Control What You Can Control

Control what you can control.

This year has made it difficult to plan when it comes to anything, let alone your fitness. Gyms open, gyms closed, gyms open, gyms closed. Weights have been almost impossible to buy and the whole country realised that whilst running in summer is fun, running as your main source of exercise come October is a bit miserable.

In all reality we know that the first couple of months of 2021 are likely to be much he same. I won’t lie I’ve found this tough at times, every time I’ve felt like I’ve found a rhythm the rug has been pulled from under me and everything has changed again. Not knowing when things will change again makes it tough too.

But we cannot control this. Let’s face it Boris is in charge of the Country and doesn’t seem to be able to control it.

What we can control is how we chose to react in 2021. Maybe that means adjusting your plans right now so that you can do something that makes you feel positive in the next few weeks, even if it isn’t what you’d really hoped to be doing. Maybe it’s just accepting that we need t let go of some things for a bit and worrying about them again some other time.

Remembering there are some things beyond our control but that we can always make a choice in how we react to them is perhaps the most positive change we can make for ourselves this New Year.

New Years Non Resolutions

Do you make New Year’s Resolutions?

Up until a few years ago I did – I’ve made many New Year’s Resolutions over the years, in fact honestly I’d make the same resolutions year after year which I never kept.

These days I don’t make New Year’s Resolutions as such. Here’s why:

January is a shit time to make drastic changes

It’s cold, dark and everyone is depressed and skint after Christmas.  It’s a rubbish time to decide to suddenly make drastic and often restrictive changes to your life. Beyond that, with Covid we, let’s face it, have enough restrictions to contend with anyway.  Result is you feel miserable two days in and give up.  Planning to give up chocolate on January 1st when you probably have a shed load of left over chocolate in your cupboards is practically setting yourself up for failure. Deciding not to drink in the most miserable month of the year is going to become unappealing quickly.

Resolutions tend to be negative

Generally we say things like I’m going to give up… sugar, wine, chocolate, smoking.  It’s something we are NOT going to do anymore.  This means we feel like we are depriving ourselves.  Depriving yourself is rarely a long-term plan for success.

Resolutions tend to be vague

I want to lose weight, I want to get fit, I want to earn more money.  They are goals / outcomes we’d like to reach yes, but they aren’t very specific and how and when they will be achieved isn’t always clear.  How often do you make vague plans with a friend to ‘catch up soon’ only for that catch up to not happen?  It’s not because we don’t want to catch up it’s just because we’ve been too vague for anything to actually happen.  Resolutions can be a lot like that.

Resolutions end up leaving you feeling worse about yourself

If you don’t succeed then you feel like a failure. Yet if you set something too restrictive and ambitious you’re unlikely to stick to it and so you’re essentially setting yourself up to feel shit. 

Negatives out the way – I fully believe in improving things – here’s what I think is better than making New Year’s Resolutions and why:

Change when you are ready

There’s a popular saying that if you’ve thought about it you’re ready. Right now, 2 days before New Year Day – if you’re thinking about stopping drinking fizzy drinks – stop. Right now. Why wait until Friday? If you want to start running start running – these things aren’t banned until January 1st. 

Choosing to make positive changes

Positive changes are easier to put in place than ‘I won’t’ type changes. I will drink more water, I will eat vegetables with every meal, I will walk 10,000 steps a day.  These are things you are going to do – so you do them and you’ve created a change.  You might have also eaten ten chocolate bars but you’ve still eaten vegetables with every meal, the change has still happened. Positive changes make us feel better and so we are more likely to stick to them.

Goal setting over resolutions

I don’t make resolutions any more but I have sat down and done some goal setting for 2021.  I have decided what I want to achieve, these are specific goals so they aren’t things like ‘I want to get fitter’ they are set things I’d like to get done, some will be quick and relatively easy others less so.  Along with these goals I have made detailed plans of what I have to do to reach these specific goals and planned out realistic timescales for taking these actions. I’ve asked for feedback from people more experienced than me on these plans and discussed goals that include other people with them so we are on the same page.  I know what I need to do personally and professionally in 2021 and how I plan to do it.  I’ve got more chance of reaching these goals than if I left I chance.

