Jess Attree – How to Own Your Eating
Jess Attree is one of Roz’s closest friends and was one of her beautiful bridesmaids. They met at the University of Bristol back in 2002 through their Wednesday night sports socials. To see Jess now you’d probably say she’s little like Roz but that hasn’t always been the case. Find out how Jess lost 35 lbs. and found herself in the process.
Interview with Jess Attree
When did you start flexible eating & why?
I started flexible eating in October 2016.
I was following Roz’s World travels via text and Instagram. Seeing her enjoying a lot of tasty things and somehow managing to get leaner and look more amazing in the process! I realized she was on to something and that whatever it was, that I wanted to give it a go too! I wasn’t sure flexible eating would work for me – I work in an office, I’m not a nutritionist, and although I go to a gym, I’m not a crossfitter nor do I spend a lot of time on my feet being active. As Jason said on our podcast – I’m a real person just living a normal life. I knew that if I didn’t try it though, I would never know if it worked or not.
I’d always struggled with my body image and maintaining a healthy weight and was finally ready to make a serious change to start improving my self-confidence. Before getting started I broke my ankle pretty badly in January 2016 and spent the best part of 6 months not really moving. During that 6 months I’d been “trying really hard” with food – having green juices (I’d watched Fat, Sick & Nearly Dead and decided juices must be the way forward) and limiting all forms of delicious treats – which incidentally is really difficult when people keep sending you chocolate to cheer you up. I even tried doing circuits on chairs and on the living room floor in an effort to not completely transform into a couch potato.
Before injuring myself I’d been a fairly regular gym-goer although not the most focused, and I tried to “eat healthy” – my version of this meant fairly small salads, not a lot of fun foods and a lot of green smoothies. That was during the week. The weekends would come and that’s when I’d enjoy a couple meals out and a few too many drinks. If you looked at my overall calories over the course of the week though, I’m pretty certain I was still undereating in spite of my weekends.
Now I know that undereating wasn’t the only problem with my diet, but that my balance of macronutrients was completely skewed as well as not giving my body the consistency that it needed.
So many people assume that if you’re overweight then you’re probably eating too much and not doing enough exercise. Well in my experience, that really just isn’t the case.
Eventually, after a few weddings and not being happy with how I looked in the photos, I got to the point of thinking I needed a Personal Trainer to try and make more of an effort in the gym and try to kick my body into gear. It still didn’t really occur to me that my nutrition could fundamentally change the way I looked. I mean, I thought I was doing all the right things on that front and nothing was happening so surely exercise must be the answer?
Roz finally made it back to the UK in September 2016 and I took full advantage to quiz her on what she was doing and how she’d made flexible eating work for her. I decided that I had nothing to lose.
How did you make it work for you?
To start with, I just tracked what I ate to get in the habit of tracking. I found that pretty easy (I was extremely motivated!) so then Roz talked me through my numbers, and gave me some pointers on what I could eat if I needed a few extra grams of fat, carbs or protein. Pretty early on I started to hit my numbers. It was like a fun game for me! Like solving a puzzle J It felt weird eating noticeably more than I had been before but I knew I had to trust that what I was doing would work. I loved being able to add in foods that I typically tried to avoid but would end up secretly eating anyway – especially things like Oreo Ice Cream Sandwiches which quickly became a favorite. Of course, I fully embraced the donut too!!! I enjoyed playing the game of trying to hit 000 and knew that an olive or bit of avocado, some chicken or tuna and oats or jelly (jello) would help me if I was 1 or 2 off at the end of the day. Before I knew it I was regularly hitting 000 without it feeling like an effort.
My approach was, and most of the time still is, to plan my day in advance, at least during the week. I work in an office and leave the house early. So I spend some time – now not much – planning out my day, logging it all in MyFitnessPal before prepping everything and putting it in the fridge ready to grab and go in the morning. I’ll decide what I want to eat for dinner first generally, or if I know there’s something specific I want to fit in, that will go in first – then the rest follows. My breakfast and lunch are fairly similar Monday to Friday, maybe a few differences in fruit or amount of meat for lunch depending on dinner. I find that I’m more disciplined if I know what I’m having – I don’t often mindlessly snack. If someone brings something into the office that I fancy, I just tweak the rest of my day.
On weekends I’m a bit more relaxed. I still hit my numbers but won’t plan my whole day in advance, which can lead to a bit of a weird assortment of food choices! I try and plan what sort of thing I will have if I’m going out for dinner, but I’m not a slave to it. I take the “done is better than perfect” approach when out. I want to make sure I enjoy myself and try to make it fit as closely as I can but I’m not going to miss out on something I really want at a restaurant.
