Beating yourself up

“I was good all week but then had a takeaway on Friday”

“I planned to exercise every day but only managed three times”

How often are you guilty of muttering a phrase like this?  I do it all the time.  We set ourselves up to have a great week and be really positive and good then berate ourselves for falling short.

What we forget though is that, in very broad terms, to stop gaining weight we need to consume less than we have been, to gte fitter we need to do more than we have been.

So if you’ve eaten less than normal on five days out of the week, then you’ve improved on the previous week, even if a couple of days didn’t go to plan.  If you’ve trained three times more than normal your workign to imporving your fitness.

Fitness and weight loss are not magic switches where a perfect week will suddenly make you drop three dress sizes and become an Olympic athlete.  Even a perfect week will not, in issolation, create dramatic results.  A consistent good but not perfect routine will over time create far superior results and make you feel far better, than one of two spot on perfect weeks then going back to normal will.

Aims are great and setting the bar high is commendable, but beating yourself up when you’ve not been perfect but have actually made progress is bonkers.

Building Back Slowly

Back at the gym this week. I’m incredibly glad about this, I feel like I’ve trained harder this week than the last year out together. It’s also ironically made running feel better, partly I think because I’ve run slightly less so my legs have felt a bit fresher on the days I have.

What is going to be a challenge however is fitting the gym (and soon teaching) back into my normal life. I think over the last year I’ve got so used to not being able to go to the gym and just getting up, going to work then training at home or running that adding the gym back in is going to feel a bit weird. Even if I use the gym at work at lunch time which I used to do I’m out of this habit so it’s going to take some effort to get used to doing this again.

Part will be fitting everything back in and getting sued to a change in tempo (as well as going out and about again now that we can kind of see people again). Part of it will be getting back the stamina to do everything I used to do and not feel totally shattered.

I think this is something I will need to mindful of over the coming weeks, as I’m sure many more of us will also. When someone first starts training and looking to add exercise into their routine we always say ‘build up slowly’ ‘don’t expect to be able to train every day or you’ll be setting yourself up for a fall’. Wise words of course and incredibly correct.

We are all kind of starting from scratch at the moment though, so I think it wise for us all to remember, whether we are new to exercise or regular gym goers or even gym / class instructors or PTs, that we need to build ourselves back up- not only to the amount of weight we can lift in the gym, but also to the actual intensity of our every day lives pre Lockdown.

Gyms Reopen #3

Gyms open in England tomorrow.

You may be excited, nervous, feeling not quite ready. Here’s a few things to remember:

  1. Don’t expect to be where you were when you last hit the gym. For most of us you cannot replicate a gym workout at home and you’ll need to build back up your weights and what you can do.
  2. Don’t go mad. Following on from point one, resist the temptation to go crazy and push so hard you end up injured / burnt out. Remember when you first started training and how DOMS / recovery felt? You need to ease back in!
  3. You may have to be flexible. Maybe your gym has limited session times, reduced the amount of equipment to allow social distancing, requires booking. You might not be able to do everything you want, may have to switch out some exercises or equipment. Accept this might be the case, go with the flow and it’ll be less frustrating.
  4. It doesn’t matter if you’ve put weight on. Covid Handles someone referred to them as the other day. Training over Lockdowns has been tough, Lockdowns in general have been stressful. If you put weight on it doesn’t matter.
  5. Say hello to people. You know one of the things I love about gyms? They have people in them. Even training alone but surrounded by people can be motivating. A hello, a joke, a compliment from or to someone always make a training session nicer. Say hi to the staff, to the other regulars you’ve not seen in weeks, strangers.
  6. Remember beer gardens open tomorrow too so after your training sessions maybe have a beer, because a) life is all about balance and b) what’s more British than sitting in a beer garden in the sun whilst it’s also snowing!

Did you gain weight in Lockdown?

