Interview: Vanessa Feltz - I cried great big fat tears through my first workout. The simplest leg stretch was agony; HOW VANESSA WON 12-WEEK CHALLENGE.
The challenge in front of her was daunting. At 37 she had never even attempted to walk much further than the car on the drive of her Hampstead home.
"My mum used to say: 'Vanessa's got legs but she doesn't know how to use them'. That sums it up really," she explains.
"I was possibly the unfittest woman in Britain. And most definitely the unhappiest."
Now Vanessa works out for an hour a day, seven days a week. She cycles six miles daily and admits she feels muscles she never knew existed.
Yet never before had Vanessa even dreamt of getting fit or losing weight. For her entire adult life, and much of her childhood, she had been a big girl who enjoyed her food.
Now, after an ultimatum from her husband Michael - to attempt a 12-week trial in which she was to change herself or he would leave - she was forced to confront the way she looked and do something about it.
"I suspect he imagined I'd fail to meet his challenge but despite the misery, confusion and tears, I thought at that stage it was my only chance and I wasn't going to let it go.
"My sister Julia has been my rock. We worked out that a drastic change in eating habits was necessary but would be useless without an exercise regime.
"She knew Dennis Duhaney from her gym - Julia's always been Cher to my Mama Cass - and immediately arranged for him to come round to work out a fitness programme for me.
"He was booked that first day to come round to the house for an hour. It must have been hell for him, poor man.
"I cried all the way through, great fat tears bouncing off my cleavage as I explained why I was taking this course of action and how imperative it was that I looked different in just 12 weeks. I was emotionally and physically a total wreck - fat and unfit.
"It was awful. I couldn't manage even the simplest leg stretches, my legs were just too heavy to raise off the floor.
Everything was agony. He left that day honestly believing that he'd never see me again.
"To say he was faced with a difficult challenge is an understatement. He was very serious, very kind and understanding. He didn't say what I expected him to, namely that I couldn't do it.
"He was determined to come up with something I was capable of but which would actually make a tremendous difference quickly.
"Maybe I surprised Dennis, but I booked him again for another three one-hour sessions that week and within three weeks you could see a difference.
"After five weeks I went to a charity ball and met Esther Rantzen. 'Hello skinny,' she said and I was thrilled because it wasn't just me who could see it, other people were noticing too.
"Meanwhile, I'd gone to see a nutritionist. I wasn't eating property, in fact I was barely eating at all. I was doing everything I could for Michael, who at this stage was still living at home.
"I was cooking fabulous meals for friends, having his family round. I even made up with my dad after a protracted falling out and met his wife at last.
I WANTED Michael to see that I was a wonderful woman filling the house with friends and family.
But most of all I wanted to become a physically different woman, a slim one.
"Once I said to him, during the first few weeks: 'Look at these trousers Michael , they're falling off me'.
"And he replied coldly: 'It won't work if you keep selling it to me. I have to see it for myself'. I persisted. The more exercise I did the more I enjoyed it. From someone who had never weighed themselves at all, I got on the scales every morning when I woke up.
"With every pound that came off the more determined I was to stick to my plan.
"It was exhilarating to put on a skirt and find it no longer clung to my bottom. I was even beginning to detect ribs and when I looked in the mirror there was a neck, not rolls of fat.
"I was cycling to school with my daughter Saskia and cycling back. Four trips a day got me up to six miles.
"I enjoyed cycling, though I'm not sure that drivers who saw this huge backside draped over a saddle did!
"But, like working out, the more I did it the easier it became. Foodwise, I was getting used to eating in a very different way.
"My nutritionist, a lady called Jackie Burnett who works at various London hospitals, had started off when I went to see her by asking me to draw a plate. Then she asked me to sketch on it just how big the amount of protein would be. Then how much vegetable and carbohydrate.
"It taught me that I was eating way too much meat, and that I needed to introduce more vegetables. She didn't want me to have chicken for lunch and then steak for dinner, protein was limited to once a day.
"She recommended that for breakfast I have one box from a Kellogg's Variety pack.
"They all contain around 95 calories and there's no temptation to have a larger portion than you should, it makes cheating impossible and it cheers me up to start the day with a bowl of Frosties or Co-Co Pops and skimmed milk.
