Do the basic things really well

How are you feeling about your nutrition right now?

It’s really tempting when you aren’t feeling on top of things to look for radical solutions. But what we really want to do at times like that are revisit the basics.

If you’re currently feeling a bit lost think about

– Your TDEE

– Macros / proteins

– Your calorie deficit

– Your habits and anchors that make you feel better

Remind yourself of the most important principles.

You don’t need to drastically cut calories or change what you’re eating just remind yourself of the basics. Once they are in place you can think about more in depth aspects of your nutrition, but until then you will likely be sabotaging your own results by ignoring the foundations in an attempt to build the house quicker.

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!

Do the Basics Well

Successful people do the basics well and consistently

Sometimes it’s easy to look at things and think- they’re too simple there must be more to it than that. The reason I’m not getting the results I want isn’t that I’m eating too little or too much it must be how my body responds to certain foods… and so on.

Now the truth is there are lots of variables to our health and fitness. But, you can take account of all these things and yet if you don’t nail the basics it won’t be effective.

Think of your fitness and nutrition like levels in a game- to get to level two you must master level one. Each level acts as a foundation for the next level. You’ll often hear of things like the nutrition pyramid – that’s the same concept, you need to establish a solid base (in nutrition that’s getting your energy balance right as we discussed yesterday) before looking at macro and micro nutrients, meal timings or supplements will be useful- you basically don’t want to build on a shoddy base!

It’s human nature for us to want to look into the specifics, the idea that little tweaks will be the things that makes everything fall into place for us is tempting. But it’s the little tweaks at the basic level that will first make the difference. Once you’ve cracked those then feel free to move onto looking at the specifics of what and when you eat if you still want to- although you might find that you feel less of a need to.

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.

LEJOG

I’m doing a running challenge this year.  Lands End to John O’Groats (virtually), that’s 874 miles between 1st January and 31st December.  I’m currently around the Yorkshire Peaks, just over 400 miles run.

The challenge is set up so you record your own miles on an onlien map, it allows you to decide how to do the challenge; you can record just runs, runs and long walks or to record all of your steps every day.  I have chosen to only record my runs because I wanted to use it as accountability to run more.  However, that is because I tend to walk a lot anyway so if I included my steps it would not be a genuine challenge. But for anyone who is quite sedentary who wanted to move more counting steps every day would be a great challenge.

There is a Facebook group for people doingt he challenge and it’s a very supportive, nice group and people post their wins and also when they are struggling and everyone is always qick to cheer or offer moral support.  What these posts often raise however is how everyone is approaching the challenge differently in terms of what they include as mileage.  This often creatse confusion, with people askign am I doing this wrong?  Should I be counting that?  Of course people always reassure and remind the OP that the challenge is unique to them and tehre is no right or wrong.

This confusion is common not only in this group however but throughout the fitness industry.  How often do you see someone on Facebook or Instagram doing a certain plan that is polar opposite to the way you train, eating a certain diet, eating more than you, less than you, training 3 days a week when you train 5, training for a marathon in a different way to you, running 10km in the time it takes you to run 5km, training in body part splits when you don’t, spending 2 hours in the gym when your session takes 45 minutes.

It’s really easy to think you must be doing it wrong.  That if that person who looks fit is doing the opposite to you you should do that too.  We are all different however.  Our bodies, fitness levels, experience goals, time pressures, tastes, willingness to cut cake for breakfast out of our diet, likes and dislikes, mental health, shift patterns, hobbies – all these things will (or should) affect how you eat and train.  Therefore unless you find an absolute carbon copy of you out there, your training or nutrition won’t look like someone elses, and nor should it.

Yes, there is lots of generic advice that works for specific groups of people.  Group exercise instructors will face common obstacles so advice tailored to them as a group can work- but even then they will need to tweak that to sit their precise circumstances.  You sit at a desk all day, I could predict your pain points and suggest some advice that would probably help lots of people, again it would need a bit of tweaking by people and not every piece of advice would be releveant to every person who works in an office.

The key is taking in the advice, the suggestions, the tips and knowing what is and isn’t relevant to you, what will ad won’t work for you.  Then being able to look at other people doing different things and not get triggered by it, or feel bad, or superior or like you must be doing something wrong, because if it is working for you and Isn’t unsafe you do you.

Motivation is a con

How often do you say I’ll start Monday or tomorrow and then just never quite get round to it?

I don’t just mean diets or exercise, anything really. Motivation to want something is easy but motivation to actually act upon that want is much harder to come by.

