My friend Lauren had pointed me to this article about famed celebrity trainer Tracy Anderson, who is noted for Gwyneth Patrow’s slim physique. I’ve read many articles about her intense diet plan and exercise routine and generally disagree with her overall message. The article below is excellent though – a personal account from writer Rebecca Wilcox, who tried Tracy Anderson’s diet plan. Rebecca’s experience highlights the positives, but also the very negatives of the diet, as well as the dangers – not to mention how labor-intensive and time-consuming it is! Anything to be “teeny-tiny”, right?! Hopefully we’ll be able to open a few eyes!
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Gwyneth Paltrow calls personal trainer Tracy Anderson her ‘pint-sized miracle and the exercise genius of all time’. And who can blame her? After all, Tracy is responsible for giving the 38-year-old actress and mother of two the kind of bikini body an Amazonian tiger-wrestler would be jealous of. So when Gwyneth went on Oprah last year and revealed the painful lengths she goes to to maintain her Hollywood figure – with Tracy’s help – I wondered, could I do that? And I wasn’t alone. Tracy, a former dancer, and savvy Gwyneth are now business partners. Together they’ve produced four exercise DVDs – each of which has sold in excess of 20,000 copies in Britain alone – and a book, Tracy Anderson’s 30-Day Method. Released in December it is shifting around 1,000 units a week, a number no doubt boosted by Tracy’s A-list clients who include Madonna, Shakira, Penelope Cruz and Nicole Richie. According to Tracy all we have to do to get Gwyneth’s figure is exercise for two hours every day, six days a week for the rest of our lives. Oh, and eat only according to her strict diet plan. But who has the time and inclination to do that? Well, me. I work from home a lot, I have no children and only a small flat to look after. I also had a size-12 body that wasn’t getting any slimmer despite owning more than 100 exercise DVDs ranging from faddy to fantastic. I have done yoga, pilates, jogging, weightlifting, swimming, aerobics and dancing. I even had a personal trainer at one point and, before you ask, yes, I have also tried several diets, including a hideous, practically food-free 10-day detox after which I didn’t lose a single pound. Maybe my goal to get a celeb’s body is a little too ambitious. But my job involves me looking good on TV presenting on the BBC’s Watchdog programme, and I really wasn’t happy with my figure (something I have in common with most women, according to every survey published on the subject). So I bought into the Tracy Anderson Method, got hold of her DVDs and books, and ordered her latest boxed set, Metamorphosis: A Complete Body Transforming System, a 90-day programme you graduate to after completing the 30-Day Method, and which is available only from Tracy’s website. I have to say, Gwyneth made it look rather too easy. On the 30-Day Method you have to do to three hours of exercise a day, which decreases to one hour on the 90-day plan. It basically involves doing jazzy leaps, star jumps and aerobic moves in my living room. Tracy is totally against other forms of cardio, such as running, where you repeat your movements over and over. That, she says, will bulk muscles. Along with the aerobics you must do a series of 40 toning Pilates-style moves, which change every ten days. It is gruelling and also mind-numbingly boring. I find myself staring at pictures of Gwyneth in her bikini for ‘thinspiration’. Yet all this would have been bearable if it hadn’t been for the diet part of the regime. On the first week of the plan I’m only allowed to eat seven different foods, mostly blended. These include the dreaded Power Juice made from kale, spinach, beetroot and apple. It is so disgusting I drink it over the sink in case my body rejects it (which happened on several occasions). Then there is the Sweet Potato Corn Pudding (one cooked sweet potato, one raw corn on the cob – blended together till smooth); the carrot parsnip puree (carrots and parsnips – blended); the blueberry and apple sauce (blended until smooth); the gazpacho (also blended until smooth) and protein soup (surprisingly not blended). Tracy says eat when you feel like it but I try to divide the foods as equally as possible into breakfast, lunch and dinner. Apart from the protein soup, which is carrots, celery, broccoli and chicken breast cooked in low-sodium stock, I don’t actually chew anything for a whole week. This was excruciating. It took the best part of a day to make everything in preparation for the week and after all that I didn’t feel like I had any real food. I was starving. But then with the onset of week two the diet only got harder and had me yearning for the good old days of pureed spinach. Breakfast is two eggs (boiled or poached) or turkey bacon with a small amount of fruit. Lunch is a protein bar. Dinner is a small amount of protein and veg. For example, I could have half a chicken breast with a handful of spinach. I would go to bed so hungry that I could hardly sleep. I feel faint on several occasions and in the middle of Oxford Street everything starts to black out. Thankfully, week three goes back to the blended foods-only phase. Everything is grilled, steamed or poached. There seems to be a ban on starches in general. No bread, potatoes, pasta or rice. There are no fats, no dairy, no salt and no red meat. Having completed the 30-Day Method I am currently on the 90-day plan. The results? Well, I’m no Gwynnie but since January I have lost a stone in weight and dropped from dress size 12 to 10. I am happier with my body than I have been for a long time. Those are the positives. On the downside I feel woozy and find it difficult to concentrate. At first I had loads of energy but now I’m always tired and am told I’m horribly grouchy to boot.
