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

Permission To Eat

How many times have you not eaten a meal or snack because you ate too much the day before or because you haven’t trained today or you’ve been really lazy?

So you skip a meal or eat the lowest calorie thing you can find to compensate.

Then later, when you’re either really hungry because you’ve not eaten or you really want to eat certain foods because you now feel bad and want comfort food, you eat all the foods you enjoy but which also make you feel bad because they are ‘naughty’.

Then the next day the cycle begins again.

Or you are sticking really closely to a low calorie diet and creating a 500 calorie a day deficit.  You do this for 30 days creating a 15,000 calorie deficit.  But it’s hard to stick to, you always crave your favourite foods.  You get to a weekend away, and you’ve been so so good recently so you think what the hell and eat anything and everything all weekend.  Now you have 5,000 calories a day for 3 days, which is the same amount of calories that you just spent a month creating a deficit of.

You’ve deprived yourself so much that you feel you have to have a blow out and the blow out almost cancels out the progress.

Both of those situations are linked to how we view food; good and bad foods, naughty foods, how we deserve or don’t deserve food, how some foods should be avoided or we need to earn higher calories foods.

The problem with thinking about and labeling food in this way is your emotions affect what you eat and what you eat affects how you feel.

In other words we need to not feel guilt when we eat certain foods or certain amounts and accept that food is something that we use for energy.  We can enjoy it and should enjoy it and yes, depending on the situation, we do also need to be aware of calorie values and how much or little we consume.

However labeling food does not help us, equally telling ourselves we much do a certain amount of activity to earn food is also damaging to our own self worth.

You need to eat a base number of calories every day for energy even if you stay in bed all day.  Telling yourself you do not deserve to eat certain foods because you’ve not trained much is equally as bad for your own self worth as feeling bad about eating certain foods.

In finding a way of eating and training that you enjoy and is sustainable removes the guilt and the urges to binge and allows you to feel happy with your diet and nutrition routine.

We need to give ourselves unconditional permission to eat.

 

 

 

 

Why do people doubt the energy balance equation?

As a PT and group fitness instructor I frequently talk about the Energy Balance Equation.  How if you want to lose weight you must have more energy going out than in, if you want to gain weight it’s the opposite and to maintain you want them to be about equal.

It’s essentially the base of any nutrition knowledge, and the first thing anyone needs to get to grips with if they want to work on their nutrition.

Macros, meal timings, supplements.  They all have a place sure, but if you haven’t got your calories in v calories out in the right place what time you eat dinner, the amount of protein or fat you eat or whether you take BCAAs or won’t make much difference to your success.

Equally, people will say I had massive success with this way of eating / this method / this diet, and essentially behind each of these methods the fundamental reason for success is the individual found a way of controlling their calories in v. out that was appropriate to their goals and which suited their lifestyle.  It can be dressed up in many different ways but that fundamental lies behind every successful method of actively managing food intake.

So why are we so reluctant to believe this?

Almost universally, at some point of another, most people have chosen to believe that either the reason they are not reaching their goals or are reaching their weight management goals is something beyond calories.

No again, I’m not saying that other factors cannot help refine a diet.  If you are managing your energy balance well the types of food you get your energy from, when you eat, extra supplements can help you improve energy levels and performance.  They do this however building upon the foundation that is you eating the right amount of food for your gapl each day.

If you are over eating by 1,000 calories every day whether you eat those calories at 6 am or 6 pm makes no difference.  Whether the calories come from avacado and lettuce or Nutella on biscuits makes no difference.  Your body shape makes no difference, your genetic make up makes no difference.  You are eating too many calories for your goal.  Energy in v. energy out is like gravity- it’s a fact.

So why do we self sabotage on this so often?  Because actually, when it’s this simple, we all have the ability to successful manage our food intake in line with our goals.

I think  it comes down to two main reasons:

Firstly, people selling their ideas means that very often the calories truth is hidden behind a gimmik.

We buy into products or brands or books and theories that promise us results.  In order for those brands to stand out and or you to go to them specifically they need to have a selling point- the thing that makes their methods work.

For that they need to sell you lots of reasons beyond calories as to why their methods work.  You do their diet, you lose weight or gain weight and so accept that those methods must be the reason.  But behind all of these diets there is still always the energy balance equation, and whilst other factors can also provide benefit you still need that energy balance to be right.  What these brands don’t do is actively promote calories as the key.  They let is silently do the work in the background and let their ‘unique selling point’ take the credit.  Essentially they are like a really bad boss taking credit for what their team does as the ground work!

The second factor is our own emotional response.  It’s so much easier for us to think if i can get this one really sexy aspect of my diet right everything else will fall into place.  Why else do diet pills appeal to people – you take this one pill, make no other changes and you’ll see results.  We like that idea.  If I add this supplement that will make the difference.  Because accepting that actually we aren’t eating enough or are eating too much means we need to actually work and make real changes to what we eat.