What benefits have you experienced?
I’m 5’2″ and for as long as I could remember I was a UK size 12 (US 8) bottom and size 10 (US 6) top.
By the end of October 2016, so after about a month of tracking, I’d dropped from 69kg to 63.5kg, a loss of roughly 12lbs. Obviously some of that was water weight. I was eating more, my clothes were fitting better and I was like a different person in the gym! I was generally more motivated in all areas of my life. At the same time as starting flexible eating I’d started with a Personal Trainer at the gym, so I was training harder in my workouts and definitely lifting more often. It was amazing to feel full of energy and be able to train with intensity even after a day at work.
By the time Christmas came I was at 60.5kg (with a goal weight of 59kg). I decided to give myself a bit of a break and try to track over Christmas but not get too hung up on the details and enjoy a few mince pies and inevitable Christmas parties. On the 3rd January I was back up to 61.5kg and by the 14th Jan had made it to 59kg. So that was 10kg (22lb) down in 3.5 months and enjoying the compliments! I think stepping up my game a little at the gym definitely helped move my progress along a little quicker, but I wasn’t putting in any more hours of exercise than before and I wasn’t doing any extra cardio. As much as I’d tried to embrace it in the past (for the sake of weight loss), I really don’t like running!!!
I started adding more food after talking to Roz, (which was scary) and kept dropping weight pretty steadily. Before I knew it I was noticeably under my goal weight, and then started to believe that having abs might actually be a possibility! Roz continued to recommend incremental increases to my macros and I continued to develop more muscular definition and not gain weight.
I think it was summer 2017 when I gave in and decided that I needed to buy some new clothes but didn’t really have a clue what size I was. I vividly remember going into the changing room with a UK size 8 (US size 4) and being swamped. I tried another on to make sure the label wasn’t wrong. Then walked out with my newly acquired size 6 (US size 2) – something I’d never aimed for as to me that was completely unrealistic. I’m still always a little unsure when trying things on!
Recently whilst I was visiting Roz in Florida, I bought a pair of size 0 jeans! I couldn’t believe it! And they’re not just any jeans, they’re skinny jeans that fit perfectly without making me feel in the slightest bit uncomfortable. To me that is just ridiculous. I still have a hard time believing that this has worked. It’s such an incredible feeling being able to shop and find clothes that you feel good in, instead of leaving the store feeling overweight and depressed.
What has this experience taught you?
I’ve learnt so much about food and nutrition since starting this. I try to cook from scratch the majority of the time but it rarely involves anything too complicated. I realize now that a healthy diet can be very simple. I try to eat a decent amount of fruit and veg, I drink 2-3L of water every day and now I don’t drink much alcohol at all – maybe a glass or 2 of wine per week.
I still drink coffee (black now) and definitely don’t get enough sleep still, but doing this has really changed my whole lifestyle without it feeling like a huge effort. I don’t stress about food anymore. If I want ice cream, I make it work. If I want chocolate, I have it. If I want to raid the bulk candy section at Whole Foods on holiday I do… then I grab fat free yogurt and turkey jerky or a protein shake to get the rest of what I need in.
I’m more than happy to eat the same thing 2 days in a row, or eat what looks to anyone else like a really weird meal if I know it’s going to help me finish my day at 000. I now even have food scales at work – yes I am that person and I own it!
I’ve also realized that I don’t need to be completely crazy about my numbers. The odd day off here and there isn’t going to ruin me. I found that I could hit 000 most week days but if out for a meal or away for the weekend I didn’t need to stress too much about being perfect. I think that was a big hurdle – realizing that a day off wasn’t going to mean I ballooned instantly. Just resetting each day, starting fresh. It sounds rational but it’s very easy to let your fears shape your beliefs and forget the reality that one day is insignificant on the spectrum of this whole journey.
Listening to my body is something that I never would have understood before, but the awareness I’ve developed from tracking has really allowed me to tune in to signals and cues that my body gives me. Flexible eating has allowed me to become more intuitive about what I need. Sometimes I’ll know I need more carbs, or more protein or if I’m sick I just want to eat something comforting, but I know that’s ok and don’t beat myself up about it. I know that sometimes if you’re feeling really crappy it’s about getting some sort of fuel in – anything. I know I can get back to my numbers the next day, or in a few days – sometimes you just need what you need. Even on these off days I always track – I’d love to say it’s because its like brushing my teeth, an engrained habit, but the truth is I just never want to lose my MyFitnessPal tracking streak!!! ?
