Goals

Do you know what I think we are all guilty of sometimes?  Not being clear enough on our fitness goals.

By this I don’t mean training without a specific goal.  I mean having a goal but not being clear on what that goal means and what you can expect from it

For instance – do you want to train for performance?  This might also lead to you being able to reach an aestetic goal at the same time, but at other times training to reach a performance goal may mean you cannot also attain to or maintain a certain size / weight.  You need to eat adequately to assist your training and this in turn could also affect your physique.  Aspiring to both drastically change your shape and also hit a physical peak could lead to frustrating disapoitnment in yourself (equally trying to become a body builder and a marathon runner at the same time will probably end in tears).

Do you want to lose weight / get leaner / whatever you want to call it?  Realistically to do this you need to eat less and move more.  This might not be compatible with also aiming for a specific training goal, like lifting more, if you are drastically limiting your energy intake.  Have you ever tried going harder in training sessions when you’re also eating less than normal?  It’s not massive amounts of fun.

I have long said about myself that my training goal is largely mindset orienated.  I train to feel good, it helps my mental health and acts as an anchor.  Equally I enjoy eating and try not to be restrictive with my diet.  For this I also have to accept that I’m not going to be super lean or be breaking any training records any time soon.  Training has a point and that’s to kee me fit, healthy and to make me feel good.  I can quite happily stick to light weights and not feel bad about myself. 

If I wanted to change that, lose some weight or improve the amount I lift I’d also have to seriously reconsider how I approach my diet and how I train.  I’ve done that before and it can, I’ve found, have a negeative effect on my mindset and how I feel about training.  In trying to focus on multiple things it has a negative impact on the thing most important to me.

Essentially, we need to be aware that we can’t do everything.  Of course, there will be knock on effects, you may well find that as you train for an event or to hit a certain PB you also find your body changes and you’re really pleased with that.  But if you’re goal is one specific thing try honestly focusing on that one thing – not getting distracted by trying to do everything at once.       

Laying the Foundations

When people want to make changes to their diet in order to lose or even gain weight they are often tempted to focus on supplements and shakes, when they eat certain food groups or even food at all and their very specific macro splits.

I get why this is the case – it’s really tempting for us to think that making a small change to meal timings or taking a tablet / shake and keeping the rest of our diet and routine the same is the ideal. Maximum results for minimal change.

In reality however what people are doing when they do this is focusing on the top end of the nutrition pyramid without building a solid foundation.

The foundation of your pyramid needs to be your calorie intake. You can take the right supplements, drink enough water, eat at the best times but if you’re eating too much or too little you won’t achieve your desired results. You need to eat enough to have the energy to be as active as you need to be whilst also not finding yourself in a surplus (unless you want to gain weight) and hitting a deficit if you’re goal is to lose. How you do this to begin with is almost irrelevant. If you eat nothing but chocolate but burn more calories than you’ve consumed over time you will lose weight. You won’t be getting a good range of nutrients, you’ll probably be tired and hungry but you would lose weight.

Only once you get your calorie intake right for your goal is it worthwhile starting to look further up the pyramid. How much of your calories comes from protein, carbs and fat; your micro nutrients; when you do and don’t eat and what you eat at that times and what supplements you add to your day all have their part to play in how you feel and how you perform, but they will not provide you with effective results if you have not first got your calorie foundation firmly in place.

We are bombarded daily with adverts for teas, and pills and other ‘magic’ potions; with ideas of when our body best burns calories and other tricks that will help us magically lose weight. These are of course attractive because we all want to get results fast and effectively, but nailing the basics and making them habit is ultimately the most effective (and dare I say cheapest) way of getting results.

A Neat National Fitness Day

Last Wednesday was National Fitness Day. This is a day where to be honest, people who exercise anyway post about the exercise they’ve done and gyms perhaps use it for promotion purposes. Does it actually make people exercise who wouldn’t normally though?

One thing Lockdown highlighted however is, as vital as exercise is for physical and mental health, your non exercise activity is also important for achieving results.

During lockdown I did some form of exercise most days. What also happened however is my step count reduced dramatically. From walking everywhere everyday I went to not really walking anywhere (lets face it we couldn’t actually go anywhere). The reduction in steps had a dramatic effect on my body even though I was still training in some form or another- fact is I just wasn’t burning as many calories a day because overall, away from exercise, I was moving less.

When we want to lose weight we generally think the most important thing to do is to do more exercise. Adding training of some form into your life is of course incredibly beneficial, but equally it can feel daunting and it can also take a while to create this type of habit. The quickest and easiest thing anyone looking to reduce body weight (lose weight) aside creating a calorie deficit is to just move more.

Going out for a walk at lunch time, making part of your commute a walk, walking whilst on the phone – all those little bits of extra movement make a far greater impact on your results than you think they will. When you think about it- an hour of planned exercise a day is 1/24 of your day, so what you do in the other 96% of your day can make all the difference.

