Intuitive Eating

Recently I’ve heard a few people say they would prefer not to count calories and instead want to try Intuitive Eating.

Intuitive Eating is almost an anti diet movement, believing people should eat when they are hungry and what they feel their body needs.  It follows a ten point plan which includes respecting your hunger, not labeling food good or bad and not using food as an emotional crux.

There is actually very little about intuitive eating that I disagree with, it largely encourages people to have a healthy relationship with all foods and not starve themselves.

My issue with Intuitive Eating is this.

Unless you have already mastered tracking calories you will struggle to reach your goal eating intuitively. 

I can see the appeal.  If you’ve always struggled to stick to a certain number of calories the idea of eating what you ‘feel like’ you need is appealing.  Let’s be realistic here though.  If you were able to do this you’d probably already be at your goal (here I’m assuming it’s some form of fat loss).

If you’re not at your goal, which here I’m going to assume is fat loss, you are probably currently eating more calories than you burn.  If you were not you’d be losing fat and not looking for an alternative way of eating.

So what you need to do is learn how to track, then stay within your calorie goal for a sustained period of time.

Now once you have mastered this and done this for a fair while chances are you will be able to eat intuitively.  You’ll start to get an idea of how much you need to eat each day to be at the right energy level for you and be able to track less and still stay on track.

But until you reach this stage eating intuitively is likely to be much the same as eating as you currently do, with a limited idea of how much you are actually eating and no way of educating yourself on how to make the changes you need to make.

Think of it like driving a car.  Now when you drive you probably get in the car and just go- everything happens automatically without even thinking.  But that wasn’t the case when you first started to learn – you followed rules and checklists.

Think of your job, how you were in the first few weeks or even years of doing it compared to now.  As you become more skilled in something you can react more instinctively, but to begin with you need to learn that trade.

So if you want to eat intuitively and reach a specific goal, you really need to qualify to do that by first learning how to track and understand calories.

That’s NEAT

What is NEAT?

Non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT) is basically a fancy word for the amount of energy you spend moving around being active but which isn’t formal exercise.  So your gym session or Group exercise class or morning run / swim = EAT, your walk to work, walk to the canteen to get a coffee, walk to the printer, time playing with your kids= NEAT

Benefits of NEAT

Generally we assume we burn a lot of calories exercising and then not much the rest of the time, but this is not necessarily the case.  In fact, the amount of calories you can burn by being generally active throughout the day can have a big impact on your daily energy expenditure.

Think about it this way, if you already train regularly it may be difficult to increase your activity by adding extra sessions in.  NEAT is often much easier to increase.

Equally, if your currently do little to no exercise increasing your NEAT is a more manageable first step to more movement and will still have a big impact on your health.

The importance of considering your NEAT when trying to lose weight has also been highlighted in studies, where it has been suggested that when you restrict your calorie intake to reach a deficit you can sometimes subconsciously reduce your non exercise movement to try and preserve energy, this in turn can mean you overestimate your deficit.

Therefore actively monitoring your NEAT can be highly beneficial.

Onto Me…

I exercise a lot.

I train three to four times a week and teach around nine classes every week.  I’m one of those people for whom increasing my training would be tough, and potentially have a negative on my sleep and mood.

So this month my coach has challenged  me to increase my NEAT in the form of my steps, making sure I do at least 15,000 steps a day outside exercise. This will increase my activity levels in a more manageable way.

So how am I planning on doing this?

  • I get the train into work but sometimes but sometimes a bus or lift from the station to the office, instead I’m walking from the station.
  • Walking to people’s desks to go and speak to them rather than emailing
  • Making more than my share of the team’s hot drinks
  • Getting a 15/20 minutes walk in with an audio book whenever I am able to

These little things don’t take up much extra time but all add some extra steps to my day thus increasing my NEAT.

Some other ideas of ways you might be able to increase your NEAT:

1) Make a commitment to walk for an extra 10 minutes a day – However much walking you currently do either add in a ten minute walk or go the longer way home or leave the car for one short journey each day and walk instead.

2) Park further away – If you need to drive somewhere can you park a bit further away than normal- easily adds a few extra steps.

3) An active commute – Not for everyone but perhaps you can swap your drive for the train, cycling or walking into work.  Even if you did that one day a week it would increase your NEAT.

4) Get moving on your breaks – Going for a walk instead of sitting in the staff room can be refreshing and reduce stress as well as increasing your daily steps.

5) Get a pedometer – Or smart watch.  Having something record your steps lets you keep track of how active you actually are.  It’s easy to think you’ve done more steps than you have so having a record might keep you accountable.

6) Take the stairs – Whenever possible.  Easy steps (well not easy to climb but easy win).

7) Can you be both active and productive / active and social? – Can you change a drinks catch up to a catch up over a nice walk for instance?  Combining something you would be doing anyway with a bit of extra activity means you don’t need to find extra time to increase your NEAT.

