Emma Still, 19, has lost over four stones in a year. The only aspects of her life she directly changed were diet and exercising. However, it’s had a much greater effect on her entire life. It’s easy to say she’s happier; it’s more realistic to say she’s completely changed her entire perspective on life and health. She’s written a blog on her transformation, and it’s well worth a read.
- You mention self-esteem throughout the blog and I was wondering if there’s a connection between that and the weight loss. Namely, is that the reason this diet has succeeded where your others haven’t?
From my experience, weight loss and self-esteem do seem to have some sort of connection. I’ve always been happier and more confident when I’ve lost weight and miserable when I put on weight. Therefore, when I put on the 2 and a half stone in 2014 and was the heaviest I had been I was at my worst. However, weight loss isn’t the only contributor to self-esteem because I would still say that my self-esteem isn’t the best. I mean, I still find it difficult to talk to people I meet for the first time. You can’t depend on weight loss to boost your self-esteem because a lot of other factors contribute towards it. I think this diet succeeded where others haven’t mainly down to the fact that I felt like I wasn’t restricting what I eat too much. Yes, I cut out sugar amongst other things but there are so many alternatives that mean that I still eat almost everything I want to (especially brownies). My self-esteem was of course a factor because it was so low that I knew I needed to make a change because otherwise I would still be where I was today. It was gradually boosted over the course of the year down to the weight loss and a general love of my diet so it could well be the reason why this succeeded.
- A lot of this success is down to your change in diet. Which recipe book, and indeed recipe, is your favourite?
I have recently written a blog post on my three favourite bloggers/authors. These are The Green Kitchen, Anna Jones and Tanya Maher (Better Raw). They have each show me how to eat better whilst extremely enjoying what I eat and I can honestly say that I wouldn’t be where I am now if not for them. I’ve included some of their recipes in my recent blog post. There are other bloggers that I love as well but I could list them forever so it’s best to ask me personally for the full list. My favourite recipe book is joint between The Green Kitchen and The Green Kitchen Travels mainly because they are awesome recipes whilst containing beautiful photography, which is important to me. However, my favourite recipe is very difficult for me to choose because I have so many recipes that I love. Anna Jones’ Tomato and Coconut Cassoulet in her book A Modern Way to Eat is pretty ace and I tend to eat it every week. I also love pizza and eat that every Friday night using the pizza dough from Honestly Healthy’s first book and then making the topping from Anna Jones’ pizzette. Quite honestly, I don’t think I have a favourite.
- Where is the best place to buy these books?
That would have to be Amazon because they always do discounts on these cookbooks as they were all the trend in 2015. However, Waterstones stock all the books as far as I’m aware and I love Waterstones as a store so they’re always good to support even if the books are a bit pricier.
- Can you explain your exercise regime in more detail (i.e., what does the interval run consist of, when do you run, do you do anything on top of running)?
I run three times a week (1×16 minute interval run, 1×30 minute, 1×35+ minute) – normally with at least a day break between each run. Usually, it’s a Monday, Wednesday and Saturday although there are times when I’m busy and can’t do a certain day so have to change it. The interval run consists of a 5 minute warm up jog followed by 1 minute sprinting then 1 minute jogging for the next 11 minutes. The 35 minute run we are gradually building up every couple of weeks so we can eventually run further and further. The other days I go walking for at least 10,000 steps which I have an app on my phone to track it. I wouldn’t enjoy the gym or many other forms of exercise so I don’t want to force myself to do them because I wouldn’t keep it up.
- What is your favourite form of exercise and what exercises would you recommend to novices?
Nowadays, I actually love running. At the beginning I absolutely hated it because it made me feel so unfit as I was out of breath after about a minute. I’m a very self-conscious person and didn’t want anyone to see me out of breath and sweaty. Now I can run 30 minutes without really breaking much of a sweat and I really enjoy being in the fresh air, as it tends to clear my head. I also love swimming but I don’t go enough because it can be quite expensive to go all the time. Plus, after losing 4 stone I can say that my swimming costume almost certainly won’t fit now!
For novices, I recommend the couch to 5k by Change4Life because that’s what helped me. It’s a 9 week programme which builds you up gradually to be able to run for 30 minutes. It seems daunting at first but honestly, if I can do it then anyone can because as I said I could barely run for a minute at the start.
- Exercising and cutting sugar out of the diet can be hard work. How did you keep going when it was easier to just stop?
Most people can’t go cold turkey like I did because you have to have a hell of a lot of will power to do it. I was completely desperate though on the borderline of being classed as obese and of course my high blood pressure. The way I dealt with getting rid of sugar, dairy, gluten and alcohol from my diet was to just remove the temptation from the house. I’m notoriously bad at feeding myself because I’m quite lazy so if I had bad food in the house then I would eat it, as it’s the easy option. The other way I combated my cravings was to find alternatives to everything I missed. Sugar is easily replaced with dates, honey, agave, maple syrup, coconut palm sugar and many others. I’ve reverted back to eating dairy and gluten because I can’t personally remove them completely from my diet. However, I’ve substituted milk for homemade almond milk, yoghurt for coconut yoghurt (which I either make myself or buy from the supermarket) and cheese can be replaced with nutritional yeast. The only dairy I eat is feta, goats’ cheese and halloumi and gluten wise I try to eat wholewheat products all the time. I drink alcohol rarely nowadays but I drink it on special occasions and if I fancy it then I’m not going to stop myself from drinking. I just don’t really want to drink it much anymore. I certainly don’t judge people who do – I’m really not preachy about my diet.
