Did you gain weight in Lockdown?

Ten reasons you might have put weight on during the Pandemic

  1. Boredom – You eat because, what else is there to do? When you can barely leave the house celebrations, treats, relaxation can all tend to be food based activities. When you’re bored, eating is something you can do, or cooking, and if you’ve cooked it you’ll eat it right? This has led to you eating more than before and more than you expend. That can lead to weight gain.
  2. You became the new Mary Berry – Tied in with number 1, I think I was the only person in the world not to bake banana bread in lockdown ‘the original’. If you managed to find some flour it was likely you baked. As above, the more you bake and then eat the more likely you are to find yourself in a calorie surplus.
  3. Comfort Eating / Stress – We’ve all been more stressed than normal this last year. For some you may eat less when stressed, but if you’re like me you’ll find yourself eating more, it’s a form of comfort eating. Eating lots of (normally) high calorie foods can be a way of trying to make yourself feel better but also a way of making it more likely you’ll be in a calorie surplus.
  4. More booze – Maybe you’re less about the food and more about the booze. Drinking from home is now the only way we can drink and another way to maybe settle the nerves and beat the boredom. But it’s cheaper than pubs and the measures are bigger so the calories can be deceptively high.
  5. Less gym / more Netflix – Gyms are closed meaning for many our normal way of training is not an option. We adapted but you may be missing aspects of your normal routine, be in variety, intensity, volume. This may mean you’re expending fewer calories. Equally, who hasn’t completed Netflix / Amazon Prime / More 4? Jesus I watched the whole series of MAFS in two weeks. With less options to go outside there is just more sitting in the day, again leaving us to burn fewer calories.
  6. Less NEAT – Which leads me to NEAT- the calories you burn when not specifically exercising. These make up the majority of your calories. Before Covid if you went to the gym there will have been the getting ready, packing a bag, walking there and back whereas now you stand up off the sofa and you’re ready to go. Before Covid you travelled to and from work, to the shops, to social occasions, you moved about without thinking about it. You may now be consciously going for a daily walk which is great, but you’re probably still moving less.
  7. WFH – No commute, no popping out for a coffee / lunch, no moving about the office / shop / restaurant. You might also find you snack more. You’re near your fridge- makes grazing so much easier. Working from home equates to moving less and possibly consuming more.
  8. Disrupted sleep patterns – Lack of sleep and weight gain tend to be a common couple. The stress of the last year and the change to our routines has affected many people’s sleep patterns. That may be affecting you’re weight.
  9. ‘The Third Lockdown Trap’ – Is it just me or did you maintain weight in the summer when you could run outside until late and the light evenings meant you wanted to train but come the winter Lockdowns you were tired by the evening and the dark made it feel later than it was and you just lost all motivation? By this time fatigue had also set in and in general I struggled so much more to want to eat well or train. The gym is a saviour in the winter because it provides the environment I need to keep me motivated. I missed that.
  10. Changes in shopping habit – You could no longer get an online shop maybe, going around a shop leads to more temptation to buy high calories foods to add to your normal diet which you may normally avoid with online shopping. The feeling that when you went shopping your should buy everything you could need for the week to avoid unessential trips so buying way too much and eating it anyway. These little changes to our habits could create a calorie surplus unwittingly.

Now I think for almost all of us this is the first Pandemic we’ve ever lived through (and going from the hording of last March most of us probably imagined living through a Pandemic would be slightly more dramatic with looting, soldiers and check points than the daily walks, Banana Bread and home workouts that it was), it’s not a shock therefore if at some point over the three lockdowns, 4 tiers and all the rules in between you’ve found the change in your daily life had led to some weight gain.

Is it a bad thing? No, there are many bigger problems of course. That being said weight change can make you feel less comfortable in your skin, less confident and if there’s one thing we do know about Covid- being fit and healthy helps reduce the chances of getting seriously ill. So you might well want to lose a bit of weight, get back into feeling fit again and that’s ok, we’re all allowed to feel our best at a certain shape / size and want to maintain that.

