I’ve watched The Bachelor since it premiered in 2002, and I’ve never once seen a contestant who couldn’t easily pass for a part-time bikini model. This seemingly tyrannical appreciation for the perfect form may (secretly) be one of the reasons why I decided to try Shawn Booth’s weight-loss plan. A healthy living kind of gal, I like to exercise but I also like to cook and bake, which means I’ve never comfortably hit the beach without feeling the urge to walk backwards into the water.
Enter Shawn. The buff personal trainer-slash-Ryan Gosling lookalike who won the heart of Kaitlyn Bristowe in season 11 of The Bachelorette has set himself up as something of a health guru online. And so, I sign up for his Body Fat Destruction and Toning plan ($150 USD), a 12-week exercise and diet regime that’s supposed to make me hot tub-worthy by spring. It’s one of three plans he offers online—there’s also one for muscle-building, and another for couples—all of which he created with the aid of a registered dietitian-slash-professional bodybuilder pal.
To get started, I disclose something I’ve never told a man before: my weight. (I also provide my height and age). Shawn then figures out how many calories I should be consuming each day, a number that sounds frighteningly low. In my normal life, I eat pretty well—lots of fresh fruits, veggies and lean protein—but without worrying about how much or how often. (I also never deny myself burgers, cookies, chocolate, bread, dairy or pretty much anything else.) Shawn also calculates a basic formula for each of my meals, which, to burn fat and build muscle, should reflect a certain protein-carb-fat ratio. A few days later, he sends me a menu of easy-to-prepare meals and an exercise plan.
While I promised him that I wouldn’t go into details about the meal plan, I will say it’s pretty much your standard clean-eating regime that combines lean proteins with complex carbs and healthy fats and prohibits the usual suspects: added sugar, processed foods, refined flour, etc. Though restrictive, the diet is also realistic. I can eat a piece of bread—daily! I’m also allowed to have a “cheat meal” every week. The plan is broken up into three phases; during each the calorie count and meal count will change. In phase 1, I’ll eat four meals a day. As the diet progresses, I’ll eat six smaller meals. And in phase 2, I’ll cut 200 calories from my initial intake.
The exercise component looks challenging. The four-times-a-week workouts are intense, 90 minutes each, split between short, high-intensity cardio sessions and longer bouts of weight-training—think barbells and bench presses. (A word of warning: if you don’t have some experience with weight machines, have a trainer walk you through the exercises so you don’t hurt yourself.)
The night before I start, I down a final chocolate chip cookie while watching the premiere of Ben Higgins’ season—and prepare to embark on a new journey with Shawn.
I wake up and eat a huge protein-rich breakfast, involving a rather large number of egg whites alongside a slice of whole-wheat toast and some fruit. I’m so satisfied that I feel like I must have read the plan wrong, but Shawn assures me eating full meals is key in Phase 1. “It’s speeding up your metabolism,” he says, “you’re getting all your nutrients; you’re not missing anything.” The biggest mistake people make when they go on a diet is to starve themselves: “The faster your metabolism is going, the more calories you’re burning.”
At the gym, I hit the elliptical for 30 minutes of interval training. How hard can this be? I scoff. But Shawn assures me that if I alternate between intense effort for three minutes and moderate-intensity effort for three minutes, for the entire half hour, I’ll feel it.
And indeed, three minutes and thirty-nine seconds into the first interval, I do. This is no leisurely, smiling infomercial stride. I’m breathing hard and not in a Fantasy Suite kind of way. Against the wishes of every cell in my body, I will myself to continue. The weight routine, which takes me almost an hour, saps what’s left of my energy. My first workout done, I’m both wrecked and starving.
At lunch I pack away another significant, healthy meal. Dinner’s the same. I’m eating more food than usual, but consuming a fewer calories. The only problem so far is that I miss snacks, and badly. After dinner, my sister sits watching TV with me, casually picking at a bowl of artisanal potato chips. It’s painful to watch; like that time Wes serenaded Jillian in season 5 of The Bachelorette.
Breakfast, lunch, dinner—it’s pretty much the same menu as yesterday. Far from feeling starved, I’m satisfied by all this sensible, regular eating, a sensation that has me reconsidering the merits of my usual grazing/binging habit. The food isn’t super time-consuming to make or expensive to buy; ingredients are limited to a protein (usually grilled), some veg (same) and a boiled starch, mainly. But in order to stave off the potential for temptation—I have a habit of snacking while I cook—I’ve made a lot of the meals in advance.
