Calories Aren’t Bad

How often have you heard about calorie counting being restrictive / bad / creating obsessive eating habits? It’s the anti diet movement’s tagline.

Now the notion that you haven’t got to be a certain weight or size is great. But if you do want to lose eight because you want to and you will feel better then you are allowed to.

If you are going to do this you have to eat less than you burn. There’s literally no other way.

So if you are keeping track of your calorie intake in order to sensibly lose weight because you will feel better for that why would that be bad or unhealthy.

Of course, like anything, it can be taken to extreme. If you are refusing to do things because it would take you over your daily calories, skipping meals, finding yourself obsessing over your diet, severely restricting your food intake for quick results, cutting our food groups or anything like that then there’s an issue. If that’s you, those are signs it may be helpful to seek a medical professionals advice. For most people though, keeping a track of how much you’re eating doesn’t create such issues.  It does allow you to sensibly work towards your goals with data you can use to see what is and isn’t working.

What are the alternatives? You could use an eating systems where calories aren’t counted. Slimming World, Weight Watchers, maybe Intermittent Fasting.  They might take the counting away but they don’t prevent restrictive habits or a bad relationship with food.

You could eat intuitively. Which is great if you are happy with your body as it is, but in reality if you want to lose weight then what you eat now isn’t working and without a mean to measure your food intake how do you know what changes to make?

The upshot is, there are so many reasons you might have a bad relationship with food. Calorie counting might not be for you because of that, but calorie counting in itself doesn’t create bad relationship with food, there are so many factors in play when such a thing happens. Making a process, that is pretty factual when you take our emotional relationship with food out of the equation, into a negative idea is dangerous, not least because it’s actually the easiest, least faddy and cheapest way to lose weight out there.


Fad diets are bad. Everyone agrees on that right? What is a fad diet though?

Same with exercise. Everyone scoffs at people jumping on the latest trend. It’s a fad it won’t last. How do we decide what’s a fad type training method and what’s a ‘good’ training method.

The definition of fad is something that people have an intense enthusiasm for, short lived, a craze. Generally in terms of diets and training we think of fads as things that offer quick fixes, magic results, do xyz and all your problems will disappear in weeks, you can do really simple things like add in a drink and still eat everything you normally do and the magic drink will fix everything and so on. It might be the idea that you can do just one type of exercises and change nothing else and suddenly drop 5 dress sizes.

Again here, much like Slimming World from my last pos, what PTs have issue with, is not always that specific fad in isolation. It’s the idea it is a magi fix.

There are fads that we out and out despise of course. Any magic slimming pill or skinny tea for intense. Literally a way to steal people’s money.

But some ‘fads’ could be incorporated into a healthy lifestyle and could have some benefits. Certain supplements incorporated into a good routine will add benefit. Our issue is that on their own they’ll do f’ all, and you need to understand that.

I happen to think that Herbal Life’s protein powder is actually one of the tastier ones out there (expensive though so I’ll stick with My Protein thanks), but it doesn’t do anything more than any other protein powder will. If you think it will it’s a fad. I’m partial to a hot water with lemon when I wake up, but that’s because it’s part of my morning routine which sets me up for the day, 5 minutes first thing sat and drinking it is calming and means I start the day not rushing around. It doesn’t act as a magic detox or anything. If I thought it did that would be a fad. Pilates, a current trend, is an excellent addition to anyone’s week. Is it the only form of exercise we should ever do? No. If you think it is we are entering fad territory.

What I’m saying is the reason I think we (PTs) dislike these fads is not always that the thing itself is bad. It’s the lack of understanding of why you might decide to do it. If you do something that could be seen as ‘faddy’ for a reason that benefits you and you understand it, it isn’t a fad. If you do something because you think it will fix a problem without any real knowledge of how it might do that it is. It always comes back to education, understanding and knowledge.

