From flab to ab fab ... and back again

There's an old saying among personal trainer types that “nothing tastes as good as skinny feels”. Well, I reckon whoever made up that particular aphorism obviously hadn't tasted the 2008 Clonakilla Shiraz Viogner. Nor a really thin crust pizza bianca. Or a Pat and Sticks icecream sandwich.

As a matter of fact - if my seven-week experiment in trying to uncover my long-lost abs before my 50th birthday was any indication - maybe they hadn't tasted anything apart from the occasional steamed broccoli.

You might remember I had set myself just seven weeks in the lead-up to my 50th birthday to get a six-pack. Four trainers put their recommended programs forward and we left it up to you, the reader, to vote on which program I should follow. You chose a boxing-based regime headed up by Father Dave Smith, also known as 'the fighting father'.

Yeah, thanks for that.

When it came to diet, Father Dave's advice was pretty simple; eliminate all carbs completely: no bread, no rice, no pasta, no fruit, no grog, no lolly snakes, no red frogs, no birthday cake. In other words, no fun.

On top of that there was a training regime that involved interval running three evenings a week, followed by a boxing circuit (skipping, bag work and sit-ups) and then time spent in the actual ring.

The first week was pretty easy. In fact, I wondered why everybody just didn't do this to lose weight. I just ate meat. Lots of meat. So much meat that PETA set up a picket line outside my door. I had sausages for breakfast, sizzling beef for lunch, and lamb cutlets for dinner. I got to like the taste of meat so much that one morning I waited on the doorstep for the supermarket to open so I could rush in and buy a steak.

I also ate lots of eggs and cheese.

At the end of week one I'd gone from 84 to 82 kilos (I'm 180cm tall) and my jeans were fitting a lot better. I could actually feel my six-pack hiding just below a layer of fat.


My training was right on track, too. The years I'd spent as a runner meant I could outsprint just about everyone in Father Dave's boxing troupe. But I still wasn't ready to slip on the gloves.

By week three things started getting tougher. It wasn't that I was hungry. In fact, quite the opposite. Eat that amount of protein and you always feel full. And my weight was down to 80.9kg, meaning I could do up my suit pants for the first time in years. But I was really sick of eating animals, and the cheese was blocking me up, so I constantly felt irritated. I'd come home from work and yell at the children. If we'd had a dog I probably would have kicked it.

“For God's sake, get off this stupid bloody diet,” my wife pleaded.

But I persisted. For a bit of variety I went out and bought a big tub of pure protein powder. It set like cement in my belly and blocked me up even more. So you can imagine I was biblically wrathful when I stepped into the ring with Father Dave and started throwing punches.

Unfortunately I underestimated what a canny brawler the Minister is. There's a good reason why his mouthguard has the word 'pray' written on it.

Two minutes into the round he whacked me so hard with a jab, he knocked my headgear around. Then I lifted my guard a tad and he caught me with a sharp left hook to the body. I felt my rib crack. I tried to fight on, but felt like vomiting.

“Want to stop?” he asked.

“Yeah, I think that'd be a good idea, Dave,” I groaned.

It was. Much discomfort later, I took myself off to the casualty ward at the hospital.

The pain of a broken rib is not to be underestimated. There's no way of treating it (strapping the injury can result in pneumonia), so you just have to wait for it to heal, all the while feeling like a knife is being twisted into your side. Roll over in your sleep and it wakes you up. The discomfort combined with constipation, tiredness and that awful protein powder must have made me a nightmare to live with.

And that's how I broke. It started subtly at first. A glass of wine here, a slice of toast there. I'd make a thousand excuses, but I knew the truth; I just didn't have the willpower that I'd always prided myself on. I liked food too much.

Being on an all-protein diet only makes you realise the extent to which we are surrounded by cheap carbohydrates. Want to know why we have an obesity problem in this country? Just look around you.

It wasn't long before my weight started to creep back on and my burgeoning abs began to disappear again, like a turtle retreating to the safety of its shell. I felt ashamed looking in the mirror. I was embarrassed when people asked me how my “six-pack” was going. I hated failing.

In the final week of my challenge I even tried the drastic step of fasting. I lasted 16 hours before I became too light-headed and had to eat something. Then I just gave up.

So, no. I'm now 50 and I don't have a six-pack … not even close.

Thanks for asking.