Weight Loss & Diets … Dirty Words

My latest podcast all about diets and losing weight … how we view it in society and on social media these days and why it’s still ok to want to lose weight along with a bit about why you might be finding it tough to actually reduce the number in the scales

https://anchor.fm/heather-sherwood/episodes/Diets-and-Weight-Loss–Dirty-Words-e1nm3r7

Weight Loss v Body Positivity

You read so much now about the pressures of social media on people’s perception of themselves. Photo editing, air brushing and the never ending perfectness of the lives and bodies of instagram influencers is blamed for people’s insecurities about their own bodies.

On the other side of the coin, a new wave of body positivity has started to prevail online, celebrating all body shapes and sizes and embracing people as they are.

The thing that sits awkwardly between these two polar sides of these internet discourses is being healthy, because obviously striving to get to a body size and shape which is very thin and requires excessive training, undereating and unhealthy eating habits is bad, but is encouraging people who are dangerously overweight to remain the same in the name of body inclusivity responsible?

Nobody would argue that people who are a size 12/14 feeling fat because we have generally always been conditions to think that anything over a size 10 is ‘big’ is alright, and the more positive discourse around size and shape and what’s normal is clearly a step in the right direction, people who are not super slim can of course be fit, healthy and strong. More women looking to lift in gyms has aided this change in mindset as strong is now often more desirable than skinny and more women want muscles and a bum (remember this has not been the case until pretty recently, I grew up in the 90s when a flat bum was the goal!).

All of that is great, but within this movement there is also the argument that nobody should be told to lose weight no mater what their size. Is that right though? Of course BMI is rubbish, I’m obese according to that yet I teach group exercise classes with ease, lift, and have recently run a half marathon. Last time i went to the doctor and got my blood pressure tested they commented ho healthy I was physically. Lots of people are bigger but strong, fit, in good health, size alone shouldn’t be the only thing to define a person’s attractiveness or health. Should body positivity stop people who are overweight and unhealthy from being encouraged to get help though? If someone is finding their size is affecting their health or their ability to do things, surely this should not be part of the everyone is entitled to be the size they want?

As ever, we seem to be unable to look at the grey areas between the black and white of two different camps. If you’re happy does it matter what size you are? Personally I think no, but if your size or lifestyle if affecting your health and ability to do things I think we should be able to advise them that they could benefit from making changes. Weight loss doesn’t have to be the be all and end all of a positive lifestyle change, but it also shouldn’t be a dirty word. Encouraging a client to lose weight if it’s part of their goal shouldn’t make them some kind of enemy to the body positivity movement.

What are your thoughts?

Can cutting out coffee help you lose weight?

Can Intermittent Fasting help you lose weight?

Sure, if you eat during a shorter time window every day but don’t eat dramatically more than you usually would at each meal or eat extra meals in that time period (i.e. you don’t just eat breakfast later) you will possibly lose weight. Why?  Because you’re eating fewer calories. You may also find other health benefits to eating in this way and it can really suit some people’s lifestyles and mindsets.  But is it a magic formula in itself? No, if it’s not for you the fact is you’re really not missing out on some great health cheat.

Can cutting out coffee help you lose weight?

Maybe, if you normally drink it with milk and (or) sugar and cut back you’ll reduce your calorie intake naturally and you may see an effect on your weight. Equally, even with black coffee you may find you sleep a bit better and as getting enough sleep is helpful when it comes to both weight loss and training you might see a small benefit there. Having said that coffee can sometimes act as an appetite suppressant so cutting back may affect your appetite a bit at first, if you’re also adding in pre workouts to replace a pre gym black coffee you might even end up consuming slightly more calories.  Essentially, whilst there may be benefits they might well be minimal.

Can using an acupressure mat help you lose weight?

It is reported that Acupressure mats provide many benefits, including weight loss.  The idea being the pressure points relieve stress due to the release of endorphins, lowering cortisol and this reduction in stress helps weight management.  I have an acupressure mat and try to use it every night, I certainly feel I sleep better and feel more relaxed after 20 minutes laying on it, for me, whether there is much scientific research or not it makes me feel good. Does it help with weight management though?  If it does it’s probably minimal and only in conjunction with eating the appropriate amount of calories.  Would laying on this mat alone reduce weight? No.

Will meditation / mindfulness help you lose weight?

Mindfulness, practiced often, can be an effective method for helping change habits and ways of thinking and as such could help you lose weight by helping you adjust your habits. Again, on it’s own it will not help you lose weight, it’s a tool which can help you adjust your behaviours and the change in behaviour is what will lead to weight loss.

