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.

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.

Have you met Jeff?

Are you someone who’d like to run more but always feel like you have to stop after a while so have given up? The Jeff Galloway Walk Run method could be game changer for you.

Jeff was training non runners to start running back in the 1970s and through initial training sessions and courses where he took non runners to 5k distances and more he concluded that a mix of running and walking could both improve times and reduce injury.

Now it’s generally accepted that when someone first starts running a mixture of walking for a bit running for a bit is a great starting point. Most people have the mind set however that as you progress the goal should be to run all distances continuously without walking breaks. and that to get a PB you must just run faster and never walk

The Galloway Run Walk method argues that by walking and running in set ratios you can speed up your half marathon time by around 7 minutes on average. The method is quite specific and advises set run to walk ratios (and consists of paid plans to advise you), but even if you wanted to just use the principle of planning some walks into your runs to strategically improve your times I believe you can see the benefits.

The idea is that Run Walk Run as a method is essentially a form of interval training (think Fartlek training but with planning) and building in walks reduces fatigue by allowing better conservation of energy, reducing stress on the body and reducing body temperature during the walks. By planning a walk in at a set point as opposed to running until you have to stop and walk it can allow you to run further and faster once you go back into a running segment because you have spent some time recovering before the point of absolute exhaustion. It can mean you are less sore after a run which allows you to carry on with every day life and can make motivating yourself to start easier and you are able to enjoy runs more (especially if you hate the pushing through the pain idea). It is argued it can dramatically reduce the risk of injury.

So how can you use this idea in your runs to see if it makes a difference? Instead of running until you can no longer run then walking for a bit and then starting back up as soon as you feel able think about planning your walks ahead of time. For instance I will run for 15 minutes then walk for 5 minutes then repeat until i reach my distance. Think about how long you can normally run until you start to struggle. If that is 25 minutes, plan you walk in around 20 minutes so you are not yet needing the walk when you stop. If that’s 10 minutes plan you walk at 5 minutes. The idea is to take that active recovery before you really need it, allowing you to recharge and then run at a faster pace in your next running segment. You are still covering distance whilst you are walking and you are covering the distance quicker in the run sections and therefore may well find you shave time off your normal ‘just run’ run.

Of course sometimes you may want to run a whole distance to see where you are at but you don’t need to feel like you must only ever run to be a runner. A bit of walking could actually ultimately make you a faster runner!

Tired Legs

As I’ve mentioned I’m doing a challenge of 874 miles in 2021- that’s around an average of 120km a month across the year. A combination of my fitness, the weather and the dark nights meant I didn’t hit that in January and was a bit under in February. I’m also aware I could get injured or have to take time off at some point if I am ill later in the year so my plan is to increase my mileage in the months where I’m feeling fitter and the weather is nicer to allow myself an emergency buffer. As such I’m aiming for 200km in March – I’m currently on 64km eleven days in. What this means is running on tired legs some days. I always do a long run with my friend Hollie on a Wednesday night. She is faster than me so it is always a run that pushes me and I normally feel it in the legs the next day so often don’t run on a Thursday, but this month I need to to reach my goal so today I did 5km (3 miles) after last nights 13km (8 mile run).

Running on tired legs is a challenge but it’s also something you can teach yourself to do and if you re training for a marathon or endurance event it’s a good idea to consider doing some training on tired legs. Obviously it’s a balancing act of not over doing it (you want to increase mileage by no more than 10/20% a week), risking injury or making yourself run down by affecting your sleep, recovery etc. and building your endurance. Below are some tips I find useful to run on tired legs.

  • Fuel well, don’t try and massively cut calories at the same time as increasing miles- this will make runs even harder. Carbs 30 minutes before a run always gives me a boost on tired days.
  • Stretch- often. Legs may still feel tired but stiff tired legs are even less fun to run on.
  • On long runs hydrate or take a gel before you feel like you need to. Waiting until you feel like you need it can make it much harder to keep going.
  • Slow your pace on tired leg days. If you aim is endurance and getting the legs used to doing the miles you do not have to hit your best pace on every single run.
  • Listen to your body, if you are tired, go slower. Running on tired legs can help you on race day as when you know you can run even tired it gives you the confidence to push past any fatigue on race day. The speed you run at in training on those tired days is irrelevant.
  • Control your pace and don’t print down hills – a steady pace is much easier to maintain when tired than stop / start sprint / slow is.
  • When your legs start to feel heavy think about lifting your foot a little higher, landing slightly softer with a heel to toe motion, this can help boost circulation and reduce impact making your legs feel better.
  • Think about something else. I like to listen to audio books- mainly murder mysteries as I run, whatever distracts you from the fatigue.
  • Of course if you start running and the legs feel pain instead of fatigue- stop. Learning your body and the difference between when you need to rest and when you ca challenge yourself is key to building up your own endurance when running.

Female Fitness on International Women’s Day

Today is International Women’s Day, so I thought a post focusing on female fitness would be appropriate.

With periods and child birth and the menopause amongst other things affecting a woman’s body over her lifetime, women face different challenges to men when it comes to training, fitness and weight gain / loss. Thankfully more fitness professionals are starting to use their knowledge on these factors to help women achieve better results. By tailoring training and diet around a female’s menstrual cycle for instance a PT can not only help their client improve their results but also feel better in themselves, more energetic and less like they are failing during those weeks where they just don’t have the energy to hit the big lifts.

One such coach and nutritionist is Chris Ward. I’ve known Chris for around four year now, and in that time he’s qualified as a nutrition coach and delved deep into female fitness. The podcast below discuses some of the struggles females can go through on a monthly basis, including the menstrual cycle, hormones and PCOS and is a great listen for any female looking to greater understand how these things can affect our training.

https://podcasts.apple.com/gb/podcast/the-chris-ward-podcast/id1441709658?i=1000499610871

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.

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.

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.

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.