Calories Matter

I write a lot about calorie deficits to lose weight and how what you make those calories up of doesn’t matter in terms of dropping weight.

Of course that doesn’t mean that what you eat doesn’t matter. How you actually structure your diet to meet these calories will have an impact on how you feel.

The fact remains that you can eat foods in any combination, eat specific foods, eat at certain times. If you aren’t in a deficit you won’t lose weight, but once you’ve got the deficit thing nailed looking at what you actually eat can help you progress further and feel better with it.

Increasing your protein intake for instance, that can help you feel more satiated, which in turn makes calorie deficits feel easier.

Swapping out some of your sugary snacks for fruit will make you feel better over time and also reduce the calorie value of your snacks.

Looking to fill up on denser lower calorie foods (piling your veggies high for instance) will keep you full but also help stay within your calorie goal.

Focusing on eating homemade food with lots of salad and veg included will make you feel better than takeaways and grab a go sandwiches, probably be lower calorie (and reduce your spending).

So of course how you chose to make up those calories does have an effect.

Why do PTs tend to say calories matter more as a headline then?

Because it’s a pyramid and you need to have the foundations right before you build.

If you aren’t yet in a deficit then looking at changing everything about what you eat and worrying about the specifics of certain foods is going to feel overwhelming. Quite simply if you can hit a calorie deficit by cutting a snack out, reducing your portion size, changing your McDonalds order from Large to regular, making your takeaway coffee an Americano instead of a Pumpkin Spiced Late every day, well that’s going to make sticking to a calorie goal easier. Once you’ve adjusted to that then you can look at some more small changes bit by bit. Generally speaking we are better at adjusting to small changes over time rather than overhauling our life all in one go, we are much more likely to stick with small changes consistently and consistency is what is needed to reduce weight and keep it off.    

Food v Exercise

I don’t know about you but I find it so much harder to keep my nutrition in check compared to training.

People always seem to think that the training is the hardest and most important part of a weight loss goal.  In reality though exercise forms a small part of your daily energy expenditure (even if you train everyday) and as it is a calorie deficit that results in weight loss it stands to reason that your energy intake is likely to be a bigger variable each day than expenditure is and therefore more likely to negatively affect weight loss.

Plus in reality, once you get into a habit training regularly isn’t actually that hard.. If you can find something you enjoy doing it will be less hard work getting the training in and more a part of your day you look forward to.

Food on the other hand can be tricky. Trying to eat a balanced diet, stay within a calorie goal and still eat foods you enjoy often enough you don’t end up on a crazy binge is tough.  There are far more variables to contend with here and we often have a more emotional relationship with food, which adds to the challenge.

So it’s perhaps unsurprising that although I feel like my training is getting back to a more consistent state and I feel better for that, my nutrition feels much less in check.

For the last few weeks I’ve focused on the training side and let myself feel more comfortable with my routine, this week I’m going to focus on what I’m eating.

To do this I’m trying to eat higher protein and to my calories each day, not trying to go super low with calories, so that  I end up getting really hungry and eating a horse (and by horse I mean whole cake).  Instead I’m trying to plan in tasty meals and snacks which won’t leave me hungry so I have less urge to grab additional higher calorie snacks.

Day 1

There’s always so much hype about ‘Day 1’.

You start a diet or a gym regime and people praise the ‘Day 1’ posts. Of course Day 1 is tough, starting anything can be daunting and finding the motivation to start is a positive which should be cheered.

Day 1 is also shiny, new and novel enough to actually be easy though. Those first few meals, gym sessions, days of change have a novelty to them that can help you stick to it.

It gets tougher as the days go by. As people perhaps stop asking how it’s going, as you have long days or challenging days and want to revert back to comfortable habits to make yourself feel better, it becomes harder to stick to your new habits and actions.

It’s not just that. In the early days and weeks results will likely come quick and fast. Depending on how much weight you have to lose you might find the pounds drop off quickly at first. If you are just starting lifting or running you might find the PBs come thick and fast for a while.

As the weeks and months go on and you establish your new habits, those results will slow. This is natural, but it’s also challenging for your motivation, as it gets harder to see progress it also becomes harder to stick to things when times get tough.

Day 1 is tough, starting is tough, but I think staying with it and never having another ‘Day 1’ again is far more challenging and yet also the ultimate goal. Fitness will always be a rollercoaster of ups and downs, peaks and being less at your peak, we don’t need to have a ‘day 1’ every time we have a down though, we just need to keep going with a healthy habits.

Have you tried eating less food?

Have you seen the latest suggestions from various Government Ministers for how people could survive the current cost of living crisis that people across the UK have been facing.

People could work more hours perhaps (because if you already work two jobs or 40 hour plus a week you have lots of extra hours to spare).

Maybe you could look for a better paid job (because we all normally try to work in the lowest possible job we can find of course).

Perhaps people could swap to supermarket’s basic brands to reduce the cost of their weekly shop (because no person on a budget has ever thought of doing that already).