But there is no shame in having put on a bit of weight, it’s hardly a shock, none of us knew how to react and it’s hard to handle your emotions when faced with uncertainty and the unknown. We do know that guilt over any weight gain won’t help you however. Understanding why you may have gained the weight can help you both feel more empathy for your self (why do we always judged ourselves much more harshly than others) and also work out what we need to make the right changes to start to get back to where you’d like to be.

Is Calorie Counting Restrictive?

One of the most commonly quoted objections to calorie counting is the lack of freedom, the feeling that it is a restrictive way of eating.

Yet if you eat intuitively but find yourself saying I can’t eat ‘that’ I think that’s more restrictive than tracking how many calories are in ‘that’ as you eat it.

‘That’ might be bread or pasta or ‘bad’ carbs. ‘That’ might be chocolate or cake or crisps. ‘That’ might be a takeaway or other type of junk food.

We often put lots of rules in place with our own diet, have our own ideas of what constitutes a ‘good’ diet and what is ‘bad. If we find ourselves saying we mustn’t eat certain foods or eating them and then feeling guilty that is not a non restrictive diet. Whether you track or eat intuitively if you find yourself avoiding certain things you enjoy that is still a restrictive way of eating.

In fact, if you track your calories to work towards your goal and eat all the foods you enjoy whilst doing so I’d argue that that is much less restrictive than not tracking but having a list of avoid / bad foods.

Calorie counting for all it’s apparent simplicity causes a great deal of debate amongst some people, but I think sometimes it gets a bad rap for restrictive ways of eating when it can actually be a way of eating much more freely and removing some of the guilt from eating certain foods.

Calories Counting v Intuitive Eating

I’ve written previously about intuitive eating and how I feel like you cannot eat intuitively until you understand calorie tracking. Two ever so opposite end of the scale things but they kind of work together.

I get why people don’t necessarily want to track calories. I get that for some people it could get a bit obsessive. I get that you don’t just want to make food about numbers. I get that it’s time consuming and dull. I get that there’s so much more to life than how many calories you eat and constantly thinking about what you have left in your calorie bank.

But. But but but.

If you want to lose weight… or gain weight for that matter… you have to be eating the right amount of calories compared to how many calories you expend each day / each week.

Now you might be someone who is happy with their weight. If that’s the case you probably can just eat intuitively, because what you are eating right now is keeping you where you want to be. This post is not for you!

If you want to change your weight, up or down, that indicates that what you currently eat right now either provides you with too many (if you want to lose) or not enough (if you want to gain) calories. Before you say it, yes maybe you are that rare person who is struggling because of a condition and the reason is far more complex, but harsh truth – the majority of us are not that person, the majority of us just aren’t eating the right amount for our goals.

So if you aren’t eating the right number of calories right now you can’t eat intuitively. Because to do something intuitively requires knowledge of how to do it in the first place. At work, do you do tasks you’ve done many times before instinctively, without thought- looking at a problem and knowing the issue and solution before you’ve really even thought about it? Can you answer the question before it’s even been asked because you know what they’ll ask because it’s what everyone always asks? Could you do that on your first week of the job? Of course not. You learnt your job and over time through doing your actions became more instinctive, more confident.

Same with calories. You need to understand how much of the type of foods you eat is right for you to reach your goal. To do this you need to track. The more you learn about this as you track the less you need to rely on tracking, because you can learn to start reading you own body and hunger and getting used to the right kind of portion sizes for you and your goals.

So over time you can track less, maybe just checking in occasionally to check your still in the right zone, or using it as a refocus if you’ve found yourself going a bit off track. You don’t have to commit to a lifetime of strict tracking everything that passes your lips. But to get a handle on where you are at and work out where you need to be you do need to be aware of what you are really eating, and tracking is really the only way.

If you don’t want to track you don’t have to of course, but if you’re frustrated you aren’t reaching you goals and aren’t tracking you may want to reconsider because whether you track or eat intuitively calories do count.

Boris, please stop talking

Wow – I saw a video today where Boris talks about what he’s been doing to lose weight and what the Government plan to do to help people lose weight.