SMART resolutions

Specific, measureable, achievable, realistic and time specific.  If you goal ticks all these things you’re more likely to be able to reach it. 

Commit to creating habits / systems instead

If you want lose weight you could think of it as working towards creating habits that in turn help work towards weight loss.  Make drinking more water, creating a calorie deficit and training three times a week a habit and you will achieve your goal but you also find it is something that starts to fit into your everyday life as opposed to something you have to work towards constantly.  The benefit of this is you can pick one small thing to work on then once that has become a habit work on something else, building change gradually.

Re-framing how you think

Take a non fitness resolution (because it isn’t always about weight!) ‘I want to get over my ex and for them to see me looking happy.’ 

You could re-frame this thought process to what would make you happy?  Seeing your friends more perhaps? So instead of I want to get over my ex you could say I want to go out and do something fun with my friends once a week / fortnight / month (commitment and Tier depending here – but there is always Zoom I guess).  Instead of focusing on becoming happy or getting over someone you could just commit to doing something that has the potential to make you happy and allow feeling happy and getting over them to happen naturally – all the time your still succeeding in your actual goal.  It sounds very self help book but when you start to habitually re-frame your thoughts, you start to find it easier to make changes.

Whilst I’m at it – what do you read? Now I love a chick lit / crime thriller audio book, but I’d also recommend you consider some non fiction personal development books. I recently bought a couple of work books for things I want to work on this year, Amazon has books on anything you want to work on for yourself and it’s a small investment in working toward what you want to improve.

A New Year is a natural time to look to start things afresh but approached with more clarity and thought than just a New Years Resolution you can feel much better and positive come February.

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)).

What Day Is It?

The bit between Christmas and New Year. The bit where days merge into one, nobody really knows what day it is, what time the shops shut and the fridge is still full of Christmas food meaning the food coma kind of just rumbles on.

This is the week you might well feel a bit rubbish, fat, unfit and generally feel the urge to commit to a month long detox in January where you consume only lemon and water.

Of course in actual reality your body does a pretty good job of ‘detoxing’ itself and actually just eating and training in moderation will make you feel better pretty quickly and be far more enjoyable.

People tend to like extremes. A diet doesn’t work unless we go from whatever size we are to emaciated stick in three days, a training programme doesn’t work if you can’t go from couch to marathon in three sessions. If it doesn’t have a label on it that says natural, vegan friendly and detox on it it isn’t goo to be effective.

These things don’t last though. When was the last time you made a drastic New Years resolution and actually stuck to it?

You know what does last? Finding a nice little routine that works for you.

I love food. I eat a lot. No point in being restrictive – I just ricochet the other way. I also enjoy moving. Running, lifting, classes – movement makes me feel good. So I move.

I’m writing this on an exercise bike in the gym – some people here are clearly working off their Christmas. Me – I felt stiff after a few days of largely sitting and wanted to move. I didn’t need to guilt myself to coming here – I wanted to, I woke up looking forward to it.

This January find yourself something for your body and mind that will make you feel good. Doesn’t matter if there is something my else that would be more ‘effective’ for fat loss or fitness. You’ll stick to the thing you look forward to doing, the thing that you feel great after doing. You won’t stick to the thing you ‘should’ do.

Then next year when Christmas is over (and we are in tier 784) you’ll be heading off to do that thing that makes you feel good for moving and not thinking about what you can do in January to feel less like baby elephant.

Christmas Over Indulgence

It’s Christmas. Christmas means food right… and by the end of a few days of eating feeling like we’ve massively over indulged.

Now, Christmas or not, we all have days when we over indulge – whether that be food, alcohol or both.  It shouldn’t be a case of trying to never do that because that would make life pretty miserable.  We can however choose to respond more positively to these over indulgences so we don’t sabotage our results in the long term.

So what do you do if you feel like you’ve massively over indulged to stop yourself feeling rubbish?

Do drink more water

Depending on how you over indulged you may be dehydrated, but regardless extra water will make you feel fresher.

Don’t do extra exercise

Avoid using exercise as a punishment for over eating as this will create a negative association with training, plus if you have a hangover exercise isn’t really what you want to be doing.

