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!

Am I Fat?

Do I think I’m fat? Short answer no. Longer answer, no but it’s complicated.

Have I ever been fat? Yes. Do I weigh more today than I did when I was fat? Also yes. Are my clothes smaller though. Again yes. Are they bigger than they were a couple of years ago? Yes again. Have i put weight on since Lockdown? Hell yes!

I started the year teaching around 14 classes a week and training 3-5 times, maybe with a run or two thrown in. I could basically eat as i wished and not put weight on, if I wanted to lean down I’d need to track and eat more with more thought but could still eat a hell of a lot (in fact I needed to eat a lot to maintain energy). Then gyms closed and I ended up doing a bit of training at home and running more. Yes I was doing a fair bit of cardio, but obviously much less in terms of weights. This had an effect on my body. I went back to teaching in September but had to stop again in November and being in Tier 3 has meant I’m not going to get back to teaching until at least the new year. Even still training I’m doing less, but added to that I’ve found a real lack in motivation since the end of Lockdown 1. Works been busy and all I want to do is eat and not move. Doesn’t help that it’s basically dark all the time at the moment!

Result is I’m a bit more rounded. Not fat but bigger than I was. Heavier too, which makes running harder. Because moving feels harder I feel less inclined to want to do it. I bet plenty of you recognise that vicious cycle right there.

Anyway, as I said I know I’m not fat but I’ve also decided I need to reignite my passion for training so I can start to get back to where I feel comfortable (my fighting weight if you will). I hate restricting my food too much so whilst I do need to think more about my nutrition I know my movement is where I need to make the big changes personally.

Here’s the awkward thing for a PT. We want to help people feel good about their fitness, not encourage negative thoughts about weight or their body, not obsess over calories, develop negative food associations with food groups, over train, train as punishment, the list goes on. We want people to train for strength, for confidence. It would be disingenuous to suggest however, that when we feel unfit, out of shape we don’t feel as good or confident as we could. Part of our job is helping people navigate that fine line between working hard to feel good and taking things too far and it starting to have a negative impact. When the person whose fitness we are looking at in question is our own it can feel either more awkward. Do we tell people we want to work on ourselves or withhold it because we don’t want to suggest that size or weight does or should matter? Do we ignore things that do matter to us and effect our confidence in an effort to show they shouldn’t matter much?

I wrote yesterday about moderation, not taking things to extreme and I think most things in fitness can benefit from this philosophy. Let your training complement rather than take over your life, let it make you feel good about yourself. This can include feeling good with how you look, there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s also entirely possible to know you’re fit and healthy and not fat but still want to work on your own body. Saying you want to drop some weight doesn’t have to mean you think your fat or are being harsh on yourself or one of those people who says they are fat trying to pinch the non existent fat around their belly.

We all know where we are and where we want to be. If there is a gap between the two we are allowed to work to reduce that gap, so if you have things you would like to change you are allowed to – even if you know that what you want to change is someone else goal or ideal.

Eating Over Christmas

We often get stressed about what to eat over Christmas. Parties, drinks, meals out, mince pies and the seemingly never ending stream of food on Christmas Day itself can create a feeling of guilt and overindulgence which makes us feel fat and wretched.

When you think about it, Christmas is one day, three if you count Christmas Eve and Boxing Day. Yet we often spend the whole of December muttering about how much we’ve eaten and how much we are going to need to go on a diet come January. There are various ways you can approach food over the festive season, whether you give up all pretense of eating anything that resembles a vegetable on the day you open the first door of your advent calendar or continue to strictly count every calorie berating yourself for the mince pie you accidently ate last Tuesday.

Now either of these might work for you and if you want to do them you are free to do so, we all suit different ways of eating. But there is such a thing as the middle ground.

Do you want to abstain everything you would enjoy over the month of December? Probably not, but equally even the most level headed person would probably feel some guilt over eating like an unsupervised child in a sweetshop for four weeks straight. But what about picking certain days to forget the tracking (the three big days, those days when you’ve events planned) and during the rest of the time eating normally.

Now I get to the idea of eating normally – because when I say eating as normal, that doesn’t mean not having those Christmas treats- because those treats can be part of your normal diet. Whether it be Christmas or any other time of the year having flexibility in your eating is the way you will most likely see success and find you working towards your goals.

