Magic Pills

How often do you see a testimonial on Facebook or Instagram, someone who has lost weight using the latest pill or shake plus the free meal plan that comes with it?

These results are obviously designed to sell you that particular product, yet in reality they results will have come from the free meal plan – the plan that creates a calorie deficit – not the pill or shake itself.

The product might have some benefit. Protein shakes, meal replacement shakes, electrolyte drinks and various vitamins are all useful supplements that can add to your diet.

What is key to remember before embarking on a journey with these products is that the product itself won’t be the thing to bring you results – the results will come from the calorie deficit, the exercise that you do in conjunction. I don’t see anything wrong itself in using such products. At the end of the day the important thing in achieving results (assuming here weight loss is the aim) is adherence to a plan that allows you to consistently burn more calories than you consume, if spending money on products keeps you motivated to do this where’s the harm. If you like the taste and they make you feel good and so you stick with it then win.

The issue comes if you don’t understand why you are getting results. If you think the reason is drinking that specific drink / coffee / tea or taking that specific booster / pill / shot is making you lose weight, you are tied to that brand, that product and the associated cost, you have no way of going it alone. Of course in actual fact there is no reason anyone cannot lose weight without fads or plans or helps. If you have the appropriate basic knowledge you can get results without buying any supplements at all.

When you are frustrated with your progress and feel like you aren’t getting anywhere the idea of a quick fix or something you can buy to solve the problem is appealing, and there’s nothing wrong with buying those products, as long as you know how they fit into the bigger picture.

Laying the Foundations

When people want to make changes to their diet in order to lose or even gain weight they are often tempted to focus on supplements and shakes, when they eat certain food groups or even food at all and their very specific macro splits.

I get why this is the case – it’s really tempting for us to think that making a small change to meal timings or taking a tablet / shake and keeping the rest of our diet and routine the same is the ideal. Maximum results for minimal change.

In reality however what people are doing when they do this is focusing on the top end of the nutrition pyramid without building a solid foundation.

The foundation of your pyramid needs to be your calorie intake. You can take the right supplements, drink enough water, eat at the best times but if you’re eating too much or too little you won’t achieve your desired results. You need to eat enough to have the energy to be as active as you need to be whilst also not finding yourself in a surplus (unless you want to gain weight) and hitting a deficit if you’re goal is to lose. How you do this to begin with is almost irrelevant. If you eat nothing but chocolate but burn more calories than you’ve consumed over time you will lose weight. You won’t be getting a good range of nutrients, you’ll probably be tired and hungry but you would lose weight.

Only once you get your calorie intake right for your goal is it worthwhile starting to look further up the pyramid. How much of your calories comes from protein, carbs and fat; your micro nutrients; when you do and don’t eat and what you eat at that times and what supplements you add to your day all have their part to play in how you feel and how you perform, but they will not provide you with effective results if you have not first got your calorie foundation firmly in place.

We are bombarded daily with adverts for teas, and pills and other ‘magic’ potions; with ideas of when our body best burns calories and other tricks that will help us magically lose weight. These are of course attractive because we all want to get results fast and effectively, but nailing the basics and making them habit is ultimately the most effective (and dare I say cheapest) way of getting results.

Obligatory #WMHD Post

Today is World Mental Health Day. This year’s theme is ‘Mental Health for All’, fitting given this year has been a strange one to say the least and the concept of mental health has been pushed into conversations and workplace / policy considerations much more frequently.

Today, as normal I’ve seen a variety of view points displayed across social media. From the ‘reach out if you need help’ type posts to practical tips, to posts arguing the topic needs to be focused on every day not just on specific occasions, that often when people do reach out they are poorly supported and all sorts of topics in between.

The truth is that, at this moment especially, mental health is a difficult subject.

It always has been. It’s difficult to really understand unless you’ve had some kind of experience and it’s difficult to know what to do to help yourself and others in the midst of a mental health crisis. It’s really one of those things where hindsight is an amazing thing. In the moment, advice, even if it makes sense to you, even if you know it’s right, is difficult to take or put into action. The very things that would make you feel better are the hardest things to do and ‘self care’ is difficult to practice in the worst moments.

Of course recovery is possible and once you learn how to help yourself when you are struggling it’s easier to identify early, if not stop, when you feel yourself slipping and makes it easier for you to anchor yourself in those moments. Sometimes that might mean doing things that seem weird to others (and even yourself) but that you know will help you short term get through rocky patches. I think people with longer term mental health struggles come to terms with the fact that sometimes you might come across as ‘odd’ with some of your habits because those habits just help keep you feeling well.

