There’s something I’ve been dying to tell you: I’ve lost loads of weight. Hurrah!
I haven’t mentioned it sooner because I wanted to be sure it was working first. Would have been very embarrassing to say, hey, I’m going on this regime and I’m going to be really skinny… then not.
But now I can reveal that in the last two months I’ve lost 17 pounds, which is nearly 7.5 kilos. Yee haw! I’m thrilled.
How have I done this? With the help of the brilliant nutritional therapist Amelia Freer.
I first heard about Amelia after I saw a very old (as in I’ve known her since the 80s, she’s my age) friend about 18 months ago and she looked ten years younger than the last time I’d seen her.
Not just wonderfully lean – she’s never been what you would call fat, just a bit rounded in a normal way – but incredibly well and vibrant. Her skin really glowed, that thing we’re always reading about in beauty pages, but don’t often see.
I didn’t see her after that for nearly a year and when I did, she looked exactly the same. Not a pound of weight, or a mark of stress appeared to have returned.
In that same year I had put on a terrifying amount of weight as a result of a lot of ill health in my 2013 hell year.
I’d been on multiple courses of steroids and the strongest antibiotics there are, to stamp out repeated infections relating to a health issue from twenty years ago.
The drugs prevented me from having an ear amputated, which was a relief, but seemed to do something terrible to my system and even eating normally, exercising a bit (never enough) I was gaining a pound (nearly half a kilo) a week.
I just couldn’t stop it piling on. And I hardly recognised the puffy face looking back at me from the mirror. Practically none of my clothes fitted me.
So, while I would normally refrain from such an intrusive question, I had to ask my friend how she’d done it and that was when I heard Amelia’s name for the first time.
‘Who is she?’ I asked.
‘Google Boy George,’ my friend replied.
I did and my jaw just about hit the deck. And what I was really interested to see was that he isn’t just mahousively slimmer, he has the same peachy youthful look that’s so striking in my friend. I think he looks even better than he did in his 20s. OK, George wears a lot of make up, but you can still see that glow.
I immediately got in touch with Amelia and she agreed to take me on as a client, which was thrilling, because she has a waiting list now.
So what is her secret? It’s a mixture of things, one of them being that she is as lovely a person as you could ever meet and you want to stick to the regime for her.
She’s also been there, struggling with her weight and stress-related health issues symptoms herself, which was what prompted her to train as a nutritionist in the first place. She made herself better by changing her diet and is now devoted to helping other people do the same.
I knew she was the one for me when it came to the tricky question of my tea addiction. ‘I couldn’t possibly give up tea,’ has been my mantra for years. I’ve been drinking it since I was three and that’s that.
When Amelia told me she used to drink ten mugs a day, strong with plenty of milk, just how I like it, I knew I was talking to a kindred spirit.
Guess what? I gave up tea (I did it very slowly, before I started the regime). Well, I now have one a day, with my breakfast, that’s it. And if I need another boost I’ll have a black coffee with lunch, but I try not to.
Amelia doesn’t promote a one-size fits all regime, each programme is tailored individually to suit the client, after discussing a very detailed health history and lifestyle questionnaire, but there are certain principles she has learned from her years of study – and applying them to her own life – which she believes can improve everybody’s weight and wellbeing.
These have now been gathered into her first book Eat. Nourish. Glow. (published by Harper Collins in the UK, £16.99) a compendium of all the knowledge, advice and tips, she has gathered from her years of research and practise, broken down into ten easy to absorb key steps, with a section of her great recipes.
Some of them are as simple as the need to drink water rather than endless tea and coffee, juices and carbonated drinks (diet or otherwise), others more radical, but they are all explained in Amelia’s warm and calm voice, none of that Change Your Life Now! frenzy that makes ‘diet’ books so enervating.
Amelia is very against the concept of diets, which are always short term both in the time we can stand to be on them and their benefit. Instead she recommends making small, but permanent changes to the way we eat, factoring in some room for human nature.