Let’s think about running. I like (well after the event anyway, rarely during) running. Some people think running is terrible for you. Now if I ran because I believed it was the only way to lose weight and so I should run for 20 minutes every day, that’s a pretty unhealthy mindset surrounding running, it’s factually incorrect, I’m unlikely to stick to it and you could argue it’s a bit faddy. Actually I run a couple of times a week because I like being outside, it’s my time to switch off and maybe listen to an audio book or music, I always feel better afterwards. Sometimes I run for a long time, sometimes 10 minutes. I often stop for a coffee and cake during a long run, because I like coffee and cake and runs should be enjoyable. It’s not a magic fix but it has benefits for me personally that I value. Same exercise, two different viewpoints of it, the exercise is the same for both outlooks – what is different is how it is perceived, in terms of purposes and perceived outcomes.

What people selling a specific product or brand want you to believe is their product will change everything. A PT wants to you to understand that sustainable progress comes from a mixture of things, forming habits, understanding how your body works and what it needs, working out what works for you around your lifestyle. It doesn’t require buying into any specific concept or product and if one thing doesn’t work for a client, a PT will look at what else might instead.

We need to keep coming back to the point that no one way of doing things is better than another, the key is making an informed decision on what you do and why.

Slimming World and Us

Why do people hate on Slimming World and the like so much? Obviously I can’t talk for other PTs but here’s my take on the matter.

Now if you’ve followed this blog or my podcast for a while you’ll have heard me go into detail about my thoughts on Slimming World. I was a member, I lost weight on it and then I ran into some problems once I lost weight in terms of the Slimming World outlook and my increasing knowledge of nutrition and fitness.

I wouldn’t recommend joining to people, but equally I wouldn’t discourage someone who decided it was good for them.

Ultimately, it’s not unsafe. Done right, it encourages cooking from scratch, eating dense filling foods and limiting pre package items. It can create good habits.

So why do so many PTs have an issue with it? Education in a nutshell.

Essentially, Slimming World followed sensibly creates a calorie deficit, so you’ll lose weight. But it dresses the calorie deficit up in a cloak of free foods, syns, speed foods and HEXA /HEX B foods. You have to follow the diet book and the app and keep going to the meetings to stay on track. Whereas in reality to hit a calorie deficit you don’t need to do any of those things. You just need to stick within a certain number of calories. That can be tracked for free. You just have to understand what you are tracking. A good PT will teach you this to the point you do not need them to track. Slimming World doesn’t.

That makes sense- if you stopped needing Slimming World after a point where would they make money? A good PT holds more value than simply helping you see a drop in the scale, so we see no fear in simplifying concepts so they don’t seem mysterious.

The big issue I found with Slimming World was they discouraged exercise (or my group did). I was actively advised that if i trained less i might see a bigger drop on the scales. Horrible advice from someone with no qualifications in nutrition or training and potentially damaging to a persons body image and relationship with their weight. Now as a PT I know how important it is to stress how many ways there are to measure progress beyond the scales. Not to mention the health benefits of being more active beyond weight. It also saddens me how many women in these groups decided to wait until they lost weight to exercise because they didn’t feel confident and how this mindset was effectively rubber stamped by Slimming World. When I think how starting to exercise when I was at my biggest and the confidence and sense of achievement I gained from that spurred me on more to lose weight that a brand could actively discourage this is quite sad.

Again, this comes down to knowledge and education. Dressing up NEAT as a magic formula and creating myths surrounding exercise makes people more dependent on a formula which requires continued membership to a brand, instead of educating people and empowering them to eventually not need you anymore.

I get why people decide to join these groups. When I think about some areas of fitness from a new person’s perspective it looks intimidating. Slimming World and the like in contrast seem quite inclusive. The group I joined was full of lovely people and really quite welcoming. That’s why I very much think it’s our job as fitness professionals to not consistently bash these brands but understand what they offer and we do not, how can we make gyms as welcoming as a slimming club? It isn’t enough for us to just know why Slimming World doesn’t work anymore it’s about making our own services as accessible and welcoming.

