Getting in shape in time for an event like a wedding or holiday sounds like a tough call, but imagine having to get lean and strong – not for your bikini or bridal gown, but because your livelihood and even your life depended on it. Pressure, right?
But that’s exactly the situation former stunt girl Annelie Whitfield found herself with every day of her working life, during her 8-year long career as stunt double for the cream of the Hollywood A-List.
As a tall, but petite, lifelong athlete Whitfield was in high demand, taking the falls for everyone from Cate Blanchett through to Cameron Diaz and Nicole Kidman. But even then, getting her abs out for high profile movie meant a gruelling two hours a day in the gym, eating cans of tuna and little else.
‘I had to be that lean,’ says Whitfield, looking relaxed today in a white cotton jumper, with her stylish elfin blonde crop. ‘But I was tired and couldn’t focus on set. I was lucky I didn’t fall off a building.’ It was only 15 years ago when she trained with a leading naturopath and personal trainer, that she discovered a totally new, more balanced way of eating.
‘He told me: ‘This is insane, you’re going to kill yourself.’ He cut my training right back to 25 minutes a day and told me to stop eating at 7pm. After everything I had been doing, I thought: ‘That will never work, it’s too easy. But I stuck with it and I immediately had this incredible mental clarity and I was soon in the best shape I’d ever been in.’
The experience proved a pivotal moment that was to take her on a new life path: training as a naturopath. Whitfield eventually set up a new business, Ancient + Brave, championing a new method of intermittent fasting.
Ancient + Brave takes the pain out of getting lean and helps her clients develop healthy bodies, by eating in the way our ancestors ate with intermittent periods of feast and famine. Intermittent fasting is a way of eating that simply means you stop eating for a short amount of time. Popular methods have included the 5:2 diet, where you reduce your calories intake, to 500 calories, two days a week, then eat normally for five days. Then there’s the 16/8 method when you fast for 16 hours a day and the eat-stop-eat method, where you fast for 24-hours twice a week, or alternate fasting when you fast every other day.
Intermittent fasting is popular with celebrities like Beyonce, Hugh Jackson and Liv Tyler and has become extremely trendy in recent years, with fans claiming benefits for weight-loss, fat burning and anti-ageing. So far, so good. The only problem is stopping eating can be tough – as you’ll know if you’ve tried it – which is why Whitfield has added a new twist, with her new ‘Brave Method’ to make fasting easier.
First is the Ancient + Brave cold-pressed organic coconut oil which is rich in medium chain fatty acids (more of which later). There are also the delicious Ancient + Brave coffee and cacao drinks which are blended with collagen; both of these stave off hunger pangs during the no-food fasting period, without interfering with the fasting process.
We’ve been lucky enough to grab her attention between clients to grill her on everything about getting lean and healthy fast – without diets or lengthy gym workouts. So, in a nutshell, this is exactly what you need to know about getting a lean body, by a former stunt woman.
1. Fasting for 16 hours will boost your metabolism – and burn body fat. The safest way to lose unwanted body fat and get lean is through intermittent fasting. You can do this by eating everything in an eight-hour window, 3-5 days a week. Short-term fasting can also increase metabolic rate by 3.6% to 14%, helping you burn even more calories even when you’re not in a fasting window. What’s more, studies show intermittent fasting can boost growth hormone by up to 300%, says Whitfield, which is exactly what you need for a leaner body; since studies show that low growth hormone is associated with high body fat and low muscle volume – another reason intermittent fasting is the ultimate fat-loss diet.
2. Eat everything in an eight-hour window. Aim to ‘fast’ for 16 hours, between the hours of 7pm and 11am between 3 and 7 days a week, or 8pm and 12pm, for those who finish work late. And the rest of the day you eat normally. Why 16 hours? Because it takes around six hours to clear your blood of all glucose after the last thing you ate and that’s when you switch to using fat – yes that’s your body fat – for fuel.
It’s better to start your fast window early in the evening. Why? First because you produce growth hormone at night and if you eat, or even snack late at night it will interfere with that process as insulin suppresses growth hormone. Growth hormone is important for cell repair muscle-building, and anti-ageing.
3. There’s an easy way to stop hunger pangs. Most of us find fasting – even for only 14 hours – difficult. As our blood sugar falls, our body and brain are crying out for food, leaving us feeling grumpy or ‘hangry’, as Whitfield calls it. Her secret weapon are MCTs or medium chain triglycerides, which you can find in coconut oil (they’re also found in palm oil, but for environmental reasons that’s best avoided), or butter. ‘MCTs can help you stay focused, think clearly and stave off hunger pangs without interfering with fasting benefits because they are rapidly absorbed and converted into ketone acids which can fuel your brain and body cells without spiking glucose or insulin,’ says Whitfield.