Ten reasons you might have put weight on during the Pandemic

  1. Boredom – You eat because, what else is there to do? When you can barely leave the house celebrations, treats, relaxation can all tend to be food based activities. When you’re bored, eating is something you can do, or cooking, and if you’ve cooked it you’ll eat it right? This has led to you eating more than before and more than you expend. That can lead to weight gain.
  2. You became the new Mary Berry – Tied in with number 1, I think I was the only person in the world not to bake banana bread in lockdown ‘the original’. If you managed to find some flour it was likely you baked. As above, the more you bake and then eat the more likely you are to find yourself in a calorie surplus.
  3. Comfort Eating / Stress – We’ve all been more stressed than normal this last year. For some you may eat less when stressed, but if you’re like me you’ll find yourself eating more, it’s a form of comfort eating. Eating lots of (normally) high calorie foods can be a way of trying to make yourself feel better but also a way of making it more likely you’ll be in a calorie surplus.
  4. More booze – Maybe you’re less about the food and more about the booze. Drinking from home is now the only way we can drink and another way to maybe settle the nerves and beat the boredom. But it’s cheaper than pubs and the measures are bigger so the calories can be deceptively high.
  5. Less gym / more Netflix – Gyms are closed meaning for many our normal way of training is not an option. We adapted but you may be missing aspects of your normal routine, be in variety, intensity, volume. This may mean you’re expending fewer calories. Equally, who hasn’t completed Netflix / Amazon Prime / More 4? Jesus I watched the whole series of MAFS in two weeks. With less options to go outside there is just more sitting in the day, again leaving us to burn fewer calories.
  6. Less NEAT – Which leads me to NEAT- the calories you burn when not specifically exercising. These make up the majority of your calories. Before Covid if you went to the gym there will have been the getting ready, packing a bag, walking there and back whereas now you stand up off the sofa and you’re ready to go. Before Covid you travelled to and from work, to the shops, to social occasions, you moved about without thinking about it. You may now be consciously going for a daily walk which is great, but you’re probably still moving less.
  7. WFH – No commute, no popping out for a coffee / lunch, no moving about the office / shop / restaurant. You might also find you snack more. You’re near your fridge- makes grazing so much easier. Working from home equates to moving less and possibly consuming more.
  8. Disrupted sleep patterns – Lack of sleep and weight gain tend to be a common couple. The stress of the last year and the change to our routines has affected many people’s sleep patterns. That may be affecting you’re weight.
  9. ‘The Third Lockdown Trap’ – Is it just me or did you maintain weight in the summer when you could run outside until late and the light evenings meant you wanted to train but come the winter Lockdowns you were tired by the evening and the dark made it feel later than it was and you just lost all motivation? By this time fatigue had also set in and in general I struggled so much more to want to eat well or train. The gym is a saviour in the winter because it provides the environment I need to keep me motivated. I missed that.
  10. Changes in shopping habit – You could no longer get an online shop maybe, going around a shop leads to more temptation to buy high calories foods to add to your normal diet which you may normally avoid with online shopping. The feeling that when you went shopping your should buy everything you could need for the week to avoid unessential trips so buying way too much and eating it anyway. These little changes to our habits could create a calorie surplus unwittingly.

Now I think for almost all of us this is the first Pandemic we’ve ever lived through (and going from the hording of last March most of us probably imagined living through a Pandemic would be slightly more dramatic with looting, soldiers and check points than the daily walks, Banana Bread and home workouts that it was), it’s not a shock therefore if at some point over the three lockdowns, 4 tiers and all the rules in between you’ve found the change in your daily life had led to some weight gain.

Is it a bad thing? No, there are many bigger problems of course. That being said weight change can make you feel less comfortable in your skin, less confident and if there’s one thing we do know about Covid- being fit and healthy helps reduce the chances of getting seriously ill. So you might well want to lose a bit of weight, get back into feeling fit again and that’s ok, we’re all allowed to feel our best at a certain shape / size and want to maintain that.

But there is no shame in having put on a bit of weight, it’s hardly a shock, none of us knew how to react and it’s hard to handle your emotions when faced with uncertainty and the unknown. We do know that guilt over any weight gain won’t help you however. Understanding why you may have gained the weight can help you both feel more empathy for your self (why do we always judged ourselves much more harshly than others) and also work out what we need to make the right changes to start to get back to where you’d like to be.

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.

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

The January Diet

January is when traditionally people go on ‘a diet’.

The word ‘Diet’ conjures up images of restriction, lettuce leaves, starving, no chocolate, cakes or sweets, cutting out carbs, cutting out fat … the list goes on.

What ‘Diet’ actually means is the sum of food consumed by a person – what we actually put in our mouth.

Some diets may be more health focused than others, some may promote weight loss and others weight gain, but we all have a ‘Diet’.

So if you were planning on starting a ‘Diet’ next week– good news- you’re already on one and have been for the last 365 days!

So actually all you need to do, if you did want to lose weight next year, is make some small improvements to that current diet.

If you have booked sessions with a trainer, signed up to a programme or plan (in person or online) then you know you will get the advice you need to do this sensibly.

If you are planning on making the changes yourself then don’t look to quick fix diets or plans that promise you a six pack in six weeks.

Work out how many calories you burn daily, take 20% off this and aim for that number of calories each day.  This will create safe and sustainable calorie deficit which will allow you to reduce body fat steadily.

You can eat whatever you want as long as you stick to that calorie allowance.  Perhaps you will want to make more sensible choices (if that makes you feel better and you find it helps keep you fuller as you reduce your calorie intake a bit) but overall the way to reduce body fat (which I am assuming is the goal here) is to consume a little less than you burn.

Overtime you might want to start fine tuning what you eat, but to start just focusing on hitting a calorie deficit is a great habit which will make a huge difference to how you feel and one small change to your diet at a time will have a longer lasting effect on your health in 2020 than any quick fix fad diet.

By the way. You don’t need to detox out Christmas – your body is pretty well equipped to do any required ‘detoxing’ and you don’t HAVE to go on a diet or lose weight next year (but I’m a PT and I know lots of people will want to so I’d rather put out sensible advice on the subject than just tell you to not feel pressure to lose weight (pretty sure you can make that decision on your own)).

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!