When Big Brother celebrity Jade Goody emerged from a two-week SAS weight-loss boot camp in Wales two stone lighter and with a flat stomach and honed limbs, ITV’s This Morning TV expert Sharon Marshall, 36, was keen to sign up.
Here is her incredible diary of how she survived one week of hardship at the New You Boot Camp and proved that by putting in the effort you, too, can ditch the pounds…
I am in a rut. I weigh 12st 7lb. I’m a 5ft8in, size 14 with highly unimpressive statistics of 37-34-43.
An hourglass whose sand has run to her bottom. If I’m not careful I’ll head back to the size 16 proportions that first earned me a place on Celebrity Fit Club in 2006.
I’ve been a size 12 ever since I left, running the 2007 London Marathon, taking three dance classes a week, and Pilates. Then I let it slip.
Pilates was swapped for plates in restaurants with my girlfriends. I stopped running because it was cold outside. Wine consumption has grown to a bottle a day. I’ve seen my gym instructor once this year. For coffee. I spend most of my day lying on the sofa watching TV for work or typing.
In just three months I have gained a stone and a dress size. Then the call comes asking if I’d like to join the New You Boot Camp, the army-style fitness regime that claims to make any woman drop a dress size in a week for £1,225 upwards.
I say I’d like to be a size 12 again and say yes.
The first of these boot camp was held in 2007 with the aim of giving a quick kick-start to healthy living.
Now more than 40 are run throughout the year across the UK, from the Welsh hills to Devon beaches.
Dinner: Grilled salmon,five sticks of asparagus (plus one pre-Boot Camp bacon sandwich at rail station).
Workout: Four hours.
It’s early afternoon and pouring down as I arrive at the hostel, in the shadow of the Brecon Beacons in South Wales. Once inside, I’m ushered to a bunk bed in the dorm I’m sharing with 17 other overweight women.
Nobody speaks. A scary-looking female member of staff in green camouflage gear points at a plastic container on the floor. That’s my wardrobe.
The rolling Welsh valleys are beautiful and bleak – this is where the real SAS carry out survival training.
Looking down at my new waterproof coat and shiny walking boots from Millets, I feel like a total amateur.
The long kit-list includes ten pairs of gym socks, ten pairs of hiking socks, walking trousers, multiple gym kits, boots, three pairs of trainers, sleeping bag, thermals, gloves, hats.
It’s a list that screams: “You will be exercising a lot in the cold.” I had snuck in Kendal Mint Cake but it was spotted in my kit and was confiscated. Damn.
Let’s Get Physical: The women are put through military training
An hour later two chaps with shaved heads arrive. Military fitness instructors Staff Reitze and Staff Smith are going to be training us, military-style.
We’ve got six minutes to get our gear on and get outside. We don’t quite make it in time so have to do 20 press-ups as punishment, then run round a track five times.
I have a huge hangover due to a “You’re joining the Army” celebration the night before.
I make it round in just over seven minutes but can’t breathe. The wheezing is ignored as they make us do an abs workout of about 100 stomach exercises.
By 7pm it’s dark, but for the next hour we march uphill with torches strapped to our heads. Then, sitting in the howling wind at the top, we’re left to chat.
There are women here from 19 to 53 years old. One is recovering from cancer, others from bad relationships or bereavements; some say they want to give themselves a kick-start in life; one woman’s boyfriend has just told her he doesn’t want to propose; another has put on weight after cancer treatment.
I keep a guilty silence. It seems a bit shallow to admit I’m a spoilt telly type who’s here because her knickers are a bit tight. We go back down the hill and do a half-hour stretch class.
Breakfast: Porridge made with water.
Snack: Boiled egg, handful of seeds.
Lunch: Small sweet potato with tuna and sweetcorn.
Dinner: Vegetable soup, chicken with lemon juice, green beans.
Drinks: Water or herbal tea.
The staff blokes set off a fire alarm at 5am and bark at us to start power walking up a hill. It’s still dark. It’s only five hours since I went to bed.
Next it’s an hour’s boxing class, and a circuit class which involves staff screaming at you while you hit punchbags, do press-ups, push-ups, squats and lunges for an hour.
There are relay races, abs, legs and thighs classes involving endless squats, lunges and situps, and a lengthy hike over the Beacons fuelled only by a pack of bird seed.
In the afternoon we spend an hour pushing a heavy barrel up a hill and doing push-ups in the mud; do arm exercises on a wooden bench until I start screaming with pain; play a rugby match and then netball.