Most importantly, I’ve learnt that food is fuel and getting the right balance is absolutely essential. Not just from a body composition perspective, but also from the standpoint of having enough energy throughout the day so that you’re not exhausted all the time, or grumpy, or unable to get yourself to the gym because you’re too tired. I sleep so much better now and know that every day I hit my macros, I’m getting that little bit stronger.
What challenges have you had to overcome?
There were times when I’ve found flexible eating hard, both in terms of trying to make things fit my numbers but also trying to make other people understand what I’m doing. So many people have no idea what a macronutrient is. To me that’s just crazy now! Trying to explain the process to people who said they wanted to try it then got put off by actually having to follow through. Explaining that no, eating more isn’t going to make you fat. Being told that it wasn’t working quickly enough for someone and that eating more was never going to work, despite them then agreeing that clothes did indeed fit better, and no, they hadn’t put any weight on! Trying to get people to understand that there isn’t a specific list of foods that you have to eat. That no foods are off limits. And of course then there’s the judgment you get from some who think you’re crazy for not just tracking your food but weighing and measuring it too. To me it seems crazy now that people eat completely at random with no awareness to what or how much they’re putting in their bodies.
I can’t even explain the amount of times I heard ‘you probably can’t eat that can you?’, ‘you won’t want dessert’, ‘I didn’t know what you could eat so I just made this, its low carb.‘ I tried to explain that it’s not about being ‘allowed’ to eat things and that carbs aren’t actually evil but people have very strong beliefs when it comes to nutrition. Apparently, if you’re taking the time to pay attention to what you eat, then you must be on a diet.
I found it interesting that once you’ve visibly started losing weight people seem to feel it’s their right to provide their opinion on how you look – from things like ‘you look good but don’t lose anymore’, ‘make sure you don’t get too muscular’, ‘people with abs are so superficial’, ‘you looked better before’ and ‘but you’re just skin and bones‘. The fallacies people still cling to in this day and age is quite shocking.
No one commented before that I’d put weight on, which looking back at photos I clearly had! But now that I was making efforts to positively improve my health and quality of life and suddenly everyone had an opinion about whether what I was doing was “healthy”. Saying all this, my family, at least, have come round to the idea of tracking and although they may still have their opinions, they are supportive. I’ll often be emailed a recipe before I arrive at my parents so I can track and plan, which is amazing! I guess sometimes you just have to stand by your principles until people have no choice but to accept them!
I know I’ve lost about 17kg (roughly 35lb) in total since I started 2 years ago. It hasn’t been a linear loss, there have been ups and downs, but the overall trend is clearly down. I don’t weigh myself every day, in fact I probably haven’t weighed myself in about 2-3 weeks. I just know my clothes (including the new size 0 jeans) fit, and they fit well! I’m now happy to swim in a bikini at the gym, and if I’m sweating heaps during a workout I’m confident enough to just be in a sports bra. Something I never would have dreamed of doing 2 years ago. I was all about baggy tops that covered my butt in the gym. Now I love a cropped tank and to be honest I probably spend too much money on gym clothes! ?
One of the main things I’ve realized over the last couple of years is that I need to do things that make me happy and make those things a priority. That’s the most important thing and that’s why I now try to fuel my body with the nutrients it needs. I actively enjoy going to the gym, it’s an important part of my day, most days. I love the feeling of pushing myself and building up a sweat. I like knowing that if I need to move something on my own I probably can… within reason. And yes, I’m learning to love the way my body looks and accept its imperfections – we all have them! I’m no body builder but I like being able to see my muscles. It makes me feel strong and capable of just about anything which is a pretty awesome feeling.
For me, tracking isn’t about losing weight anymore, or even being at a specific weight. It’s about feeling good in myself knowing that I’m taking care of myself from the inside out. I’ve got my abs which is nice – they’re not visible all the time, but I’m pretty damn proud of myself when I see them and even when I don’t. Flexible eating has played a big part in helping me gain more self-confidence and generally have more self-worth. I never thought changing my eating habits would be a catalyst for anything other than losing a few pounds. But I have grown so much as a person through this process. I believe in myself and my ability to do anything I set my mind to.
Do you resonate with Jess and her story? Do you shy away from having your photo taken and hide yourself in baggy clothes? Have you tried juicing or eating a plant-based diet only to still struggle with losing weight? Find out what flexible eating can do for you with our Lifestyle Membership programs. We make nutrition simple and easy with weekly coaching support at an affordable price. Losing weight doesn’t have to be difficult or lonely. Build a stronger you from the inside out with Own Your Eating. We’re here to help you reach your goals and enjoy a new sense of confidence in all areas of your life!