We also often tend to over estimate (for people looking to gain weight) or under estimate (for people looking to lose weight) how much we eat in terns of calories I find.  That’s why tracking, whilst unsexy compared to intuitive eating, is useful.  Again though it’s harder work and seems very old school and boring next to I eat what my body tells me it wants.  Now i’m not saying doing that is a bad thing – but you have to know how to listen to your body to do that, and if you aren’t already getting the results you want I’d suggest you don’t yet know how to listen to your body.  The way to learn is unfortunately the very boring learn about calories in v. out until you find the right balance for you – once you’ve grasped that eating intuitively and not tracking becomes very possible because you do then have a better idea of your energy (by which I mean calories) levels.

We all want to think we are different.  That calories might be your issue but mine is my metabolism, mine is how I react to certain foods, my blood type and so on.  It might be to a certain degree – but that thing is in reality going to be such a small factor in comparison to your energy in v. out.  So for many of us is our issue is we are focusing on something that makes a 1% difference to our diet instead of focusing on something that can have a massive difference.  We then assume that because we aren’t seeing our desired results we need to delve even deeper into our biology and chemical makeup to see results.

The best way to get results is to stop bullshitting yourself.

Workout what you burn.

Workout what you consume.

Change those to get the result you want.

It’s boring.  It’s simple.

That’s why we always look for other answers.  We assume it’s so boring and simple and obvious it cannot be the key.

We literally cannot see the wood for the trees.

Training and Nutrition: Lockdown Edition

So here in the UK we are now coming up to a week into lockdown and a couple of weeks of concerted social distancing.  This has without a doubt had a dramatic impact on so many aspects of our lives.  I briefly did a blog on working last week but being a fitness related blog I wanted to take a moment to talk about how I’m approaching my fitness during this whole thing.

Obviously everyone will be different and depending what equipment you have at home and what your goals are how you approach your training and diet right now will vary.

For me, like a lot of people I would imagine, I have no equipment at home, very little space indoors and my garden is not really suitable for exercise (it’s all gravel) although there is a car park which I can make use of on the grounds.

So with that in mind I’ve decided to approach my training by forgetting about maintaining strength or fitness, forgetting about trying to improve in any particular way.  Instead I’m focusing on just moving and using moving in a way to feel good, stay mobile and benefit my mental health.

My general plan of action is to do a little yoga flow in the morning, go for a short run at some point to get some fresh air (literally 2- 3 km or some intervals / sprints/ pyramids) at lunch time and then do either some body weight training fro 2-30 minutes or an online class such as Les Mills On Demand in the evening.  This does mean I’m doing much less each day in terms of exercise but I am still keeping myself ticking over and feeling good.

Stretching and mobility work is going to be really important.  I’m sitting a lot more and my new set up of home working is not good for my posture so it’s vital that I stretch more often to avoid discomfort.

My real challenge is going to be my diet.

I normally walk a lot- I do 25,000 steps or so without trying a day.  Last week not only did I train a lot less but i also moved a lot less in general.  My step count was closer to 5,000 steps.

I’m therefore burning fewer calories.  So i know I’m going to need to eat less.  I can’t control not being able to go to the gym.  I can’t replicate my training at home.  I can’t move as much as normal with one opportunity to walk or run each day.  I can control how much I eat.

So I’ve tried to cut my calorie intake by around a fifth.  The first couple of days that was tough but I am moving less so I’m not lacking in energy from it.  This is the strategy I know that will stop me feeling like a potato by the end of lockdown because I’ve done much less than normal and eaten the same or even more .

So in a nutshell that’s my plan – it might evolve, maybe it will change but right now I have a strategy to help me feel like I’m drifting aimlessly or getting wound up because I cannot replicate my normal routine.

What’s your plan of action for the next few weeks?

 

 

Are You Cheating Yourself?

How do you feel about Cheat Meals?

Generally the idea of a cheat meal fills people with joy, that meal where, after being good for however long, you can let go and eat whatever dirty foods you desire.

Most of us probably absent mindly refer to meals as cheat meals or cheat days when we don’t track or monitor what we are eating without really considering the problem with this way of thinking.

So what is the problem?

To clarify I don’t see a problem with eating the food.  I love a massive burger, pancakes covered in all the sauces and basically all and any type of cake.

The problem is with the ‘cheat’ mentality.

The issue is two fold.

Firstly – The issue it creates with your relationship with food.  The idea of good and bad foods and that when you eat ‘bad’ food you are being ‘bad’ and that you are only doing well if your sticking to your ‘clean’ diet.  This type of mentality will both make you a bit miserable and will make your food intake feel restrictive, ironically this is more likely to make you want to ‘cheat’ or binge.

