Review: The Clean and Lean Year

So it’s that time of year again: parties, food, boozing, food, parties, boozing, maybe the gym?  It’s hard to resist isn’t it?

Fortunately, I’ve been able to restrain myself a bit and spread out the parties and boozing and luckily maintained my weight after restarting the Clean and Lean diet earlier this year.

I’ve also introduced weight training; pretty much my gym workouts are usually split as: 10% cardio (warm-up or cool-down) / 60% resistance or weights / 30% core.  I’ve noticed that doing this has really re-shaped my body and this is coming from someone who’s not been a fan of weight training previously, usually opting for mostly cardio and some half-hearted sit ups.

Going to Pilates has really opened my eyes up to working the core and keeping it strong and the weights have helped sculpt my body giving myself a bit of definition (loving it!).  Having said that, I’m still working on the six-pack and wobbly bits here and there but it’s helped so much in keeping the weight gain at bay.  This in turn has also helped me become a better runner with more strength and with (obviously) less weight to carry.

So, what now? The dreaded plateau has returned. I’ve kept the kilos lost off and am still working on my strength…but the weight (and measurements) have come to a standstill.  My goal is to shift the last few won’t-budge kilos that then means you can stick to maintenance knowing you’re at a healthy size and weight.

My weakness is a cheeky wine and a piece of cake or biscuit here and there (I blame Swedish Fika) and so, as a New Year’s Resolution, it’s time to cut these out.  Both laden with sugar, I will be going on the Kickstart regime in the New Year, so watch this space!

In the meantime, I’ll be sticking with the main principles of eating clean and the 80/20 rule (mainly good, occasionally bad) over the next few weeks.  W I L L P O W E R ! !

Have a fabulous Festive Season and New Year wherever you are and whatever you’re doing.







Loving the Lactose-free life

Some years ago, I was probably not feeling my healthiest, fittest or even lightest.  I was feeling sluggish, bloated at times and a bit stressed with work and not getting enough decent sleep.

I decided to take an test to see if I was allergic or intolerant to anything and low and behold, I discovered I was allergic to yeast and intolerant to lactose.  So out went the beers, Marmite and milk!  After, I was trying all sorts of alternatives: soya, almond, rice, goat (in my opinion, disgusting by the way) milk but the real taste of cow’s milk was hard to find.  Proper English tea with soya milk – no thanks!



Pic credit: Getty

So what is lactose intolerance?

This is where your body can’t digest lactose, which is a natural sugar found in dairy and milk products.  When consuming dairy or milk products, the lactose travels to the large intestine (or colon) and at this stage has trouble digesting it, causing the bloating and gas. It needs an enzyme called lactase to convert this milk sugar into simple sugars that the body can use (glucose and galactose).  Lactase is produced in the small intestine and if you do not produce enough of it to break down the lactose then this will cause issues with digestion.

A question of genetics and ethnicity?

In a 2002 article written in ‘American Family Physician’, noted that up to 100% Asians and Native Americans, 60%-80% blacks and 50%-80% Latinos were lactose intolerant versus up to 15% with European ancestry.  In simple terms, the theory is that ancestors living in cattle breeding environments grew tolerant to milk whereas those who didn’t were more susceptible (Livestrong). So being of Chinese descent, I am predisposed to be lactose intolerant.


Looking for lactose alternatives and substitutes

Since moving to Sweden last year, I have happily discovered that Swedes are also a nation of lactose-intolerants and I am now in lactose free heaven!  Most cafes and pop up coffee shops offer a lactose free milk or alternative, there are even lactose free Semlas (a yummy cardamon and almond flavoured spongy bun filled with cream, mainly served between Lent and Easter) and an array of treats for my delectation.  I am absolutely rubbing my hands in glee at the thought of being able to eat proper dairy tasting items again.  To make things even better there is a large freezer full of lactose free ice cream in the supermarket – brilliant!


So why are Swedes lactose intolerant?