The nutritionist from ITV’s Celebrity Fit Club, Marissa Peer, has devised our diet and the meals come to 1,500 calories a day.
Bread, she says, is “glue,” milk is full of “pus and mucous,” Diet Coke is “osteoporosis in a glass.” I bet she’s a bloody riot at dinner parties.
I’m shattered. It’s the first time I’ve sat down all day. And I would nod off were it not for the throbbing pain in the back of my arms.
That, apparently is one of my tricep muscles. Other biological discoveries include my quad muscles which are the things aching in my legs.
Breakfast: Porridge, three blueberries, two raspberries. Lunch: Handful of chicken pieces, chopped tomato and cucumber.
Dinner: Mincemeat, boiled courgettes. Snacks: Pack of seed, two small squares of dark chocolate.
Trying to fasten my sports bra, I have to ask for help. I ache all over. My stomach is so sore from sit-ups it hurts to cough or laugh. Luckily, there’s not much to laugh about.
Last night I dreamed of croissants. They didn’t taste of glue. But there are no croissants for breakfast.
The staff are back at 5.20am with their charming fire-alarm routine. Yesterday has taken its toll: two girls emerge hobbling on sticks and one nursing a sprained shoulder.
Rain – there’s lots of it – does not stop play. We lug a kayak around an assault course pretending it is an injured soldier, and crawl through netting, over fences, and sprint round fields.
I do well so they make me do it again to demonstrate.
Next is a body workout with logs and learning how to crawl like a soldier through the mud. Blindfolded, so that we get used to taking instructions.
There have been a few tears from girls who have done little or no exercise before. And there is a mutiny at lunch when minuscule rations are handed out.
One girl on a weight-loss mission bravely speaks for all of us and says there’s no way this is 1,500 calories and asks for more. It is given.
There have been good bits. Climbing, Mission Impossible-style, through an assault course of ropes was fun.
So was running round a field, pretending to shoot the Green People. Apparently, we were supposed to shout “Bang, bang,” not jump on top of them and start hitting them shouting “Die!”
The exercise drills, based around real Army-training processes are not easy, and two girls drop out each week. One girl has gone home with exhaustion, a woman in her 50s, who usually serves tea in her cafe, has ripped the muscles in her leg trying to keep up.
There is a nightly catch-up where any injuries or weaknesses are evaluated by staff.
Breakfast: One egg, one tomato.
Lunch: Bowl of ratatouille soup.
Dinner: Pea and turkey soup.
Snacks: One chocolate and seed bar, three oatcake biscuits with hummus.
I dream I’ve been smoking. I haven’t smoked for two years. Must be an unconscious rebellion against the enforced health regime.
Today is a light day, apparently. Aside from the usual running up a hill and an early-morning PT workout in the dark, we’ve only been suspended over a gorge on a rope, gone on another three-hour hike through waterfalls and been thrown off the edge of a cliff face.
Fears are being conquered as well as cellulite, but tempers are running high as people complain of feeling weak through hunger. When one girl is seen eating a pack of bird seed, accusations fly that seed-stealing has been going on.
I spend the day feeling dizzy. By lunchtime we can have done six hours of work and an egg, a tomato and a seed bar is just not enough.
The staff are universally hated, and we’re barely talking to them. We are to be punished with another run up a hill because we were three minutes late setting off that morning. I snap.
When one of the staff blokes comes to cross a gorge on a rope that afternoon, I’m supposed to winch him across by yanking on the rope. I don’t. I leave him suspended over the water and tell him to drop the hill climbing threat or we’ll cut the rope and drop him in the river.
To his credit, he laughs and says half way up the hill will do.
Lunch: Tofu, rice noodles, beansprouts.
Dinner: Onion soup, chicken satay with broccoli and cucumber.
Snacks: Boiled egg, small squares of chocolate.
After a 6.30 “lie-in,” the morning is pretending to be soldiers-type stuff, which is fun. The aerobics, sit-ups, press-ups and running round a field with kayaks again in the frost are not.
When I stop there’s steam coming off me. I look like the Ready Brek ad.
But something good is happening. We’re still working out for ten hours a day, we’re still exhausted, but it’s starting to work. We try the same assault courses as three days ago and we’re two minutes faster.
And you can see the difference in all of us. Cheekbones are emerging. Thighs are diminishing. These girls are starting to glow, to look beautiful. Claire, the girl in the bunk below me, has overcome a chronic fear of heights to do a 30ft abseil and she’s been grinning ever since.