I dutifully perform my 25 minutes of elliptical-based cardio hell, then begin weight training. I don’t know if I’m doing all the exercises right [note to Shawn: can we get some shirtless GIFs to work with, please?], so I YouTube a few on my phone to make sure. I walk home on rubber legs, but feel oddly energized by the challenge—not unlike, say, overcoming one’s fear of heights on a first date.
It’s a rest day and good thing, too. I’m sore everywhere.
The diet, though satisfying, is starting to feel bland. I’m eating pretty much the same meals every day with little variation and no fancy sauces to make it more palatable. I long to look at food blogs again. On the plus side, my stomach looks less bloated.
Similar to how I imagine Andi must have felt after five minutes in the Fantasy Suite with Juan Pablo, I’m officially over the initial diet thrill. I sneak some forbidden Parmesan into my protein-packed salad at lunch. It does the trick. For now.
I do a high-intensity dance cardio video online at home, then head to the gym to pump iron. It’s a lighter, slightly less intense routine than Days 1 and 2, which is good because I’m still feeling the burn. Beside me, a seriously flu-y guy loads a barbell while loudly regaling his workout buddy with the details of a recent hookup. The capper: he’s genuinely irritated that she opted to stay the night.
Wiping down my own barbell with a towel, I say a silent prayer for the woman who slept with this grade-A creep. May she find true love elsewhere, maybe on a popular reality competition?
I wake up with a full-blown cold, which I attribute to the gym creep. I can’t manage a cardio workout and strength training. I don’t want to diet anymore; I just want to pout and eat a bagel and soup. At breakfast, I aimlessly push my egg whites around. Dinner sees me stare resentfully at a perfectly good chicken breast. Can it be that I’m actually grumpy about eating balanced, complete meals? It’s kind of insane, right? Like complaining your BF is too kind and caring. It occurs to me that I may be a bit of a foodie brat.
Still sick. Fortunately, it’s another rest day. Technically, I should do the cardio session I skipped yesterday but I lay immobile on the sofa drinking non-alcoholic hot toddies instead. Diet-wise, I stick to egg whites and toast and fruit—I cannot choke down one more chicken breast; I’m officially clucked out. I’m feeling irrational and bingey, and I didn’t realize it would be this hard… Oh, wait, I totally did. This is the way I always feel on a diet.
I do a 45-minute cardio session to compensate for yesterday’s malaise. Getting my sweat on helps clear both my congestion and my funk. I weigh myself. I’ve lost nearly four pounds in seven days, results which Shawn says are slightly atypical. (One to two pounds a week is average.) And my stomach, which has been in soufflé mode for weeks, looks denser and less doughy, more like a gluten-free muffin.
A few days later, I call Shawn to share my progress; Kaitlyn, who also follows his meal plan, is on the line too. They sound happy and excited and—Us Weekly alert!—there is absolutely zero couple-in-trouble tension (even when they cut one another off mid-sentence). Maybe it’s just because I’m really craving something sweet, but I’m buying into their love story.
Though not a gym-goer by nature, Kaitlyn tells me she has started lifting weights with Shawn and is now a convert. Shawn—who hasn’t had a drink since last October— also convinced his wine-loving fiancée to do Dry January.
They’re chuffed by my results and Shawn encourages me to continue. I’m hesitant, though. His plan is pretty sensible as far as diet and exercise routines go, but it’s Chris Soules-boring for a food-lover like me. I need a little more variation to stay sane. I don’t want to “cheat” on my diet; I want to enjoy it. (Though I do steal Kaitlyn’s surprisingly delicious sweet-tooth fix: adding a teaspoon of cocoa powder to hot peppermint tea.)
“As long as you follow that [prescribed caloric intake and protein-carb-fat ratio] and you’re working out…and you’re eating most of that stuff—like 80 percent—then you’ll be good,” says Shawn. “But if you want to get the best results, then you [need to] follow it 100 percent.”
I’m not willing to pledge the next three months of my life to the pursuit of a hot tub-worthy body, which leads me to the realization that I’ll probably never be a Bachelor contestant. But you know what? I can live with that. Excuse me while I say my final goodbyes to the leftover grilled chicken breasts in my fridge.
Sharleen Joynt on The Bachelor Season 20
Bachelorette Kaitlyn Bristowe Refuses to be Slut-Shamed
Bachelor Match-up: Who They Should Have Picked
Sharleen Joynt Is Also Our Dating Columnist! #AskSharleen
Update: This article originally stated that Shawn’s favourite cardio machine was the elliptical, which was incorrect. We regret the error.