So if you missed National Fitness Day that doesn’t really matter, same if you missed the gym today- just move a bit more each day as a starting point.

Intuitive Eating

Intuitive eating and the anti diet movement.

I’m a bit torn by this.

On the one hand I want to support the idea of eating what you want, not feeling guilt for eating certain foods or certain amounts of food and listening to your own body.

But I also think if you want to make a change – specifically lose or put on weight – you need to know what you are eating.

Because really, if you don’t currently track what you eat you are kind of eating intuitively.  So if you aren’t where you want to be that intuition isn’t quite working right now.

I’m not saying track everything forever, but getting an idea of where you are at and learning what the right amount of calories feels like will allow you to eat with more freedom going forward.

I think of it a bit like learning to drive or staring a new job.  When you first start something new you really think; you are aware of what you are doing and when, maybe following notes or using reminders, you never do something without checking or on auto pilot.  Once you have been doing it for a while you gain confidence, you know how to do things and don’t need to constantly check, tasks are done instinctively and sometimes you ‘just know’.

When you see someone experienced do something well but making it look effortless you can normally bet they were not like that at the start.  They went through a learning process and what might now be done without thinking almost definitely took a lot of concentration to begin with.

So I think listening to your body and eating what it wants is a great concept, taking away some of the negative feelings that can be associated with diets, but if you also want to achieve a certain result the fact is you still need to effectively manipulate your calorie intake and that takes knowledge, of where you are at and where you need to be.

Intuitive eating can be a thing, but your intuition needs to be in the right place first.

I literally cannot be bothered

Yesterday I wrote about how education on weight management is needed, but beyond that people need motivation, in fact no… they need accountability.  I said I’d write more about that today and I wanted to keep this as a separate blog because I want to write about me.

Honestly, right now I’m my best example of this argument.  I know about calories, macro splits, supplements.  I know how to train, what I need to do to stay looking a certain way (I’m trying really hard not to say certain weight).   Not only do I know all this but to be honest normally I enjoy the training and the way I eat so it’s not even hard work.

But right now I’m nowhere near that.  I’m at least two clothes sizes bigger, nothing at all fits, I avoid looking at myself side ways in the mirror because I am extremely wide right now and I just do not feel good in myself.  I cannot be bothered to train, have lost all motivation (heat does not help, nor does not yet being back teaching) and whilst I eat pretty well still I’m eating a lot more chocolate whilst doing a lot less activity.

The fact is I am well educated on fitness and nutrition.  This is not a lack of knowledge or access to the right foods or access to places to train.  It’s not even a lack of goal or motivation.  I will be teaching again soon, I have purpose / reason to get going again I’m just struggling to pout it into effect.

Oddly I trained and ate well all through lockdown.  I used my training sessions as a away to structure my day and keep feeling positive.  I ate well and again used meal times as a way of keeping my day structured.  Ironically the opening up of things and my return to the office almost very day (thus getting back to reality and routine) caused me to lose that training and eating routine I’d built.  I’m finding myself tired at the end of the day so deciding not to train, busy during the day so skipping lunch when I would normally have trained and pretty much comfort eating chocolate.

Literally as I’m writing this I’m saying to myself but you know what to do about this.  There is nothing about education being needed here.  This is literally just about making myself do it.  Nobody else can make me feel better about myself, I have to get back to doing what I’ve always previously just done as habit.  Equally though it made me think about what I was saying yesterday.

I completely stand by my argument that what is needed to tackle obesity is education.  Not a list of lower calorie food options but genuine understanding of the energy balance that can help people, because then you could have that McDonalds and know it’s still OK and still work towards losing weight.

But still knowing doesn’t mean applying and sometimes what we also need is accountability and support.  How many people continue to go to a PT for years and years?  For many people it’s the accountability that is worth paying for those sessions, doesn’t matter that they may know they could go and train alone.

If you know what you should be doing and still aren’t that’s OK, most of us struggle with this at least some of the time.  Best thing to do is work out what will make you get started again.  Who can hold you accountable?  Who can offer support?  Maybe that’s a PT, maybe it’s booking onto a class to make you go, maybe it’s signing up for an event (hard right now).  Sometimes it’s just telling people of your intentions, like I am here.

 

 

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.

Lost Momentum

I’ve not written a blog since 20th July when I took some time out due to an injury.

I rested for about a week and a half then intended to get to the gym as they reopened in England, but just didn’t.  The rest combined with not teaching for such a long time now (and not yet having classes to go back to) meant I found it really hard to motivate myself to get back into the gym.