And if you follow Slimming World or similar. There’s genuinely nothing wrong with that and they way you eat now on that plan can be largely kept in place if you decided to start moving away from Slimming World. As I say, There isn’t anything terribly bad about the concept, it would just be a massive benefit if you understand how and why so you are no longer beholden to a membership.

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

The Contradiction of the Dine Out Scheme and a Fight Against Obesity

You know there are lots of different types of people in the world?  People who have different struggles, some people struggle to lose weight, others to put it on.  Some people watch what they eat whether they struggle with managing their weight or not and others find they don’t need to.  Away from our physical self we all work in different industries and have different personal situations.

So I struggle to understand why so many people in the fitness industry keep comparing and contrasting the Governments intentions to tackle obesity and the Dine Out 50% Scheme.

The economy has been hit hard, in particular the hospitality sector.  The 50% scheme and the lower VAT rate are designed to stimulate an area of the economy that is on the edge of a disaster that will have far reaching effects on us all as jobs are lost and windows along high streets start getting boarded up (I mean we’ll just ignore the fact here that the Government found the money to fund this but it took a footballer campaigning to find the funds to feed kids who would otherwise go without during the school holidays).  Maybe it does encourage people to go and eat out more, but you know that when you go to a restaurant you don’t have to pick the fattiest, highest calorie thing on the menu right?  I mean – I don’t follow this rule when I go for a meal but… I could … I do have that autonomy of choice.

That’s the thing for me.  Those campaigns to stop BOGOFs and cheap deals on ‘junk’ food.  Why can I not pick for myself what I put in my mouth?  Does it take the Government making it more costly for me to eat less junk food to achieve that?  Will that work long term?  Or would me making informed decisions about what I eat be better in the long term.  I frequently get laughed at for how much I eat (and particular how much cake) but actually, most of the time (OK not so much in lockdown with no classes to teach) I’m actually easily within my TDEE even with all the cake, on occasions I am not I can say no to food if I think it’s right for me to do so, I don’t need Whitehall to tell me.

So the Government’s current scheme has a purpose and that purpose isn’t related to people’s health – it’s related to the economy, and as much as I don’t like this government (albeit I’ll admit to a  slight inappropriate crush on Rishi, although most people would look good if they’re almost always stood next to Boris) and think their messages are becoming increasingly confusing and contradictory, this policy is designed to get people going back to restaurants and pubs, to contrast it directly to issues of obesity is far to simplistic and takes away the ownership we need to take over our own bodies.

So onto the campaign against obesity.  I’ve not read too much about this as reading the news at the moment makes me incredibly aggy and to be honest I probably don’t need to be triggered any further.  From the Government website it seems to largely involve banning adverts for ‘naughty’ foods, reducing BOGOFs and GPs being able to prescribe weight loss programmes to people – this appears to be both via an NHS specific weight management plan but also being able to sign post them to Weight Watchers and Slimming World.

It’s the Slimming Clubs that seem to be the ultimate trigger to many fitness professionals here.  I’ve written previously that whilst I wouldn’t encourage someone to join one, I don’t think they are the devil incarnate that they get made out to be in our industry.  At the end of the day they promote a safe and healthy calorie deficit, they just do it in a sneaky way where the customer isn’t actually aware that’s what is happening and in a way that sadly doesn’t really promote moving as part of a healthy lifestyle.

To tackle obesity what is really needed is two tier.  Firstly education.  Banning adverts and offers doesn’t educate.  It’s taking the scissors away from someone rather than explaining that they are sharp so if they use them they need to be careful.  Sending them to a Slimming Club could help but not educate.  I would hope the NHS weight management plan would be the first port of call for most referrals and more educational however.