- Is it true that you’re difficult to feed?
When you look at my diet from an outsider’s perspective then it looks daunting if you’ve got to feed me. Honestly though, I’m really not that difficult to feed. Okay, I don’t eat sugar, processed food, most dairy and other things along those lines but ultimately day in day out I mainly eat very basic ingredients. My diet is plant based so if you buy in some fruit and veg or pulses like lentils and beans then you can feed me. I’m not a fussy eater so most likely I’ll eat what you give me. You don’t need to worry about feeding me but if you are then just talk to me about it – I’m very down to earth about my diet as I realise it seems really difficult to someone not used to it.
- What advice would you give to people who want to lose weight?
My advice would be to find what works for you. I can’t tell you how to do it because what has worked for me you may absolutely detest. You have to find your motivation to do something about it. However, you need to realise that life is more important than a number on the scales because you should start by being happy with the way you look. You’re never going to look “perfect” because there is no such thing. Like I could still complain that my stomach isn’t flat enough and that is how I feel sometimes but I’ve lost so much weight and I’m healthy so should I really be concentrating on one little flaw? No. So stop weighing yourself all the time and just aim on finding what makes you happy. I found a diet and exercise regime that I love and look where I am now.
- How big a factor was your “graduation” from school?
Quite frankly, huge. I’m an emotional eater and it’s fair to say my comfort eating may have been a cause for my weight gain. My two best friends left my school after GCSEs so when I got into sixth form I had barely anyone. I was completely isolated especially seeing as I had fallen out with a few girls a couple of years previously that had turned a lot of people against me. Of course, I was partly to blame for my isolation because I’m not the most talkative and I don’t like to force myself upon people so I didn’t try extremely hard at infiltrating a friendship group. It was difficult though because most friendship groups had been formed years before and they weren’t exactly looking for a new member. I spent my lunchtimes working or in the toilet (I know how sad that sounds but I didn’t feel like I had anywhere else to go) and I left any opportunity I could. No one really tried to involve me in anything and I’m pretty sure most people at that school either didn’t like me or were completely indifferent to me. They made me feel like I was worthless. The sixth form itself wasn’t exactly the best place either: too strict and too focussed on academic subjects. If I ever get successful then none of it is down to my school. In fact, I’m trying to completely disassociate myself with it. My self-esteem has massively improved since leaving in May and I can safely say I’m glad I’m shot of it.
- On top of this, you’ve started a photography degree. I know that this is very time consuming. You’ve managed to keep up the exercise, so how would you recommend that people stay active while working?
Some days it is difficult. I don’t eat the best I could; I haven’t done as much exercise as I’ve wanted to or something along those lines. It’s in my personality that I tend to beat myself up about it but my advice would be definitely don’t beat yourself up about it – don’t be like me. If there is one day that you have slipped then it isn’t the end of the world. If it is turning into more than one day then address the issue. You’ve got to be organised more than anything. I have to arrange my running around how my timetable for the week looks. Often, I get up early and do my exercise, which takes a lot of dedication but it’s worth it. It’s better to push yourself to do the exercise than to beat yourself up about it later. Also, I park a little way away from uni so I can go on a little walk before my lessons.
- What do you say to people who say photography isn’t a proper degree?
Erm, I’d probably swear at them? Haha no, I just think that is a very ignorant opinion. When people discovered I was going to do a photography degree whilst I was at school I got very judgmental looks and questions. The best was: oh so you’re going to just be taking pictures for three years? It’s not as simple as that. I want a career in photography so why would I take a degree in a really pointless subject that I’m never going to use again? It’s an important degree and an important job and people should stop judging people based on what they’re studying or what university they go to or what their job is. I couldn’t care less if you’re a doctor or an artist – both jobs are as important in our society. It’s more important that you’re a good person than what you do for a living. What I do isn’t “easy” either. It’s not just point and shoot like most amateur photographers do so please educate yourself on photography before telling me it’s not a proper subject and it’s easier than other jobs.
- Finally, what does the future hold in terms of diet, exercise and job prospects?
The wonderful thing about life is that it will all probably change. I’ll find new foods that I love, new exercises that make me feel great and find a job that makes me happy. I can’t say what the future holds but of course I have some aspirations. I’m constantly discovering new ideas surrounding my diet so it will most likely change but not much because I think I’m content with the fundamental principles of it. Exercise wise, I would love to start swimming more when I have a bit more money coming in and of course I want to keep running and walking. I would also love to take up yoga and improve my strength a bit as I’m so weak to the point that I find it difficult to pick up saucepans sometimes. I also want to start meditating more to try and improve my self-esteem and general confidence. Concerning my job, I have always wanted to work for myself. I want my own business and be successful and happy with what I do. My main aspiration is to be a food photographer/stylist so my food blog is very important to me as it is definitely in the industry I want to break. I’ve started selling my photographs on Etsy as a mini start to launching a business so hopefully that’ll go somewhere.
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