From a size 16 to 12 and down 10% body fat: how I lost weight

how I lost weight

I still can’t really believe I’m writing this – just over four months ago, I started what was meant to be a six-week challenge with Niamh at Lift Training Studios. (You can read all about week one here.) Since then, I’ve lost weight – more than two stone, in fact – gone down two (and, if I’m honest, a bit) dress sizes and changed my lifestyle and my diet dramatically. Want to know how? Keep reading…

body transformation before after

To be honest, this was not my first time at the rodeo. I’d started different programmes with different trainers before, and so I thought that this six-week programme would be a lot like the others. I’d get stronger – during a previous challenge I’d got a PB deadlift of 130kg, so I knew I was capable – for sure. I might lose a little weight. But I’d still indulge in my twice-weekly (at a minimum) takeaway habit; I’d miss a couple of sessions here or there; I’d lie to Niamh about my late-night chocolate habit and I’d never make it through a cinema visit without a packet of Cadbury’s Caramel Nibbles (the big packet).

For some context: I was not one of these healthy people who wants a challenge. When I started at Lift, I was eating three or four takeaways a week (my meal of choice was chicken tikka masala with pilau rice, a peshwari naan, Diet Coke and an onion bhaji to start); I also ate breakfast at my desk almost every day (two croissants, with a low fat latte – ha! low fat!); lunch was a burger and chips at Jo Burger, or a crispy chicken wrap with skinny fries; I never, ever resisted the snack run; I ate about four brownies per week (our office was right next to a deli that sold the best brownies ever); and, if you didn’t count the 10-minute cycle to work (which I did about once a week), I didn’t exercise.

how I lost weight

And this wasn’t a lull, either – I’d pretty much always been like that. Sure, I’d have bursts where I went to the gym for two months at a time and lost weight (a few pounds), but I’d never managed to get both diet and exercise under control at the same time and, even when I did lose weight, I piled it on again pretty quickly. And even though I hated being overweight, I’d kind of try to talk myself around. There are more important things in life than weight; life’s too short not to enjoy yourself; you suffer from depression, don’t beat yourself up about your body, too… The list was endless.

So, like I said, when I started at Lift, I didn’t have high hopes. I was tentatively committed; sure, I’d give it a go. You know yourself. And honestly? I don’t know what clicked, or why it worked this time. But something did, and I found the motivation and willpower to make serious changes. (Check out my blog post on how I stay motivated.)

how I lost weight

The bad news? Those changes were pretty simple, and we all know how to do them.

I changed every single thing I ate

Pretty much the only thing that today’s diet has in common with my pre-Lift diet is coffee (except now it’s either bulletproof, blended with coconut oil, or black). My food plan varies depending on whether I’m working out or not, but the bones of it are: I eat real food. Niamh loves to harp on about real food, but that’s what I do – every meal contains meat and vegetables (organic, where possible), and I never eat takeout.

An average day looks a little like this:

Breakfast: Minced beef, fried (dry – the beef is fatty enough) with cumin and chilli; kale, sautéed with garlic and butter; half an avocado; coffee.

Lunch: Some form of meat and salad – this might be grilled chicken, a roast duck breast or a steak (I know, dead fancy!), with spinach leaves, cucumber, spring onion, diced peppers, red onion and balsamic vinegar. More coffee.

Dinner: I eat dinner with my boyfriend, so I can’t quite go down the minced beef route (he’s not on board with that at all), so it’s usually pretty simple: again, meat and veggies! One day last week I made lamb meatballs (lamb, cumin, mixed herbs and paprika, rolled into balls) and cooked them in a tin of tomatoes with onions, garlic and a bit of balsamic. They were amazing. He eats his with sweet potato, whereas I’ll usually have loads of green veggies like broccoli, asparagus and spinach. Then I’ll have some more coffee. Because why not.

On the days I work out, I’m allowed to be sliiiiiightly more lenient with carbs, so I might have some protein pancakes with bacon and nut butter; or some roasted sweet potato (less than the size of my palm) with dinner. And sometimes, pre-workout, I’ll blend a Nespresso coffee with a tablespoon of coconut oil in the Nutribullet for some pre-workout energy (morning workouts are always done before eating, otherwise vom).

I rarely eat out – and when I do…

Like I said, I used to eat out all the time – from takeouts to breakfast and lunch. Not only is it clear to me now why I was fat; I’m shocked I had any money! (Although now I spend every last cent on meat, so there is that…)

Now, I eat out very occasionally – and, except for when I’m having my cheat meal or refeed (more on which in a moment), I’m really careful about what I choose. Yep, I’m a picky eater now, and I’m not even ashamed!

