In or Out

Why is it easier to create a calorie deficit by tracking and reducing your calorie intake as opposed to increase your calorie burn?

In theory you can create a calorie deficit in both ways, you can eat less or move more (or meet in the middle and do a bit of both). Generally though, I’d tend to push people to focus on calorie intake over what your burn and here’s why.

It’s pretty hard to track how many calories you have burnt a day. You can get idea of your TDEE across the week based on your general activity levels, but how many calories your burnt in that specific HIIT class or on that run is difficult to put a number on (smart watches calorie burn figures are normally massively inaccurate). Beyond that you need to remember that your TDEE will take into account your normal activity levels, so those calories have already been accounted for, so at what point do you know you’ve done ‘extra exercise? The answer is in reality you don’t. So how much you expend is a rough figure, but you can track how much you consume with much more accuracy. Of course it’s never going o be spot on to the nearest calorie but with apps like My Fitness Pal you can track your intake for free and to a reasonably accurate level. The fact that trying to monitor what you eat allows you more accurate data to sue means you’re more likely to be successful sticking to a calorie deficit if you try to adjust what you eat instead of trying to increase what you burn. If on top of this you then also look to move more (which I’d full encourage) you will find you can increase your calorie deficit a bit more and maybe assist your results.

The other aspect of creating a calorie deficit by burning more calories instead of eating less comes if you are already quite active. If you currently do nothing and then start walking daily and maybe doing planned exercise once a week, then you will probably find that you can eat the same and lose weight. You might also find though that you’re more hungry because you’re doing more so you end up eating more too. Without tracking this is a very hit and miss approach.  Now if you are already quite active and want to create a deficit through exercise the issue comes from how much more can you do in reality?  Unless you want to spend all your time in the gym how realistic is this going to be for you?  

The one time I’d be mindful of making a deficit a mixture of reducing intake and increasing output is when someone is quite small and already quite light. This is going to give them a smaller TDDE to start with and so creating a calorie deficit by food alone might leave them with a very small daily calorie amount. In cases like this a missed approach could be beneficial, however equally, it might be that a review of goals and a decision of whether weight loss if the best goal here or whether body recomposition might be a better focus.

Ultimately there are multiple ways you can create a calorie deficit. Using one which allows you to track accurately will allow you to assess progress and when you start to plateau or are noting getting results as you think you should be you have real data to use to assess why and what you can do to change that.

Bad Things

Things that are bad for you.

We’re endlessly hearing that this that and the other is bad for your health.  Not getting enough sleep, drinking too much coffee, eating too much sugar or fat, the list is endless.

If you listened to every single piece of advice you’d never be able to do or eat anything.

The thing is if you look at the ideal there are lots of things we wouldn’t ideally do or would ideally do. It would be practically impossible and very dull to live like that though.

So how do you find a balance and decide what changes to make and exactly how far to go with them?

Let’s take coffee as an example. Drinking too much coffee can affect your sleep, it can cause adrenal fatigue, it can make you feel jittery, if you’re having lots of coffee shop coffees with creams and syrups it’s adding a shed load of calories to your week.

But coffee tastes good, it’s a cheap pre workout, it helps kick start your mornings. There are worse habits to have to be fair. So really do you want to cut it out all together?

Here’s where balance comes in, what negative effects does coffee have for you personally?  If you’re trying to lose weight cream based Café Nero’s might not be great for you, but you could swap to an Americano each day and maybe have one of you favourite drinks a week instead. If you don’t sleep brilliantly, stopping the caffeine hits earlier in the day or limiting yourself to just a couple of cups might benefit your sleep. Neither of these scenarios require you to cut coffee out completely, just make some adjustments which will hopefully produce enough benefits for you to see the worth in the change.

Not everything you do has to be perfect to start making positive changes in your health and fitness, not everything has to be dramatic or black and white.

Calories Aren’t Bad

How often have you heard about calorie counting being restrictive / bad / creating obsessive eating habits? It’s the anti diet movement’s tagline.

Now the notion that you haven’t got to be a certain weight or size is great. But if you do want to lose eight because you want to and you will feel better then you are allowed to.

If you are going to do this you have to eat less than you burn. There’s literally no other way.