Now if you follow me on any of my other Social Media you’ll know I’m not a Boris fan, but I think I’m pretty open minded and I’m capable of not being a fan of a person but seeing where they make a positive impact. But really Boris, really?

Last year he admitted after he was hospitalised with Covid that his weight was an underlying condition that affected how he reacted to Covid (I know a lot of people not from the UK read this so bit of background- Boris Johnson is our Prime Minister who caught Covid and was taken into hospital with breathing difficulties). The fitness industry has been vocal throughout the pandemic about our importance to the nation, not just with Covid but the Health Service in general would benefit from people being healthier. Obesity is a problem for this country and so combatting that quite rightly should be an objective for the Government.

But how are they combatting this? We’ve seen word of links with Slimming Clubs and now the PM is telling people he’s gone low carb. Seriously. Seriously.

We are all so aware now about how dangerous fads and extreme diets can be for people. Promoting diets that cut out food groups completely or encourage eating in systematic ways without providing any education as to either why that might help them drop some pounds or the effect it might have on them is incredibly irresponsible.

Reality TV stars get called out all the time on Social Media for promoting fads to their followers, but its seems the Government is allowed to to the same in the name of policy?

I wholeheartedly agree with the overall mission statement behind the initiative, but they have access to advisors, surely someone should have thought to give Boris a script or just tell him to shut up.

We need to learn as a nation the basics of the energy balance, that to not put weight on we need to not consume more than we burn. Teach it in schools, create tools that GPs can use that teach it to adults, promote that on TV shows rather than 800 calorie diets that create a media storm to increase ratings. Be responsible, which I’m pretty sure is what Government is meant to be.

The January Diet

January is when traditionally people go on ‘a diet’.

The word ‘Diet’ conjures up images of restriction, lettuce leaves, starving, no chocolate, cakes or sweets, cutting out carbs, cutting out fat … the list goes on.

What ‘Diet’ actually means is the sum of food consumed by a person – what we actually put in our mouth.

Some diets may be more health focused than others, some may promote weight loss and others weight gain, but we all have a ‘Diet’.

So if you were planning on starting a ‘Diet’ next week– good news- you’re already on one and have been for the last 365 days!

So actually all you need to do, if you did want to lose weight next year, is make some small improvements to that current diet.

If you have booked sessions with a trainer, signed up to a programme or plan (in person or online) then you know you will get the advice you need to do this sensibly.

If you are planning on making the changes yourself then don’t look to quick fix diets or plans that promise you a six pack in six weeks.

Work out how many calories you burn daily, take 20% off this and aim for that number of calories each day.  This will create safe and sustainable calorie deficit which will allow you to reduce body fat steadily.

You can eat whatever you want as long as you stick to that calorie allowance.  Perhaps you will want to make more sensible choices (if that makes you feel better and you find it helps keep you fuller as you reduce your calorie intake a bit) but overall the way to reduce body fat (which I am assuming is the goal here) is to consume a little less than you burn.

Overtime you might want to start fine tuning what you eat, but to start just focusing on hitting a calorie deficit is a great habit which will make a huge difference to how you feel and one small change to your diet at a time will have a longer lasting effect on your health in 2020 than any quick fix fad diet.

By the way. You don’t need to detox out Christmas – your body is pretty well equipped to do any required ‘detoxing’ and you don’t HAVE to go on a diet or lose weight next year (but I’m a PT and I know lots of people will want to so I’d rather put out sensible advice on the subject than just tell you to not feel pressure to lose weight (pretty sure you can make that decision on your own)).

When what you eat does matter

I wrote earlier this week about how calories matter most when it comes to weight. That how you make up those calories is not as important.

Today I want to almost contradict that and talk about what types of food you eat does make a difference.

I’m not changing my message. The calories you consume still matter the most. But, if you are going to stick within a calorie goal, how you get those calories will define the quantity of food you get to eat.

Because you could have some quite high calorie foods that in terms of density don’t equate to very much. Equally you could eat foods that are much more dense for their calories, eat the same amount of calories but far more food.