Which is why my friend has managed to keep the benefits of Amelia’s coaching in place for eighteen months and counting. She’s no longer on the stricter weight-loss regime, but some of Amelia’s basic tenets have become part of her life.
As Amelia puts it: ‘Create healthy habits, not restrictions’.
If you make these part of the way you live, you don’t have to be in a permanent state of steamed fish and sugar snap peas (no oil) deprivation which some high-profile women exist in. (Ooh, is that Victoria Beckham I see in the palm trees?)
Probably the new healthy habit that has been the biggest change for me, is to stop eating between meals. Amelia believes snacking, even the healthy carrot sticks and nuts kind, is a big no no – especially the post-dinner, pre-bed mini-munchies.
This is a radical shift from the long-held belief that we should eat ‘little and often’ which Amelia says was the accepted wisdom when she first trained as a nutritional therapist.
Her position changed after she went to a lecture about insulin management – and its relation to our old friend blood sugar spikes, familiar to many of us from forays into the Atkins, GI and Dukan diets – in 2008 and first heard the suggestion that the human body did not evolved to eat a constant supply of food, but rather to function perfectly with an entirely random supply.
This is now one of the cornerstones of Amelia’s advice: consume nothing between meals, not even cups of tea, coffee, diet drinks, or sugar free gum. Even the serial dieter’s old companion the celery stick (gag), is banned.
I thought I would find this very hard, as one of the ways I keep my bum stuck to the seat during the hard parts of the writing and editing process, sitting alone in a room all day, is to have a nice little array of snacks to graze on.
Type, type, type – nuts, rice crackers, cup of tea, oatcake, Diet Coke… I also grazed freely while cooking and cleaning up. Child leftovers are a delicacy familiar to all mothers.
But now I eat only my three meals, everything weighed, with five hour breaks between, no food after 9pm and after a short period of adjustment, I don’t miss the snacks any more.
In between meals I drink a lot of hot water, which is much nicer than you’d think, when you get used to it.
To my utter astonishment, it has filled the hole left by tea. (When meeting friends in a café, I now order a sparkling mineral water, with a pot of hot water on the side, as some places can be a bit funny about you occupying a seat with a free drink, which is fair enough really.)
Other cornerstones of Amelia’s philosophy include keeping the tempting rubbish out of your kitchen, eating the best fats (olive and coconut oil, and the odd bit of yummy fat on your steak mmmm) but chucking out sugar, taking supplements if you need them, and exercise.
On the latter, I love this line: ‘If you’ve got time to go on Facebook, you’ve got time to exercise.’ I think I need to pin that on the wall over my computer.
For some clients Amelia uses an additional tool called Metabolic Balance, a trademarked system invented by a German doctor, which analyses your blood and gives you a very specific list of what foods you can have, how much of and when.
I find it a bit bonkers that I can have cabbage, but not Brussels sprouts, but with the weight falling off the way it is, I’m not going to argue with it.
Boy George gave an excellent precis of his Amelia-directed regime on Twitter:
“Portion control. 5 hour gaps between meals. No coffee or tea, except at meals. Water & fizzy water between meals!”
He had Amelia’s full service, where yummy meals adhering strictly to his plan were delivered to him, whereas I’ve gone the do-it-myself route, which I prefer, because I love a cooking challenge.
Amelia gave me some recipes when I started my regime, but now I have lots of fab new ones to try from the book.
I made the Chicken Nuggets (above) for dinner tonight and they were delicious, (although I couldn’t have the accompanying salsa, because my daughter had eaten the last avocado, dammit…).
So for anyone thinking about a New Year weight loss and detox, I can’t recommend Amelia’s advice highly enough.
And I’ll keep you posted on my progress over the weeks to come. Perhaps I’ll even put up some before and after pictures of my own… (The pics of Amelia and the food above are by Ali Allen.)