That’s not to deny that Christmas can be a more challenging than other points of the year. Maybe you need to put some extra strategies in place to help you eat normally and not go mad. Perhaps you have a big brunch before that last minute shopping trip to avoid the need to stop and grab high calorie fast food options, perhaps you decide what days you’ll have that creamy Christmas coffee instead of your normal black coffee rather than replacing every coffee with a Christmas alternative. If you have lots of celebrations planned (less likely this year lets face it) maybe you pick some to not drink to reduce your alcohol calories of hangover food feasts. These type of tactics to help you stick to your goals can help at any point of the year though, so shouldn’t be thought of as specifically Christmas related.

So my diet message for Christmas is, think of this time of the year as no different from any other. Some days you will want to relax your focus and eat ALLL THE FOOD, but if you eat normally all the days around that you can still reach your goals. A few days a month of not eating within your calorie range will not undo everything – at any time of the year.

If you try and take away the mental association we tend to have of overeating and Christmas going hand in hand we can enjoy the festive period without feeling like we need to repent in January.

How To Get Fit

How do you get started with a fitness regime? How do I get back into a routine when I’ve fallen out of mine? Lockdown one and two (at what point did we start numbering them because it’s a standard thing now isn’t it?) have, for a lot of us, thrown our training and nutrition into a bit of a tailspin.

So what do you do if this is the case? Whether you are looking to get started or a seasoned gym goer in a funk there’s one key strategy to get going.

Do one thing.

Whilst we often state our lack of doing things is down to a lack of motivation, in actual fact motivation is more a case of momentum. We tend to find motivation from doing something and using that as a stepping stone to do more. The more we do the more motivated we feel.

So when we want to get started with improving our fitness or nutrition making one small change is the best way of getting started.

This could mean doing one short workout (10 minutes), going for a walk, starting to track our calories, committing to drinking more water each day. Once we start to feel the benefits of this it becomes easier to consider adding additional things into our routine.

On top of create an increased sense of motivation, doing one small thing at a time can also make building a fitness regime feel more achievable.

This goes against most of our natural instincts. We tend to have a desire to be perfect, the idea that if we don’t do everything perfectly is there any point of doing it at all is prevalent (hence why so many diets start on Monday, and when people have one slip they wait to start again the following Monday). We aren’t perfect though. Not even those people that really seem to have it all together (you know those people who seem to know how to adult), so we are far more likely to feel successful if we work on our goals in small chunks.

So as you start this week, if you are wanting to make a change to your fitness or nutrition, think about trying to improve one small thing and nothing more than that.

When what you eat does matter

I wrote earlier this week about how calories matter most when it comes to weight. That how you make up those calories is not as important.

Today I want to almost contradict that and talk about what types of food you eat does make a difference.

I’m not changing my message. The calories you consume still matter the most. But, if you are going to stick within a calorie goal, how you get those calories will define the quantity of food you get to eat.

Because you could have some quite high calorie foods that in terms of density don’t equate to very much. Equally you could eat foods that are much more dense for their calories, eat the same amount of calories but far more food.

Of course you wouldn’t want to never eat the high calories foods (they tend to be the foods we crave more) but you equally if you are trying to stay within a calorie goal, you want to eat foods that you will find filling and satisfying. Plus, as much as it upsets me, if you only eat chocolate and cake for a few meals you do eventually start to crave a vegetable!

So if you stay within your calorie goal you will be able to see results and on a base level how you get those calories doesn’t matter, but once you have the foundations of your calories in place you can start to think about what type of foods allow you to eat in quantities that satisfy you and make you feel good whilst staying on track.

Ever wanted to try a class?

Have you ever wanted to try an exercise class but been too nervous? Maybe you think you’re not fit enough or the opposite and it will be too easy. Will you be coordinated enough? Will you be able to keep up? What if everyone else knows what to do?

Classes are how I started exercising and I remember the nerves I felt going to my first class. A few classes later I loved it, over time I tried more and more different types of classes and found a confidence to train that led to me becoming a group exercise instructor myself.

What people don’t realise about classes is that they can be pretty much whatever you want them to be. Yes, you are training in a group and doing the same thing as everyone else, but you also always have the opportunity to approach the class as best suits you. If you want to go as hard as possible and push yourself you can do, equally if you want to train for the mood boost, enjoyment, to feel good or even just take a break from life you can use the class for that. As instructors we are there to push people of course, but we know that people train for many different reasons and can tailor how we teach you to that effect. We know that because we also train for lots of different reasons, depending on the day, our mood, our energy levels.

