Small changes can transform your body, writes Clodagh Finn

IN four seconds, you could look slimmer.” That’s the kind of line to grab attention on a day like today when most of us, fuelled by post-Christmas self-loathing, are torturing ourselves with the notion of a new year detox, a juice blitz or a January diet.

Well, stop right now. Personal trainer Dalton Wong, who counts Hollywood stars, royalty, and politicians among clients at his Twenty Two Training gym in Kensington, London, says diets are programmed to fail. Ditch them. They don’t work.

Instead, set aside 15 minutes a day for yourself and watch as a happier, slimmer and healthier you emerges. By the end of March, you won’t know yourself. Promise.

Get healthy one step at a time: Even small changes can transform your body

Wong makes it sound so simple and yet The Feelgood Plan, which he wrote with health journalist Kate Faithfull-Williams, is quite the revelation.

It’s full of consoling lines, such as the aforementioned four-second guide to looking slimmer (“Slide your shoulders back, lift your chest up, pull your tummy in and smile. This move automatically makes you look an inch taller, a size smaller and 100% happier.”

He has many others. Here are some personal favourites: “Wellbeing beats weight every time.” “You can eat pizza and still be healthy.” “You don’t have to leave the house to exercise, you can do it in your pyjamas.”

Dalton Wong is a can-do kind of guy, and his enthusiasm is infectious.

“What did you have for breakfast?” he asks me.

“Hmm, spelt toast and coffee,” I tell him, feeling a little sheepish.

“Who am I to tell you not to have spelt toast and coffee?” he replies. “Maybe that’s the thing that makes you feel good.”

He does, however, suggest that it might be an idea to add an egg or a piece of fruit, then subtract a piece of toast or switch to wholegrain. However, he’s not going to tell you to radically change what you’re doing because that will set you up to fail. What he’s after are small changes, made regularly. “If you do one thing a day that makes you feel good, it’s a catalyst to bigger and better changes that will last a lifetime,” he says.

To start, all you need is 15 minutes. “And everyone has 15 minutes,” he says. “The feelgood plan is not a diet or a rule book that overshadows all the fun things — it’s about enjoying life. Just make one better choice every day.”

Dalton Wong has been doing that in his own life for many years. Health and fitness have been on his radar since he was a child growing up in Vancouver Island, Canada.

Get healthy one step at a time: Even small changes can transform your body

“My father died of a heart attack when I was 10 and, from that moment on, my mother encouraged me to exercise and eat healthily, and it stuck,” he says.

He decided to put pen to paper when his own daughter Indigo, now aged 10, came home from school upset because someone said she was fat.

“I put myself in Indigo’s tiny shoes and looked around: her view of ‘normal’ is warped. She is not fat by any stretch of the imagination but the characters she and her schoolfriends love on TV are unrealistically thin, and those characters talk about their appearance all the time, while the adverts in those same TV shows are for junk food.”

Wong wanted to help his daughter separate the glossy fiction from the more complicated reality and show her that health was about enjoying life (and its occasional treats) and not about hardcore exercise regimes or deprivation diets.

The Feelgood Plan is the result — and any poor soul seeking an optimistic, realistic though inspiring message in the slumberous gloom of January will embrace this book with both hands.

What is radical about Wong and Kate Faithfull-Williams’s approach is that they refuse to entertain the notion of radical change. The path to better health is paved with a series of tiny, well-intentioned steps; tweaking a meal here, making a better choice there.

Ask him for his advice on nutrition and he distils the message to four simple words: “Eat when you’re hungry.” Simple as that.

“No foods are off-limits,” he says but he does suggest you pick a ‘feelgood’ option if choosing a treat. For example, if having an ice cream, go for two scoops of good-quality organic ice cream (the fewer ingredients, the better) rather than several scoops of different flavoured ice cream with sprinkles and toppings in colours that don’t occur in nature.

Don’t fall into the trap of not eating enough either. Sometimes people need to eat more food, not less, to lose weight. The key, he says, is to eat a wide variety of fruit and vegetables — “eat the rainbow” — healthy fats and good proteins along with a little bit of whatever takes your fancy.

“And there is nothing wrong with having a glass of wine at the end of the day,” says Wong. “Nutritionists and trainers find that controversial. If it becomes a bottle, then that is a problem, but if you don’t have dessert and you enjoy one glass of wine, who am I to say that is wrong? If you are doing everything else right, then that is okay.”