So if you are keeping track of your calorie intake in order to sensibly lose weight because you will feel better for that why would that be bad or unhealthy.

Of course, like anything, it can be taken to extreme. If you are refusing to do things because it would take you over your daily calories, skipping meals, finding yourself obsessing over your diet, severely restricting your food intake for quick results, cutting our food groups or anything like that then there’s an issue. If that’s you, those are signs it may be helpful to seek a medical professionals advice. For most people though, keeping a track of how much you’re eating doesn’t create such issues.  It does allow you to sensibly work towards your goals with data you can use to see what is and isn’t working.

What are the alternatives? You could use an eating systems where calories aren’t counted. Slimming World, Weight Watchers, maybe Intermittent Fasting.  They might take the counting away but they don’t prevent restrictive habits or a bad relationship with food.

You could eat intuitively. Which is great if you are happy with your body as it is, but in reality if you want to lose weight then what you eat now isn’t working and without a mean to measure your food intake how do you know what changes to make?

The upshot is, there are so many reasons you might have a bad relationship with food. Calorie counting might not be for you because of that, but calorie counting in itself doesn’t create bad relationship with food, there are so many factors in play when such a thing happens. Making a process, that is pretty factual when you take our emotional relationship with food out of the equation, into a negative idea is dangerous, not least because it’s actually the easiest, least faddy and cheapest way to lose weight out there.

Are the Scales Bad?

Scales get a bad rap.

These days multiple PTs will tell you to throw them out, so should you wiegh yourself?

Now he thing to remember is they are pretty inaccurate. The flooring your on, the make and model will affect the reading, what you’re wearing, the time of day, how hydrated you are, when you last went to the toilet, what you ate and when. All these things will affect the number on the scales.

It’s for this reason generally PTs are at pains to tell clients not to be too worried about that number. You could weigh yourself several times a day / week and get vastly different results.

And it’s not just that, what’s the right weight anyway. Most people know BMI isn’t the most accurate measure of a healthy weight and one person at a certain weight can look drastically different to another person the same weight. More than that you can be very slender and light and far less healthy or fit than someone bigger or healthier. So what weight do you even aim to be?

So weight monitoring isn’t the best motivating progress tool around. You have a week where you do everything right and still out on weight because of hormones or something else and then end up feeling disenchanted because what else are you supposed to do. This can end up being the thing that makes people think f**k it and give up.

Of course there are other ways to measure progress, but does that mean the scales should go?

I never quite managed to throw them out. I feel like knowing their limitations is enough and the fact is they can work for you. Regardless what the number is, if you weigh yourself at longer intervals, say monthly, you can see a trend of progress over time that should take into account fluctuations across the month. Another way to use them is the opposite end of the scale (no pun intended) and weighing yourself every day. If you do this you can get used to the fluctuations and the drastic up and down changes that do occur and as well as starting to see a pattern over time, this way also allows you to get used to and accept the daily changes you naturally see in weight.

Scales can be used as a tool to help you monitor your progress if you allow yourself to acknowledge that weight loss is never linear, and will happen over a period of time rather than on a day by day basis. The day to day fluctuations are just that.

Calorie Hacks

Are you trying to lose weight and struggling to stay within your calories? Truth is we all go through periods where this happens and with better weather coming up you’re likely to find it a little bit harder anyway as you find yourself out enjoying the weather more.

So what can you do to help keep your progress on track?

  • Plan your weeks meals in advance.
  • Prepare any meals you can in advance, especially for days you know you’ll be busy, that way you’re more likely to stick to your plan.
  • Treat your calories as an allowance for the week rather than per day, that way you can have days you eat more, higher calorie food and still stay on track.
  • If you know you are going out work out what you’ll need calorie wise for that meal and account for that in your plan for the week.
  • If you know you’re going to want an ice cream, cake or whatever at some point, include it in your plan for the week s you are still on track without losing out on the things you enjoy.
  • Consider options – would an ice lolly instead of a 99 be ok when you pass an ice cream man on a trip to the beach? Do you need the super cream filled high calorie coffee as well as the piece of cake or would an Americano with the cake be satisfying enough? Picking lower calorie options can be a good way of staying on track. But if you’d feel you missed out and deprived it’s probably better to just plan the ice cream into your week!
  • Be flexible. Honestly sometimes things are going to come up and put a spanner in the diet works, but living your life is more important than losing weight so when that happens don’t beat yourself up.    
  • Balance YOLO and Moderation. If you always think F**k it at any point where a bit of restraint is required you won’t see results (now that’s ok – I’ve been like this in recent years and you can totally decide to take this tact with life) but if you always refuse to do fun things or eat the amazing cake because you want to lose a pound this wee you’re missing out on life. Finding a balance that works for you on when to make the sensible choices and when to throw caution to the wind will help you stay consistent.

