For me, that was lattes, sparkling elderflower water, chutney, a couple of chunks of chocolate, honey in salad dressing etc. Losing them from my diet wasn’t really a hardship.
6. Think successfully
This is one of the first key points in Louise Parker’s book Lean for Life . ‘Mindset’ as the most important pillar of her plan. She says, “I have somewhat obsessively tried to understand the mindset of winners. We want to create the habit of thinking positively. Every time your mind veers towards ‘stinking thinking’ you are going to pull it back and replace it with a positive outlook. The more you do it – day in, day out - and keep turning your thoughts around, the more it will become your New Normal.”
Louise suggests writing down the negative thoughts that are holding you back and deciding on the positive swaps you want to replace them with.
7. Trust consistency over severity
Before getting properly fit for the first time in my 30s, I had adopted, what I now know, to be the wrong attitude to exercise. I would join a gym or an exercise class and go at it as hard as I could. I would then, without fail, in a matter of weeks start to hate it and quickly give up. It wasn’t until I started building up exercise slowly and changed my eating habits to fuel for exercise that I saw real change start to happen. "Results will come fabulously fast when you find a pace you can stick at,” says Louise.
8. Don’t go hungry
Some nutritionists say we shouldn’t snack between meals, however, Louise Parker’s team actually recommends it. Why? Because, says Alejandra, “if you don’t have a snack in between meals you risk getting really hungry which would lead you to make bad food choices. If you go to a restaurant starving you may well eat the entire bread basket when you get there. If you eat a controlled snack (see point 3) earlier you would be in a good place not to."
9. The more you give, the more you get
Getting fit and losing weight requires effort, you HAVE to put the work in. You may look at others who exercise and feel annoyance. But don’t. As someone who has started from scratch aged 36, I understand the effort to takes to get out of the house. Someone who is really fit will have worked incredibly hard and put in many hours of sweat and tears to get there. Louise Parker has the same attitude. “Be under no illusions that if you want eye-watering, staggering results, you have to put in more than 15 minutes three times a week. If you half-arse it, you are going to get a half-arsed result.”
10. Sod what others think
It sounds ridiculous but when you’re trying to get healthy, other people will sabotage your efforts. “Don’t get boring on me Sus,” people have been known to say, or ”come on have some cake, it’s rude not to". Louise Parker explains in her book how we should keep ‘careful company.’ “Be acutely aware that there will be people who don’t want you to succeed," she says. “They may envy your enthusiasm, drive and determination and ultimately your results. Learn to block out these opinions. Most of the time it’s their issues that are the problem and not yours.”
11. Sleep for weight loss
We all know that lack of sleep isn’t good for us, but how many of us realise to what extent it hinders weight loss. "Sleep helps weight loss by regulating the function of hormones that directly correlate to appetite and mood,” says Louise. “Sleep deprivation causes our bodies to release an excess of a hunger hormone called ghrelin so that we naturally can’t manage our appetites as we should.”
Leptin is the hormone that tells our brains that we are full but we also produce far less of this if we are tired. It’s obviously extremely tough to sleep better if you have a baby waking you in the night, but I now try to catch up if I haven’t slept enough rather than pushing on through feeling dreadful.
12. Eat in style
Louise explains that if you approach the plan like a diet and plonk a bit of chicken and lettuce leaf on your plate for lunch, you’re telling yourself that it’s miserable and setting yourself up to fail. “No meal or snack should feel depressing,” she says. Louise advocates preparing and creating meals you would be proud of, that look and taste beautiful. “Think how you would feel on CCTV,” she says. “Would you be ashamed to be seen eating as you do?” I’ll be honest I thought this was slightly ridiculous, to begin with, but Louise is right – if you make an effort with your food you feel more motivated overall.
13. Practise ‘high/low’ training
Louise Parker advocates mixing up your training – HIIT to boost your metabolism, slower paced cardio, such as swimming and jogging, to keep the fat burning ticking over, some resistance training (using your body as a weight) to shape and tone and slower paced exercise such as yoga. This ‘high/low’ way of exercising is Louise’s tried and tested method of helping create a lean and slightly sculpted body. "It’s far more realistic than setting yourself a target of training to 100 per cent every day.”
14. Don’t confuse hunger with thirst
Louise suggests drinking a large glass of water and seeing how you feel after ten minutes to determine whether you are really hungry or not. It’s an endless argument in the health arena whether or not to drink more water, but I definitely do feel better and my skin always looks better the next day. Louise suggests aiming for 2.5 litres (4½ pints), drunk throughout the day (not all in one go!)
15. Not all carbs are bad carbs
The Louise Parker Method is not about cutting out all carbs entirely. In fact, Louise believes that we need a certain amount of carbohydrate especially when we are active. The first breakfast I cooked on the plan was two poached eggs and a piece of wholegrain toast which seemed fairly substantial. The key, she says, is to stick to low GI carbohydrates such as wholemeal bread, oat bran and a vast array of fruits and vegetables (see her book ). "This is a lower carbohydrate way of eating,” she says, “not to be confused with a low carbohydrate diet.”
16. Max out on green veggies
The food group that Alejandra said I could be the most relaxed about are the green veggies, which are so low in sugar I’m allowed to have them in quite large portions. At lunch and dinner, I was advised to make the majority of my vegetables green with a dash of colour on top.
17. You need to go food shopping!
It sounds obvious, but eating healthily without regularly going food shopping is like pulling a rabbit out of a hat – it’s near impossible. Being on the Louise Parker plan has made me realise that I need to prioritise a weekly shop (whether online or in person) otherwise, in those moments when there’s nothing to eat in the fridge I will just reach for toast and peanut butter.
18. There are ‘better’ alcoholic drinks than wine
If I were to follow the Louise Parker plan exactly I wouldn’t have drunk anything over the summer, so I failed there somewhat. However, I have learnt that when I stop myself from drinking wine, and opt for a ‘better’ alcoholic drink such as vodka, fresh lime and soda that the pounds do tend to fall away. When I drink a lot of wine, the scales fail to budge.
19. Get in some ‘brain napping’
‘Brain napping’, according to Louise Parker is not watching a blogger doing a tour of the Maldives on Instagram. It’s about getting offline and allowing your brain to zone out, whether that's gardening, walking the dog, meditation or lying on your bed with an eye mask on for 20 minutes. She says whenever you feel stress stirring in your tummy, it’s time to do it, even if it means going to the bathroom at work and zoning out until you’re needed again.
20. Don't let your superfoods supersize you
Louise Parker explains many clients come to them complaining they are following healthy cookbooks yet are putting on weight. “It’s one thing to know you’re overweight because you’re on first name terms with the pizza delivery man, but another to be doing what you think is healthy, but is in fact laden with hidden calories and sugars,” she says. Whilst she says there may be skinny girls on Instagram posting pictures of their porridge covered in nut butter, maple syrup and caramelized prunes, calorie-wise it’s a match for her mother’s sticky toffee pudding. Her best advice? “Just don’t forget your common sense, the trick is to eat whole, real, seasonal, nutritious food.”
The Louise Parker Method, Lean for Life is available at amazon.co.uk
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