I've become the kind of person I used to hate. Fussy, impractical and downright boring. As my quest for health, fitness and a six-pack continues, my social life has taken a dive. How has this happened?
It's week three of Bikini Fit, and I have started to combine the brutal, hard work of the sessions with a new low-carb diet in an attempt to stop sabotaging myself by following intense workouts with (admittedly glorious) sessions of binging on chocolate.
Straight away, my energy levels plummet. I barely make it through Monday's session, and am silently in complete agreement with one of the girls when she loses it at a trainer encouraging us to “keep bouncing” during a painful round of squat hops, and screams at her: “I'D LIKE TO SEE YOU BOUNCE!” I feel completely drained at the end of the day and have to put myself to bed at 7pm like a small child.
Watch: Sofia's week 3 Bikini Fit testimony
Luckily the Bikini Fit coaches have prepared us for this, warning of the body's withdrawal-type symptoms as it gets used to a life without evil, delicious sugar. As I stubbornly press ahead with frequent meals of eggs, leafy green vegetables and protein-rich quinoa, my tiredness lifts, I start to feel more hopeful that this new healthy lifestyle could be a sustainable one, and am even able to tear my greedy eyes away from colleagues temptingly passing around chocolate and biscuits in the office. I turn down friends' invites to xiao long bao lunches and beer festivals, and my husband is genuinely torn between worrying that I am being too puritanical and delight that he is finally able to have all of his takeaway fries to himself.
But it's a lonely road. “I don't like you on this diet,” says my friend and noted South China Morning Post bon viveur Charley as I decline his kind offer of a Malay curry lunch. My friends soon start to regret politely asking me about my training, suddenly realising they have to be somewhere else after I eagerly launch into an explanation. Future dinner invites take on a military-style level of strategic planning of what I can and can't eat, and when I repeat the anecdote that one Bikini Fit girl has been known to sneak a can of tuna into a vegetarian restaurant to make sure she gets enough protein with her meal, my husband's look of horror tells me it's not as socially acceptable an idea as I thought.
I remember rolling my eyes in the past about dining with people with special dietary needs (sorry, vegetarian friends). And now I'm one of them. When I go into supermarkets, all I can see is: “That's wheat: no. That's gluten: no. That's sugar: no.” And when I tell my friends of some of the foods not compatible with my new diet, I get a lot of flak, with many bluntly telling me I'm wrong, and others saying that even if I was right, why would I, a fairly petite person, need to follow such a plan?
I'm taken aback at how following a healthy programme advocated by trained nutritionists and trainers seems to be so completely outside the mainstream. I tell my husband that I feel that if health and fitness was a religion, I could finally understand what it feels like to have faith, and he (too quickly) responds that it does indeed feel like I've joined “a fruity little cult”. And look at the words used to describe people who get serious with their training and diet: health “nuts,” or “freaks,” or “fanatics”. Are we the outsiders?
Bikini Fit founder Alex de Fina says coming round to this way of thinking feels like “being unplugged from the Matrix”. He says he hears a lot of girls being envious of the slender Chinese women in Hong Kong seen going into McDonald's every day, and that he feels they are missing the point of such habits depriving their bodies of the correct nutrients and damaging their health in the long-term. In a culture where women are pressured to look a certain way, it's strange that we praise women for being slim, but don't focus on how they get there, on the sheer hard work of the physical training and diet.
I haven't even told my parents, safely back in the UK and largely unfamiliar with the internet, of the “experiment”. In my Indian family, food is a huge deal and perhaps one of the most important ways my parents can express their love. My mother starts panicking if I stop eating cake, fearing it's the end of days, so I worry that informing her of this routine could lead to a breakdown.
But this is the same family that has issues of high blood cholesterol, diabetes, heart disease, and obesity, all of which I'm disposed to and obviously terrified of getting. Considering my South Asian heritage, which gives me a tendency to put on weight around my stomach, further adding to my risk of diabetes and cardiovascular disease, I clearly haven't won the genetic lottery.
So I'm going to plough on. Who needs friends anyway?