How much damage did you do this weekend?

It’s generally accepted now that to lose weight you need to be in a calorie deficit, but how often do your weekends derail your progress?

The thing is that you could be in a deficit all week but if you go too big on the weekend that will all go to waste.

If you eat a salad one day you aren’t going to immediately lose a stone or if you eat a massive cake one day you aren’t immediately going to gain weight.  Your body doesn’t reset every day and bank a deficit or surplus, your energy levels are a continuous thing.  This is why coaches will often suggest clients track across a week rather than day by day.  Not only does it allow for flexibility, as some days your plans may mean you’re going to eat more and others less, it also helps adjust your mindset to avoid panicking after a big calorie day or going mad after a low calorie day because you need to ‘reset’ or because ‘you deserve it’.

So say you calculate your TDEE IS 2,500 a day so you want to eat 2,000 a day to be in a 20% deficit.  That’s creating a deficit of 3,500 calories across the week.

You do really well Monday to Friday and actually only eat 1,800 each day so you’ve built that deficit of 3,500 calories already.

But then on Saturday and Sunday you eat 4,000 calories each day,  you did well all week and deserve it right?  Only thing is that’s 3,000 calories more than your TDEE across two days, 4,000 calories more than your goal to remain in a deficit. 

And there we have it- your surplus over the weekend has suddenly cancelled out your deficit from the week.  Do that every week and you might not put weight on because you’re pretty much coming out even but you’ll struggle to lose weight.

So the solution?  Well you don’t need to not eat more at the weekend, I think naturally we all do (or at least all of us who work Monday to Friday tend to).  What you can do is be more mindful.  Keep track of the calories, make sensible choices where you can to avoid unnecessary calories (do you really need a full fat mixer when a no calorie one is available?)  By not letting the weekend be a crazy ‘time off from tracking’ you will probably find you end up consuming less just by being more aware. 

So now if you’re back in that same situation above and you’ve hit a deficit of 3,500 Monday to Friday you still have an extra 1,000 calories to play with at the weekend whilst remaining in a deficit, so you could actually have 2,500 calories each day and still hit your target.

Or you could even reduce your deficit target to 10% for those two days, then you’d have 2,750 calories each day to play with.

Or you could even aim for 10% deficit across the whole week.  Now the same Monday to Friday would leave you a whopping 6,750 calories for your weekend to remain in a (smaller) deficit.  Slower progress but you would still see progress.  

The point being whilst YOLO is a tempting attitude for your weekends or any time off if you really do want to make changes to your body you need to understand how being really good in the week doesn’t automatically counteract a crazy weekend.  It can certainly be used as a tool to help balance out your energy deficit, but if complete abandon is applied and you find you frequently aren’t getting the results you want a little more awareness could be your first step in changing that.

Calories are fact

There’s been lots of content around calories and calorie tracking in the news and on social media recently (at least there has on my feed).  The announcement that restaurants will have to display the calorie content of dishes in an effort to tackle rising obesity levels in the UK has been met with a variety of reactions.  Notably anti dieters have argued it could have a negative effect on some people, those with or recovering from eating disorders for example.  Others have argued that, much like the super skinny waif super models of the 90s, the emphasis could have a negative impact on young people (mainly female it is generally assumed) perception of themselves.

I struggle with the anti calorie counting movement if I’m honest.  That’s a slightly against the trend thing to say but hear me out.

Of course there are people for whom calorie counting is not beneficial and if your doctor or any medical professional you are seeing advises against it you should follow their advice.  Nor do I advocate obsessively tracking every last morsal of food nor restricting youself in the amount of type of food you eat.  I don’t believe you need to be a certain size or weight to be happy and I think you should eat what you enjoy eating, and be a meat eater, vegtarian or vegan for whatever reasons you so choose.

The fact remains however that being aware of the energy values of what you consume daily is useful.

People who are at a happy healthy weight for them probably consume about what they expend on an average day, either without thinking or conciously.  People who want or need to lose or gain some weight for their health probably do not. Yes there are exceptions, but generally the majority of us are not genetic marvels, the majority of us who wish or need to change of current mass are simply eating either too much or too little.

Again, I’ll say that anyone with any form of disordered eating should seek professional advice and follow that, not what someone on the internet says, but if you are an average Joe, then being aware of the energy balance equation is likely all you need to make any changes you either need or desire.

I was flicking through some recipes the other day, there were purposefully no nutritional values given because the author wanted to promote a non diet culture.  I respect that, it goes with their ethos and fits in with their values (and the recipes look lush), but I couldn’t help thinking, man it would be easier if they were provided so I didn’t need to add each ingredient into MyFitnessPal.  Because for me, knowing what I’m eating is useful, it’s like knowing how much fuel is in your car rather than just driving with blind hope you’ve enough to get to your destination or paying for things without knowing how much cash is in your bank account.

I almost feel like being so against calorie counting is as much of a red flag as obsesively calorie counting.  If the idea of knowing how may calories is in your food on a menu really does trigger something and stop you eating it (as opposed to heping you making an informed decision) then perhaps that is also a sign you need to look at your view of food.  Because eating what the fuck you like because you enjoy food is great, but if the idea of knowing the energy number attributed to that freaks you out there’s still an issue.  The goal is surely to know that sometimes you’re eating higher calorie foods but you’re just aware of your overall energy balance so allowing yourself to mainatin your energy levels, feel good and remain nurourished and healthy.

For every person who has struggled with an eating disorder where calories are a trigger word there are plenty of people that just aren’t really sure how the energy balance works.  All the media coverage around diet clubs like Slimming World attest to this.  Fitness professionals argument against these clubs is that they don’t properly educate people, bringing the notion of calories more to the forefront of people’s conciousness could help change that.  There will be people for whom calorie counting is not beneficial, they can ignore those numbers.