There are many habits, actions and behaviour changes which, can when incorporated into your life, make you feel better and assist with weight loss. Ultimately though, weight loss comes from consuming fewer calories than you burn over a consistent period of time.  Sometimes on a weight loss journey, the habits we adopt across the way can feel like the magic ingredient that actually made the difference in losing weight. Perhaps they are, in the respect if they make us feel better and more positive and help us stick to a calorie deficit then they are positive weight loss tools that can also bring other benefits at the same time.  It’s important to recognise that in terms of weight loss however, these things alone do not create a calorie deficit and understanding this will allow long lasting changes to occur.

Abs, a good PT does not make.

I saw a comment on a friends Facebook post the other day that went along the lines of that person would not pick a PT who was not thin because if they weren’t thin how could they advise their clients on how to lose weight / why didn’t they follow their own advice. I get it and I think most PTs will have had the thought at some point as to why would someone hire me if i don’t look super fit?

The thing is knowledge and application are two different things.

I can know how to help someone get leaner, fitter, stronger without being as lean, as fit, as strong. Deciding that I prefer my diet and life the way it is over looking like a poster girl PT doesn’t make me any less good at my ability to coach people to reach a physical peak.

Having life events happen that take you away from your own training or taking medication that affects your body shape don’t stop you knowing how to help someone else lose weight.

Having a specific training goal that means you’ve spent less time on certain elements of your own training doesn’t mean you can’t coach someone else in those.

If you think about a sport like tennis. If we followed the notion that you can’t train someone to success unless you’ve had the exact same success, how do we explain the coaches of all the Wimbledon champions not coached by former Wimbledon champions? In actual fact those coaches may not have had the talent to become Wimbledon champion themselves but they are obviously exceptional at coaching others and bringing out the potential of others.

In football, most top tier club managers are former players but are all the big names, the ones with success after success, best known for their exceptional managerial skills, were they always the Ronaldo level players? They were good, top tier players for sure, but their success as managers came from their knowledge of tactics, man management, their ability to strategise.

Being skilled or talented at something doesn’t mean you will be good at teaching others to do it, coaching and motivating is a skill in itself. Moreover, not being or looking a certain way doesn’t mean you couldn’t do something if you wanted to. I could be thinner (i have been) and faster (I have been) but I do not at this moment want to make the changes that I’d have to in order to go back there. I could help you make those changes if you wanted to, I just don’t want to myself and wouldn’t make you if you didn’t want to. Fitness and body shape is a choice, the essence of the body positivity movement in a nut shell, there’s no one ‘type’ of fit, that should mean PTs should also feel able to chose a weight and fitness level that they are happy with without fear of judgement, be it from clients or other fitness professionals.

Knowledge doesn’t equal application, application doesn’t equal the ability to impart knowledge and abs, a good PT does not make.

The top of the Pyramid

My last two posts have focused on the Nutrition Pyramid. Here’s a little one on the rest of the Pyramid.

1) Micro Nutrients

2) Meal Timings

3) Supplements

These are the things you can start to look at once you’ve nailed the basics at the bottom of the pyramid. They can help you tweak your energy levels but looking at any of these in isolation when you haven’t got a hold of energy in v energy out will not bring you great results.

One of the most most common questions asked around these topics is what protein shake should I use?

Put simply, shakes are not a necessity – they may help you top up the protein that you are getting from food and can be simple and quick but if you hate the taste and prefer to get all your protein from food you aren’t missing out on anything! What brand should you use? The one that you like the taste of ideally!

Weight

If you started a weight loss journey at the start of January you might have found you’ve dropped a few pounds already.  Often at the start of any kind of change in eating patterns we can see a sudden dip on the scales.  That will start to slow / plateau out naturally after a few weeks though.  However that doesn’t mean you aren’t still getting results.  Our weight naturally fluctuates across the day / week / month so using the scales alone to monitor progress can end up being demotivating. 

Here’s a few other ways to monitor your progress which are far more reliable:

  1. Take pictures- front, back, side and compare across the weeks to see a difference in body shape.
  2. Take measurements of your thighs, upper arm, waist, chest and keep track of inch loss.
  3. Keep a pair of trousers that are maybe a bit tight to one side and try on every few weeks to see how the fit changes.
  4. Keep a journal of your mood, water intake, sleep, steps, lifts, running PBs and see how much better you feel as the weeks progress and your fitness improves, you might find you end up not even bothered about your weight.     

Toxic Diet Culture?

Today I saw a post referring to calorie counting / losing weight (dieting) as toxic.