Secondly however, as I’ll write more about tomorrow, knowing and doing are just not the same thing.  It does’t matter what you know about calories or the benefit of exercise, most of us need accountability, reasons to make the effort.  For em the Governments shortsightedness comes not from Weight Watchers but not following through to this point.

Here is where we in the fitness industry can really come into a useful position, offering services that provide that accountability and support to people.  I’ve said so many times previously though, that means less talking down on other ways of losing weight (like slimming clubs) and understanding why they are popular options with many.  I’ll tell you know, because I’ve been overweight and I went to a slimming club before a gym, because sometime gyms and the people in them seem scary.  We need to show understanding of how people looking to lose weight feel and provide services that help rather than put people off.

The other issue here is cost.  It’s often said that one problem is it’s cheaper to live off junk than fresh food.  I think that is both true an untrue.  You can find very cheap fruit and veg if you know where to look, but often you need to go to certain chains of supermarkets to get the value products, these might be out of town superstores, now if you can’t drive then you are limited to the more expensive local shops.  Socio economic factors definitely come into play in everything going on right now.  How was lockdown or you?  Will have depended on where you lived, who with, access to gardens and parks.  What will have been an idyllic summer for some would have been months cooped up alone indoors for others.  Whilst we can argue that people coming to us as PTs or coaches would be more effective for them in terms of weight management and health, three sessions with a PT a week in going to cost at least £90 a week, a gym membership at least £20 a week.  A weight in at Weight Watchers costs around a fiver.

Ultimately we need to stop over simplifying complex issues, try and look beyond our own point of view and accept that in a very complex world right now where there are economic, social and health issues vying for attention with a still ongoing pandemic that not every decision or policy is always going to sit well or make sense against another.  We need to think more on a micro scale of what we can do to improve the situation rather than getting bogged down in what Boris is cocking up this week.

Slagging off Slimming World doesn’t help people

On Sunday I’ll be appearing on Ricky Long’s podcast talking about the fitness world in general.

One of the things we talk about is Slimming World, I myself did Slimming World before I became a fit pro and feel like I have a decent understanding of it from many angles because of this.

This wasn’t the focus of the podcast so I went into a lot less detail that I could have so I wanted to delve a bit deeper into a point here – it’s not enough as fitness professional to say what’s wrong with slimming clubs – we need to look at what we ourselves can do to help people who may otherwise have turned to such clubs

I did a podcast last year which you can listen to here, where I spoke about my own personal experience of Slimming World and what I think is wrong with the system.

Rather than rehashing that here I instead want to talk about something I’ve touched upon both here and in my upcoming podcast.

Slagging off Slimming World doesn’t help people.

When I needed help I went to Slimming World, I didn’t go to a PT – the idea intimidated me and didn’t feel accessible. All these perfectly nice people I know now would have intimidated me- me now would have intimidated me. I wouldn’t have gone to a fitness event or gym because I’d have felt like a fraud like I didn’t fit it.

Sliming clubs felt accessible for me. That’s why I took that route.

I eventually found training and with it learnt about nutrition and left Slimming World and am where I am now. BUT for that to happen took PTs and group ex instructors who didn’t criticise the route I’d chosen to take, they didn’t point out in distaste all the things that were wrong with Slimming World. They educated me within a framework that allowed me to see why Slimming World can work on a energy in / energy out basis and allowed me to come to the realisation that I didn’t need the club and see the faults for myself.

There weren’t Facebook groups back then for Slimming World but to be honest if there had been and some people had come into them and attacked what was, at the time, working for me I’d have probably defended Slimming World and I wouldn’t have felt like I wanted to go to those people for advice.

In short – as Fitness professionals I think we need to find a balance between exposing myths and educating people without making them feel stupid for trying to reach their goals. How I see this…

That PT thinks everything about Slimming World is stupid

I do Slimming World

So they must think I’m stupid

I’m not going to them to help

In attempting to help there’s a real danger we actually alienate without meaning to.