So here’s the thing.  Exercise is an anchor for me.  Something which grounds me when I’m feeling a bit rubbish.  It’s not something I feel I have to do, I enjoy it and it makes me feel good and quite frankly sane, it’s also a great stress reliever and when I’m busy a quick run or workout can help you come back refreshed and refocused.  But it’s also really easy to lose momentum, even with something that you know is beneficial to you.  In turn this makes me feel a bit down about things in general, so it’s something that I’ve struggled with a bit.

Right now in the world most of us have probably lost some momentum.  Life changed over night (I went from teaching 10-15 classes a week and being out an about almost all the time to working from home to now working in an office but not yet back to teaching) and even as it changes back it’s different to what it was, and it’s continuously changing.  Getting back to things you know are good to you and enjoy sounds like it should be easy but it really isn’t.

For me I’m just getting myself back into the gym as often as I can, I’ve reduced the duration / intensity of my workouts so i can build back up (both from the injury and extended break) and I’m not kicking myself if I have a long day and have to miss a training session.  I know overtime I’ll get back into that habit and hopefully by the time I start teaching again (in a few weeks hopefully) I’ll feel much more in the swing of things, but I can’t expect myself to just bounce back to where I was in March.

If you need a bit of motivation to get yourself back into the swing of things, firstly, that’s ok- I think most of us are in the same boat.  Secondly, I have designed a two week gym plan to help ease yourself back in which you can download here.

http://eepurl.com/g4PLOz

 

Man Down!

I’ve picked up an injury.  Well of sorts, I think its more over use as I have been doing a lot more running / cardio classes with gyms closed and my knee (which isn’t without issue at the best of time) and hip are feeling it.

Here’s the weird thing though. I can rest.

Do I want to rest? No.  I’ve not trained since Tuesday and I’m itching, training is as mcuh something I do for my mental health as physical health.

But because I am not teaching I can rest.  Under normal circumstances resting for me would be only teaching classes which would still equate to around nine hours exercise a week.  Looking at it you can see why instructors struggle to get rid of persistent niggles!

There have been many negatives about gyms being closed but the one positive it has bought me is the importance of rest, and not my weird instructor concept of rest but actual proper recovery, the sort I would advise others take.

This is something I want to take with me when I’m back to training in gyms when they reopen.  I’m curious if anyone else has learnt anything fitness wise they want to remember?

Gratitude

Have you ever tried a gratitude challenge / journal?

I like the idea of practicing gratitude.  I think as new age as it can sound at first it’s actually a very practical and CBT based way of managing your own mental health.

The reality is it is very easy to see a negative and focus on it and feel bad because of it.  When you make the effort to try and look beyond that to positives, however small, it can start to transform how you feel in that moment.  The more you intentionally work to transform negative thoughts to positive ones the more naturally it comes and the more naturally it comes the easier it is to focus on the positives of a situation over the negatives.  So the act of practicing gratitude daily is a good way of training your brain and thus feeling better in yourself.

What isn’t so easy however is actually getting started.  At first completing a gratitude journal can feel somewhat ridiculous and getting started when you may not feel in a positive space is actually pretty hard.

I had CBT sessions back in 2016 when I was struggling with depression and anxiety.  At the time I thought the techniques I was shown in these sessions didn’t work – I wasn’t in the right frame of mind to be able to turn situations around in my head or look beyond my situation as it was at that point.  Now, in a much better place, I see how useful the techniques actually are and use them frequently, but I continue to believe there is an irony in the fact that I actually needed to feel better to begin to practice the tools that could have made me feel better at the time.

Learning to manage your own mindset is a skill to be learnt and developed.  That is why social media posts telling people to just feel ‘positive vibes only’ and other such slogans irk me so much, gratitude isn’t something that is easy to just suddenly feel- particularly in challenging times.

This is why I particularly liked an Ebook that I recently downloaded that teaches you how to start approaching gratitude.  Rather than a book to record your own lists of what you are grateful for (I really like these too, I always think you’re far more likely to stick to things when you like the tools you are working with) this actually approaches how to do it.

It was produced by a small business called LSW London.  The company’s main product is actually a really pretty set of 45 cards with tasks to carry out to help you improve your mood (the idea is you take one out at random and complete it, almost teaching you habits that can help anchor you).  However they also have this Ebook (only £3.95) and several mindfulness based recordings to listen to (£2.99 each).

If you are unsure about how to get starting with the practice of gratitude I would highly recommend this ebook as a starting point to get you going.

Check out the LSW Website

 

Has Lockdown Changed Your Periods?

Are your periods normally regular, but then over the last few months during lockdown you have found them become less regular?  A few of my friends have mentioned this, perplexed as to why their cycle has suddenly changed.

Changes in your body’s level of the hormones (estrogen and  progesterone) can disrupt the normal pattern of your period (hence why young girls going through puberty and women approaching the menopause often have irregular periods).  There are also lots of other things that can affect your cycle however, and some of these relate to our environment / lifestyle, so for me, it’s not that shocking that the change to our lives and emotions that lockdown bought about might have affected how regular our periods are.

