The truth behind my body transformation

So it turns out I lied.

School Of Personal Training Posted Nov 16, 2015 Future Fit Training

In my original blog introducing #ProjectPaul back in July I said this:

“I’m aiming for this to be as realistic as possible – while I’ll be making many sacrifices and changes for the 3 months, I won’t be doing anything that isn’t in theory sustainable for longer, or that I couldn’t practically and easily repeat”.

I could say that I achieved that. The changes I made were sustainable and easily repeatable… in theory. In fact you’re actually reading this four weeks after #ProjectPaul officially ended and I’m pleased to say I don’t look too different to the after photos as I’ve continued to train and eat well.

But as I progressed through the weeks something odd happened. In the first 4-week phase it was relatively straight forward - eating five meals a day and ensuring there was some protein, good fats and plenty of green vegetables on my plate wasn't too much of a departure from my usual nutrition. Three gym sessions a week was also quite normal.

I saw some quite big changes though, so when Phase 2 began and I needed to be stricter with my nutrition in terms of calorie and macronutrient monitoring, as well as do slightly longer workouts to fit everything in, I did what I needed to do, even though it meant more planning and time-management, and was inconvenient for my wife and son.

As I predicted in an earlier post, the final four weeks then got even harder as I needed to pay even more attention to my meal planning to ensure I consumed the right amount of protein, carbohydrates and fats each day (which varied according to whether I was training or not). Shaun also advised I add in extra high intensity interval training sessions, all of which pushed me far beyond what I had thought I would be prepared to do at the start.

Perhaps I could actually have done even more, in terms of additional HIIT sessions and not having that glass of wine and the odd beer at a few family gatherings over the 12 weeks. I hope the fact I consciously didn't shows I still wasn't willing to sacrifice absolutely anything and everything in my pursuit of an improved physique, instead trying to maintain as normal a lifestyle as I could.

Yet the changes I did make still weren't really easy for me as mentioned, so why did I contradict myself? Part of the reason was that making any significant improvement to your health and fitness naturally entails moving out of your comfort zone – after all if it were that simple we wouldn’t have the soaring levels of obesity, diabetes and heart disease we’re so often reminded about, and we’d all be Olympic athletes. So I knew I would be making some compromises, but when you start to see the positive effects, it’s difficult to know where to draw the line. You become less sensitive to the changes as your comfort zone expands and are more willing to push your own boundaries. For most people that’s a good adaptation, as it means positive health behaviours become habits. However in the context of short term transformations, those behaviours impact even more on those around you, and even though I was primarily doing this as an experiment, I can see how easy it is to let things become all-consuming, particularly for those looking to enter shows and contests. So you have to be careful not to let your motivation spill over into an unhealthy obsession which affects you and your close friends and family negatively.

What I never thought I’d do…

I think another key factor in my willingness to let #ProjectPaul take over my life was that I had a specific deadline to work to. Knowing I was aiming to be in as good shape as I could be by 30th September, I naturally focussed on this date and what I needed to do to look my best for then, knowing I could take my foot of the gas afterwards. This motivation intensified as I saw even more progress and better results towards the end of the 12 weeks and meant my mindset shifted further towards doing things I never entertained the idea of doing back in July - namely a professional photo shoot and all the somewhat extreme preparation that goes with it.

To get into the condition you see in my ‘after’ photo of course required the groundwork of the first 10-11 weeks, but I then had to restrict calories, manipulate my water intake, 'carb load' in the 3 days before the shoot and even eat pizza and sweets on the day (that bit was enjoyable) in order to make me look as lean as possible. In addition, being very hairy-chested (sorry if you’re eating reading this) and pale-skinned already, the camera would have washed me out completely and ironically made me look less defined than I actually was, so having decided to go this far I also opted to get a light spray tan, much to the amusement of my wife and son.

All of this didn’t sit too comfortably with me as I had been keen to portray as realistic an image of myself as possible (if it's all just an illusion we're creating, why not just have everything photoshopped and save myself 12 weeks' effort??), and perhaps that’s the reason I stopped short of a full chest wax, instead opting for a trim in what now seems like a last ditch attempt to convince myself I hadn’t ‘sold out’ completely.

Despite my internal moral battles, from a professional angle I saw an opportunity to gain an insight into what those impressive 'after' photos you see accompanying transformation stories really involve, to complete my investigation into the whole process.

Next week I’ll share the photos I took in the mirror before the shoot preparation began, so you can compare them to the final outcome.