Toxic!

In 2022 can we please stop referring to anything we don’t personally like as toxic? Because whilst calorie counting may not be right for everyone that doesn’t mean it’s toxic. same with weight loss.

Now, quick caveat, there are people for whom calorie counting isn’t a good idea, it can indeed for some become obsessive and be damaging. For those people yes calorie counting is not to be encouraged.

But for many calorie counting is the most simple straight forward, cost effective and practical way of creating a calorie deficit – which if you want to lose weight – is what you need to achieve.

So let’s reframe the notion that calorie counting is toxic. Calorie counting is simply a method of tracking energy intake which for some people will work well but whom for some may not be beneficial.

Swimming is a very good way to exercise. Except not for me, because I can’t swim. Does that mean swimming is toxic and a bad way to train, because it doesn’t suit me? Pretty sure everyone reading said no in their head just then.

Very few things in life are in themselves toxic, our relationship with something may well be toxic, that doesn’t mean it is also toxic for everyone else.

Diets get a bad rap, because traditionally they’ve been seen as restrictive and not sustainable. That’s really not the case these days. Most coaches will encourage sensible calorie deficits and won’t suggest you cut out food groups or stop eating your favourite foods.

Diets are just using a bit more energy than you consume each day to create a physical change in your body. Unless you’re doing that to please someone other than you it is not toxic.

Certain things might be a bit triggering to us personally, that doesn’t mean they’re automatically toxic, I think it’s a bit unhelpful to ourselves not to recognise that, as it puts all the responsibility for our reactions onto society, when in reality we can’t control what other people say or do so we have to instead look to control how we chose to react to it.

Fat?

Since Lockdown I have gained about 10kg, Actually, that’s a lie, since the end of the first Lockdown I’ve gained about 10kg.

There’s lots of reasons, gym closures, changes to routine, changes to work patterns, personal things going on this year, anxiety medication changes, injuries. All in all it’s created a perfect storm where my once fluctuating but generally sitting in a quite comfortable range for me body is bigger and heavier.

In itself that doesn’t bother me. What bothers me are the changes to me shape (like around my mid section), a few new stretch marks and the fact it’s just so much harder to run when you’re carrying an extra 10kg.

I want to be body positive about this and say it’s all ok. Because if I was happy with it then it really would be. I’m by no means overweight and even though I’m not as fit as I was I’m actually still fit, healthy and strong.

But I’m not happy with where I am and admitting that doesn’t make me a feminist traitor, slave to diet culture, hypocrite or anything else. Because I believe people should be able to strive to be what they want to (within the realms of it being safe and not harmful), so if that means losing weight, then so be it, because telling people to love and accept their bodies when they aren’t happy isn’t any more liberating than feeding people diet culture.

I’m on a commitment to myself now to lose some of the weight- not all of it, I think I’d be happy a bit bigger than I was, but enough that running doesn’t feel like I’m carrying a weight vest. It isn’t all weight based though – I’m not actually bothered by the scales, I want to look in the mirror and think ‘yeah’ again rather than ‘noooo’. I also want to be able to lift what I could lift before and enter a half marathon without training knowing it will be painful but I’ll get round. Really what I’m saying is I want to feel more like me again.

I think when people talk about gaining weight or other changes and how they want to reverse that we so often prescribe the idea of it being a bit shallow to the thought, actually most of the time we’re just trying to get ourselves back after tough times and there’s nothing wrong with that.

Who Hates Change

Have you found your exercise routine and diet has changed from pre lockdown?  Maybe in a positive way, maybe less positive for you.

Gyms are back ope now and most restrictions have been removed allowing things to relax a bit.  But for me personally I’ve found it really hard to bounce back to doing exactly what I did before.

For one I’m physically not in the same condition as I was eighteen months ago, I need to build back up to where I was.  But wth that come a required change in mindset.  Needing to adjust my expectations and work up from where I am to where I want to be, with it accepting that I can’t just do things that I could before.

That change in mindset is tough, it’s frustrating.  I feel like I should be better than I am and with that I am struggling to train as I need to because it doesn’t feel ‘right’ compared to what  did before.

This is bonkers really, as a coach I spend lots of time telling clients to train in accordance to where they are now, to not make themselvs feel bad if there’s things they can’t do right now.  So much easier to say that to others (and believe it) than it is to show the same kidn of understanding towards yourself.

I’m making a real effort now to accept that I need to rebuild the basic blocks both in terms of training and nutrition now and not be hard on myself for having changed physically overt the last year.

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.