My skin is terrible and my nails are flaking and weak. And – how can I put this – my system has become, shall we say, somewhat sluggish. Normally I’m as regular as clockwork. Not any more. I am encouraged to weigh myself daily and measure my results with the ‘Tracy tape measure’ every ten days. At first this made me feel quite uncomfortable but now I’m fanatical about my daily weigh-in and refuse to eat or drink anything until I know my weight first. Tracy makes no mention of the amount of calories or fat you are supposed to consume a day so I take my plan to Catherine Collins, principal dietician at St George’s Hospital, London, to get it analysed. The results are shocking. She told me I had existed on less than 700 calories a day for the past two months – no wonder I felt terrible. Catherine was extremely concerned. ‘I see patients suffering with anorexia nervosa and now I’m reading their diet in pamphlet form,’ she says. ‘It’s immunosuppressant due to its lack of calcium, iron, carbohydrates, proteins and salt. ‘If you followed the regimen you would risk developing hyponatremia (low sodium levels in the blood). The diet is also very low in iron, which could lead to anaemia and problems with balance, muscle strength and exhaustion. ‘The lack of absorbable calcium (less than 300mg – the body needs 800mg a day) means you risk earlyonset osteoporosis and osteopenia too – something that Gwyneth has been diagnosed with. What’s more, the protein levels are low – less than 1.7oz per day, which can be dangerous if prolonged. ‘Even the vitamins that are available cannot be absorbed since there is no fat present in the diet to act as an absorption vehicle, so they will just be excreted from the body.’ As part of the Metamorphosis plan you gain access to an internet chat room devoted to Tracy and her Method. It is filled with adoring fans sharing tips for weight loss and offering support. Many women on the Metamorphosis website are also concerned about the diet and opt to only follow the exercise element – something that Tracy opposes. ‘If you only follow the food plan partially or not at all I cannot promise results,’ she writes. I went on the forum to voice concerns about the wisdom of the diet and was told sternly to ‘trust in Tracy Anderson’ and ‘believe in The Method’. I noticed my comments were later removed.Dr Susan Jebb, head of Nutrition and Health Research at the Medical Research Council, was not surprised by my weight-loss results. ‘Of course you’re going to lose weight – you’re eating 700 calories a day,’ she says. ‘People who are not overweight shouldn’t go on these crash diets. They can be useful for patients who are very obese but not for someone like you.’ According to Dr Jebb, I should be consuming around 2,400 calories a day to maintain my weight when exercising as much as I am. She explains: ‘A deficit of just 1,000 calories a day means you will lose 2lb a week. On this diet you would have a deficit of 1,700 calories a day.’ Dr Jebb went on to explain that there are guidelines for such low-calorie diets which mean you should be monitored by a health practitioner to make sure your heart and other major organs don’t suffer any consequences. A sustained calorific intake at this level would mean a loss of nearly 4lb a week. And as Catherine Collins explains, it won’t be just fat that starts to disappear. If you exercise at the rate the plan demands and eat less than 2.1oz of protein a day your body will then cannibalise your organs – your kidneys, liver and heart – to get the protein it needs,’ she says. ‘This is why anorexia sufferers can die of heart attacks. The low level of carbohydrates (only 1.6oz on some days) is well below the 2.4oz that an average woman would need if she were exercising. ‘This could also lead to a breakdown of the muscles, a deterioration of motor skills and a diminished organ size. It’s the worst thing to do when you’re exercising.’ Jo Doust, professor of physiology at the University of Brighton, says there’s nothing new or magical about Tracy Anderson’s exercises. He says: ‘She claims you can re-engineer your muscular structure and defy your genetics through her programme, but you just can’t do that. ‘You can develop your muscles but you can’t defy your genetics. Her exercises aren’t special – you could get a similar plan from any trainer in any gym.’ When I started the Tracy Anderson Method I was a massive fan and I wanted to tell everyone that I had found the holy grail of dieting. But now I see how wrong I was. The exercises have worked for me so I’m going to keep going with them for as long as the novelty holds out but I have stopped the diet. For now I can only wonder at the stamina needed to get the body that Tracy’s method promises. Representatives of Tracy Anderson did not respond to requests for a statement about Rebecca’s experience.