This year however there will have been a host of people who have struggled with their mental health, with anxiety or depression, for the first time. They might not even think what they are feeling is a mental health ‘thing’, feel like it’s something to just get through because of this year, feel bad because they’ve got it far better than lots of other people, feel weak because other people are coping just fine with all this pandemic stuff.

The truth is that in any other year that’s what lots of people think when they first start reacting to signs of depression or anxiety – I have no reason to feel these feelings, I’m weak, selfish and so on. I think adding a layer of ‘we’ve all been affected in one way or another’ into this whole situation of a year might actually make it harder for people experiencing mental health problems for the first time.

And talking about it is hard.

I openly talk about mental health – on here, on social media, I’ve spoken to lots of people about their mental health over the last five or six years and I believe it’s a really important thing to talk about all year round.

Talking about your own mental health struggles is hard.

I’m ok acknowledging when I’m struggling but much less likely to reach out and talk about it because I feel like it will bother people. It’s not that I’m not comfortable talking about it, it’s that I want to feel like the person I’m talking about it to wants to listen (this is probably an anxiety thing). So if someone knows I’m not having a great time but doesn’t ask how I am I’m less likely to bring it up as I’ll assume they don’t want to talk about it. Maybe I’m odd, but I actually think that scenario is quite common. I think lots of people who struggle want to talk, but they want to talk to someone who they know wants to listen.

So sometimes saying generically on social media I’m here reach out to me, whilst well meaning, isn’t enough to make someone do so. Equally within business, a company saying in emails come and speak to us if you have any concerns, whilst yes, technically an invitation, doesn’t actually encourage people to come forward and speak. What actually is likely to encourage people to open up is to approach individuals and ask how they are one to one, especially those you’ve noticed are quieter than usual or seem a bit ‘off sorts’. I’ll say from experience, for someone with anxiety in particular, to approach someone ‘cold’ and open up voluntarily requires a certain degree of trust and confidence that it will not all end up very badly (and we tend to think everything will end badly) so if you take anything from World Mental Health Day, I think knowing that being there for the people around you does not require public statements of commitment to the cause online, it just requires checking in on your friends and work colleagues and ensuring you are ‘open’ to being there if they need. And if someone does open up to you, understand they don’t expect you to have solutions or fix things, often just being able to talk without someone judging or laughing at you is more of a help than you think when you’re heads all over the place.

And if you’re the one not feeling great right now, it’s ok to ask for help, whatever the reason, and your local GP surgery will be able to signpost you to the most appropriate help so I’d urge you to contact them as generally these things are easier to learn to control the quicker you identify them and seek help.

Coffee Breaks

How much of an effect can coffee have on your weight?

Now someone said to me the other day that they were no longer drinking coffee because of all the calories. As someone who generally only drinks black coffee that threw me a bit at first, on the basis that coffee can be calorie free. Even my recent foray into the world of a decent cup of tea is hardly a killer for the diet, probably adding an extra 13 calories a cup to my day.

Now I get as a PT I spend a lot of time talking to people about hidden calories. You know where you say I don’t eat that much I don’t understand how I’m putting on weight, but you aren’t counting the alcohol, fizzy drinks, kids left overs, sauces and so on.

But a few cups of tea or coffee with a dash of milk is probably (in my view) not the main issue if you are consistently in a calorie surplus. I mean you could always allocate 50 calories a day to account for it if you wanted to be strict but that’s probably taking the counting things too far.

Where you do want to be careful is your coffee shop drinks. Fact is if you are a put the kettle on kind of brew drinker (not being a born and bred Northerner I class all hot drinks as brews) you probably aren’t sabotaging yourself too much. If you are a pop to Costa kind of coffee drinker you are probably consuming a lot more hidden calories than you think.

As it turned out the person who said they needed to knock the coffees on the head mainly bought their coffees and so thy were talking mocha, latte, flat white. These coffees i would always tend to log if I happened to be tracking my calories, because they can have the calories of a small meal in them at times.

If you do like a coffee but want to cut the calories consider switching to instant for at least some of your daily hot drinks so you don’t lose out on the caffine fix.

Should I Join a Slimming Club?

Should I join a Slimming Club?

I’ve written many times before about why I don’t think Slimming Clubs work. Ultimately I think that they take a really simple concept- the calorie deficit- and make it into a complex set of rules that you can only really follow if you pay to attend and keep up to date with their literature or have access to their point counting apps. If you stop keeping to that calorie deficit is hard because they haven’t actually taught the basics.