The most perplexing was Bois’s flex that he was responsible for free bus travel for pensioners (because riding the bus all day means you don’t need to switch the heating on at home).

My point here isn’t that the current Government is so out of touch it’s not even funny, it’s that sometimes, even though advice may be factually correct it’s not actually very helpful to the average person. The average person who is stretched financially now is very likely to already be working as many hours at the highest pay rate as they can and probably shopping in the most economical way possible. It’s not these efforts that are the issue it’s that costs are rising higher that wages and people are feeling the squeeze on their money after bills.

The same can be said for some diet advice out there.

Think about your average magazine headline or ‘lose weight without trying’ fitness post on Instagram.

Swap sugar out for sweetener in your coffee, take the stairs instead of lift each day, increase your daily step count by 20%. Little changes like that can make a difference and help you lose weight almost without noticing, but only if you don’t already do them.

If you currently have 3 sugars in your tea that small change is going to reduce your daily calories, so is swapping from a milky coffee to a black coffee. If you don’t do much exercise upping your NEAT will help you see results. What about those people though, that already drink black coffee sans sugar, train 3-5 time a week and walk around 20,000 steps a day. It has to be acknowledged that sometimes there aren’t little easy wins out there for everyone and sometimes the changes needed to help someone see some results are a bit more complicated than anything the Tories have thus far managed to come up with for our finances.

That’s not to say that once you reach a certain point you can’t get further results of course, just that the idea of making little cut backs here and there in calories or adding in a little bit of extra exercise isn’t going to be appropriate for everyone. If you are already training every day and your NEAT is high trying to do more is possibly going to be detrimental in terms of overtraining, stress and impacting your life. If you are already in a calorie deficit very day reducing your calorie intake further is likely to be both impractical and misery inducing. At this point you need to speak with a PT or nutritionist and get an action plan that’s specific to you.

There’s lots of generic advice out there that assumes a starting point of nothing, and if you are just starting out it can be helpful, but you need to remember that not every tip and piece of advice will be beneficial or right for you. Have you tried eating less food is not going to be the advice every person looking to lose weight needs.

Weekends and Weight Loss

Happy Friday. As we’re heading into the weekend you’ll no doubt see a lot of posts on Instagram about how a weekend binge will ruin any progress with your diet.

Now at face value this is true. Let’s say you need to eat 2,000 calories a day to be in a 20% calorie deficit and you have stuck to this every day so far this week. Then tomorrow you go out for brunch, then have a takeaway and a few (well maybe more than a few) drinks, including some hefty on the calorie cocktails and eat 4,000 calories and then Sunday feeling a bit worse for wear you have a Fry Up and lots of stodge to soak it up and manage to consume another let’s say 3,500 calories. All those Instagram posts are correct. You’ve eaten 3,500 calories more than your goal. Your deficit goal for the week was 3,500 calories (20% of 2,500 leaves you eating 2,000 calories a day). You’ve just eaten that deficit over the weekend, so yes instead of losing weight that week you’re likely to maintain your current status quo. Not ideal if you are wanting to lose weight.

Yes, to combat this you could just not eat and drink like an utter dick all weekend. You manage to eat homecooked meals that contain the odd vegetable Monday- Friday and not five Espresso Martinis in two hours and you an stick to a nice bowl of yoghurt and fruit for breakfast instead of a stack of pancakes. You could, theoretically do this Saturday and Sunday too right. I mean if you really want results it will be worth it right? And you an decide this works for you. Maybe routine and having the same sorts of food food every day of the week and not eating more one day and less the next suits you, in which case crack on.

But let’s be honest, for those of us who work Monday to Friday it’s easier to reign in the urge to eat like a five year old let loose in a sweet shop because for large amounts of the time we are busy and so sticking to ‘better choices’ is naturally easier. The weekend is when we want to see friends and family, socialise, eat, drink and live. We don’t want to restrict ourselves and so that’s why it’s always ‘do the weekends ruin our diet’ articles you see as opposed to ‘are hump day Wednesdays making you fat’. If we are honest and realistic is just telling people to eat better on the weekend going to stop them eating more? Is suggesting that they substitute rice from broccoli rice so they can feel like they’re joining in or putting their burger between two slices of lettuce instead of a bun going to help (I have such an issue with foods masquerading as other foods but that’s by the by)?

But your body doesn’t start at zero every day. You know how people say one bad day of food won’t make you fat or one salad won’t make you lose 6 stone, our body responds to what we do over a period of time. So your 2,000 calories doesn’t have to reset every morning. So say you actually look at it as 2,000 x 7 = 14,000 calories a week. You naturally easily eat less Monday- Friday so say you eat 1,700 calories each day, except for Friday when you had a couple of biscuits at work and had 1,800. You’ve had 8,600 calories, that leaves you 5,400 for the next two days. Now that still isn’t a fuck it I can go crazy here amount of calories. But that’s say a relaxed 3,000 on Saturday for a big Saturday meal (with maybe some swaps on the booze swapping cocktails for Prosecco to lower the calories- a swap i can get behind!) and 2,400 on Sunday for a decent amount of stodge t clear up the hangover.