I’ll often ask for salad without dressing (or croutons, or seeds, or nuts…) and go for the main meat option without gravy or sauce. Meat is delicious – if it’s good meat, you don’t even need anything with it! I’m also the first one to suggest where we go to eat: some of my faves include Counter Culture in the Powerscourt Centre, Jo Burger (yes, still – the beetroot salad is amazing), Asador in Ballsbridge, and I’ll occasionally get a stir-fry in Kanoodle, with steamed broccoli instead of rice.

I have a weekly cheat meal

Every Saturday, myself and my boyfriend go out for dinner for my weekly refeed, or cheat meal. Paulie’s Pizza has become a firm favourite – the pizza is incredible, and the bruschetta starter comes with balsamic vinegar that you could, genuinely, drink.

I’ve also had my cheat in Eddie Rocket’s (I still love Eddie’s, but when you are allowed to have one indulgence a week, you kind of want more than a pre-cinema diner dinner…); 147 Deli (that meatball sub is to die for); Milano (dough balls, yum); and, on the weekend I turned 31, I had a two-day cheat meal bender and treated myself to an Aungier Danger doughnut, with dinner in Taste at Rustic on the Sunday night. Honestly? The doughnut wasn’t as good as I’d imagined.

I work out 4-8 times a week

This came after the food because, honestly? The food has been the biggest change for me. I never thought I’d be able to change my diet this drastically, and stick to it, and even on weeks when I haven’t worked out as much, I’ve seen changes in my body from sticking to my food plan. (Sigh! If only we could just exercise and still eat doughnuts.)

Anyway: exercise. I’m planning a vlog, that I’ll be filming next week, detailing all of the different things I do in each session, but it’s a combination of classes at Lift and personal training sessions with Niamh. Occasionally, we’ll even just go to the gym together and work out, like gym buddies. I’m a serious gym head now, you see. I have a gym buddy. (Kind of.)

Monday: I usually go to 6.30am class, and fit in a PT session.

Tuesday: Now that I’m freelance, it’s 10am class.

Wednesday: PT session and lunchtime Pilates. (Occasionally, I won’t manage to fit my PT in on Wednesday, so I’ll go to 6.15pm lifting class instead.)

Thursday: Sometimes I rest; other times I go to the gym and lift with Niamh.

Friday: 6.30am class. Once, I did 6.30am and 12.30pm classes, but that was a moment of madness.

Saturday: 10am class – and cheat meal time!

walking outdoors transformation

I walk everywhere

I live just off the top of O’Connell St in Dublin, but pre-Lift I used to get the bus into the city centre. It was a combination of a few things: I was unfit, I was lazy and I also hated sweating. It’s fair to say that I used to wear fancy clothes a lot more frequently; it helps that, nowadays, I’m nearly always in my runners.

I love walking now – before, I only ever did it out of necessity. (I still hate walking the dog; she weaves left to right and always poos in front of taxi drivers!)

Yep, I take supplements

But not as many as you’d think. When I started lifting, I always assumed that – once you got really into it – you’d end up with cupboards and cupboards full of pre-workout, post-workout, during-workout crap. But Niamh is firmly in the “real food” camp, and powdered protein, well, doesn’t quite cut it.

So, while I take a protein shake after each class or PT session at Lift, that’s it for extra, powdered protein (except on the days I make protein pancakes, in which case I skip the shake). It’s Niamh’s way of making sure clients get that muscle-repairing protein in, on the off-chance they won’t be immediately running home to grill chicken breasts.

Otherwise, I take these BCAAs on the mornings I do super-early workouts; I take one scoop of these powdered greens daily, “to aid with detoxification,” says Niamh (I like them cos it means I get a pint of water in super early, and drinking enough water is one of my downfalls); when I make protein pancakes with protein powder (2 eggs + 1 scoop – into the pan with some coconut oil), I use this vegan one, in rich chocolate flavour, because it makes the pancakes fluffy and delicious. I buy all of my supplements – and the occasional naughty Fulfil bar – at Fitness Ireland, because it’s next to Lift and the guys are lovely, plus they blend their own peanut butter. (I pay full price; I don’t endorse them because they’ve asked me to, I endorse them because I shop there and really like them.)

Okay, so maybe it is as many supplements as you’d think. Oops!

I do everything I’m told

This is, essentially, the crux of the matter – and the #1 reason why I’ve achieved what I have so far (I’m not quite done yet). I don’t know why, but I feel like when I started at Lift, I really trusted Niamh and I believed what she was telling me. It helped that she explained every single thing we were doing, and why (in the past, I’ve had other trainers who had the, “just believe what I’m telling you” attitude, which I wasn’t down with, being incredibly nosy and analytical) – I never found myself questioning what she was telling me.

When Niamh told me to cut out nut butters (something to do with digestion, couldn’t hear over my sobs), I did. When she suggested I change my nutrition slightly to eat more fats and less protein, I did (gladly – yay bacon!). When she asked me if I’d try early-morning fasted cardio (three times a week, at 4.45am), I did (I lasted two weeks before I realised the super-long days were making me way too hungry!). When she told me I shouldn’t be afraid of being hungry, I moaned and groaned, but it did help get past those hunger pangs.