The key is to create small habits that you don’t even think about doing.  A new route home, a parking space further away, always taking the stairs- once they are habits you barely notice you’re doing them. Little habits like this alone might not make a huge difference, but lots of small changes becoming habits can make a big difference to how active you are every day.

Stop. Take a Minute.Make it Simple.

Do you ever feel completely overwhelmed with everything that is going on?

I suspect a lot of people do because one of the most common reasons people give for not exercising or looking at what they eat is that they are too busy.

I’ve said here before that really this can be overcome with planning, working out what you need to prioritise and what you can realistically do, being realistic about your goals.  I stand by this, but I also get it.

I think it’s a natural feeling to have sometimes, to be completely overwhelmed.  Whether you already train regularly, eat pretty well,  juggle lots of jobs and tasks or whether these are things you aspire to do but don’t feel like you do right now, sometimes it just feels like there’s too much stuff.

Sometimes out of nowhere the balls your kept in the air for ages feel like too many balls or trying to change one small thing in your house of cards feels like it will bring the whole thing down.

This is when you need to stop and evaluate.

‘Hustle’ is great.  If you want things you do have to work, whether that be in your career or working towards your ideal physique, but when you attempt to do everything perfectly you can end up reaching the point you actually are doing nothing because it’s all just got too much.

Sometimes you need to sit and look at everything on your to do list.  Take off some of the pointless tasks that don’t really matter.  Look at your training, look at your diet and pin point exactly what is you need to focus on right now and forget about everything else you hear about and think maybe you should be doing too.

My plan for the 6 weeks or so before Christmas?  Well I noticed these last few days I’ve been putting off important shit because I’ve felt a little bit overwhelmed.  When I’m overwhelmed i comfort eat, when I comfort eat I feel sluggish and don’t really want to train.

I’ve stripped my work load back to a manageable amount of work, with the things that will earn me money taking priority.  I know I’ll get more results taking longer to do things I want to do but actually doing them rather than just saying I really must get on with that.

I’m going to track my food, not cut stuff out or eat differently (It’s Christmas, there’s going to be cake and I’m not saying no!) just make sure I’m staying within my TDEE.  That will make me feel better about training – Training I want to hit hard.  Not hard as in spend hours in the gym, but plan my sessions in and treat them like appointments and be 100% present in the session to be the best of my ability that day.

Essentially I’m planning to finish 2019 by focusing on doing the basics well.  That’s going to make life feel simpler and therefore reduce that feeling of juggling lots of balls.

If right now you feel like you can’t hit your fitness goals because you’ve too much on try taking a look, seeing what you can drop and what really simple things you can commit to right now to get you closer to your goals by the end of 2019.

Periods – What A Pain

Periods are utterly crap. I mean I know that not having them can sometimes also be a negative and sign of various health issues so having a regular period is actually a positive but still.

I have very regular periods, I track and so can predict when I will come on and when they will end. I know what symptoms I’m likely to get and when.  This does not make the current agony I am feeling today any better.  Some months always feel a bit more severe and this month I was particularly clumsy in the days running up to my period – words mixed up, talking even less sense than normal and tripping up over my own feet.  It’s not like I felt sad or even grumpy but the brain fog was severe.  As if that was a prophecy of what was to come the stomach cramps over the last two days have been awful.  Painkillers haven’t helped, nor has exercise or staying hydrated.

I started writing this blog with no idea of what the actual point of it would be.  Maybe that’s the brain fog, maybe that’s just that the pain today is all I can think about so when I sat down to write it was the only thing I could think about writing about (I was initially going to write about calories today, that can wait until later in the week).  Concentrating is hard when you have stomach cramps!

The strange thing about periods is that, despite the fact that the side effects can be really quite extreme at times, we are expected to just carry on with life as normal and, apart from the odd moan, we actually never really discuss how hard it can be to work through the side effects  some days, which is ridiculous really when we ae probably dealing with this for a quarter of every year.

Can you train when you’re on your period? of course you can (and actually sometimes it does help ease cramps).  Exercise instructors will of course teach during them too.  We also go into the office as normal, look after children (well some women anyway) and do everything else we would normally do.  When you think about it though that’s because society has trained us to carry on as if the stomach cramps are just slight discomfort, when actually right now I can assure you I’m not uncomfortable I’m in pain!

Like I say- literally no message to this blog today.  No tips on how to deal with period pain.  Just my observations on how bonkers it is that we get on with this every month with minimal disruption.  Actually, maybe that’s the message for today.  Women are capable of some scary shit when you think about it.

Fancy a Spin?

Group Cycle, often known as spin. There are other variations such as Les Millls RPM too.

One of the most inclusive classes in a gym.

Also the one that in my experience people are most scared to try.

I can see why- it looks tough (for good reason – it is) and everyone looks like they know what they’re doing (they don’t, honest) and it looks technical (you have to set up a bike – this was my biggest fear at first).

So if you’ve ever wondered about trying a class but aren’t sure if it’s for you here’s the low down (from my perspective) for first timers on how to get the most out of the class.