"At lunchtime I have a small tray of sushi, which you can get from most supermarkets, or a baked potato with low-calorie baked beans.
"Occasionally I have a bagel with just a tiny amount of smoked salmon but no butter. Dinner is my first bit of protein, but smaller than I used to have, no big eight-ounce fatty steaks.
"I cut off all the fat now, and remove the skin from chicken.
"Potatoes have to be baked or boiled with no butter or sauce and I'm allowed lots of fruit and salad.
"A good tip is to buy that very thinly sliced chicken, there's no fat in it and it's great chopped up with a green salad.
"I can have any fruit except mango, which my nutritionist explained was just too full of sugar.
"Muller Light yoghurts are great, low in fat and calorific content, so that satisfies my craving for a pudding.
"If I felt like snacking, Jackie suggested I put chopped carrot and cucumber in the fridge but I'm out of the habit of eating between meals.
"Restaurants aren't a problem. I tend to ask for melon then have fish or grilled chicken with veg or salad.
THE OTHER evening I was out for dinner and I saw profiteroles with white chocolate sauce on the menu - I had to stop looking.
"People used to say that when you lose weight your stomach shrank, and I never believed them. I thought it was nonsense.
"But it's true, I can eat a bit of sole or tuna with a dish of greens and be perfectly satisfied.
"If anyone had said to me four months ago that I'd say a thing like that I'd have laughed.
"To me now there's nothing better than a nice piece of salmon wrapped in foil with a slice of lemon, left to cook for 15 minutes in the oven.
"I'd never have eaten it before without sauce, or chips, but now I love it.
"OK, it's not thrilling but it's amazing how you start tasting food. Once it would be gone before I even realised it was there.
"The other Vanessa would wake up every day thinking: 'What can I eat?' Now the panic has gone, I realise I don't need to eat constantly to survive.
"I know that I won't fall apart, or be carted off in a straitjacket if I don't put a thing in my mouth between 1pm and 8pm. There's a big mental difference in my attitude to food now. The other evening I did pizzas for my daughter's evening meal; in the old days I'd have joined in and had one dripping with cheese and tomato. Instead I had sushi.
"I also cook a lot of soup, fresh vegetable with pulses or just old-fashioned chicken soup.
"There are temptations, of course. The other day I looked at an Opal Fruit and almost gave in - but my sister stopped me by making me look at all I've achieved. It really didn't seem worth it.
"But I think that if you exercise it's such an effort that when you've done it you don't actually want that bit of cake or that bar of chocolate. You actually feel less hungry, you've sweated and thrown yourself into so much physical exertion the hunger just disappears.
"I'm no saint when it comes to exercise, there are times when I'll say to Dennis: 'That's enough, I can't do any more.' He doesn't let me stop but moves me gently on to another exercise.
"During our first sessions he brought all this dance music, but I said: 'No, we'll play mine'. So I work out to Frank Sinatra and Nat King Cole!
"I look back now on the many times I've eaten a whole packet of biscuits and not even noticed it and I can't really imagine why I was doing it to myself.
"I've learned something that most women discovered years ago: to have respect for my body. You know, I used to be given body lotion, and I'd think: 'What on earth is that for?`' I'd put it in a cupboard and forget it.
"Now I realise that if you don't like your body you don't pamper it and cover it in lotion.
"You wash yourself and put on your clothes and avoid looking in the mirror. Now I'm more tender and affectionate towards myself.
AFTER six weeks of hard work, Michael and I went to a charity ball and people kept telling me how great I looked.
"He danced every dance with me and seemed more like himself. My self-esteem was getting better, I could feel my vitality returning. I felt sure that night we were turning a corner.
"When we got home I undressed in the bathroom, as I had done since he told me how much he hated my body, and I asked him: 'Is it working? Do you like me more?'
"He said: 'Stop taking the temperature'. The next day, only seven weeks into our trial he announced: '`The only way to deal with the barrier of intimacy is with me outside the home'. I got on my knees and I begged him to stay. 'Tell me what more I can do?' I asked.
But he left anyway, without a tear.
"I was back to square one emotionally. But I'd lost almost two stone."
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|Publication:||The Mirror (London, England)|
|Date:||Jan 18, 2000|
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