How To Get Fit

How do you get started with a fitness regime? How do I get back into a routine when I’ve fallen out of mine? Lockdown one and two (at what point did we start numbering them because it’s a standard thing now isn’t it?) have, for a lot of us, thrown our training and nutrition into a bit of a tailspin.

So what do you do if this is the case? Whether you are looking to get started or a seasoned gym goer in a funk there’s one key strategy to get going.

Do one thing.

Whilst we often state our lack of doing things is down to a lack of motivation, in actual fact motivation is more a case of momentum. We tend to find motivation from doing something and using that as a stepping stone to do more. The more we do the more motivated we feel.

So when we want to get started with improving our fitness or nutrition making one small change is the best way of getting started.

This could mean doing one short workout (10 minutes), going for a walk, starting to track our calories, committing to drinking more water each day. Once we start to feel the benefits of this it becomes easier to consider adding additional things into our routine.

On top of create an increased sense of motivation, doing one small thing at a time can also make building a fitness regime feel more achievable.

This goes against most of our natural instincts. We tend to have a desire to be perfect, the idea that if we don’t do everything perfectly is there any point of doing it at all is prevalent (hence why so many diets start on Monday, and when people have one slip they wait to start again the following Monday). We aren’t perfect though. Not even those people that really seem to have it all together (you know those people who seem to know how to adult), so we are far more likely to feel successful if we work on our goals in small chunks.

So as you start this week, if you are wanting to make a change to your fitness or nutrition, think about trying to improve one small thing and nothing more than that.

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.

Magic Pills

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Intuitive Eating

Intuitive eating and the anti diet movement.

I’m a bit torn by this.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.