  • Everyone is welcome- all fitness levels. Yes it will be hard but you really can go at your own pace
  • Every instructor’s class is different. So if you don’t like mine try someone elses – there will be a style you like / format you enjoy / class with music you love out there- shop around! I sometimes teach rides where we work along to the music other times I teach HIIT style tabatta, some people do races and competitions. I won’t be offended if you try my class then I see you at someone elses next week!
  • One thing to note, trade marked classes such as Les Mills RPM will be similar in every gym / with every instructor. They are pre- choreographed and so you will always get the same format – even if you go to a class in a different country. This really suits some people, especially if you like routine.
  • Get there 10 minutes early and say hi to the instructor. Tell them you are new, tell them you are nervous. They will be nice, they will look out for you and they will show you how to set up your bike.
  • There will normally be modifications or different levels you can work at and the instructor will always offer these different options throughout the class- take the ones that suit you. Never tell yourself you are doing the easy option. They are just different and people take different options for all sorts of different reasons.
  • Put some resistance on the bike – going too light sounds like a good idea (especially when you feel like you are going to die half way through!) but it will mean you bounce – this will hurt your bottom, believe me. After my first class I walked like a cowboy for a week.
  • Always make sure your feet are strapped in – loose straps are dangerous. Dangerous is bad.
  • There is normally a brake on the resistance button. Normally by pressing down on it you can stop the feet dead. It’s useful to remember just in case! The instructor will tell you about the bike if you introduce yourself at the start.
  • Don’t be afraid to add resistance when asked to. If you add too much you can always take it off. You’re there to get fitter – challenging yourself is the way to do this. Noone will laugh if you get stuck!
  • Take water – you will sweat, you will get thirsty.
  • Maybe take a towel- I refer you back to the sweat!
  • Taking recoveries is fine. You are meant to work hard- if you push so hard you need to take a moment then well done. The instructor won’t shout at you – just sit on the bike, keep the legs spinning and come back in when you are ready.
  • When you are new it can seem like everyone else is faster and fitter than you. Remember they may have been doing this a long time and have conditioned themselves to last the full class. They will not have been like that in their first class so don’t beat yourself up. Try your best, try and enjoy it and just focus on giving your best effort. Nobody is there to compete with anyone else so just work at a level right for you. Nobody is going to judge you.
  • Cycle classes are meant to be hard- the great thing is as you get fitter you can go faster and heavier so it stays effective and never gets to the point it feels ‘easy’
  • Above all Group exercise is meant to be fun so relax and smile – the music and other people make it more interesting than just sitting on a bike in the gym!

Sensible Nutrition Advice? Who Wants That!

With so may diets, fads and myths out there so many of us are almost conditioned to believe that to eat well you must be following a specific diet plan, eating specific foods at specific times or cutting out certain foods.  When faced with simple tips to allow you to eat well, maintain, gain or lose fat sensibly these ideas often seem so simple they couldn’t possibly be true.

Thankfully times are changing, fitness and health professionals have more platforms available to reach people and help reshape people’s ideas relating to food, health and body image.  This includes the idea that no everyone who wants to watch what they eat is doing so to lose weight- they could be doing so for health reasons, to have more energy or for performance related reasons.

If you do want or even need to lose weight there are of course specific things to focus on, which I have detailed numerous times before and probably will many times again in the future.  Here though I want to focus on how we can eat for our general well being.

Taking a look at some of the accepted food guidelines from around the world this article from George  Hamlyn Williams discusses whether they are guidelines we would benefit from listening to or better off ignoring.  None are faddy, all could be easily incorporated into day to day eating with a focus on health over appearance.

Read the article here

How Much Is Enough?

Yesterday I set out to prep my meals for the week in 30 minutes.

It ended up taking an hour because I set all the fire alarms in my building off!

But still, 5 lunches, 4 dinners and a couple of snacks plus a fight with a smoke alarm in 60 minutes – that’s not bad going.

They aren’t the most impressive meals – I’m not being invited onto Masterchef anytime soon, but they will all taste good, are nutritious, are made up of real foods – carbs, proteins, fats – the lot.

My point?

It’s not that you don’t need to cut foods out of live off kale and air to be healthy (that wouldn’t be a bad point to be fair).

It’s not that if you’re busy through the week a bit of meal prep once a week is an amazing tool to keep you on track to your nutrition goals (again pretty good point).

It’s to manage your own expectations of yourself and your week.

Typically Sunday is my only day ‘off’. I know I need to prepare food for the week but if that took up my whole Sunday how often would I end up sacking it off?

So I accept that my food is a bit simple, nothing fancy, in exchange for only needing an hour to get it all done.

If cooking was a relaxing pleasure for me I’d possibly spend longer on it, but that’s not the case.

I try and apply this logic to my fitness as a whole – what would be ideal? How would the ideal affect my life? If it would make me stressed or resentful sod the ideal and find something more realistic to stick to.