That’s because motivation is really a bit of a con. Often to get motivated you need to see some results and to see some results you need to get started with something.

So rather than waiting until you are motivated you need to find a way to get started with something even if you don’t feel motivated to do so.

The easiest way to do this is to get into the habit of doing things. Once something is habit it’s easy to do it almost on autopilot, without having to think too much about it.

Creating habits is however, again, hard.

Until that is you create systems.

You want to make drinking more water a habit. To do that you need to remember to drink water often across the day. Systems to do this could include buying a half gallon water bottle for your desk, setting an app that reminds you at regular intervals, having a pint of water as soon as you wake up.

You want to train more often. Systems to help could include booking a class or arranging to train with a friend so it’s an appointment you can’t skip, identifying all your training windows in a week so if you miss one you know when else you can train, working with a PT or signing up for a challenge so you have a reason not to skip training.

When we start a project at work it seems obvious to make a list of what needs to be done and break it down into tasks and work out the best way of doing each task. We can approach our fitness in much the same way and take away the element of needing to feel motivated from the equation.

Me.

Almost everyone I’ve spoken to recently feels similar to me. Lockdown one, possibly because of the novelty, possibly out of panic, I, like many, trained daily and felt like I’d maintained my fitness to a reasonable degree without the gym.

The mixture of Lockdown fatigue and darker evenings have made it both practically harder to train and harder to get motivated. For me, and I’m sure I’m not alone, I’ve also felt more like comfort eating. The result is my clothes are tight, I don’t feel great, I feel quite stiff and generally not where I want to be.

I’m telling you this because I have decided to document my journey from where I am now to where I want to be (which is nothing super impressive just where I was before Lockdown 1… some four hundred years ago).

With Lockdown and not seeing people as much it’s very easy to think you are the only person in a situation, so I partly want to document my diet and training over the next few weeks to show anyone else feeling a bit like this they are not alone. Equally, I know there is often an instinct when you feel a bit unfit or heavy, to want to do something drastic, or to expect yourself to be where you were previously fitness wise within days. That mindset is demotivating and can make you feel rubbish about yourself and your progress. I hope in documenting where I am it shows that it’s ok to work at the level you are currently at.

Motivational BS

So January hasn’t started with a bang let’s face it. Another Lockdown being announced on day 4 of the new year didn’t exactly set me up mentally, and to be honest in terms of fitness and nutrition I hadn’t really finished the previous year well as it was.

I don’t know about you but I’m finding it quite hard to get motivated without access to a gym, dark mornings and nights and nothing planned to look forward to. I’ve signed up to a virtual year long running challenge but although that’s got me outside doing my weekend runs it’s not doing much for making me want to train in other ways through the week.

I’ve also been comfort eating. Now to be fair I’m not eating more than I used to but I am moving a lot less so it’s meant my clothes have bee getting tighter and tighter.

Here’s the thing. You may or may not have signed up to a fitness programme already, you may be considering it or you may just be thinking about putting your trainers on and taking up running or some other type of fitness type thing. Maybe you’ve got a nutrition plan that you should / will be following. Signing up, buying the trainers, knowing what you need to do doesn’t mean you’ll actually take action. You might expect the next line to read ‘Motivation is what you need’, but it’s not because that’s (excuse my French) bollocks.

I mean yes technically you do need t feel motivated to make the changes to see the change, but essentially we do not fall into two camps of people- the motivated and the unmotivated. That would imply those people who do things to work towards their goals are always motivated and never lose it or those that don’t are just lazy. In truth we all switch between feeling motivated and unmotivated all the time. This time last year or the year before that when I trained as habitually as I brushed my teeth it clearly wasn’t that I felt motivated to do so every day. Some days I really could not be arsed, yet I trained anyway. Some days I was knackered but I cooked a decent meal instead of turning to Uber Eats and MaccyDs. Motivation alone clearly isn’t the key to getting the results you want.

What you need are habits. I mentioned brushing my teeth just now. Do you brush your teeth every day? I’m going to assume the answers yes (if not please do). Is that because you are motivated to have nice teeth? Of course not, it’s just a habit, something you do, part of your day no matter how busy or tired you may be, lets face it – even when you stumble in drunk at 3 am you probably still brush your teeth before you fall into bed.

