Six Weeks To Strong: Week 4 – Your Questions, Answered

Rosemary Mac Cabe's got two weeks left of her training and diet routine; today, she's answering your FAQs on her workouts, food plan and more.

It’s been four long weeks since I started my fitness journey with Niamh at Lift Training Studios (read about weeks one, two and three) – and things are going as well as they could be. I mean that genuinely; I’m showing up at training, I’m eating what I should be eating (although I’ll admit I’m counting down the minutes to the end of my elimination diet) and I’m feeling good – strong(er), lean(er) and healthier, for sure.

Rosemary Mac Cabe training

The toughest thing about all this is knowing that this is just the beginning of a journey – I’m going gung ho now so that I can relax things a little down the line, but this newfound exercise and healthy eating routine is something I want to keep up for the rest of my life. And, for the first time ever, I actually mean that. Why wouldn’t I? I feel so much better, and I’m not even talking about the smug. I mean, c’mon! The picture above got more than 2,000 likes – this challenge I’m on has practically made me famous!

On a serious note, the fact that I’m feeling so much better – more energetic, less sluggish, not at all bloated and none of the dreaded IBS symptoms I’ve suffered with for years – is hard to keep a hold of when the changes in my body seem less obvious. In weeks 1 and 2 I definitely felt a lot of changes, but the last two weeks have slowed down a lot.  Yes, I’m feeling stronger – and leaner – but I haven’t suddenly morphed into Kayla Itsines, which is annoying. I guess that might take a little more than four weeks…

Anyway – given that I’ve outlined my food and workout regimens in previous posts (and no, I can’t do a chin up yet), I thought I’d dedicate this week’s update to answering your questions. I’ve been posting regularly on my Snapchat @rosemarymaccabe about my workouts and food, and the questions – oh, they just roll right in! So here are a few of the FAQs…

How do you stay so motivated?

This is by far the most frequently asked question – which is a bummer, because I don’t have a straight answer. I’ve never been one for strong willpower or being particularly motivated, especially when it came to changing my diet, exercise or body! Otherwise, y’know, I wouldn’t have been chubby for so long.

But this time, something just stuck – and I think it was a combination of a whole load of different things. First and foremost, I think I was ready. I know, I know, what a cliché – but I’ve made no secret of the fact that I’ve suffered, on and off, with anxiety and depression for a few years now. This year was a particularly tough one, but I’ve come out the other side and I’m no longer struggling with that side of things*, so it was a good time to get into a healthy eating and exercise regimen.

It helps that I feel like I clicked with Niamh – I’ve been to a whole host of personal trainers, and you need to find someone you feel is connecting with you, and invested in you. If you don’t feel like that, it just won’t work; you’re not motivated to work for them, and they’re not motivated to support you.

Then, things have been very clear with Niamh from the outset: we do four sessions a week, and here’s exactly what I can eat – as well as exactly when I can cheat! That’s really important, too – in the past, if I had a very flexible “cheat” allowance, I would totally push the boat out on it and end up having a three-course lunch that rolled into dinner and another dessert.

And ultimately, the results have kept me motivated. When I came back, two weeks in, and my body fat had gone down 2%, I was pretty chuffed with myself. When I weighed myself and realised I’d dropped 17lbs since I last weighed myself, I was even more delighted. I’m just waiting for other people to notice, which I think will be the next motivational boost!

How do you cope with sugar cravings?

There is no single way to cope with sugar cravings. We cut out all sugar in week one, including fruit, and there were definitely two full weeks where I thought a banana smoothie would be the best thing in the world ever. Instead, I’ve been drinking loads of water, herbal teas, and probably more coffee than I should be drinking.

Mostly, I’ve been suffering. I would kill for something sweet; I would kill for a snack; I would kill for a burger. But I don’t – because I know I can have whatever I want at my next cheat meal, and I don’t want to let Niamh down. Seriously, I can’t imagine anything more cringe than having to admit to her that I fell off the wagon. (At one stage, I ate a Lily O’Brien’s salted caramel chocolate in a moment of weakness on a Friday night – it was about the size of a €2 coin. When I ‘fessed up to Niamh, expecting her to say it was no big deal, she sat down and looked at me seriously. “So – tell me what happened.” It was enough to put me off being bold again!)

How do you keep your willpower, food-wise?

Again, there’s no single trick to this. I read one of those awful Instagram quotes, a few days before I first sat down with Niamh, that said: “Being fat is hard. Working out is hard. Pick your hard.” And, though I hate fat-shaming and think that’s a bit rubbish when you think about it, it’s actually been helping me. Yes, I feel hungry. Yes, I’d love to eat something. But I also feel unhappy with my body, and I think the feeling of accomplishment and satisfaction – and surprise! – at finally feeling happy with it would be worth those few days of hunger.

Niamh also told me, on day one, not to be afraid of being hungry. It sounds insane, but it had never occurred to me before! “Don’t panic if you get hungry – you won’t starve,” she told me. And she’s right. I eat three meals a day – currently comprising meat and veg, and decent portions – and, while I might feel a little hungry before eating, or late at night, it hasn’t killed me yet. Again, water and herbal tea help.

I want to get back into training – would you recommend a personal trainer or general gym membership?