Now actually Slimming World can be successful in that it creates habits that lead to a calorie deficit. It’s not unsafe or faddy as diets go.

It doesn’t educate.

But you know what – I played rugby for a while, no idea of the rules I just ran at people.

Would I have been a better player if I knew more – yes. Did I still play? Yes.

I honestly don’t know how the best way to go about it is, but I feel like supporting and understanding peoples choices creates an environment of trust that might convince people away from Slimming World and into training and understanding basic nutrition more than simply laughing at the notion of syns, body magic and star weeks ever will.

Two Last Things for 2018- 30 Day Challenges and Slimming World

I hadn’t planned to write this one but two things kept popping up on my Social Media over the weekend which I wanted to address.

Number One- 30 Day Challenges

No alcohol in January, no cake, no sugar – you get the drift.

Yes, if you can do this it’s amazing, and if you generally have good habits already in place this is totally achievable.


January is a shit month.

It’s cold, dark, everyone is skint and on a comedown from the excitement from Christmas.

Now take away something which you enjoy (and I assume you enjoy whatever you are thinking of giving up or it wouldn’t be a challenge) on top of that and you are just making January a little bit more tough for yourself.

Yes, of course the health benefits be good for you.

Chances are though at some point in January will power will crack and one drink or cake will spell the end of the challenge and possibly spur you to say ‘fuck it, i failed so i might as well have some more’.

I’m not saying not look to make improvements in this area but be kind to yourself about it.

If you have a drink every night aim for two nights a week where you don’t drink.  Aim to reduce your cake consumption by 50% of what it currently is.  Still beneficial, still challenging, still an achievement.

But here’s the thing- if you aim to do something 100% and slip up you see it as a failure.  If you aim to make small changes then you allow yourself some room to slip up without failing to reach your goal.

Changing your mindset as to how you make changes and view those changes will ultimately help you sustain them long term and build upon each win.  Making goals to change things more realistic will make you more likely to succeed and help you treat yourself a little kinder.

Number Two- Slimming World

I’ve seen lots of posts by Fitness Professionals talking about the negatives of Slimming World.

Now yes- some of the rules are absurd.

Yes – the education around nutrition is poor.

Yes- Some consultants actively discourage exercise (muscle gain doesn’t assist in the scales going down and they only go off weight).

Yes I would encourage people to see a nutrition coach or PT for advice instead of go to Slimming World.


I worry the demonising of the brand could alienate those who are Slimming World Members.

No it’s not the ideal.

But for some people Slimming World is a less intimidating option that booking in with a PT.

For some people they perhaps need to do that and build some confidence before they go to a gym.

I say this because this was me.

And knowing that PTs actively disliked Slimming World may have discouraged me from making that leap from a slimming club member to a gym goer.

Once I started working with a PT I quickly phased out Slimming World. I didn’t need someone to tell me to to, as I learnt more I was able to make the choice myself.

My point is whilst it isn’t the optimum of nutrition it also isn’t harmful.

It can teach some basic lessons in what to eat more of and what to eat in moderation, it can help you learn to manage your eating, it can act as a springboard.

That is it could act as a springboard if we encourage those Slimming World members we meet to use it as such.

Ultimately Slimming World creates a calorie deficit.  We encourage clients to create a calorie deficit.  Different methods, different education but same goal.

I’m not suggesting we celebrate Slimming World but we could instead educate people as to why some of their rules are a bit silly in slightly kinder words so as to not put people who do currently do Slimming World from also working with us.



The Scandal of the Mullerlight Yoghurt

Slimming World have changed Mullerlight yoghurts from a ‘free’ food to having 1 syn.  From what I can tell this has caused something of a shitstorm on social media.

If you aren’t familiar with Slimming World – in a nutshell, there are ‘free foods’ which you can eat as much as you wish of everyday and Healthy Extras (a small portion of foods providing calcium and fibre) which you eat each day on top of your free food. Everything else has a syn value – you can have 5- 15 syns a day.