I never had a specific goal – until now

Because I started out being super sceptical as to whether or not this little experiment of ours would work, I got away without having a specific goal in mind. Sure, I wanted to lose a bit of weight; I wouldn’t have minded getting a bit stronger; maybe I’d get a bit fitter… So when the weight started to come off and I started to get way stronger, it all came as a pretty deadly bonus.

Now? I started out at 31.47% body fat. Now I’m at 20-odd – and the aim is to get down to 14% by the end of the year. Personally, I just want to be totally ripped, so I can start wrecking my friends’ and family’s heads with non-stop ab selfies on Instagram… Dream big, kids, dream big.

If you’ve got this far, I applaud you (and thanks)! But seriously: do you have any questions? Please feel free to ask away in the comments – or tweet me @rosemarymaccabe. Always glad to give more details about my life post-Lift!




38 Replies to “From a size 16 to 12 and down 10% body fat: how I lost weight”

  1. Rosemary, you are such a beautiful person, before and after losing weight, but the weight loss really suits you (as does the hair).

    I lost a lot of weight eating and training pretty much how you have been. I eventually went on to study fitness and nutrition and I proudly call myself a qualified PT and nutritionist. That being said, last year I fell down a complete spiral after leaving Dublin and never quite got hold of myself properly. I’m taking it really easy on myself this month, even though I know that I will be happier when my arms go back to being jiggle-less, and even though I know how to get back to the (if I say so myself) amazing body I once had. You’ve just given me a kick up the arse. After my holiday next week I am going back to ‘normal’ with my food and training so I feel like I have a right to motivate people again 🙂 Thanks for writing this.

  2. Jennifer Tynan says:

    I’ve really enjoyed this article……It’s given me a little motivation to just get up and do something. I’m a mum of 2 school going boys, and I work 8am-6pm days, Mon-Fri so time is not always my friend especially now that the boys have their own sporting activities in the evenings, as does my husband.

    I’ve 2 evenings a week where I go do a 60 min HIIT class but that’s about the extent of my exercise (unless Saturday morning housework counts?!?)

    I’m trying to curb the sugar I’m eating as carbs is not really my issue, it’s all down to sugar!

    I know I just need to pull the finger out and try and squeeze more activity in

  3. Hi Rosemary…I’ve been following you for a while so have seen the progress from the very beginning. Look amazing, well done. I know you suffer IBS and just wondering have you seen any changes in this? If I go heavy on fibre I suffer a lot…I can eat lots of mean…but not so much veg.

  4. Love the blog. Any tips Rosemary for curbing sugar cravings? Aside from don’t eat it, my will power lately has been non existent and I was doing so well. Well done you on your fantastic transformation. Your snaps are so good, the honesty I love it, very refreshing.

  5. Marie Claire Digby says:

    No questions… All just makes a lot of sense. Really, really well done Rosemary. Brilliant results but super dedication too.

  6. Hi Rosemary, I think you are a real inspiration to real women out there. I am similar in age to you and like you have tried a lot of different gyms over the years. I follow you and a lot of the other Irish bloggers on snapchat and on their blogs and you are by far the most relatable. Keep up the good work, you look fantastic!!

  7. Such a great article, i love reading your stories and have been following your fitness journey…i have one question…do you just eat the three meals…or do you have 2 snacks in between?

    Thanks, Emma!

  8. Thanks Emma! Tbh I don’t really snack; I don’t even have fruit, because from the very beginning, Niamh was fairly insistent on going down the no-sugar route, so that’s no fruit at all. The odd time I’ve been really hungry and I’d have two corn cakes with cashew or almond butter, but mostly I try to just stick to three meals a day and when I’m hungry I might have an extra greens supplement or just some more water!

  9. @Len49, in terms of IBS, I’ve found a massive difference – I probably should have mentioned that but I am planning on doing a vlog on diet as well, and there’s just so much to cover in each aspect! I used to get a LOT of bloating and diarrhoea, and since I started eating clean I think that’s happened twice – and both times right after my cheat meal! Once I went 100% clean (except my cheat), my symptoms pretty much disappeared. It’s been incredible.

    @Teresa, for me I think the biggest thing was cutting out sugar completely from the get-go. So that’s no fruit, no processed foods, no honey, no syrups… It was definitely tough for the first fortnight, but then it kind of became habit. Now I’d be much more likely to crave something like pasta or chips (and usually only when I see pics of them!). I’m not sure if that’s all that helpful, but that’s what I did… on the nights after dinner when I’d be dying for something sweet in the first few weeks, I’d have one square of 70% cocoa chocolate, or some celery dipped in almond butter (nicer than it sounds!).