In an article by John Hopkins Medicine the Neolithic DNA of Sweden showed 95% of those studied were lactose intolerant as opposed to 25% in modern day Sweden, hence the need for a lactose free products! An article published in ‘Discover’ magazine explains this a bit further and in more detail if you’re really interested 🙂


The Power of Pilates

The Clean and Lean book mentions doing some kickstart exercises such as high intensity workouts mixed with Pilates or strength training.  For me I’m a big fan of the great outdoors and funnily I never used to be and hated running outside.  I try to go out at least twice per week (sometimes three) for at least 30 minutes each time.  Sometimes I mix up a flat surface running route with some up-hill running and some short bursts in my runs.  I try not to go the same route twice in a row in order to mix it up a bit and see a different bit of scenery each time.

Recently I’ve been going to Pilates twice per week and even though it’s an hour of a tough workout, it’s been very enjoyable.  At the beginning I realised my core strength was terrible and I couldn’t even do the roll up without putting my arms down to push myself up or even do a simple plank without my hips dropping.  After a few sessions I was getting stronger through my core and my legs and arms were getting more toned.  My record for plank is now 3 minutes 20 seconds and I can roll up with ease!  I’ve found that my belly is firming up and can see the beginnings of some abs that haven’t seen the light of day for years!

Pilates class

Group class at Pilates by Janessa

Janessa Clark who runs Pilates classes in Stockholm says: “Pilates targets the deep muscles of the torso and spine (your ‘powerhouse’ or ‘core’) to strengthen the body from the inside out in proper alignment. The goals are to achieve a balance of strength and flexibility by creating a symbiotic relationship of opposing muscle groups, a harmonious collaboration between stability and mobility and better overall functioning of the body in everyday life. The six guiding principles of the Pilates method are: Breathing, Centering, Concentration, Control, Flow and Precision. Pilates is a dynamic system of exercise that integrates, refines and enhances our body, mind and spirit.”  She added: “It’s important for runners to train Pilates also since Pilates addresses the body in all planes of motion where running stays very narrowly in the sagittal (front to back) plane.”

Joseph Pilates noted that Pilates is like an ‘internal shower’, helping to cleanse the organs, oxygenate the cells and assists in boosting our body’s production of endorphins (the ‘feel good’ factor). In addition, it’s great for digestion and helps us sleep better too.  With this much going for it, what’s not to love?!

I was always a yoga goer but never really Pilates so I’m really loving mixing up classes to work on different areas of my body.  Combining this with cardio and other strength work has changed my body shape and I’m loving the results!

Featured photo credit: Optimus Lab. Class photo credit: Pilates by Janessa


Jamie’s Everyday Super Food Book

I love Jamie Oliver, I really do.

I’ve followed him from the start when he was a cheeky chappie chef on telly to the super hero food warrior that we all know and love today.  As I’ve ‘grown up’ with Jamie, he’s grown with us too from his quick ‘n’ easy 30 minute meals, Italian cooking, home comforts and now to the mindful and health conscious that we’re all becoming today.

Jamie’s Everyday Super Food book eases us into the now-we-must-watch-what-we-eat territory and it’s pretty fab.  I started the clean and lean diet because of the onset of adding on the extra weight which won’t shift so this book is right up my street to try out some new recipes.

There’s a little bit of work to be done when prepping from this book but all for a good cause – we don’t want to eat packet, sugar and additive laden food so the recipes strip the unnecessary and brings in the necessary.  The granola dust is a great addition to porridge loaded with goodies such as berries, nuts and seeds.  Classic breakfast dishes such as eggs and beans have been reinvented to accommodate the all so important protein for our muscles – just perfect for a post-workout meal.  Fruit soups, superfood protein loaves, stir fries, curries and other delights have been carefully updated to ensure we meet our nutritional values for the day.

I’ll be trying these out so will post some pics on Twitter and on some future posts to give you an idea of how easy these are to prepare and for taste.

Happy Superfooding!


Being a gym bunny and pushing the plateau

How the gym didn’t work for me…and then it did

I previously said I didn’t like the gym.  I think it was because I got stung by a certain gym chain in the UK* that had such a tight grip on my membership that even when I was relocating out of the country, they insisted that I stayed by power of the evil ‘contract notice’.  Anyway, enough of the bad memories.