The other thing to know about classes is they are a great chance to meet new people. You won’t be made to talk to people, you can keep yourself to yourself, but you will over time get to recognise people and get to know them. Classes are friendly environments where we all tend to chat before and after and you can get to know people from a wide range of backgrounds, and make some really great friends too. Above all, they are a lot more welcoming than you might at first imagine.

Finally, you can be super fit or brand new to exercise and you will be able to do a class. You can make them part of an existing training regime or just do classes, you can take things at your own pace and build up and there are always alternatives to exercises available for whatever reason you need.

Cheat Meals are a Myth

Cheat meals don’t work.

Theoretically cheat meals are a great idea- you stick to your diet knowing that on Saturday you will be able to have the mother of all cheat meals right? Every time you feel like giving in and eating that chocolate bar you resist with the thought of that massive pizza, wedges, garlic bread, chicken wings, Ben and Jerrys, milkshake and beer that you will devour on on the weekend. You’ve been good all week and PTs are always saying that one bad meal won’t derail your diet.

Here’s the thing. One bad meal isn’t the end of the world. But. That mother of all cheat meals ends up being, because you deprived yourself all week, more than a normal days calories in one sitting. Because of that fact, the calorie deficit you’ve built up all week suddenly is a calorie deficit no more.

Think of your calories like a bank balance. You have £700 to spend this week (I mean I wish)- £100 for each day of the week. To adequately ‘save’ (lose weight) you want to not spend £140 each week, that’s around £20 a day. Now you might need to spend more some days and less other days, it isn’t necessary to spend exactly £80 each day. You might spend £150 one day and only £70 another. As long as you have that £140 still in your account at the end of the Week you’ve hit your saving goal.

So you can have that takeaway on Saturday night, you have saved during the week and have the calories to spend on your favourite foods. But here’s the deal. You have to track those calories too. If you treat it like a ‘free pass’ you’ll eat way more calories than you expect and end up eating away at your calorie deficit.

Go back to your bank balance. Say you got to the end of the week and you’d saved and you had £500 still – your goal was to save £140 so you’ve got £360 to play with. Now you could go and buy a ridiculously over priced handbag for £360 guilt free. But if you didn’t check your bank balance. Say you just thought, I know I’ve saved money this week and can afford to go shopping, but didn’t actually check what you had left in the bank. You go shopping and spend spend spend. When you check your bank the next day you actually spent £550. Now you’ve not only not saved your £140 but you’re in your overdraft.

If you factor your’ cheat meal’ into your calories it does two things – one it takes away that guilt eating mentality – it stops foods being ‘naughty’. It also ensures that you can have those meals you love whilst still being able to achieve your goals. Above all it stops you self sabotaging your own diet unwittingly.

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.

Should I Join a Slimming Club?

Should I join a Slimming Club?

I’ve written many times before about why I don’t think Slimming Clubs work. Ultimately I think that they take a really simple concept- the calorie deficit- and make it into a complex set of rules that you can only really follow if you pay to attend and keep up to date with their literature or have access to their point counting apps. If you stop keeping to that calorie deficit is hard because they haven’t actually taught the basics.

Yet recently I’ve spoken to plenty of people who have joined various Slimming Clubs, and to be honest fair play- I hope they get success with them. If they follow their rules they will because they will hit a calorie deficit, and whether they do so understanding that or not they will still get the results.

We assume we must learn things then put them into practice, but sometimes we wind up doing things and then accidently learning from the results. If you attend a Slimming Club, get used to being in a calorie deficit, get the results you want and then later down the line understand why exactly you lost that weight (and that it’s nothing to do with speed foods, syns or healthy extras) what have you lost? Maybe a few quid you could have saved by not going to groups- but, you know what, that accountability could have been just what you needed to stay on track, and if you get the results that money would be deemed worth it anyway.

I think ultimately we can sometimes be too judgmental of how people get to where they want to be. At no point would I ever advise someone to go to a Slimming Club, but nor would I discourage someone from making changes in a way they felt comfortable.

There are idea ways of doing most things, but that doesn’t mean you can’t ever get to the same destination by a slightly different route, so whilst I’d encourage anyone wanting to change their diet to speak to a fitness professional for advice over a Slimming Club I also don’t prescribe to painting them as the worst thing since BOOMBOD