Let’s put it this way – I have a gym membership. I’ve had one for about six months, and I’ve been to the gym once. I’ve been seeing Niamh for four weeks and I haven’t missed a session.

But it’s seriously subjective; I’m not good at motivating myself, and I need someone else there, either to spur me on or to tell me exactly what I should be doing! It also helps to have someone you’re answerable to, so that you feel as if you’re letting them down, as well as yourself.

For someone who’s a really good self-starter, super motivated and knows the ropes, then maybe a general gym membership would be ideal. But personally, I’d always recommend a personal trainer – at least to give you the kick up the proverbial to get things started right.

Good, healthy meal ideas for a picky eater

The thing about eating clean is, nothing ends up being super fussy. If you’re doing a regular clean eating vibe, you can have eggs in the morning – I like mine with spinach – and the rest of your meals will then just be meat and veg, or maybe some good carbs, like sweet potato or brown rice. You end up avoiding sauces and garnishes – and, once you get used to having very little sugar in your diet, you won’t even crave them.

Some of my faves are roasted chicken salad (I roast a chicken on Sundays, and have lunch for Monday through Wednesday); a beef burger with bacon and avocado, served with a side salad; or fried seabass with stir-fried veg. See? Not fancy.

Do you not eat any carbs? *terrified emoji*

Well, there are carbs in broccoli you know! (I’m that gym headwrecker, now.) At the moment, as I am doing my glorious elimination diet, I am living carb-free. So that essentially means I’m filling up on meat and veg! Broccoli is my bae. From next Monday, though Niamh won’t reveal the exact details, she says we’ll be back in carbville. Well, maybe an occasional carbville stop-off. But they will be back on the menu.

From what I’ve learned, it’s better – for me, at least – to condition my body to run off proteins and fats, rather than sugary carbohydrates. And judging by my body fat readings, my body isn’t a huge carb fan either (although my heart still loves ’em). So eventually, I think carbs will be back on the menu, but in serious moderation. And I don’t think white bread will be allowed TBQH (this question was sent on an evil backdrop of buttered Brennan’s toast).

What’s harder – diet or training?

This is an easy one: definitely diet. I’ve never been bad at exercising, once I get into a rhythm – and have someone there to prevent me stopping and sitting down! But managing my eating has never been my forte (clearly), so that’s something I’m struggling with 24/7.

How do you stay away from bread?

Honestly, I don’t know. I keep reminding myself that my cheat meal is just a few days away, and I keep a mental note of all of the things I’m not eating, so that I can eat them then! And, of course, I end up eating just one meal, and feeling totally satisfied with it. It helps that I have Niamh’s voice in my ear, saying things like, “that’s not even real food…” whenever I consider craving something processed!

Your diet is very meat-heavy now – what about vegetarians?

I had to defer to Niamh on this one; though I’ve frequently toyed with the idea of becoming vegetarian because of the poor widdle animals, I can just never bring myself to bypass the bacon. The key, she says, is making sure you’re getting enough protein – and for veggies, this can mean bulking up with carb-heavy beans.

Plant-Based Paleo book

She’d recommend picking up Plant-Based Paleo (above) by Jenna Zoe, and experimenting with foods to make sure you’re getting enough protein with each meal. She did admit, mind you, that it is a lot tougher than it is for us carnivores – so God speed!

Top 3 tips for food prep

  1. Say goodbye to Sundays. This has been my #1 saviour. I know, I know; it’s grim. Your weekend essentially condenses to one day, and Sunday becomes food prep day. But it’s the only way I get all my food prep done. This Sunday, I slow-roasted tomatoes; I roasted a chicken; and I made beef stew in my slow cooker. Between chopping, cooking, cleaning and Tupperware-ing (what? That’s totally a word), it took me all day. But it’s worth it.
  2. Plan, plan, plan. I’ve got really geriatric and keep a note on the fridge of what we’re eating for each and every meal – that way, I know what meat to take out of the freezer, when. Since I started doing that, I haven’t had a single day where I’ve come home and realised I have nothing to eat – which used to happen all the time.
  3. Mix it up. For the first week or two, I was essentially eating: eggs for breakfast, chicken for lunch, beef for dinner. And it got soooo boring. Now, I’m having minced beef for breakfast one day, chicken the next, fish the next. Lunch today was a grilled salmon salad, where yesterday’s was roasted chicken, and the day before I had home made chicken soup. I even went to the fish shop near work one lunchtime, and stocked up on fresh fish for the fridge and freezer – and I am not a huge fish fan. But I have really been enjoying the variety.

What happens after week six?

Well, one thing’s for sure – I’m not going back. Seeing changes in my body, and in my mind, have made me determined to see where I could go if I remained disciplined with both my food and my exercise. And to be clear: I’m not imagining I’m going to turn into Kayla Itsines. But I would love to bring both body fat and BMI down to a healthy level, get below 13 stone (for the first time in about eight years) and be able to deadlift 100kg without a bother. The toughest thing about that is, I know I can do it – I just need to keep trying.

Got more questions? Throw ’em in the comments section and I’ll answer them or, if I can’t, I’ll get Niamh to! Two weeks of diaries left… Here’s hoping I can stay on the wagon for that last stretch!

*If you are struggling with your mental health, talk to your GP. Mine has pretty much saved my life. (And, if you don’t feel comfortable talking to your GP, get a new one.)