So since I kickstarted my new clean and lean regime, I was merrily going to twice-weekly Pilates and running outside, doing my tricep dips and standing push-ups even in -15c temperatures. Would you believe it? I love running in the great outdoors: invigorating, fresh air, undulating paths and being at one with nature. Love it, love it, love it.

I then got to a point of reaching that dreaded plateau, when you think you’re doing so well then get stuck at stalemate and have to work out how to mix it up a bit.  That’s when I decided to go back to the gym.  It wasn’t a decision made lightly mind you, because I wasn’t looking forward to being in a room with grunting, sweaty muscle men and having to wait for equipment all the time.  I also realised that if it wasn’t easy to get to I probably wouldn’t go and would rather either go to the pub or laze around at home watching tv instead.  You know what I mean, we’ve all been there.

However, I forget that I’m now living in a country (Sweden) where – especially in the summer – the great outdoors and sport is very important, so I decided to join my local SATS gym chain which is very conveniently located 2 minutes from my apartment.  It was too convenient for me not to join perhaps and to get over my bad memories of gyms of distant past.

Note: I just want to add that I don’t work for this gym or know anyone who works there or getting paid to write this but I just love it! A variety of machines, loads of rowers, treadmills, cross trainers, group training room, cycling room, yoga room, weights room, sauna, showers, lots of lockers, a clothing shop, drinks machines, a free crèche plus best of all, a free online training log for every member…oh plus the membership is cheap for a city gym (please take note, London gyms and your extortionate prices) and not crazy busy either.  Just brilliant.

Embracing my inner geek

I’m very much into my online account; this is where my inner geek kicks in. It has a training plan, a log of all your workouts (every time you touch in with your membership card at the reception it updates your online log) so admin light too. There’s an app for on-the-go training updates, there’s a meal plan with recipes, there are online videos to show you how to do stuff properly, there’s online booking and cancellation of classes…my goodness, I have been away from the gym world for too long, it’s gone all techie and convenient!

I’m currently on an eight week programme where I’ve set myself a goal weight and what I want to achieve e.g. it asks you if you are striving for fitness, weight loss, muscle-building etc, so logging on and following the plan online is very useful and keeps me motivated. I’m doing more strength work, lots of free weights mixed with machines and working a lot harder with my core by using weighted balls and reaching my personal record plank time of 3 minutes 20 seconds!  I’ve found that strengthening up has made me a better runner and pacing up those hills a lot easier with more strength in my legs and a stable core. I’m hoping to join some classes soon but the cross training one looked unbelievably scary and people were a bit broken coming out…so it must be good 🙂


*Naming no names but it starts with F and ends with T 😉

Clean and Lean: 3 month review

It’s been three months since we returned from our fabulous (curry-and-beer-laden) holiday in Sri Lanka and my husband and I made a pact to go clean and lean.  I had already done a kickstart clean and lean diet for our wedding over four years ago and I lost an amazing 10 kilos but ended up putting back on four kilos since.  My hubby hadn’t undertaken any type of diet ever so I was keen to make him my ‘project’ and see how it worked for men.

So what have the last three months been like?

I’m pleased to say that we’re both sticking to the fundamental rules of cutting the CRAP (James Duigan’s words not mine) of eliminating caffeine, refined sugar, alcohol and processed foods.  Well sort of…my husband has definitely cut down on the coffee to two per day and doesn’t drink any after 2pm, we have both mainly eliminated sugar except for a small treat here and there, we have cut down on alcohol considerably and he has mainly cut out beer.  We have never really eaten processed foods much anyway and we now don’t have packet cereals or muesli and usually opt for eggs or porridge in the mornings.

Weekly weigh in and measuring routine

We have weekly weigh ins to check on our progress and also measure ourselves too.  I find this helps with keeping track and also motivates us to continue with our new way of eating.  It may seem a little extreme but for anyone considering this diet or losing weight in general it gives some indication on what’s happening with your body.  For example, you may not lose weight but are still losing inches indicating you may be building muscle and getting leaner. I think scales alone can be a bit misleading and one of the best ways to stay focussed is to find a dress or an outfit that did not fit previously.  Just last weekend I dug out some clothes from storage and delightfully found two pairs of shorts and a pair of trousers that were a bit snug which now fit (actually they are too big!).  Now I don’t need to buy new clothes for our forthcoming holidays. Result!! So it’s a bit of a no-brainer that you lose the kilos and become healthier and also gain a new wardrobe, win-win all round.