In fact that’s the issue isn’t it.  Almost every policy in the world will not benefit some people, but will benefit others.  We need to know how to ignore things that don’t help us, to learn how to not get affected by things that we may see as opposed to be outraged that something that could benefit someone else but doesn’t benefit us is visible to us, even if it upsets us.

That isn’t saying not tracking calores is wrong or that you should track every day.  It’s saying that for some people who want or need to make a change undertsanding and being aware of their consumption is vital and clouding a realtively simple process of tracking with intuitive eating, mindful eating, anti diet ideas doesn’t help them.  Those concepts all work, they are all valid but if you are eating intuitively and not happy with the direction you are going in you need to retrain your intuition.  When you learn something new you follow rules and methods and don’t follow intuition, eating isn’t much different in this case.  If you are happy and feel your energy levels are great you can crack on with what you are doing.

The crux of the matter is calorie counting isn’t the thing that causes disordered eating.  Deciding you wat to lose some weight because you’d like to or because you’ve been advised I would help isn’t the sign of disordered eating.  Caloires in v. calories out is a simple fact, like gravity.  The issue isn’t that it’s all the stuff we have constructed around it. 

Listening v. Learning

Listening to your body / eating intuitively / being kind to yourself. All buzz words and phrases in recent years. And as I’ve written many times before, a perfectly valid way to eat if in doing so you are in a position where you are happy with your body and your energy levels.

I can eat and stay on track without tracking quite easily. I do track, largely as a habit that I don’t find particular cumbersome or triggering, but I could not track and still roughly know how my week’s food intake was likely to affect me. I maintain, as I have written previously, that is largely because I have mastered tracking, got an idea of what I need in terms of food.

But to move beyond the arguing what works best to lose body weight thing for a moment, you know what I personally could not do via intuitive eating. Listen to what type of food my body wants.

Because the idea of feeling like I need xyz so that’s what I’ll give my body allows me too much freedom to eat things that will derail my goals and in portions that at no point would my body actually intuitively be asking for. All I’m saying is my body rarely screams at me in needs vegetables.

Perhaps I need to be more in tune with myself. Maybe I could teach myself to think hmmm I feel fatigued my body is craving carrots instead of god I’m knackered I really need a tub of ice cream. Point is though I do know what my body needs. Over the years I’ve learnt what my body needs, what works, when, what actually makes me feel sluggish even though I think it won’t, what times of day I prefer exercising on an empty stomach and when I need to be fed first and so on. That was by trial and error and planning and tracking rather than eating when my body told me and what it old me. I mean apart from anything else I think with my brain how would I even plan my shopping eating intuitively! I’m flexible of course I am, sometimes I don’t feel like whatever I’ve planned, sometimes I need extra food than what I planned, or more sugar or more carbs.

The fact remains I think by understanding my body by seeing what works and then sticking to the systems that have worked and suit me and my taste buds and make me feel good when I train, I mat not be listening to my body but my body is probably more grateful that I’m doing that over eating what it thinks it want (it seriously only ever think it wants cake I tell you now). Is what I do more onerous that intuitive eating? I really don’t think it is.

Ultimately I don’t think we need to get caught up in the idea that tracking and planning and eating mindfully is bad. It may not suit some, there may be some it isn’t a good option, that’s the case for most things though. Like anything intuitive eating might not be the solution to all diet problems.

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.

Cheat Meal Time

Cheat Meals. Two very emotive words that muttered on Facebook always tend to create debate and bring out two very polarised camps of people.

Generally as a PT I would fall into the don’t think on meals or days as ‘cheats’. You can manage your calories and how much you eat across a week to be able to have what society would generally deem a ‘cheat meal’ and still stay within your calorie goals and reach whatever goal you may have.

More than this, classing a meal as a ‘cheat’ can lead to you thinking of foods as good and bad can be damaging to your feelings around food. Guilt about eating a certain type of food does nothing for your mental health, how you view yourself or your eating habits in general.

Equally however it’s actually really hard not to fall in the habit of referring to foods as ‘treats’ or ‘cheats’. Personally, I know a takeaway isn’t an automatic bad thing and that actually some days I could end up eating fewer calories after a fast food meal than I would have had I made a ‘healthy’ meal. Some people do not know this. Some people might know but not be quite willing to accept it, so throw away comments about cheat meals, whilst not a big deal for me could create a bigger barrier in someone else’s mindset.

For me there are two issues relating to the idea of cheat meals. Teaching people that foods do not need to be grouped into good and bad and working on our own language and how we absent mindedly refer to food.

But there’s one more issue to add to this mix. We’ve noted a lot during the Pandemic that obesity is an issue in the UK and that it causes health issues. We’ve largely noted beyond that (unless your Boris who prefers the less educated approach) that education on nutrition and the energy balance is key to this.

Now here, at a very basic level, the good / bad food list can be useful. If you want to educate someone about the benefits of a balanced diet and the benefits of eating fresh foods then there is going to be a little bit of a good / bad rhetoric. Cheat meals are essentially the idea of people who have a relative understanding and interest in health and nutrition and would benefit from understanding the restrictions this mentality can place on you. For someone with a very limited knowledge of the energy balance equation we are essentially going back to the food pyramid which does promote an element of good / bad foods.

We need to acknowledge that yes essentially weight loss can be incredibly simple, that does not mean there are not lots of obstacles we can nee help with at various points. Sometimes the simplest things can be quite tricky.

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.