Thursday, 18 February 2016

bodycoach: cycle 1 review

I'm no stranger to diets. Short of meal replacement shakes, I think I've tried them all. The only thing that has worked for me has been guilt. I have a personal trainer (which sounds very pretentious and uppity, but it's really not) and I feel so, so guilty if I don't give everything my all. Being held accountable to someone has been hugely motivating, which leads to actually sticking to it, which then leads to finally seeing big changes in my body and general health. Hooray! I've been with my PT since April 2015 and have lost 28 lbs/two stone and several inches.

So why look for something new to try, especially when I have 1:1 coaching at my disposal? Curiosity, mostly. I came across The Body Coach (AKA Joe Wicks) through a friend of mine. He's quite fun to follow on Instagram, seemed to follow the same principles that I've been following, and my friend had some pretty amazing results. I'd done well with the PT sessions and macro counting, but still had (have) a lot of fat to shift. I thought I'd give the 90 Day SSS Plan a go.

The Body Coach plan is in three cycles (months), and the food and training changes each cycle. Cycle 1 is mostly low carb, with the exception of one "refuel meal" post workout that is slightly higher in carbs and lower in fat. You are given specific exercise, food quantities, and recipes to follow.

First impressions
The marketing blurb makes it sound like you are getting a tailored, personalised plan with your own coach. You fill out a lengthy questionnaire that's riddled with typos and errors (e.g. repeated options), but does seem to cover a lot of ground about your food diary and general health. What you get when you submit your questionnaire and starting photos is a form letter from Joe/your coach. My email said that he could see I've been on a "traditional low calorie diet", which if someone did actually go through my food diary, they would clearly see this hasn't been the case. I don't think this is really tailored as such, which is disappointing. I filled out a very detailed questionnaire about diet, lifestyle, and health and I was hoping to get specific advice and information. It must be based on the usual factors: age, current weight, height, activity level. It doesn't feel personalised.
On the plus side, there's lots of good information in the plan for those new to HIIT (high intensity interval training) and for (like my email said) those who are used to low fat/low calorie diets. I will be continuing with my current training, which are HIIT sessions, and running. Also, my coach has been good at answering questions although it's a 24 hour+ delay to get an answer.

The recipes
RANDOM ingredients. I really can't sum it up any other way. You get a sense that someone was trying to make up the numbers, even if it meant doing things like adding 6 onions to a recipe. The 15g of pasta with a couple of the recipes is a great example of this. Or 150g of salad leaves, which is about two average bags of prepackaged salad. What I only later found out is that you can swap quite a few of the ingredients, which makes a massive difference. They did introduce a specific swaps page on the site (that has quite a few bugs in it), which is better than having to dig through the FAQs.
There are some peculiar spice and flavour combinations that you can just omit or swap for other spices. There's a "Mediterranean" stuffed pepper recipe that has cumin in it that I've swapped for basil. I've changed the spices in a (sort of Thai) turkey mince recipe so that I can use it as taco filling. In general, the recipes are simple, most of them taste good, but almost everything needs some minor tweak. They need to sort out the recipes and make it clear that you can substitute certain ingredients. And hire an editor. I'm not being a grammar snob, the spelling mistakes make this plan look incredibly unprofessional. Also, the cashew chicken curry meal makes no sense to me as a low carb option. It's got more carbs than the refuel meals I've been having.

The way of eating
My total calorie count isn't hugely different to before. I have maybe 200-300 more calories but it varies depending on what meals and snacks I opt to eat. Some meals and snacks are far more filling (and calorie dense) than others. The other difference is the source of macros compared to before. I've been eating well, but doing IIFYM - basically if you can fit your numbers, you can have it (within reason.) This plan focusses on lean proteins, so certain meats I was eating regularly are temporarily off the menu for this cycle. Also, my carb sources are now almost entirely vegetables and a very small amount of low sugar fruit.
I like that I can choose and swap meals and not have to calculate all the macros. I also like that you're encouraged to do the exercise by getting a starchy reward - not an unhealthy treat, and that's important. The reward is something like a bagel, potatoes, or rice. It helps you understand that foods like this are to be eaten sparingly, and only when you're training. It's a good change from traditional low fat, high carbohydrate, low calorie diets.