What about food?

So what have we been eating? I try to remember the rules such as ensuring we have snacks to keep hunger pangs at bay and to drink enough water.  The main change is that we are not eating large meals or carbs in the evening and restricting carbs such as white rice, pasta and potatoes from our diet.  I have been eating a lot of eggs, vegetables and nuts so as per my previous post, I have been buying a lot of bulk frozen vegetables and steaming them.  They taste just as nice and easy to store and cook as well.


It goes without saying that we have also upped our exercise.  I was starting to reach a plateau just a few weeks ago and decided to bite the bullet and join a gym (I did say previously that I didn’t want to join and preferred exercising outdoors – which I still do).  I have found that doing more strength work has really helped kickstart my weight loss again and even though I am definitely building more muscle and becoming more toned, I am slowly but surely still heading towards my weight loss goal and whittling the inches off my body.  I would thoroughly recommend combining cardio (I still run outdoors) with a good strength training programme (whether at the gym or at home with weights or using your body weight).

The results?

It’s been a steady move towards the right direction.  In the initial few weeks, we both lost a good amount with the kickstart diet, which is a bit boring and you are constantly hungry (this is the obvious downside), however, we lost the kilos nonetheless which makes it seem worth it.  Now three months later:


Weight: Loss 5.1 kgs (11.22 lbs)

Bust: Loss 2.75 inches (6.98 cms)

Waist: Loss 4.25 inches (10.7 cms)

Hips: Loss 2.75 inches (6.98 cms)


Weight: Loss 10.6 kgs (23.32 lbs)

Chest: Loss 4.5 inches (11.43 cms)

Waist: Loss 7 inches (17.78 cms)

Hips: Loss 4.25 inches (10.79 cms)

We both still have a few more kilos and inches to lose but we’re already halfway there now which is very satisfying.  As this is a way of life and not a fad diet, we are regarding this as a slow burn, hopefully losing the extra kilos slowly but surely.  I’m really happy with the results and my husband is definitely a true believer in the clean and lean diet!!

If you are planning to start this diet (or new lifestyle of eating), please remember to consult your doctor first if in doubt as I’m obviously speaking from experience and it may not suit everyone.  Good luck and I’d love to hear from anyone who’s undertaken this diet or any other weight loss journey, just comment below.

More updates on our progress to come very soon…

Day 14: Clean and Lean Kickstart Review

Well, the 14 day kickstart is now over so what has it been like this week?

I have managed to get on with it; preparing breakfasts and lunches galore following the structure of clean and lean meals, lots of fresh vegetables, steamed or baked fish and meat.  I haven’t succumbed to chocolate, cake, fruit or any sugary stuff and have only drunk a little coffee just before going running (it’s meant to give you an extra energy boost).  Apart from the little blip last Saturday with the red wine, I have abstained from any booze, drunk loads of water and have been religiously doing my regular twice weekly Pilates and thrice weekly runs.

The weigh in

And I have lost 0.6kgs (1.3 lbs) since last weigh in.  Meaning my first week weight loss of 2kgs has slowed down in Week 2.

So, what does that mean? To double check, I also measured myself and have still lost 0.5 inches (1.27 cm) from my bust and still an inch (2.54 cm) each from my waist and hips.  My thighs and arms have stayed the same.  An article by Livestrong says if you are losing inches from your waist, hips, thighs and arms but the scale still appears the same, you are building lean muscle and shedding fat which is still good news!  Clean and lean is about building that lean look for life rather than a malnourished, skinny body.

For hubby, he has also lost weight slower this week, with a loss of 0.6kgs (1.3lbs) but overall an impressive 4.8kgs (10.56 lbs) in just 14 days.  He has lost inches from his body and now I have managed to obtain the Clean and Lean Warrior book on Kindle, I can put him on a different programme going forward as the initial 14 day kickstart seemed to be geared towards women with quite small portions.