Yet recently I’ve spoken to plenty of people who have joined various Slimming Clubs, and to be honest fair play- I hope they get success with them. If they follow their rules they will because they will hit a calorie deficit, and whether they do so understanding that or not they will still get the results.

We assume we must learn things then put them into practice, but sometimes we wind up doing things and then accidently learning from the results. If you attend a Slimming Club, get used to being in a calorie deficit, get the results you want and then later down the line understand why exactly you lost that weight (and that it’s nothing to do with speed foods, syns or healthy extras) what have you lost? Maybe a few quid you could have saved by not going to groups- but, you know what, that accountability could have been just what you needed to stay on track, and if you get the results that money would be deemed worth it anyway.

I think ultimately we can sometimes be too judgmental of how people get to where they want to be. At no point would I ever advise someone to go to a Slimming Club, but nor would I discourage someone from making changes in a way they felt comfortable.

There are idea ways of doing most things, but that doesn’t mean you can’t ever get to the same destination by a slightly different route, so whilst I’d encourage anyone wanting to change their diet to speak to a fitness professional for advice over a Slimming Club I also don’t prescribe to painting them as the worst thing since BOOMBOD

A Neat National Fitness Day

Last Wednesday was National Fitness Day. This is a day where to be honest, people who exercise anyway post about the exercise they’ve done and gyms perhaps use it for promotion purposes. Does it actually make people exercise who wouldn’t normally though?

One thing Lockdown highlighted however is, as vital as exercise is for physical and mental health, your non exercise activity is also important for achieving results.

During lockdown I did some form of exercise most days. What also happened however is my step count reduced dramatically. From walking everywhere everyday I went to not really walking anywhere (lets face it we couldn’t actually go anywhere). The reduction in steps had a dramatic effect on my body even though I was still training in some form or another- fact is I just wasn’t burning as many calories a day because overall, away from exercise, I was moving less.

When we want to lose weight we generally think the most important thing to do is to do more exercise. Adding training of some form into your life is of course incredibly beneficial, but equally it can feel daunting and it can also take a while to create this type of habit. The quickest and easiest thing anyone looking to reduce body weight (lose weight) aside creating a calorie deficit is to just move more.

Going out for a walk at lunch time, making part of your commute a walk, walking whilst on the phone – all those little bits of extra movement make a far greater impact on your results than you think they will. When you think about it- an hour of planned exercise a day is 1/24 of your day, so what you do in the other 96% of your day can make all the difference.

So if you missed National Fitness Day that doesn’t really matter, same if you missed the gym today- just move a bit more each day as a starting point.

Going Back To The Gym

Tomorrow I teach my first class since 18th March.

The last time I taught I kind of knew I probably wouldn’t teach again for a while, or that if I did then those classes would probably be the last for a few weeks. At the time though that was what I thought, I’ll not be able to teach for a few weeks then we’ll all be back. I thought I’d see students who still had a few more months in Manchester back in classes, people would be back in their offices within weeks and coming to morning classes and that realistically I’d still remember all the choreography as you do when you’ve just been on holiday for a couple of weeks.

Almost 6 months later obviously that wasn’t the case.

Lots changed and lots has stayed the same in those 6 months. My job is both the same and different and in the same way coming back to the gym is familiar yet equally alien, not least because some of the classes I’m now teaching are different to before as gyms adapt to the financial restraints of being closed for so long.

I feel a mixture of nerves and excitement about the coming week. How will I manage all my class? Do I actually remember how to teach? How is it going to feel teaching and working again- I’ve done it before but not for 6 months?

I’ve written previously about how we quickly get used to things we never thought we could so I know that even if the first week or so feels a bit tough I will get back into the swing of things. This is an important thing to remember, no matter how far you might feel of your pre- lockdown fitness right now you will be quickly able to get back to a place you feel comfortable in by easing yourself back in kindly to your exercise regime.

If you need an idea of how to sensibly ease back into your training you can download this two week ‘back to the gym’ plan for ideas.

Back to Gym Training Plan

Intuitive Eating

Intuitive eating and the anti diet movement.

I’m a bit torn by this.

On the one hand I want to support the idea of eating what you want, not feeling guilt for eating certain foods or certain amounts of food and listening to your own body.

But I also think if you want to make a change – specifically lose or put on weight – you need to know what you are eating.