Doing the things you need to do often enough to see results requires consistency and to do something consistently you need to make the components of that a habit. So if you want to eat better that means making planning your meals a weekly habit, going shopping a weekly habit, prepping your lunch a weekly habit. If you want to train three times a week you need to make doing whatever you plan on doing a habit. As rubbish as I have been the last few months I’ve run at the weekends consistently. It’s a habit- I wake up, have breakfast and put on my kit and leave the house, don’t even think about it beyond what direction I’m going to aim for.

Creating habits isn’t easy, it can take time, you see relapses, it can take ages to get a habit in place. Habits however create results and seeing results come creates momentum to continue to continue to see results.

If like me you’re struggling to kick start yourself in 2021 break what you want into the small practical things you need to do (wake up earlier, go to bed earlier, set aside an hour three times a week) then try and make those tasks habitual and see how motivated you feel come the end of the month.

What Day Is It?

The bit between Christmas and New Year. The bit where days merge into one, nobody really knows what day it is, what time the shops shut and the fridge is still full of Christmas food meaning the food coma kind of just rumbles on.

This is the week you might well feel a bit rubbish, fat, unfit and generally feel the urge to commit to a month long detox in January where you consume only lemon and water.

Of course in actual reality your body does a pretty good job of ‘detoxing’ itself and actually just eating and training in moderation will make you feel better pretty quickly and be far more enjoyable.

People tend to like extremes. A diet doesn’t work unless we go from whatever size we are to emaciated stick in three days, a training programme doesn’t work if you can’t go from couch to marathon in three sessions. If it doesn’t have a label on it that says natural, vegan friendly and detox on it it isn’t goo to be effective.

These things don’t last though. When was the last time you made a drastic New Years resolution and actually stuck to it?

You know what does last? Finding a nice little routine that works for you.

I love food. I eat a lot. No point in being restrictive – I just ricochet the other way. I also enjoy moving. Running, lifting, classes – movement makes me feel good. So I move.

I’m writing this on an exercise bike in the gym – some people here are clearly working off their Christmas. Me – I felt stiff after a few days of largely sitting and wanted to move. I didn’t need to guilt myself to coming here – I wanted to, I woke up looking forward to it.

This January find yourself something for your body and mind that will make you feel good. Doesn’t matter if there is something my else that would be more ‘effective’ for fat loss or fitness. You’ll stick to the thing you look forward to doing, the thing that you feel great after doing. You won’t stick to the thing you ‘should’ do.

Then next year when Christmas is over (and we are in tier 784) you’ll be heading off to do that thing that makes you feel good for moving and not thinking about what you can do in January to feel less like baby elephant.

Training Over Christmas

Do you plan to train over Christmas? Do you normally train over Christmas?

I like to go for a short run on Christmas Day, less for exercise purposes and more to get a bit of fresh air and loosen up my body (which is almost always stiff after sitting on trains travelling cross country) and I like to get a gym session in on Boxing Day if I can, again because it feels good to move.

Some people of course prefer do nothing over the festive period and others like to stick to their normal training routine completely.

One thing that I know can be common for people who do train habitually as part of their every day life and who chose to train in anyway over Christmas is that others can find this strange and make comment on it. That might be because they are visiting family they don’t normally stay with and who aren’t used to them making time to train, or it might be because family members feel they should instead be spending that time doing Christmassy things or that they should be taking a rest because it’s Christmas.

Throughout the year people who train often can find confused reactions from those in their life that don’t, generally overtime the people important in your life will understand you needing to take time to go to the gym each day, but like many things, this reaction can feel heightened at this time of the year (where festivities are supposed to over take everything in our order of priorities). If you don’t enjoy training it can be genuinely baffling why someone would choose to go for a run or to the gym when they have the perfect excuse not to.

The same can of course apply to your diet. I don’t mean your calorie deficit, i just mean your daily intake of food. You may for instance have decided to eat normally until Christmas Eve but if you decide to not partake in all the chocolate and Christmas foods that always appear from 1st December you can be classed as odd, boring and obsessed. It can hard for those who love Christmas foods (I count myself as one of this camp) to understand why others don’t seem to.

If you are someone who wants to train over Christmas don’t feel guilted into not doing so or bad for taking a bit of time out to move if that’s what makes you feel good. If you aren’t one of those people just know that exercise is rarely just about exercise and many people who chose to train over Christmas will be doing so because it brings about a lot more benefits than just burning a few calories, and if you let them have that hour without making them feel bad for it the rest of the day is likely to be a lot more enjoyable!

Finally – Christmas will be a lot different to normal for many this year, so if you need to train to help with whatever has happened – do!