Secondly, if you are trying to create a calorie deficit, eating a massive unaccounted for, cheat meal will effectively wipe out any calorie deficit you’ve managed to create that week.

Say you are trying to reduce your calorie intake by 500 calories a day to create a deficit, that’s 3,500 calories a week.  Now say you’ve hit that every day Monday- Friday so you’ve hit a calorie deficit of 2,500 calories.  Then on Saturday you have your cheat meal.  You don’t track this because it’s your ‘cheat’.  Then you again hit your 500 calorie deficit on Sunday.  Yet you don’t see any progress, you don’t get why- you had a 3,000 calorie deficit last week and just one cheat meal.  Something is wrong with your body, there has to be.

Had you tracked your cheat meal you’d have realised you ate 2,500 calories in that meal (maybe even more).

In reality that week you hadn’t created a calorie deficit – your cheat meal meant you’d hit your TDEE instead.  Now the lack of progress makes more sense.  Essentially that cheat meal has sabotaged your progress.

Does that mean not having the food? Of course not, but you need to be aware of what your consuming at every meal.  That way you can have that takeaway on Saturday but know you are still in a calorie deficit – this is how you can start seeing results.

Once you accept that labeling a meal or day a ‘cheat’ doesn’t mean it has not calories or impact on your diet you can start to see results.

 

Nutrition 101

This is a cut and paste from an email I received today from a PT (Ricky Long – check him out on Instagram @rickylong42) …


17 ways to lose body fat

– Eat less calories than you expend
– Eat less calories than you expend
– Eat less calories than you expend
– Eat less calories than you expend
– Eat less calories than you expend
– Eat less calories than you expend
– Eat less calories than you expend
– Eat less calories than you expend
– Eat less calories than you expend
– Eat less calories than you expend
– Eat less calories than you expend
– Eat less calories than you expend
– Eat less calories than you expend
– Eat less calories than you expend
– Eat less calories than you expend
– Eat less calories than you expend
– Eat less calories than you expend

You can create this calorie deficit in 2 ways.
– Food intake decreasing. Eat less mate.
– Exercise activity increase. Move more mate.

There are 1000’s of different training methods and dietary choices you can use to follow the above two principles.

The principle will not change

Calorie Deficit

How you achieve the deficit is where you have choice for your lifestyle.

Make it achievable

Make it safe. One method I champion to keep within calorie goals:

The original Handjob diet, by Ricky Long. 

I get emails regularly around the counting of macros.
– You do not need to count macros
– It’s a very accurate way of measuring your food
– It’s also time consuming and could potentially ruin your enjoyment of food.
– You can instead use the Hand Job Method measurement scale. Something I made up 5 years ago and named 6 months ago.
– Eat 1 handful protein
– Eat 2 handfuls veg
– Make the veg have 2 colours.
– Do this 3 times day
– One of those times add in a big carb, like rice, pasta, bread. Again just one handful
– If you feel tired you’ve eaten too much
– If you feel hungry you haven’t eaten enough
– Hand Job Diet established 2018, creator and author Ricky Long WTG – Weeker Trainer Guy


I have a lot of conversations with people about food.

So often people over concern themselves with macro splits, shakes and supplements, meal timings, how certain combinations of foods might affect the metabolism or hormones.  They often suspect the reason they can’t change their body composition is that they haven’t quite nailed one or more of these.

What they haven’t sorted is the bottom of the nutrition pyramid – Energy in v Energy out and they are either eating too much or too little in comparison to what they expend.

If you are an elite athlete, training for a comp or have very specific nutrition needs you may well need to concern yourself with more very precise details relating to your nutrition.

In actual reality for the majority of us who just want to be a bit smaller or even a bit bigger than we are you really just need to focus on the amount of calories you eat and that will largely do the job.

If you feel rubbish when you eat more carbs and less fat adjust that, if you feel good on a higher amount of protein do that, if you stay within your calorie goal the reality is for the vast majority of us the actual split isn’t too important (well eating enough protein is important – aim for 1-2g per kg of weight, the more active you are the closer to 2g you want to get, but not hitting this number in itself will not affect weight loss or gain).  If some protein shakes help you hit you calorie goal have them, if being Vegan, vegetarian, Intermittent fasting suit your life and help you hit your calorie goal then do them.

Essentially I’m saying as humans we have a tendency to assume our pain points (in this case nutrition and weight wise) must require very complicated solutions, when often the issue is we don’t do the basics very well and instead focus on the things that don’t really matter.

I’m not saying you will never want to look at the finer details in your diet.  I am saying that until you master the basics there just isn’t much point.  I’m also saying that unless you really want to spend your whole time calculating macro splits you really probably don’t need to.