Detoxed, refreshed and ready to go
MY stomach scared me the most. My weight has fluctuated for years, but the fat has generally been pretty evenly spread.
But this time, people could easily mistake me for being pregnant. Six months pregnant even.
It was time for a massive shift.
But then arrived that fear of failure. While I usually have little problem getting the weight off when I set my mind to it, I sometimes go in with a defeatist attitude because the fat inevitably returns.
My dad, my nanna and my mum all developed Type 2 diabetes. I know it's a real possibility if I don't turn things around. I need a reset button. For my mind and body.
Arrival - the detox begins
Win: Releasing my self-imposed guilt trip.
Fail: Doing a heavy workout the day before going to a health retreat.
Adrenaline is part and parcel of being a journalist. On my first day at Cabarita Ocean Health Retreat in stunning northern New South Wales, I learn too much adrenaline can be a bad thing.
When the body is in a heightened state of stress, when adrenaline is coursing through your body for too long, it will hold on to the fat. That's the simplistic version, anyway.
I reveal how lethargic I've been in recent months. The retreat's wellness expert tells me to release the guilt I feel, that people facing stressful situations for a long period need rest to recover and I should be listening to my body.
I know it sounds like a cop-out, since Body Mass Index calculations say I am obese, but I've always been the kind of person who cannot sit still and I actually love exercising. So it was nice to have an explanation for my recent lethargy other than laziness.
Personal trainer Daniel Nimmo confirms what I fear most. My waist has blown out to 92cm. That's 4cm beyond the maximum considered healthy.
Alcohol, chocolate, coffee, tea and smokes are considered contraband at Cabarita. Luckily I had only the first two bad habits to kick - others had much more trouble.
Kale and coconut cream soup for the first meal. Not something I would normally eat. The word detox popped up repeatedly, as did organic and whole foods. Most surprising was that all the meals, bar one grapefruit smoothie I couldn't finish, were amazing. I didn't even feel like I was eating only healthy dishes.
Day one - energised
Win: "Ep-zen salts" bath.
Fail: Allegedly snoring during meditation.
It is not easy wrapping one's head around the concept that walking with a heart rate under 122 beats a minute on an empty stomach in the morning will burn more fat than a hardcore workout.
Nor is the notion that six minutes of high-intensity exercise (albeit over half an hour with rests between) is enough each day for fitness and weight loss.
Daniel tells me it takes 45 seconds of repetitions to engage the muscle fibre that will change my physique but I have to keep going until I can no longer push - at least 60 seconds, but no longer than 90.
It was tough going by the time I got to the gym in the afternoon, though.
After we rose at 6am, manager Brook Ramage - known for his work at Camp Eden and Golden Door - served us a probiotic drink he had home-brewed.
Then we did tai chi before a 5km walk to the headland on Casuarina Beach - a prime whale-watching spot from June to November - and back.
After a quick dip in the ocean and with a towel still wrapped around my lower half, I arrived to three courses of breakfast - fruit, homemade muesli with sheep's milk yogurt and a poached egg with greens.
Yummo. But no rest for the wicked - next came stretch class. Amazing but ouch. Then boxing on the gorgeous grounds of the resort, followed by Pilates. A lazy 1000-plus calories burned before a wellness session and then lunch - I just have to get the red kidney bean hummus recipe that went with our vegies and wild rice.
After a PT session, the deep marble-set bath of my dreams was mine. I sank in until well beyond the point where my skin became prune-like.
I emerged a new person. Despite all the exercise we had crammed into nine hours, I was re-energised.
The chia pudding with coconut cream and cacao brightened my afternoon further before an 80-minute remedial massage that reset my body.
You know you've spent too much time at your desk when your therapist tells you your back resembles corrugated iron.
Meditation comes after dinner - a short session but a good reminder of how to centre one's self in any situation.
The idea of so many hours of exercise, or movement as they tend to call it here, is daunting.
But the body is an incredible thing - it seems to rejuvenate before you know it.
Day two - power
Win: Riding a bike for the first time in more than a decade.
Fail: Falling off my paddleboard within seconds of getting on.
Tai chi, 5km beach walk, stretch class, 14km beachside-path cycle, one hour of stand-up paddleboarding, pool laps, spa and ocean dip. I had no idea I could muster such energy, be so active and yet be so relaxed at the same time.
The only problem I have is sitting still. Once I do that, I remember how sore my muscles are as they stiffen up.
It could have been as long ago as 2002 since I last rode a real bike. It took some adjustment.