‘Organic MCT oil, is the perfect metabolic booster, because it contains two critical medium chain fats – C8 and C10 – which tip the body into fat burning mode.‘It intensifies the benefits of intermittent fasting,’ says Whitfield. Ancient + Brave uses organic, cold-pressed coconut oil in their MCT oil and add collagen (from grass-fed cows) to their coffee and cacao drinks. Simply add three or four teaspoons of Ancient + Brave MCT coconut oil to their blended coffee or cocoa drink. Or simply add coconut oil to your morning (milk-free) coffee.
What’s more studies have shown MCTs can boost memory and clear thinking. And if you’re one of those apple-shaped people, who stores fat around their waist, there’s an added bonus, in that studies show MCTs can help increase fat burning around the middle.
4. Don’t be scared of butter. ‘Don’t be scared of healthy saturated fats,’ says Whitfield. ‘Fat can help you feel full and stop cravings. It’s high carbohydrates diets with too much sugar and hydrogenated fats found in processed food that are linked to inflammation and high cholesterol.’ For extra useful fats whilst fasting, Whitfield suggests adding a teaspoon of butter or Ghee to your (black) morning coffee. She recommends ‘grass-fed’ as it is richer in hormone building fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, C, which you need for optimum metabolism.
5. Include protein at every meal. Protein boosts muscle tone and metabolism, which is why Whitfield laces her smoothies, and Ancient + Brave coffee and cacao blends with collagen, which is full of the amino acid protein building blocks needed to repair the skin, nourish the brain and build lean muscle tissue.
6. Eat carbs at night. Contrary to what we’re often told about steering clear of carbs in the evening, Whitfield says this is the best time to get your carb intake as they will help you sleep.‘You need glucose for serotonin and melatonin, the sleep hormones,’ says Whitfield. ‘When we starve ourselves of carbs, it’s not a good idea, especially for women, because it can slow the conversion of thyroid hormones which are responsible for good metabolism.’
Aim for a minimum of 50g carbohydrate a day (that’s three small potatoes or three slices of wholemeal bread), which should be eaten in the evening if you’re focused on getting super lean. Though you can have them at lunch too if that’s not a priority.
7. There’s no harm in the odd cup of coffee – or hot chocolate. You might think cacao and coffee were bad for you, but not at all. ‘These two foods are some of the most antioxidant rich on the planet,’ says Whitfield. The organic raw cacao powder and organic coffee Whitfield uses in her Ancient + Brave drinks, contain super-powered antioxidants which are known to fight inflammation, cancer and other diseases.
‘Caffeine found in coffee or the much milder stimulant theobromine found in good quality cacao work as brilliant envoys. They can carry the other ingredients found in our blends into the body,’ says Whitfield, who learnt how to use these ingredients medicinally in Costa Rica. ‘You could call it a nutritional love story.’
8. You can live without breakfast. If you’re going out for dinner and don’t finish eating until 9pm or 10pm, you can push your fasting window forward and eat between 11am and 1pm and still get your 14-16 hour fasting window – and see the weight loss benefits. Contrary to what we’re often led to believe, nothing bad will happen if you don’t eat breakfast, says Whitfield. You don’t need to take in energy to ‘set you up for the day’, once your body knows it’s not going to be fed immediately it learns to become more effective at burning through your own fat stores for fuel.
9. It will boost brain power and mood. Intermittent fasting boosts your mood and memory, according to studies. This is thanks to a special brain protein, brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which stimulates new neurons and helps protect us from brain diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, notes Whitfield. What’s more you’ll see an extra lift in this mood-boosting protein when you exercise on an empty stomach, says Whitfield. ‘That’s why I train fasted even when I’m starving because I know I’ll be in a brilliant mood for the rest of the day.’
10. Train first thing on an empty stomach – you’ll burn more body fat. You might think you need breakfast to fuel a morning workout, but if you train fasted you’ll burn more fat, says Whitfield. The easiest way to do this is to train first thing in the morning, without eating breakfast. Though you can still reap the benefits of fasted training by training six hours after your last meal – the time it takes for the insulin to lower your blood sugar, when the body switches to burning body fat as energy. As soon as you eat the body will switch to using the sugars you’ve just eaten and fat burning stops.
The best exercise is high intensity, like squats and squat jumps done fast. ‘I do squats in my kitchen,’ says Whitfield, who uses her heavy Le Creuset pans as weights. ‘I prefer to work out after I have had a supercharged coffee + Collagen with MCTs and butter, as the caffeine helps to increase your fat burning and the extra fat stop me feeling hungry, while the small amount of collagen found in the coffee blend helps with recovery after the workout. ‘Also using MCT’s whilst exercising improves endurance,’ notes Whitfield.
While we’re on the topic, Tiff Hall explains how she prevents post-workout muscle soreness, and wrap vs. bread: which one’s healthier?
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