My overall thoughts

Overall, I think that it’s been ok, a bit boring eating the same food (the 14 day is a lot stricter with what you can eat). With mid-week weigh ins for motivational purposes, this has definitely spurred us on to maintain a healthier way of eating and living.  The kickstart is great to get your body used to eating better and it is a reminder of the key principles of a clean and lean diet.  Admittedly I still have cravings for something sweet but maybe it’s because we were not allowed to eat fruit in the kickstart and this is something that I feel I have missed a lot.  I also had a couple of dizzy spells during the first week which was a bit disconcerting, but I do put this down to a reduction of calories and my body getting used to it, so being able to introduce fruit and some complex carbs into the diet is welcome!

I’ve found that the book is quite restrictive in how you prepare your food and I think in principle steaming, baking and grilling your food is great but does not help a busy working person or parent.  I’ve found buying frozen fish, meat and veg helps by cutting out the need to buy fresh all the time and just defrosting when you need it worked out fine for me.  I even used a microwave steamer to steam frozen veg which was very handy and worked a treat.  I did have to prep well and think ahead about meals but it becomes second nature in no time.

Clean and Lean for life?

As we aim to reach our ideal weight (target: weddings in July) and we have a blowout meal or a holiday where we eat to our heart’s content, then just going back on the kickstart for a week will get us back in shape again. Now, I’m not suggesting everyone should do this but I think it’s a good way to lose those extra few kilos. It is also suggested that we have a cheat meal once per week so that we do not feel denied of our guilty pleasures, we are allowed to have it! It will kickstart the metabolism again and keep burning fat, phewww!

I’m interested to see how the Clean and Lean Warrior diet works out for hubby, so shall post an update once we get going on this.  For me, I will remember these key principles:

  1. Fruit (such as berries) and only good carbs in the morning or early afternoon
  2. Drink plenty of water
  3. Limit caffeine
  4. Limit booze and if I do then only drink vodka with soda, G&T or red wine
  5. Keep eating lots of lean meat and fish
  6. Keep eating lots of green veg
  7. Have a cheat meal once per week
  8. No processed foods and if I do have bread or a cake, I’ll try to make them myself so I know what’s in them
  9. Keep up with the cardio and strength exercises and mix it up
  10. Keep an eye on portions

I will keep posting some key updates on our progress, so remember to follow me and sign up to email alerts! I’m also on Twitter for regular updates.





Day 7: Review of the kickstart diet

Week 1 is over!

Only one more week to go on this 14 day clean and lean kickstart diet! So how has it been?

  • In the main, it’s been pretty good; it’s definitely easier when there are two of you to motivate and keep each other on track
  • I’ve had fun imparting my clean and lean experience onto my hubby and he’s been a model student 🙂
  • Meal prep and organisation is very very key.  Dedicate some time before you start and organise your shopping, create a list and clear out the fridge.  I got rid of things I didn’t need for the kickstart by either having one last blowout (I know, I actually did have a Semla bun…yum) or freezing items such as bread or any fruit
  • I prepped the next day’s lunches and some breakfasts in advance, such as chopping up a batch of veg or pre-baking and weighing the chicken so it’s in handy portions
  • I drank a lot of water and took a few sips when I was feeling a bit peckish (they say that you are probably thirsty not hungry)
  • Tiredness crept in and we actually went to bed early! Hubby said he had slept very well this week, which is a bonus as sleep is key to retuning your body for the next day
  • I haven’t had headaches this time round, maybe it’s because I have been eating healthy fats with each meal (salmon, avocado, taking salmon oil tablets) which is meant to help with this
  • I kept the Clean and Lean book out on the counter top so I could refer to it during the week to help plan the meals and look at mixing it up here and there as suggested by James Duigan
  • I told myself that if Elle Macpherson could look so good in her 50s because she follows the Clean and Lean diet then there’s hope for us all – well at least it’s something to aspire to!!