Because really, if you don’t currently track what you eat you are kind of eating intuitively.  So if you aren’t where you want to be that intuition isn’t quite working right now.

I’m not saying track everything forever, but getting an idea of where you are at and learning what the right amount of calories feels like will allow you to eat with more freedom going forward.

I think of it a bit like learning to drive or staring a new job.  When you first start something new you really think; you are aware of what you are doing and when, maybe following notes or using reminders, you never do something without checking or on auto pilot.  Once you have been doing it for a while you gain confidence, you know how to do things and don’t need to constantly check, tasks are done instinctively and sometimes you ‘just know’.

When you see someone experienced do something well but making it look effortless you can normally bet they were not like that at the start.  They went through a learning process and what might now be done without thinking almost definitely took a lot of concentration to begin with.

So I think listening to your body and eating what it wants is a great concept, taking away some of the negative feelings that can be associated with diets, but if you also want to achieve a certain result the fact is you still need to effectively manipulate your calorie intake and that takes knowledge, of where you are at and where you need to be.

Intuitive eating can be a thing, but your intuition needs to be in the right place first.

I literally cannot be bothered

Yesterday I wrote about how education on weight management is needed, but beyond that people need motivation, in fact no… they need accountability.  I said I’d write more about that today and I wanted to keep this as a separate blog because I want to write about me.

Honestly, right now I’m my best example of this argument.  I know about calories, macro splits, supplements.  I know how to train, what I need to do to stay looking a certain way (I’m trying really hard not to say certain weight).   Not only do I know all this but to be honest normally I enjoy the training and the way I eat so it’s not even hard work.

But right now I’m nowhere near that.  I’m at least two clothes sizes bigger, nothing at all fits, I avoid looking at myself side ways in the mirror because I am extremely wide right now and I just do not feel good in myself.  I cannot be bothered to train, have lost all motivation (heat does not help, nor does not yet being back teaching) and whilst I eat pretty well still I’m eating a lot more chocolate whilst doing a lot less activity.

The fact is I am well educated on fitness and nutrition.  This is not a lack of knowledge or access to the right foods or access to places to train.  It’s not even a lack of goal or motivation.  I will be teaching again soon, I have purpose / reason to get going again I’m just struggling to pout it into effect.

Oddly I trained and ate well all through lockdown.  I used my training sessions as a away to structure my day and keep feeling positive.  I ate well and again used meal times as a way of keeping my day structured.  Ironically the opening up of things and my return to the office almost very day (thus getting back to reality and routine) caused me to lose that training and eating routine I’d built.  I’m finding myself tired at the end of the day so deciding not to train, busy during the day so skipping lunch when I would normally have trained and pretty much comfort eating chocolate.

Literally as I’m writing this I’m saying to myself but you know what to do about this.  There is nothing about education being needed here.  This is literally just about making myself do it.  Nobody else can make me feel better about myself, I have to get back to doing what I’ve always previously just done as habit.  Equally though it made me think about what I was saying yesterday.

I completely stand by my argument that what is needed to tackle obesity is education.  Not a list of lower calorie food options but genuine understanding of the energy balance that can help people, because then you could have that McDonalds and know it’s still OK and still work towards losing weight.

But still knowing doesn’t mean applying and sometimes what we also need is accountability and support.  How many people continue to go to a PT for years and years?  For many people it’s the accountability that is worth paying for those sessions, doesn’t matter that they may know they could go and train alone.

If you know what you should be doing and still aren’t that’s OK, most of us struggle with this at least some of the time.  Best thing to do is work out what will make you get started again.  Who can hold you accountable?  Who can offer support?  Maybe that’s a PT, maybe it’s booking onto a class to make you go, maybe it’s signing up for an event (hard right now).  Sometimes it’s just telling people of your intentions, like I am here.

 

 

The Contradiction of the Dine Out Scheme and a Fight Against Obesity

You know there are lots of different types of people in the world?  People who have different struggles, some people struggle to lose weight, others to put it on.  Some people watch what they eat whether they struggle with managing their weight or not and others find they don’t need to.  Away from our physical self we all work in different industries and have different personal situations.

So I struggle to understand why so many people in the fitness industry keep comparing and contrasting the Governments intentions to tackle obesity and the Dine Out 50% Scheme.