  10. @Jennifer, my sister and I talk about this a lot – she has a full-time job with a lot of hours and three kids, and she just couldn’t do it the way I’m doing it because of that. I know that I’m incredibly lucky that, right now, I have no other time constraints or responsibilities, which makes things a hell of a lot simpler!

  11. Thanks for the feedback rosemary!!always good to hear about the nutrition side of it all..emma.

  12. Well done! I’d say the mental challenge was almost bigger than the physical challenge! There’s no way I’d be able to do what you did in terms of diet (no carbs and no sugar) – respect. But recently I gave up wheat and have found that I don’t bloat – life is better. With exercise I find it easiest if I build it into my routine and give myself a public goal, like telling friends I’m training for a half marathon and signing up. Good woman, keep it up

  13. This was a great piece and really motivating!
    I wonder , do you eat eggs? If not is there a reason behind it?

  14. very enjoyable read and well done you look so healthy 🙂
    I too took a new lifestyle path this year and have my first night out this Saturday !! jesus 🙂 But i feel great and thats what matters 🙂

    Sinead

    Flea Syle / Cotton Face

  15. I saw you at my friend’s event ‘Fearless Ambition’ and it’s safe to say that you were looking fantastic! I stick to a strict healthy diet myself but have just incorporated an even stricter few days of the week (today is one of those days) and this is exactly what I needed to get me through the week! I’m so interested in your workout routine so I’m definitly going to be looking into that! Keep up the great work ❤️

  16. Hi Rosemary,

    That is some story I love it 🙂 clearly you have worked really hard. quick question for you as we are similar in size so I’m just wondering about your macros settings, do you use this at all? I am trying to fins a happy medium for mine and do you have a scale to monitor the body fat or recommend one I feel like I get slightly obsessed with scales 😛
    Thanks 🙂

  17. Hi Rosemary , wonderful article and so well written! I have taken a similar journey and at 58 yrs I am amazed at the change it has made to my life! Any questions I would have asked have already been answered above so no need to ask any. As a new follower I thoroughly enjoy all you share…. Your honesty and openness is refreshing! Keep up the good work! You look amazing Thank you,regards , Claire

  18. Wow! You have done so well – It seems like something just clicked in your head and you became determined to do this. I clicked on link above for how you stay so motivated but can’t access it – would love to know how you do stay so motivated – Follow you on snapchat and I do be in awe at how you get yourself out of bed so early in the morning to go training :O
    #Inspiration

  19. It’s awesome what you’ve achieved. Can you share what your trainer said about nut butters?
    *slightly addicted to the meridian crunchy peanut butter*

  20. Hi Rosemary
    I’ve heard you talking about your new keto diet. How are u finding it? Any concerns? And how do you know you’re in ketosis?

    Keep up the good work!!
    Julie

  21. […] there was my weight loss. As I slowly stopped hating my body, for the first time in my life, I started to think about how […]

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  24. […] hi @rosemarymaccabe and get ready for a lot of dog videos) – for advice on eating out in Dublin. Since I lost weight, I’ve been pretty vocal about my 90% clean diet, so it makes sense that I’d be a good […]

  25. Ciara McCarthy says:

    Hi Rosemary,

    I found this article really really interesting and very informative.. I have starting exercising and was wondering about protein supplements as you said I don’t have the time after exercising to run off and cook chicken etc.. Do you know of any protein powders that are good as there are so many and I don’t know which one to choose from.

    Thanks Ciara

  26. Hi Ciara! That’s actually a really common question – and I’m not an expert, but I take one scoop of a whey protein shake after workouts. I like Kinetica, because it’s an Irish brand, and their mint chocolate flavour tastes like Mint Aero! I buy mine in Fitness Ireland, you can shop online at fitnessireland.ie 😀

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  29. Really enjoyed this post and related to a lot of it. I’m currently struggling with my diet at the moment. Would love to hear more about how you dealt with your emotional eating in a future post x

  30. […] spent six months there eating incredibly well, demonstrating willpower I never knew existed, and generally kicking ass when it came to my […]

  31. Hi rosemary,

    Congrats on ur achievement! I’m exactly in the same boat! I’m coming up to my 3 month mark. Like you, something this time just clicked. I train 4-5 times per week. Strength has drastically increased. Food is on point which is the main thing. You can’t out train a bad diet. Let’s keep this goin! My goal is my 30th in November.

    Keep up the hard work!

  32. […] In my teenage years, we’d go to the Eddie Rocket’s in the Square about twice a year – which, back then, was a regular fast food habit. Seriously; don’t you remember when your parents would take you for dinner, as a treat, and it would be the first time you’d seen the inside of a restaurant in months? Now, I feel like I go to restaurants at least twice a week, which may explain, er, the necessity for my recent weight loss… […]

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