Some common causes of irregular periods include:

  • Having an IUD fitted
  • Changing birth control method or using certain medications
  • Too much exercise
  • PCOS
  • Pregnancy
  • Breastfeeding
  • Stress
  • Dramatic weight gain or weight loss
  • Overactive thyroid
  • Underactive thyroid
  • Thickening of the uterine lining

Some of these reasons are medical and obviously require seeing a doctor to get the correct treatment.  Equally if you find your birth control has started to negatively affect your cycle it’s always worth speaking to the nurse or doctor about this as there might be a better alternative for you.  But some of these changes, specifically over exercising, dramatic weight changes and stress are lifestyle related.

For instance some women find they have changes in their periods because they exercise too much.  They may need to make workouts less intense, or exercise less often to combat this.

If stress is the problem, learning how to manage stress levels or remove the stressful situations from your life can help.

Extreme changes in your weight can affect your periods with weight gain making it harder for your body to ovulate whilst extreme, sudden weight loss can also lead to infrequent or irregular periods.  It’s important to stress here that losing weight sensibly or gaining a few pounds is not likely to have a dramatic effect to your periods (hence using the word extreme!).

Beyond these well accepted reasons that our cycles can change there are other factors that have been recognised as affecting our cycle, syncing with other women we spend a lot of time with, changes to our alcohol intake / patterns, changes to our diet, inconsistent work schedules (working late / changes in pattern) and changes to our sleep pattern (getting less sleep, going to bed later for example).

When you think about how our lives have changed in lockdown it isn’t overly surprising that some of us have found our cycles a little disrupted – our normal routines have gone out the window.  And with that you may have found your periods have change slightly as a result.

Because when you think about lockdown so many of the factors mentioned above will possibly have come into play for you.

Yes, gyms have been shut, but with many people either working from home or being on furlough / unable to go to work lots of people have had more time to exercise an so changes and potential dramatic increases to training will have been seen by many.  Conversely some people (me included) will have found their activity levels dramatically drop (even with training every day) and that change itself could also affect your period regularity.

I don’t know many people who haven’t reported feeling stress and anxiety about the pandemic at some point, whether your worries centered around Covid itself or the economy or both I think we’ve all felt a greater degree of stress.

Many people will have seen a dietary change- some for the better, some maybe not.  We are eating at home more but being indoors all day means we are more tempted by the fridge more often, therefore changes in diet and potential weight gain will not have been uncommon for many people in recent months.

Many people will also have increased their alcohol intake in lockdown, a mixture of it being cheaper to drink at home, having more time to drink etc. means that alcohol intake patterns will have changed (and increased) for some.

For the majority of people their working environment has changed, working from home, changes to hours and due to the challenges many businesses have faced many people are finding they are needing to work longer hours.  Suddenly not bein able to work is equally a sudden dramatic change to routine.

If you live with other females, you have possibly spent more time with them over lockdown so may have found your cycle sync with them.

And finally sleep.  We should theoretically have been able to sleep more – take away commuting, or work or social plans out of the house and early nights / lie ins should have been possible.  In reality, I found, and most people I’ve spoken to have said similar, sleep has been disrupted.  I’ve struggled to get to sleep until the early hours most nights and woken up frequently, which I put down to a mixture of worry and stress and also not being as active during the day meaning I find it harder to get ready to sleep.  This has meant I’ve probably had a lower quality of sleep in lockdown!

So when you think about it, given the amount of changes to our lifestyle that could potentially affect how regular our periods are that we have found ourselves facing in recent months, it’s not shocking at all that many women have found their once regular cycle has maybe become less regular.

Is this something to worry about?  Probably not, I track my cycle on the Fitbit app an have found that although I’ve had some changes, those changes appear to have settled me into a ‘new regular’ cycle.  I anticipate that as things continue to change as lockdown lifts I might see some more changes as my routine changes (and stress levels will probably continue to remain quite high) but again I will keep an eye on those via tracking and I expect they will settle.

But I’d always encourage you to speak to a doctor if you are concerned.  If the changes to your cycle are affecting your life, you continue to remain very irregular or anything seems out of the ordinary it’s always best to get yourself checked out.

If you have any of these symptoms it is generally advised you consult a doctor:

  • You miss three or more periods a year.
  • You get your period more often than every 21 days.
  • You get your period less often than every 35 days.
  • You are bleeding more heavily than usual during your period.
  • You bleed for more than 7 days (I know this is not unusual for many women but if you have a sudden change in period length it is worth getting it checked out)
  • You have more pain than usual during a period

All in all being aware of your cycle and changes to it is always a positive thing, as knowing your own body is the best way of being able to spot early on if something is wrong and understanding changes you might face can be helpful in that understanding of yourself.