Dropping a dress size the army way

16 December 2009

ABOUT 10 years ago, considering my career options, I found myself on an army taster weekend. I failed at every turn and was told by a severe-looking sergeant-type that I was seriously lacking the killer instinct. I decided it was a compliment and never looked back, until I found myself on my way to the Prestige weight loss and fitness boot camp in Honiton, Devon, where real-life military instructors would put me through my paces. I had no idea what to expect. Would it be full of skinny types looking to improve their fitness or super-sized women desperate to lose weight? Would they starve us to get results and would I have to go the whole GI Jane and shave my head?

Induction Day:
I was relieved to know the other 11 recruits on the camp were women of all shapes, sizes and levels of fitness. We started with a weigh-in. I would describe myself as fairly fit but my enthusiasm for the gym had lapsed. We were then introduced to the team – three muscle-bound military fitness instructors who would spend the week shouting at us and who we could address only as “staff ”. It was only as we were handed a toy gun and told to be on time or risk a hill run that the week ahead started to look daunting.

Days one to three:
Up at 6am and straight out running up the hills before sitting down to breakfast. The chef soon became everyone’s favourite member of staff as it became clear we would be a on a diet of about 1,500 calories with meals and snacks timed with military precision. The mornings were long and tiring as we practised rugby skills, had lectures on nutrition and over eating, boxing sessions, circuit, weights and agility games. But despite working hard, the constant change in pace and sheer variety of what we did kept us entertained and not thinking about food... too much. The staff were also incredibly knowledgeable and motivating – if we
did not put in the effort we were shouted at but there was plenty of encouragement and praise when we did. Recruits who had experienced boot camps before said the first three days would be the hardest as we settled into a new regime of exercise and a detox diet of non-saturated fat, non-complex carbohydrate, sugar-free, alcohol-free delights. Chef seemed to constantly provide us with interesting tasty meals – homemade granola, tomato soup and Thai curry were just some of the favourites. But to be fair after a few hours of exercise, the 10am snack of half a banana was also an exciting sight. The biggest lesson I learnt was about portion size, the meals were about a quarter of the size I would serve myself at home and I still had plenty of energy to keep me going. Afternoons for the first few days were spent off-site doing a range of lower-intensity exercises such as Canadian canoeing, rock climbing and abseiling. It was amazing to watch all the women grow in confidence as they tackled anything that was thrown at them. We were never given much notice of what we would be doing next, but it was actually quite relaxing to let someone else plan our lives and cook our meals.

Days four to six:
The glorious sunshine meant it was not too much of a problem waking up on time. Getting out of bed was a different story, despite large amounts of stretching – muscles are aching. Bed time was as soon as possible after our evening walk and I don’t think I ever saw 9.30pm the whole week. It helped that the accommodation was definitely not army-style and we were staying in a lovely farm cottage. But we did get a real taste of the military. One afternoon we lined up preparing for a camouflage makeover and we were then drilled on how to march. Staff took it all very seriously and I found it hard not to laugh as we started marching out of the camp with our guns slung over our shoulders. We walked down to a field and were then instructed on how to leopard crawl. I found myself face down on the grass, dodging sheep poo, or “land mines”, crawling forwards and providing back-up fire for fellow recruits. It was far too much fun to feel like exercise, and very soon this was taken up a level and we were taken on the gun run. Split into teams of six, we were told we had to get an injured soldier (plank of wood) over an assault course, up hills and through cargo nets, moving logs out of the paths. We were determined to beat the other team as we puffed and panted through the course, only to be told at the end we would be making the run for a second time to give us a chance to beat our times. As we all worked together to get our injured body home there was a real sense of team work and it was amazing how good we all felt about such simple task.

Day seven:
The week went by so fast it was a blur and before we knew it we were out and running up hills for the last time. Then it was back for the weigh-out. The scales were a welcome sight when they revealed I had lost 10.5lbs and the tape measure revealed a 10.6cm loss around my waist. The other recruits had similar success stories and it was clear everyone’s confidence and energy levels had shot up. Support from the staff was there right until the end and they also offered help through their website to encourage recruits to keep up the good work. The firm is also launching new fitness days at Ashton Court to give anyone the chance to get their exercise regimes back on track. There is something incredibly empowering about a group of strangers facing their demons to work hard and shed the pounds. I had an amazing week and would definitely recommend anyone who wants to kick-start a healthy lifestyle to give it a go.