The bonkers thing here?

Mullerlight yoghurt’s recipe has not changed (from what I have read). The yoghurt today provides the same number of calories, same amount of sugar etc. as it did yesterday – it’s just the Slimming World company have decided that people were eating too many of them because they were ‘free’.

They have also done it with Smash and tinned spaghetti by the way.  Again the nutritional values within these foods has not changed overnight.

So here is my issue with Slimming World.

This whole yoghurt fiasco demonstrates it perfectly.

The company doesn’t teach people how our energy system works. If you follow the plan you can lose weight – but it does little to educate you on how to eat well and be healthy, away from counting syns and eating lots and lots of jacket potatoes.

Background- Back in 2011 I was overweight- I did no exercise and I ate takeaways more than I ever cooked. Diets were started every Monday morning and abandoned on Monday evening. I eventually decided to go to Slimming World. It was practically a last ditch attempt before I gave in to being overweight forever.

Now I have plenty of positives to say about the experience – the people were lovely, for me getting weighted kept me accountable and at first the plan worked- I was generally eating better food than I had been and losing weight.

Fast forward six months.

I’d started a Zumba class at the same time as Slimming World. I’d enjoyed it. The confidence I gained from doing Zumba led me to venture into other classes and I was now doing Body Jam, Body Combat, Zumba, Yoga and Circuits on a weekly basis.  My shape changed (I got smaller) as a consequence- but my weight loss slowed.  The consultant suggested that sometimes you could do too much exercise. This was when alarm bells started going off in my head.  I’d started to educate myself more as I started to enjoy a healthier lifestyle and it felt a little like I was being encouraged to do less exercise to see bigger results on the scale.

Likewise there was little emphasis placed on the nutritional benefits of food. Generally having some good fats such as avocado with your breakfast would probably be seen by most as more beneficial than having a kitkat for breakfast. Yet 100g of avocado is around 10 syns whereas a Kitkat is 5.5.  It is therefore unsurprising that people on Slimming World choose to stick with processed foods over fresh but high in calorie foods in some instances.

I often say I lost 4.5 stone on Slimming World, but in truth the last couple of stone came off through simply making better choices and exercising. I’ve since stayed the same dress size but put 2 of those stone back on. I am now the fittest and healthiest I’ve ever been.

Accountability and support is vital when people want to live a healthier lifestyle but groups such as this focus purely on a number on a scale going down.  There is little emphasis on how calories work – how many you should eat, what they should generally be made up of to get a balanced lifestyle, how they provide you with fuel. There’s limited reasons for people to choose fresh over convenience foods and there’s no education as to why – just because Mullerlights are ‘free’, eating 20 will still derail your progress.  There’s not enough encouragement to get moving and some of the education around exercise in my experience was quite simply incorrect.

I understand the logic behind Slimming World changing these foods from ‘free’ to ‘syned’.  What they could have done however is educate people as to why even with ‘free’ foods you need to eat in moderation.  If they did that they would de- mystify their product however.  Like everything else Slimming World is just another method of creating a calorie deficit.

Not all calorie deficits are created equally however – and I don’t feel like Slimming World helps you understand how calories work, that free foods still have calories and over eating them will slow down weight loss. Equally, unlike a fitness professional say, who would celebrate changes to your physique over changes on the scale, Slimming World aren’t bothered by you dropping a dress size and looking amazing as you shape up via exercise.  They want you to earn stars so you stay hooked and kep paying them a weekly check in fee.

So essentially- if you currently do Slimming World, eat well, have been eating a Mullerlight a day and getting results guess what? You will continue to see those results going forward because the food itself has not changed.

But if this has made you question the sense of Slimming World-  all is not lost.  The good news is you can sign up for My Fitness Pal for free- work out how many calories you need a day, what deficit you want to aim for and track what you eat!