I’ll Start on Monday

Starting things on a clear starting point always feels good.

January 1st – New Year

1st Month- New month

Monday- New Week.

Mentally we have this fresh start mindset with these kind of days and dates.

The problem is, if you decide to start on a Monday and it goes wrong on Wednesday, you end up writing off the rest of the week to start again Monday. Or you get to October and think well I might as well wait until January now. All that time in between start points just takes you further away from your goal. In fact if you think well I’ll start again Monday on a Thursday you far more likely to binge over the weekend because you know what’s coming.

The first thing to remember is it doesn’t matter what day you start. You can start the gym or a diet on a Friday or 6th of the month or November, calories don’t only work in week or month long blocks.

The next thing to understand is you don’t need to be perfect. The only reason you want to stop a diet or training plan once you start is because you feel you’ve failed. You probably feel like you’ve failed when you don’t manage to do everything you planned to. Yet you are never going to stick 100% to something with no meals out, takeaways, days when things go wrong, days when you’re too busy to train. Accepting that a ‘bad’ day is just that and getting back to it the next day keeps your progress on track and means you won’t keep having to ‘start again’.  

Progress is rarely linear. When we start anything we have ups and downs and your fitness or weight loss are going to be no different. Restarting every other week will be much more detrimental to that progress than the occasional bad day.

That’s not to say if what you’re doing for you doesn’t suit you and isn’t working for you, that you should just stick with it. If you want to train differently, try something new. If you wat to adjust your eating habits to suit you better, you can. Instead of seeing it as starting again though, see it as an adjustment in a long term journey, where you are going to make changes as time goes on. Those changes will be what keeps progress coming.

It might make things feel a bit messier but life is pretty messy so trying to make your fitness and diet the exception to life is pretty pointless.

Second Half Report

On Sunday I ran my second half marathon in as many weeks. I set myself the challenge in January, wanting to get decent times and push myself. It ended up just getting both done would be the challenge.

The problem with such a short gap is that your legs were just about at full recovery when the second run came around. It meant I went into the day pretty much not knowing how it was going to feel. My body had also only just shifted that fatigue you get after a big run.

It was much hotter this time round, even at 9am. By mile 2 I felt like I was burning even with factor 50 on and I felt dehydrated by the first water station which is unusual as I can often get round a half with a few sips of water at each station – I could have happily had several bottles of water at each one this time round! I got cramp in the top on my right calf again and I’m pretty sure it was dehydration.

Manchester is flatter than Birmingham which helped a bit, as did the knowledge that I’ve recently done the distance and so could, in one way or another, do it again.

Again I was ok for the first 3, even 6 miles. Hitting the 11 km mark at around 1 hour 20. If I had stayed on pace I could heave finished in 2 hour 30. The lack of training and hang over from Birmingham though meant maintaining that pace just wasn’t going to happen. The cramp kicked in around 14 km in and I couldn’t shake it fully. I managed to walk it off a bit but it kept creeping back in so I had to keep walking it off. I slowed dramatically and introduced a bit of strategic walking, getting in at 2 hour 56 in the end.

That being said, I completed one of my goals set out at the start of the year, not exactly as I planned but I did it nonetheless. Now it’s time to decide what I want to do for the second half of the year. Hopefully now that the cough is starting to ease (it’s there still but much better) I can train properly again and either look to improve my time at this distance later in the year or look to try a different challenge all together.

Mental Health Awareness Week

This week is Mental Health Awareness Week so I felt like I should blog at least once on the topic this week.