Of course you wouldn’t want to never eat the high calories foods (they tend to be the foods we crave more) but you equally if you are trying to stay within a calorie goal, you want to eat foods that you will find filling and satisfying. Plus, as much as it upsets me, if you only eat chocolate and cake for a few meals you do eventually start to crave a vegetable!

So if you stay within your calorie goal you will be able to see results and on a base level how you get those calories doesn’t matter, but once you have the foundations of your calories in place you can start to think about what type of foods allow you to eat in quantities that satisfy you and make you feel good whilst staying on track.

Calories are King

Nail the basics before you do anything else.

If you are trying to lose weight the fundamental thing you must do is create a calorie deficit. You can do all you want with macros, supplements and meal timings, but if you eat more calories than you burn you will not lose weight.

I’m not saying these other things do not matter, once you have the basics in place these elements of your diet can help you fine tune your results. But at a very basic level, however you decide to achieve it, you must be in a calorie deficit to see weight loss- even if everything else is spot on, if this isn’t in place it won’t happen. In reverse – if you have no idea what a macro is, have never bought a supplement and pay no attention to when you eat you can still lose weight focusing just on calories. It’s the foundation everything else is built on.

Why do we try and focus on the other elements in that case? I think it’s because they are more interesting. The idea of just adjusting when you eat or adding in some pills but other than that keeping your diet the same is appealing, more appealing than accepting you need to eat either less or different things (to eat the same quantity but reduce calories). I also think the existence of books that, in order to create an angle, sell a diet based on a rule revolving around fat / carbs / sugar or whatever confuses people, selling that angle as the reason for results and ignoring the sneaky fact that that spic rule essentially also creates a calorie deficit.

The overall message I want to make here is I’m not saying don’t look at other aspects to your diet, but don’t look a them instead of your calorie intake if you want to lose weight because you’re just making your own life harder than it needs to be.

Cheat Meals are a Myth

Cheat meals don’t work.

Theoretically cheat meals are a great idea- you stick to your diet knowing that on Saturday you will be able to have the mother of all cheat meals right? Every time you feel like giving in and eating that chocolate bar you resist with the thought of that massive pizza, wedges, garlic bread, chicken wings, Ben and Jerrys, milkshake and beer that you will devour on on the weekend. You’ve been good all week and PTs are always saying that one bad meal won’t derail your diet.

Here’s the thing. One bad meal isn’t the end of the world. But. That mother of all cheat meals ends up being, because you deprived yourself all week, more than a normal days calories in one sitting. Because of that fact, the calorie deficit you’ve built up all week suddenly is a calorie deficit no more.

Think of your calories like a bank balance. You have £700 to spend this week (I mean I wish)- £100 for each day of the week. To adequately ‘save’ (lose weight) you want to not spend £140 each week, that’s around £20 a day. Now you might need to spend more some days and less other days, it isn’t necessary to spend exactly £80 each day. You might spend £150 one day and only £70 another. As long as you have that £140 still in your account at the end of the Week you’ve hit your saving goal.

So you can have that takeaway on Saturday night, you have saved during the week and have the calories to spend on your favourite foods. But here’s the deal. You have to track those calories too. If you treat it like a ‘free pass’ you’ll eat way more calories than you expect and end up eating away at your calorie deficit.

Go back to your bank balance. Say you got to the end of the week and you’d saved and you had £500 still – your goal was to save £140 so you’ve got £360 to play with. Now you could go and buy a ridiculously over priced handbag for £360 guilt free. But if you didn’t check your bank balance. Say you just thought, I know I’ve saved money this week and can afford to go shopping, but didn’t actually check what you had left in the bank. You go shopping and spend spend spend. When you check your bank the next day you actually spent £550. Now you’ve not only not saved your £140 but you’re in your overdraft.

If you factor your’ cheat meal’ into your calories it does two things – one it takes away that guilt eating mentality – it stops foods being ‘naughty’. It also ensures that you can have those meals you love whilst still being able to achieve your goals. Above all it stops you self sabotaging your own diet unwittingly.

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