I think for those who eat a high carb diet and don't cook, this plan will be a big shock. I've also noticed that this plan seems to make people terrified of carbs. There's lots of talk on the Facebook group of needing to be in ketosis to burn fat (an old Atkins fallacy) and being "afraid" of cycle two carbs. I'm not convinced this plan teaches anyone about food and what your body needs. You're encouraged NOT to log your food (e.g. in MyFitnessPal) and just follow the plan. The problem with this is, you have no sense of what you're eating and why. People need to be taught about macros (what they are, why we might need to change them, etc.) and not just blindly follow a plan. I suspect the low carb diet in cycle 1 is to a) get fast results (you dump a lot of water weight when you first do low carb) and b) get people used to eating "clean", then gradually bring back the starch.

My Cycle One Diary

Day three: Freezing cold outside. What's for lunch? Oh. Salad. Right, I'll grill the chicken and eat it warm on my salad leaves. God, I'm sick of eating chicken. Turkey mince is bringing back bad memories of my days I transitioned from being a vegetarian to pescetarian to chicken and fish eater. Turkey bacon, chicken sausages, turkey burgers...the Dry Days. I just want some bacon.

Day five: Have just discovered that there is a wealth of information on the Bodycoach site members area, but you need to type in a specific question or words. So for example, you can substitute avocado or nuts for the endless (and I mean fucking endless) eggs on the plan. Ditto subbing other (non-starchy) veg for Spinach Mountain. And butter can be swapped gram for gram for the coconut oil! Fish or prawns for chicken! Nuts for olives! Sour cream, cottage cheese, and yoghurt can be interchanged gram for gram! Why is this not in the plan, even as an appendix or a table of some sort? I'm grumpy. Nauseous and exhausted, too.

Day seven: I finally feel normal again! Still hungry. Still miss bacon.

Day ten: Went to a friend's house for supper. Ate fried things. Had a lot of gin. I have no regrets.

Day thirteen: I feel like I've been on this diet for six months. On the plus side, I've taken a "Ready, Steady, Cook" approach to this and have come up with some meal variations that are more appealing. I dropped almost 4 pounds in the first week (typical low carb water dump), but 3 pounds have come back on. I'm weirdly bloated today, but maybe that's hormonal. I don't normally pay much attention to the scale, so I'm not bothered about the gain. Another positive is that I've been out to eat three times and stuck to the plan every time. (Chicken cashew salad at Gourmet Burger Kitchen, a chicken and vegetable stir fry at a local Thai place, and chicken, grilled veg, and salad at Nando's.) Still hungry.

Day fifteen: It's only day 15. Didn't I write that last entry a week ago? Still bloated. Still hungry. Really pleased with myself that I figured out how to make a beanless chilli and cottage pie with cauliflower mash that's "on plan."

Day twenty one: I'm still constantly hungry but feeling a bit better about what I'm eating and a little less bloated. It's been interesting to get my macros from slightly different sources and I do think it's making a difference. I am not happy with low carbing, though. Even the "carbohydrate refuel" meals aren't particularly high carb. You're being asked to do a lot of training on very few carbs. Not that I believe in carb loading, but I feel that for me, it's too low. I'm in constant brain fog grump mode. I never was eating a lot of carbs (about 20% of my daily macros, or less than 100g per day) so it isn't a drastic change. Just enough to keep me feeling cranky. I'm curious to see what cycle two will bring,

Submission day: I am so glad that I have photos from the beginning of this cycle; they clearly show that I've lost several inches all over. My weight has dropped by 1.5kg, but it's the measurements that have shown the most progress. Two inches off my chest (which is actually a reduction in back fat, of all things), 1 inch off my thighs, another off my waist, and one off my hips. I can't say I've felt great or been terribly happy for the past month, but changing the kind of food I eat, even slightly, is making a difference. I am so, so sick of chicken, eggs, and green vegetables, though.

Cycle two began on February 11. Summary coming next month!