Do use the extra calories to fuel your next workout

Whilst you don’t want to add extra training in you could use those extra calories to push yourself harder in your next scheduled workout and come out feeling really good, or you could take yourself on a long walk to get some fresh air, sunlight and move a bit which almost always makes you feel better.

Don’t starve yourself

Punishing yourself by drastically reducing your calories in the days after will create a negative cycle of eating.  You could look to slightly reduce your calorie intake for a few days subsequently (couple of hundred calories max) but reducing what you eat dramatically to make amends will only make you feel worse.

Do eat nutrient rich / dense foods the next day

Eat foods that will both fill you up and make you feel good the next day, making you feel better without starving and allowing you to mentally get back on track.

Don’t skip meals

By the same token don’t purposefully skip meals to try and compensate.

Do Move on

One bad meal or day doesn’t define your diet overall, so rather than punish yourself for it look at it as a day / meal you enjoyed and focus on the next day / meal instead.

Don’t scrap the rest of the week

Try moving on straight away instead of saying well I may as well start again Monday now.  This essentially ensures damage limitation.

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!

Boris Cancels Christmas

It’s becoming increasingly clear to the viewers that despite the writers running out of ideas they plan on dragging out 2020 well beyond series 12 when it was all originally meant to end. After setting up the Covid being furloughed so we can all have Christmas plot line they’ve suddenly gone rouge scrapped that and decided to return to the lockdown idea for a third time.

This time though they’re trying to trick the audience that it’s a new plot line by calling it tier 4 and restricting it to the South for now, where a new strain of Covid, Cockney Covid, has been discovered. Now some might argue that Cockney Covid has been introduced to absolve London of blame for the rising R rate. Northerners spread Covid because they’re feckless, the South are in the situation because of Cockney Covid. But we have all been asking when Covid 20 will be released, and let’s face it when Apple issue an iPhone update there’s always issues so Covid 20 was always bound to cause a few glitches.

So Boris has cancelled Christmas. Tier 4 can’t do anything, the rest of us can only do one day which to many is basically the same as not being able to do anything, Wales and Norn Ireland are locking down, Scotland are barricading the boarder and we’re all wondering why Boris can’t be put on Furlough before he causes any more mayhem.

So the real question now is what Tier will you be in next December? Tier 5 where you can open the window but can’t go in your own back garden, Tier 7 where you’re allowed to go for a 15 minute walk outside once every fortnight or Tier 10 where if you so much as look at someone from another household Matt Hancock comes round to give you a stern telling off. Of course in all these tiers these rules won’t apply on the third Tuesday of every month, when it rains, between 1.13pm and 2.24 pm on every second Friday or if your name is George.

Now get ready for 11.59pm on December 31st when the clock ticks over to 11.60pm December 31st and we all hear the words welcome to level 13 of Jumangi … 2020 continues…

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.

2020 is almost over

And so we reach the final ever series of 2020.

Lockdown has ended and the North is in Tier 3 even though London has a higher R rate and is in Tier 2. Most people suspect that the writers will eventually put London in Tier 2 even though it’s a story line they clearly never wanted to consider.

In the meantime everyone has gone out Christmas shopping, scotch eggs have apparently become a substantial meal and we have had further clarification on Boris letting us all have a five day Christmas Jolley where we can travel and mix with other households. That’s right – for five whole days Aunty Pat’s conservatory will be safe from Covid, which the Government is putting on Furlough.

The Covid Vaccine has been rolled out so that Bill Gates can start to monitor our thoughts and movements, and the first few people to have it included 90 year old Margaret and William Shakespeare, which I must say was a stroke of genius, giving the vaccine on someone who died in 1616 means that if he has any negative side effects they can just put it down to him having been dead for 404 years. Of course Bill shrugged all the fuss over the jab as much a do about nothing.

Matt Hancok attempted to cry on National Television as he watched the vaccine being given. Of course, given the virus must have taken up most of his life for the last eleven months one should feel a pang of sympathy for the man watching this display of emotion, but he managed to make it look like he was crying as part of a scene in a year 6 school play which made that a little difficult.

In a non Covid sub plot that will likely take a bigger role in 2021 we started to see hints (or less hints more massive red flags being waved manically) that Brexit might not be the putting great back into Great Britain that the lying Leave campaigners said it would. I must say we are all very shocked.

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.