The economy has been hit hard, in particular the hospitality sector.  The 50% scheme and the lower VAT rate are designed to stimulate an area of the economy that is on the edge of a disaster that will have far reaching effects on us all as jobs are lost and windows along high streets start getting boarded up (I mean we’ll just ignore the fact here that the Government found the money to fund this but it took a footballer campaigning to find the funds to feed kids who would otherwise go without during the school holidays).  Maybe it does encourage people to go and eat out more, but you know that when you go to a restaurant you don’t have to pick the fattiest, highest calorie thing on the menu right?  I mean – I don’t follow this rule when I go for a meal but… I could … I do have that autonomy of choice.

That’s the thing for me.  Those campaigns to stop BOGOFs and cheap deals on ‘junk’ food.  Why can I not pick for myself what I put in my mouth?  Does it take the Government making it more costly for me to eat less junk food to achieve that?  Will that work long term?  Or would me making informed decisions about what I eat be better in the long term.  I frequently get laughed at for how much I eat (and particular how much cake) but actually, most of the time (OK not so much in lockdown with no classes to teach) I’m actually easily within my TDEE even with all the cake, on occasions I am not I can say no to food if I think it’s right for me to do so, I don’t need Whitehall to tell me.

So the Government’s current scheme has a purpose and that purpose isn’t related to people’s health – it’s related to the economy, and as much as I don’t like this government (albeit I’ll admit to a  slight inappropriate crush on Rishi, although most people would look good if they’re almost always stood next to Boris) and think their messages are becoming increasingly confusing and contradictory, this policy is designed to get people going back to restaurants and pubs, to contrast it directly to issues of obesity is far to simplistic and takes away the ownership we need to take over our own bodies.

So onto the campaign against obesity.  I’ve not read too much about this as reading the news at the moment makes me incredibly aggy and to be honest I probably don’t need to be triggered any further.  From the Government website it seems to largely involve banning adverts for ‘naughty’ foods, reducing BOGOFs and GPs being able to prescribe weight loss programmes to people – this appears to be both via an NHS specific weight management plan but also being able to sign post them to Weight Watchers and Slimming World.

It’s the Slimming Clubs that seem to be the ultimate trigger to many fitness professionals here.  I’ve written previously that whilst I wouldn’t encourage someone to join one, I don’t think they are the devil incarnate that they get made out to be in our industry.  At the end of the day they promote a safe and healthy calorie deficit, they just do it in a sneaky way where the customer isn’t actually aware that’s what is happening and in a way that sadly doesn’t really promote moving as part of a healthy lifestyle.

To tackle obesity what is really needed is two tier.  Firstly education.  Banning adverts and offers doesn’t educate.  It’s taking the scissors away from someone rather than explaining that they are sharp so if they use them they need to be careful.  Sending them to a Slimming Club could help but not educate.  I would hope the NHS weight management plan would be the first port of call for most referrals and more educational however.

Secondly however, as I’ll write more about tomorrow, knowing and doing are just not the same thing.  It does’t matter what you know about calories or the benefit of exercise, most of us need accountability, reasons to make the effort.  For em the Governments shortsightedness comes not from Weight Watchers but not following through to this point.

Here is where we in the fitness industry can really come into a useful position, offering services that provide that accountability and support to people.  I’ve said so many times previously though, that means less talking down on other ways of losing weight (like slimming clubs) and understanding why they are popular options with many.  I’ll tell you know, because I’ve been overweight and I went to a slimming club before a gym, because sometime gyms and the people in them seem scary.  We need to show understanding of how people looking to lose weight feel and provide services that help rather than put people off.

The other issue here is cost.  It’s often said that one problem is it’s cheaper to live off junk than fresh food.  I think that is both true an untrue.  You can find very cheap fruit and veg if you know where to look, but often you need to go to certain chains of supermarkets to get the value products, these might be out of town superstores, now if you can’t drive then you are limited to the more expensive local shops.  Socio economic factors definitely come into play in everything going on right now.  How was lockdown or you?  Will have depended on where you lived, who with, access to gardens and parks.  What will have been an idyllic summer for some would have been months cooped up alone indoors for others.  Whilst we can argue that people coming to us as PTs or coaches would be more effective for them in terms of weight management and health, three sessions with a PT a week in going to cost at least £90 a week, a gym membership at least £20 a week.  A weight in at Weight Watchers costs around a fiver.

Ultimately we need to stop over simplifying complex issues, try and look beyond our own point of view and accept that in a very complex world right now where there are economic, social and health issues vying for attention with a still ongoing pandemic that not every decision or policy is always going to sit well or make sense against another.  We need to think more on a micro scale of what we can do to improve the situation rather than getting bogged down in what Boris is cocking up this week.