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. 

Christmas Over Indulgence

It’s Christmas. Christmas means food right… and by the end of a few days of eating feeling like we’ve massively over indulged.

Now, Christmas or not, we all have days when we over indulge – whether that be food, alcohol or both.  It shouldn’t be a case of trying to never do that because that would make life pretty miserable.  We can however choose to respond more positively to these over indulgences so we don’t sabotage our results in the long term.

So what do you do if you feel like you’ve massively over indulged to stop yourself feeling rubbish?

Do drink more water

Depending on how you over indulged you may be dehydrated, but regardless extra water will make you feel fresher.

Don’t do extra exercise

Avoid using exercise as a punishment for over eating as this will create a negative association with training, plus if you have a hangover exercise isn’t really what you want to be doing.

Do use the extra calories to fuel your next workout

Whilst you don’t want to add extra training in you could use those extra calories to push yourself harder in your next scheduled workout and come out feeling really good, or you could take yourself on a long walk to get some fresh air, sunlight and move a bit which almost always makes you feel better.

Don’t starve yourself

Punishing yourself by drastically reducing your calories in the days after will create a negative cycle of eating.  You could look to slightly reduce your calorie intake for a few days subsequently (couple of hundred calories max) but reducing what you eat dramatically to make amends will only make you feel worse.

Do eat nutrient rich / dense foods the next day

Eat foods that will both fill you up and make you feel good the next day, making you feel better without starving and allowing you to mentally get back on track.

Don’t skip meals

By the same token don’t purposefully skip meals to try and compensate.

Do Move on

One bad meal or day doesn’t define your diet overall, so rather than punish yourself for it look at it as a day / meal you enjoyed and focus on the next day / meal instead.

Don’t scrap the rest of the week

Try moving on straight away instead of saying well I may as well start again Monday now.  This essentially ensures damage limitation.

Overwhelm

This year has been tough so far, I’ve been stressed an because of that I’ve found myself training less and eating chocolate like it’s the only food on the planet.  At first it was lack of time stopping me training.  I normally do most of my sessions on my lunch breaks at work but I’ve been busy and kept thinking if I just work through my lunch today I can catch up.  Of course I never did catch up but I have got myself completely out of the habit of training.  I normally eat chocolate quite frequently anyway, that’s fine, it fits into my diet perfectly well but as I’ve been more and more stressed I’ve turned to it more and more, it’s a comfort food thing I suppose.

The issue is eating well and training are anchors in my life.  When I am in my normal routine of a short training session most days and getting some good meals in me along side some chocolate I feel good, I feel capable of dealing with stress and juggling lots of roles.

So falling out of these habits because of stress kind of creates a never ending circle where I’m not doing the thing that prevents stress because I am stressed.  Not great, especially as I suffer from anxiety and so keeping track of the anchors that make you feel good is really important.  As an added stress on top of this is that because I’ve been eating more and training less I’ve also put on some weight, whilst I’m still not overweight or dramatically busier my clothes feel tighter and I feel less comfortable, this of course doesn’t help when you already don’t feel great.

None of this is uncommon, lots of people have these struggles.  They are perfectly valid, we lead high stress lives these days and it’s easy to end up a bit overwhelmed and a bit crap.

For me I always think it’s bonkers that you’re a fitness instructor, so you know exactly what you need to do to fix it, because you advise and support other people with this regularly, but that knowledge doesn’t always equate to making things easy.  I mean most of us know we need to burn more calories than we consume to lose weight, simple concept, not simple to do.  Most things in life are really quite simple at their core, it’s the application that is the thing that trips us up.

The thing is it’s ok to fall into a this cycle but you do need to be able to pull yourself back out of it too.

So how do you pull yourself out of a cycle where you are struggling with your training / nutrition?  Small changes, focusing on doing small simple things that you know will make you feel better over time.  I’m not talking bubble baths and face mask style self care, I’m talking doing the easy practical things that will make you feel more purposeful and on track.

My small things for this week are:

  • Track calories for the week to see where I’m actually at with food consumption
  • Drink 4 litres of water a day
  • Take my lunch break very day regardless and go down to the gym and train for 20 mins
  • Stretch every day
  • Get in at least one long walk this week

I’m not expecting at the end of the week for these things to have magically made me feel amazing, but I think that if I do these things I’ll feel better than I do right now and that is a step in the right direction.

 

Food at Christmas

So we’re now only a couple of weeks away from Christmas as celebrations, parties, catch ups are in full swing. Chances are the Christmas Eating probably started around a fortnight ago but as things step up you inevitably end up more and more tempted over the coming days.

If you’re trying to lose weight this can feel like a tricky time of the year. On the one hand you want to join in but in the other you don’t want to undo the work you’ve put in already. So how do you tackle food at Christmas?

You could:

– Stick to your normal eating habits and say no to everything until the big day. Bit dull but you’ll stay in track

– Say yes to everything, fuck it until January. You’ll probably see some weight gain but you’ll have fun

– Have the odd day / night ‘off’ but eating normally the rest of the time

– Manipulate your calories do you can enjoy food but stay within your calorie target – perhaps skipping breakfast if you’re out later or having more low calorie but filling foods (veg) to allow you to save calories for later. You could even use your calories over a week and have lower calorie data

Me? I’m a mixture I suppose. I’m still meal prepping and keeping an eye on what I eat but I’m also grazing on the endless shortbread supply at work and last night had two of each courses (yep it was a three course meal) at the work do (I’ll be honest there were 3 more spare deserts left on my table but I thought 5 deserts might be excessive). I’m taking the view that if I eat my normal food I’ll maybe eat less Christmas food overall but I also don’t feel like I’m missing out on anything.