That’s a solution that is both not letting your weekend ruin your diet but also not letting your diet ruin your weekend. It isn’t saying sod it and throwing calories counting out the window but it is allowing your diet to fit around your lifestyle. So yes, a crazy cheat weekend will ruin your dieting progress but a plan that allows you to fit those weekends into it can certainly exist.

The top of the Pyramid

My last two posts have focused on the Nutrition Pyramid. Here’s a little one on the rest of the Pyramid.

1) Micro Nutrients

2) Meal Timings

3) Supplements

These are the things you can start to look at once you’ve nailed the basics at the bottom of the pyramid. They can help you tweak your energy levels but looking at any of these in isolation when you haven’t got a hold of energy in v energy out will not bring you great results.

One of the most most common questions asked around these topics is what protein shake should I use?

Put simply, shakes are not a necessity – they may help you top up the protein that you are getting from food and can be simple and quick but if you hate the taste and prefer to get all your protein from food you aren’t missing out on anything! What brand should you use? The one that you like the taste of ideally!

Toxic Diet Culture?

Today I saw a post referring to calorie counting / losing weight (dieting) as toxic.

Toxic!

In 2022 can we please stop referring to anything we don’t personally like as toxic? Because whilst calorie counting may not be right for everyone that doesn’t mean it’s toxic. same with weight loss.

Now, quick caveat, there are people for whom calorie counting isn’t a good idea, it can indeed for some become obsessive and be damaging. For those people yes calorie counting is not to be encouraged.

But for many calorie counting is the most simple straight forward, cost effective and practical way of creating a calorie deficit – which if you want to lose weight – is what you need to achieve.

So let’s reframe the notion that calorie counting is toxic. Calorie counting is simply a method of tracking energy intake which for some people will work well but whom for some may not be beneficial.

Swimming is a very good way to exercise. Except not for me, because I can’t swim. Does that mean swimming is toxic and a bad way to train, because it doesn’t suit me? Pretty sure everyone reading said no in their head just then.

Very few things in life are in themselves toxic, our relationship with something may well be toxic, that doesn’t mean it is also toxic for everyone else.

Diets get a bad rap, because traditionally they’ve been seen as restrictive and not sustainable. That’s really not the case these days. Most coaches will encourage sensible calorie deficits and won’t suggest you cut out food groups or stop eating your favourite foods.

Diets are just using a bit more energy than you consume each day to create a physical change in your body. Unless you’re doing that to please someone other than you it is not toxic.

Certain things might be a bit triggering to us personally, that doesn’t mean they’re automatically toxic, I think it’s a bit unhelpful to ourselves not to recognise that, as it puts all the responsibility for our reactions onto society, when in reality we can’t control what other people say or do so we have to instead look to control how we chose to react to it.

Christmas Eve Eve

Christmas Eve Eve.

Officially now the time when all food consumed, bar a bit of a roast on Christmas Day, is chocolate based.

Train if you want to train, eat a vegetable or two if you fancy. Or don’t.

There will be lots of posts from people like me after Christmas about how to get your fitness goals on track but let’s face it, after the last twelve months, we all deserve to celebrate as we see fit.

And if anyone tells you otherwise just make sure there’s some wine and cheese to and and tell them you’re in a business meeting.

Do Fad Diets Exist?

I was having a chat about Sliming World today. If you’ve read or listened to any of my content before you’ll know I have both positive and negative views about the club.

Essentially, my view is, that in it’s true form it’s not a bad way to eat. It encourages making food from scratch, eating from multiple food groups ad eating processed foods in limitation. It’s also pretty balanced so you could eat like that well beyond losing weight.

What it doesn’t do is educate you as to why it works, leaving you in a catch 22 where if you leave and stop eating ‘to plan’ you may well put the weight back on. It doesn’t educate you you enough to provide the freedom to maintain weight loss without still subscribing to ‘the plan’. Life changes and if you understand the energy balance equation you can adjust your eating and training habits as life changes and still get results. If you are simply following a plan with no idea of how and why it works, adjusting it as your life changes is difficult and that’s when a way of eating becomes unsustainable.

What might be a suitable way of eating for one person could be a ‘faddy’ way of eating for someone else. By that I mean, if you are using a way of eating (let’s say Intermittent Fasting) as a way of managing your food intake and you understand how and why it works for you then if it becomes unpractical to fast you will likely have the knowledge to adjust how / what / when you eat to a way that better suits but still works. If you are IM Fasting because someone gave you a set of rules (which work but why you’re less sure) what do you do if following those rules no longer suits you?

So essentially, I’d argue, there aren’t bad and good ‘diets’/ ways of eating. It isn’t that Slimming World is evil and tracking in MFP is the way forward for everyone. It’s a case that without knowledge of why something is working almost any way of eating could be viewed a fad.

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.