Sam, a former PT instructor who now has a sedentary life in the City, emerges from the communal bathroom-in her knickers screaming she can see her abs again.
Food portions have increased slightly. We nearly cry at the sight of rice noodles. The staff have also taken to setting the workouts to music to cheer us up. Eyebrows are raised as they produce a Paul Potts CD. That, we tell them, is not very military.
Lunch: Lentil soup, three oatcakes with hummus, one small chocolate alternative bar.
Dinner: Red pepper with minced meat.
I’m seriously having issues on the food now. Take today – we climb 3,400ft on an all-day hike. The equivalent of Snowdon. There are SAS soldiers training in the background as they work out in the Brecon Beacons to prepare them for service.
And we, a collection of city-dwelling, overweight women, do it on one bowl of porridge, one flask capful of soup, three oatcakes, a bit of hummus and a health bar. They make documentaries on the Discovery Channel about people who survive things like this.
I burst into tears as I stomp through a swamp and start shouting that I don’t want to be a soldier any more. At 8pm there’s still one more exercise class. Leg-raises to tone the buttocks.
It’s too much. After today, none of us can raise anything. Except a smile at the sight of Staff Reitze realising at the end of the hike that his rucksack had been stuffed with rocks.
My stomach is flatter but I feel so weak. This can’t be good for me.
Lunch: Chicken soup.
Dinner: Minestrone soup, haddock with steamed vegetables.
News has filtered through that Prince Harry has been serving in Afghanistan. Feel a bit guilty. Here’s me, moaning, knowing it’ll be over soon and all I want out of it is thinner thighs. And out there we’ve got boys doing it for real.
A brief respite from hell as I hobble back to the This Morning studios for the live show. Force the stiff legs on to the sofa with a muffled scream. “What the heck has happened to you?” asks Phillip Schofield.
Weakly I explain about the Army thing.
“And you’re going back,” he says, looking horrified. “I’m going back,” I say.
“There’s a section attack on the back lawn at 4pm and I have to help kill the enemy.”
Back to camp, where the girls tell me they’ve spent their day jumping 10ft off a ledge into a freezing cold gorge. Everyone did it.
Eleanor, an inspirational fifty-something, apparently leapt off like a supersonic wetsuit-clad lemming yelling “Geronimo!” And she’s got arthritis.
Breakfast: A fry-up after the weigh- in. Well, scrambled eggs, grilled turkey rasher and mushrooms.
Weight loss: 13lb. A dress size. 3.5in from the waist, 1.5in from each thigh, 1.5in from the hips, 1in from each arm.
Thirteen pounds? This is better than liposuction. It’s a dress size. I am a 12 again. I LOVE being a soldier.
A couple lost more than a stone. Our collective weight loss – between 17 girls – is 174 pounds, and 141 inches. That’s a whole person. Best result of all is the 19-year-old who’s just lost 12 stone – by deciding to junk her useless boyfriend.
Some emerge from the weigh-in room in tears (of joy). Jeans are put back on and found to be too baggy. Staff Smith and Reitze are there, hugging everyone. They really are the nicest sadists I’ve ever met.
Collective delirium wipes away the memories. “I have never,” says one girl, clutching her end-of-course certificate, “never felt this good about myself. Ever.”
The Post-Camp Verdict
Is it healthy? The reaction on my return has been of horror. “13lb!” they’ve said.
“That’s too much!” A total stranger and This Morning viewer stopped me on the train on the way home to tell me I was losing too much weight.
So far, the weight is still off. But will it stay off? There are benefits from the Boot Camp that go beyond weight.
Theoretically, a roomful of women on a diet should have been a nightmare. But in just seven days, a group of strangers were 100 per cent behind each other. There are women here who’ve been dealt a bad hand in life, but lacked the strength to take control of it all.
Yes, the girls have all shrunk in size, yet by the end I can see everyone has grown, too. In self belief and in determination about the future. Boot Camp has its faults but, for now, the girls depart slim of bottom and stuffed with confidence.
My doctor from Celebrity Fit Club, Dr Adam Carey, has a few concerns about such rapid weight loss: “There is significant risk on a low-calorie diet and heavy exercise regime like this that, as well as burning off fat, you lose muscle mass. As you go back to a normal calorie consumption the weight will go back on and more quickly than before because your body’s engine is now smaller.”*