How you approach Christmas food is going to depend on how keen you are to reach a goal in a certain time or how much you enjoy all the food that comes with Christmas. There’s no right or wrong way of approaching it as long as you know what effect your choice will have on your diet and are happy with that decision.

Intuitive Eating

Recently I’ve heard a few people say they would prefer not to count calories and instead want to try Intuitive Eating.

Intuitive Eating is almost an anti diet movement, believing people should eat when they are hungry and what they feel their body needs.  It follows a ten point plan which includes respecting your hunger, not labeling food good or bad and not using food as an emotional crux.

There is actually very little about intuitive eating that I disagree with, it largely encourages people to have a healthy relationship with all foods and not starve themselves.

My issue with Intuitive Eating is this.

Unless you have already mastered tracking calories you will struggle to reach your goal eating intuitively. 

I can see the appeal.  If you’ve always struggled to stick to a certain number of calories the idea of eating what you ‘feel like’ you need is appealing.  Let’s be realistic here though.  If you were able to do this you’d probably already be at your goal (here I’m assuming it’s some form of fat loss).

If you’re not at your goal, which here I’m going to assume is fat loss, you are probably currently eating more calories than you burn.  If you were not you’d be losing fat and not looking for an alternative way of eating.

So what you need to do is learn how to track, then stay within your calorie goal for a sustained period of time.

Now once you have mastered this and done this for a fair while chances are you will be able to eat intuitively.  You’ll start to get an idea of how much you need to eat each day to be at the right energy level for you and be able to track less and still stay on track.

But until you reach this stage eating intuitively is likely to be much the same as eating as you currently do, with a limited idea of how much you are actually eating and no way of educating yourself on how to make the changes you need to make.

Think of it like driving a car.  Now when you drive you probably get in the car and just go- everything happens automatically without even thinking.  But that wasn’t the case when you first started to learn – you followed rules and checklists.

Think of your job, how you were in the first few weeks or even years of doing it compared to now.  As you become more skilled in something you can react more instinctively, but to begin with you need to learn that trade.

So if you want to eat intuitively and reach a specific goal, you really need to qualify to do that by first learning how to track and understand calories.

Social Strategy

When you are trying to stick to a calorie deficit social occasions can be tough and you need to decide on a strategy to not let one day or night out derail your progress.

Below are some ideas of methods you could sue to exercise a bit of damage limitation and still enjoy yourself.

  • Check out the menu beforehand

Have a look online at the menu before your night out and plan what you will eat, that way when you are there you are less likely to over order or order things you haven’t accounted the calories for.

  • Fill up on salad / veg

Aim to include some salad / vegetable items with your meals to help fill you up whilst also keeping calories down.

  • Avoid the bread basket

Perhaps you really like bread, in which case knock yourself out and have some.  But if you’re only eating it because the bread basket it’s extra unnecessary calories.

  • Mix your drinks

Not in the way you think.  Mix water in between your alcoholic drinks to help limit calories through drinks.

  • Eat beforehand

If the social occasion isn’t specifically based around food you might want to eat beforehand so you can easier control how much you eat.

  • Save calories during the week

If you want to stay on track but still have a big calorie night out you could consider creating a bigger calorie deficit across the week so you have extra calories to use on your night out.

  • Eat something you really enjoy

If you going to eat more calories than normal you may as well pick something you are really going to enjoy, that way you are more likely to feel satisfied and less likely to overeat on other elements of your meal.

  • Pick an activity that doesn’t involve food and drink

When planning days or nights out try and plan activities that aren’t just based on eating and drinking.

Over Eating

We all have days when we over indulge – whether that be food, alcohol or both.  It’s not a case of trying to never do that because that would make life pretty miserable.  We can however choose to respond more positively to these over indulgences so we don’t sabotage our results in the long term.

So what do you do if you’ve had over indulged?

Do drink more water

Depending on how you over indulged you may be dehydrated, but regardless extra water will make you feel fresher.

Don’t do extra exercise

Avoid using exercise as a punishment for over eating as this will create a negative association with training, plus if you have a hangover exercise isn’t really what you want to be doing.

Do use the extra calories to fuel your next workout

Whilst you don’t want to add extra training in you could use those extra calories to push yourself harder in your next scheduled workout and come out feeling really good.

Don’t starve yourself

Punishing yourself by drastically reducing your calories in the days after will create a negative cycle of eating.  You could look to slightly reduce your calorie intake for a few days subsequently (couple of hundred calories max) but reducing what you eat dramatically to make amends will only make you feel worse.

Do eat nutrient rich / dense foods the next day

Eat foods that will both fill you up and make you feel good the next day, making you feel better without starving and allowing you to mentally get back on track.

Don’t skip meals

By the same token don’t purposefully skip meals to try and compensate.

Do Move on

One bad meal or day doesn’t define your diet overall, so rather than punish yourself for it look at it as a day / meal you enjoyed and focus on the next day / meal instead.

Don’t scrap the rest of the week

Try moving on straight away instead of saying well I may as well start again Monday now.  This essentially ensures damage limitation.