Body envy: Elle Macpherson – in her 50s and looking fab! Pic: Daily Mail

Our exercises for this week

As part of the 14 day kickstart, there are some exercises that we can follow.  However, I am currently going to Pilates twice per week and running three times per week, mixing strength and up-hill running/HIIT workouts.  Hubby currently cycles 40 minutes every day to/from work so he’s getting his cardio into his working week.  I think that if you are active and try to incorporate part cardio and part strength in your week then that’s a good start.

I found a very funny guy who I follow on Facebook.  He posts short, 15 minute workout videos which I have tried and found pretty effective in getting your body moving or for targeting certain areas such as your abs or upper body. Who’d thought that doing planks in between reps is ok?! Apparently it’s called ‘active resting’. Take a look at Brandon Carter’s YouTube page.  Great for a short burst of exercise especially if the weather’s rotten outside and you don’t fancy leaving the house.


On Day 6 I had a couple of glasses of red wine 😦 it was too much to bear as I was out with friends and well….you know the score. Eeeeeek! I put it down to a momentary loss of will power but am not going to beat myself up about it.  I will stick to the diet as planned!

The weigh in

On a brighter note, today is Weigh In Day, the stats are in and in a nutshell:

Hubby: Lost an amazing 4.2kgs (9.24lbs)! Also 2 inches off his chest and waist.

Me: Lost a very respectable 1.8kgs (3.96lbs) and 0.5 inches (1.27cm) from my bust and 1 inch (2.54cm) from my waist!

Roll on Week Two…

The coconut water debate

When I used to do hot yoga, the drink du jour was coconut water.  It’s supposed to replenish those electrolytes that you’ve lost through sweating in a 40c room with 40+ other yogis…but does it?

There’s been a bit of debate on this, there are claims that it is a natural isotonic drink and gives us the same benefits as a formulated sports drink, including the electrolytes calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, sodium and potassium, but as nature intended.

As well as being a post-workout thirst buster, it has been said to aid weight loss because of its low fat qualities, clear up and tone skin, good for hangovers, digestion and reduces blood pressure among other benefits.  So is it true? Can drinking coconut water really do all of these things?  The natural properties in coconut water can aid in replenishing fluids and was actually used as a rehydration fluid for a cholera outbreak in the Pacific Ocean atoll of Tarawa, Gilbert Islands in the late 70s, however, was found in tests at the time to be deficient in sodium, chloride and bicarbonate when tested against other oral rehydration fluids used for the effective treatment of cholera.

The argument against is that although coconut water is great and does contain all the goodness as claimed above, it’s not the go-to super rehydration drink that it’s hyped up to be. For example, if you were an elite athlete or someone who does a lot of sport, in order to replenish the sodium lost you’d have to drink a lot of coconut water, which can give you a laxative effect.  In fact, some say that it’s no better than drinking a sports drink or better still, good old water.

In 2012, Vita Coco had to pay out large sums of cash for misleading nutritional claims of their product, but for me, I like the taste, think it’s a great natural rehydration boost and I’m still going to drink it (in moderation of course!) along with good old H2O.

14 day kickstart snapshot of meals

As mentioned before, here is a snapshot of some of the delights we have been eating the past few days on this clean and lean kickstart diet:

Above meals, clockwise, is: ham (2 egg) omelette with half of a small avocado, 100g chicken and rocket, peppers, cucumber and cherry tomato salad, poached egg on 50g salmon with half a cup of spinach, pre-chopped cucumber, carrots, peppers and celery, pre-baked lemon and thyme chicken breasts, 100g chicken with scrambled egg and spinach.

The meals are a little bit of a variation to the book but the principle of what we’re eating is the same; there are mainly veg and eggs and I think that it’s not too bad when you think about the benefits of cutting the carbs and sugar in this 14 day clean and lean kickstart diet. I’m ok with eliminating coffee as I don’t really drink it anyway and I think the meals are actually quite tasty and filling.  I think that as we are so used to having more on our plate and eating other things such as bread, fruit and rice, our tummies are rumbling because of this.  Once you get over that and exercise a bit of willpower then the initial week goes by soon enough.  It is tough and a bit miserable but now we’re coming up to halfway through, it’ll get easier as we get used to eating differently.

I’ll add more meals to the gallery soon…