Similarly, I was the only one to take a tumble into 10cm of water when trying to gain balance on the paddleboard, but I managed to stay upright thereafter.
The sun has been out for most of the day and parts of my back resemble a lobster.
Heel and arch blisters are causing some pain but I am determined to push through it.
Day three - the good oil
Win: My flexibility is increasing.
Fail: Letting my blisters get the better of me.
So the fluidy bubbles on my feet have become devils in my shoes. Today I have been hobbling around - struggling through circuit class and PT. And my sports bra was digging into the sunburn. A right mess.
I have to admit, I lost some motivation today. The morning walk was less energetic but what has become my daily ocean swim was, as always, invigorating. I could really feel the difference in my flexibility during yoga and meditation. By late afternoon I had loads of energy but I felt like my body was failing me.
The food-as-medicine workshop was most interesting. I'd heard about this eat more good fats and eat full-fat products craze, but I had been dismissing it.
Chef Louise Miller says it's really all about whole foods, but whole foods need good fats for their goodness to be maximised. The good oil.
She says we should be using coconut oil, macadamia nut oil, ghee or organic butter for cooking, rather than olive oil, which is best in salads.
We should be "activating" grains, nuts and seeds with apple cider vinegar (or a little salt and water).
I'm sold on replacing bread with pumpkin loaf and making my own almond milk.
I actually already feel lighter and that my shape has changed - only three months pregnant now.
Despite my initial scepticism, art class was another great way to release the mind from its usual thoughts.
Day four - I see the light
Win: Pushing through the blisters.
Fail: Falling asleep during a spa treatment.
Today's half-hour sleep-in was just what I needed. It energised me to complete a 6km walk up steps in the national park to the Byron Bay lighthouse, despite my blisters.
Turquoise seas, rugged cliffs and pods of jumping dolphins - could the walk have been more worth it?
We return along another coastal boardwalk and finish with a swim - perfect.
The half-hour trip to Byron also came with a stop at the farmers' market, where people lined up for organic produce.
And it ended with a fun aqua-exercise session in the retreat's pool.
Then Mexican for lunch - healthy Mexican. Incredible.
Next, a body scrub and wrap using vanilla beans - invigorating and relaxing at the same time. The head massage and hot bath were to die for. I fell asleep during the wrap.
I also had a spot of food coaching from Jasmine Norton, ending up with a personalised plan.
For breakfast she suggested cooking mini frittatas, which could be frozen and later toasted at work after a gym session.
Apparently I should be able to kill my sweet cravings after meals by ensuring a good mix of all tastes - for example incorporating sweet flavours such as plums or berries.
Day five - somebody I used to know
Win: Choosing an acai smoothie over an ice-cream.
Fail: Never getting around to a hit of tennis
It's amazing what one can achieve when the end is in sight. Tai chi, walk, stretch, super circuit, dance class and yogalates.
"You need to do more dancing - you're really motivated by it," said trainer Andrea, who used to work at The Biggest Loser retreat.
As if that morning exercise list wasn't enough, I went for a 16km bike ride to Kingscliff with a new friend.
Today's achievement - walking into an ice-cream store in the real world and choosing an organic acai smoothie.
These guys at Cabarita don't believe in counting calories - rather in eating whole foods packed with nutrition.
While heart rate per minute is important, they also are more concerned about movement than calorie burning.
That said, I had my heart rate monitor on for most activities and found I was burning between 1000 and 2000 a day (1900 on the last day).
But it's not just about that - it's about the exercise increasing your resting metabolism so that you're burning calories while sitting.
I am finding it difficult to keep the carbs to vegies, though pumpkin bread is now a new staple, but the weight is slowly coming off. I am finally fitting back into my clothes and I'm feeling better about myself.
* Although this writer was a guest at Cabarita, she did invest time and money in extras such as the food coaching and personal training plan.
No water from 10 minutes before you eat until 10 minutes after. This enables the body to absorb nutrients and digest meals properly.
If you are stressing over something, try to redirect your mind. Start with four things you see - "I see a …". Then list four things you can hear - "I can hear …". Then describe four things you can feel.
Use meditation and breathing to step back from a problem you are facing, assess it from all angles and then respond.
Ankle strapping or a handful of Vaseline (not both) before a long walk or run will prevent the friction that causes blisters.
Try water with lemon or lime after meals to eliminate sweet cravings.
Use dulse flakes (seaweed) to steam fish and other meats for extra flavour instead of salt or other spices.