He’s a fan of the 80:20 rule, getting it right 80% of the time, then enjoying the ‘cheat meal’ or that glass of wine 20% of the time.

Get healthy one step at a time: Even small changes can transform your body

Wong has the same realistic approach to exercise. He might have trained intensively with Hollywood stars to help them reach their goals, but he knows that not everyone is like his client Jennifer Lawrence, who trained 10-12 hours a day for three months for X-Men: First Class.

“Missing a workout isn’t the worst thing you can do. The worst thing you can do is to punish your body for playing hooky by bingeing on biscuits,” he writes.

Indeed. And there are many others in The Feelgood Plan such as “cut yourself some slack”; “give yourself a break for a week or two” along with the refreshing simplicity of a guide to wiggling your way out of stress with the aid of a humble tennis ball.

Though, there is still work to be done. You’re not going to feel good unless you do something about it. Dalton Wong, 38, works out five times a week: Brazilian jujitsu on Mondays, Wednesday and Fridays, and resistance training two days a week. He eats ‘clean’ from Monday to Friday, then relaxes with his family at weekends.

“It’s all about balance,” he says — and finding those precious life-changing 15 minutes every day.

The Feelgood Plan by Dalton Wong and Kate Faithfull-Williams. €20, is published by Ebury Press.

Dalton’s top tips

1. Eat when you’re hungry. It’s that simple. Don’t eat because you are bored, or your boss has been horrible to you or you think it will make you feel better. To understand hunger, it is essential to separate your need for nutrients from the desire to eat. Just listen to your body, it will tell you when you are really hungry.

2. Take at least 15 minutes a day to put yourself first — that’s just 1pc of your day. In that 15 minutes, you can do anything that makes you feel good. It can be calling a friend for a gossip, for example. Women often don’t make time for themselves as they are busy caring for children, husbands, bosses, but it’s so important to dedicate that time to yourself.

3. With the right information, you can make better choices. For instance, diet food often makes us fat because ‘low fat’ can mean ‘high sugar’. ‘Diet’ drinks actually make us crave more sugar, which is not good for our overall health. But don’t worry, there are no complete ‘no-nos’ — just try to be mindful of what you eat on the days you decide to knock back that diet soda.

How long does it take to change your body?

  • A vigorous 45-minute workout can elevate metabolism for 14 hours.
  • In one week, you could lower your risk of disease. How? By getting more sleep. In a 2013 study, scientists compared people who got less than six hours of sleep a night with a group who got eight- and-a-half hours. In one week, sleeping less had altered the expression of 711 genes, including ones involved in metabolism, inflammation and immunity, which can raise the risk of conditions from heart disease to obesity. The findings were published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal of the US.
  • In six weeks, you could double the capacity of your brain. Thanks to exercise, of course. Six weeks of regular exercise can double the size of your hippocampus, the part of the brain associated with memory and learning, according to a 2013 report.
  • In four seconds, you could look slimmer. Slide your shoulders back, lift your chest up, pull your tummy in and smile. This move automatically makes you look an inch taller, a size smaller and 100% happier.
  • In one day, you could look younger. Eat plenty of vitamin C and you’re likely to look less wrinkled 24 hours later. Scientists believe the nutrient spurs the production of collagen. Load up on cantaloupe melon, which is high in vitamins A and C, the ultimate skin-savers.
  • In three weeks, you could sleep soundly. Add more magnesium-rich foods like dark leafy greens, fish and avocado to your meals every day for three weeks and you’ll be rewarded with deep, sound sleep.

From The Feelgood Plan

 


Lifestyle

Hannah Stephenson has advice on how to care for your garden when wet weather strikesHow to prevent and deal with waterlogging in the garden

If you're down in the epidermal dumps, exfoliation, hydration and decongesting is what you need.The Skin Nerd: How to prep and pep that played-out January skin

The Winter Show, which gets underway in New York this Friday, is a celebration of world cultures, from antiquity to the present.Time travellers are packing their suitcases for New York this week

“Finish him!” It’s one of the most famous lines in video games – in fact, they pretty much built the entire series around it. Mortal Kombat is notorious for brutal finishing moves, in which the characters kill off their opponents in horrific (and often humourous) fashion.Game Tech: Mortal line lives on in the cinema

More From The Irish Examiner