I always enjoy writing about how our mental health affects our fitness and diet because I think the two are so interlinked that I’m just not sure any training routine or diet will help you much if your mind isn’t in the right place.

One thing I think often gets missed from fitness posts about mental health however is when exercise won’t help.

Because, it’s true, exercise has proven benefits for peoples mental health. It helps reduce stress, has shown to help alleviate depression and anxiety and helps increase confidence. Moving more and eating a bit better is overall good for you.

It isn’t a fix all though and I think sometimes that can get lost. Whilst exercise can be therapeutic in many cases of depression, anxiety and so on it doesn’t get to the route of the issue itself. In a lot of cases what we need to do if we are suffering from a mental health condition (as opposed to feeling a bit down for a short period of time which is natural and happens to us all at some point in life) is speak to a doctor, who might prescribe medication or refer you for a suitable type of therapy where you can work through the causes and look to deal with them. Most doctors in my experience will also encourage you to be active and eat well but it’s rarely the only thing they prescribe.

The other thing to remember about training and mental health is that whilst it can be a real benefit, in some situations it can also become a problem. Overtraining is a real risk when people use exercise as a way to feel better, and without having other coping mechanisms away from the gym to help self soothe exercise can be as problematic s it is beneficial.

I think we need to remember that when we talk about exercise and mental health. That training alone often isn’t enough and there’s no shame in also getting medical help.

The Second Half

I’m supposed to be ruining another half marathon on Sunday. I really don’t know if i can do it. I mean I guess I always have this worry but there’s a little bit of me that kind of knows I’ll get round one way or another. This time I genuinely do not think that’s the case.

My legs actually recovered within a couple of days, although for some reason known only to my small little brain I decided to incorporate a lot of calf work into classes this week to the extent i now have DOMs and so now my legs are not ok.

My body really hasn’t recovered in terms of fatigue yet. I’d normally if nothing else make sure I go into something like this relatively well rested if underprepared and I’m not. I can also still vividly remember the feeling at miles 5 and 10 and how depleted I felt, pushing through that once is one thing, doing it again so soon feels like one step too many for me.

Equally though, I set myself the challenge of doing to in one month back in January because it would be hard and so part of me wants to see it through and ignore the low level anxiety I’m feeling about it right now.

Someone said today if it took 6 hours to just get round they wouldn’t tell anyone, but I kind of think even if it took a really really long time, if I did it, it would be an achievement and prove to myself that I can do things even when they’re hard. After recent months I feel like that’s something i need to remind myself in terms o fitness.

So for now I’m going to eat plenty, try to get lots of sleep, rest up and then see if I can do it. Might change my mind before Sunday!

YouDon’t Need to be Crazy

What you see on social media in terms of fitness content is massively distorted.

Most people who post things about their training are fitness professionals, obviously they are doing it to try and help people.

But when they ae in the gym training every day, well it can create the impression that you need to be in the gym training everyday.

Now it’s not practical firstly, PTs who work in fitness free time are firstly going to have more ability to train every day. They are literally in gyms every day. Fitting something in is easier when that happens. Also if you teach classes, well you are going to do some exercise on those days and get paid for it, so.

For the clients of said PTs life is very different. You don’t have the same incentive to work out every day, probably less easy access to equipment and to be honest you probably don’t have the same desire to train that much, and to be honest, that’s ok.

I used to train every day, more than once most days, teach 14 classes a week minimum, run. Now to be honest I go to the gym maybe 4 times a week, run a couple of times (when I’m not laid up with the cough!) and teach twice. I couldn’t post hardcore videos of me training daily if I wanted to!

My routine now if far more realistic for someone who has an office job for 40 plus hours a week. I don’t want to kill myself trying to do everything anymore.  Want to go home, put my pyjamas on and watch Only Fools and Horses sometimes.

When you judging your own progress, how hard your working compared to other people you see online it’s useful to remember that most of those have an invested interest in training as much as they do- they get paid to do it in some form or another, it’s their passion, and that’s great.

You don’t need to be all in like that to get results though, to be fit and healthy or lose a few pounds.  You can make some changes and do a bit more and enjoy it but not be doing absolutely crazy shit every single day.