When what you eat does matter

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ever wanted to try a class?

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

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

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

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

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

Calories are King

Nail the basics before you do anything else.

If you are trying to lose weight the fundamental thing you must do is create a calorie deficit. You can do all you want with macros, supplements and meal timings, but if you eat more calories than you burn you will not lose weight.

I’m not saying these other things do not matter, once you have the basics in place these elements of your diet can help you fine tune your results. But at a very basic level, however you decide to achieve it, you must be in a calorie deficit to see weight loss- even if everything else is spot on, if this isn’t in place it won’t happen. In reverse – if you have no idea what a macro is, have never bought a supplement and pay no attention to when you eat you can still lose weight focusing just on calories. It’s the foundation everything else is built on.

Why do we try and focus on the other elements in that case? I think it’s because they are more interesting. The idea of just adjusting when you eat or adding in some pills but other than that keeping your diet the same is appealing, more appealing than accepting you need to eat either less or different things (to eat the same quantity but reduce calories). I also think the existence of books that, in order to create an angle, sell a diet based on a rule revolving around fat / carbs / sugar or whatever confuses people, selling that angle as the reason for results and ignoring the sneaky fact that that spic rule essentially also creates a calorie deficit.

The overall message I want to make here is I’m not saying don’t look at other aspects to your diet, but don’t look a them instead of your calorie intake if you want to lose weight because you’re just making your own life harder than it needs to be.

Cheat Meals are a Myth

Cheat meals don’t work.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.       

Magic Pills

How often do you see a testimonial on Facebook or Instagram, someone who has lost weight using the latest pill or shake plus the free meal plan that comes with it?

These results are obviously designed to sell you that particular product, yet in reality they results will have come from the free meal plan – the plan that creates a calorie deficit – not the pill or shake itself.

The product might have some benefit. Protein shakes, meal replacement shakes, electrolyte drinks and various vitamins are all useful supplements that can add to your diet.

What is key to remember before embarking on a journey with these products is that the product itself won’t be the thing to bring you results – the results will come from the calorie deficit, the exercise that you do in conjunction. I don’t see anything wrong itself in using such products. At the end of the day the important thing in achieving results (assuming here weight loss is the aim) is adherence to a plan that allows you to consistently burn more calories than you consume, if spending money on products keeps you motivated to do this where’s the harm. If you like the taste and they make you feel good and so you stick with it then win.

The issue comes if you don’t understand why you are getting results. If you think the reason is drinking that specific drink / coffee / tea or taking that specific booster / pill / shot is making you lose weight, you are tied to that brand, that product and the associated cost, you have no way of going it alone. Of course in actual fact there is no reason anyone cannot lose weight without fads or plans or helps. If you have the appropriate basic knowledge you can get results without buying any supplements at all.

When you are frustrated with your progress and feel like you aren’t getting anywhere the idea of a quick fix or something you can buy to solve the problem is appealing, and there’s nothing wrong with buying those products, as long as you know how they fit into the bigger picture.

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.

Obligatory #WMHD Post

Today is World Mental Health Day. This year’s theme is ‘Mental Health for All’, fitting given this year has been a strange one to say the least and the concept of mental health has been pushed into conversations and workplace / policy considerations much more frequently.

Today, as normal I’ve seen a variety of view points displayed across social media. From the ‘reach out if you need help’ type posts to practical tips, to posts arguing the topic needs to be focused on every day not just on specific occasions, that often when people do reach out they are poorly supported and all sorts of topics in between.

The truth is that, at this moment especially, mental health is a difficult subject.

It always has been. It’s difficult to really understand unless you’ve had some kind of experience and it’s difficult to know what to do to help yourself and others in the midst of a mental health crisis. It’s really one of those things where hindsight is an amazing thing. In the moment, advice, even if it makes sense to you, even if you know it’s right, is difficult to take or put into action. The very things that would make you feel better are the hardest things to do and ‘self care’ is difficult to practice in the worst moments.

Of course recovery is possible and once you learn how to help yourself when you are struggling it’s easier to identify early, if not stop, when you feel yourself slipping and makes it easier for you to anchor yourself in those moments. Sometimes that might mean doing things that seem weird to others (and even yourself) but that you know will help you short term get through rocky patches. I think people with longer term mental health struggles come to terms with the fact that sometimes you might come across as ‘odd’ with some of your habits because those habits just help keep you feeling well.

This year however there will have been a host of people who have struggled with their mental health, with anxiety or depression, for the first time. They might not even think what they are feeling is a mental health ‘thing’, feel like it’s something to just get through because of this year, feel bad because they’ve got it far better than lots of other people, feel weak because other people are coping just fine with all this pandemic stuff.

The truth is that in any other year that’s what lots of people think when they first start reacting to signs of depression or anxiety – I have no reason to feel these feelings, I’m weak, selfish and so on. I think adding a layer of ‘we’ve all been affected in one way or another’ into this whole situation of a year might actually make it harder for people experiencing mental health problems for the first time.

And talking about it is hard.

I openly talk about mental health – on here, on social media, I’ve spoken to lots of people about their mental health over the last five or six years and I believe it’s a really important thing to talk about all year round.

Talking about your own mental health struggles is hard.

I’m ok acknowledging when I’m struggling but much less likely to reach out and talk about it because I feel like it will bother people. It’s not that I’m not comfortable talking about it, it’s that I want to feel like the person I’m talking about it to wants to listen (this is probably an anxiety thing). So if someone knows I’m not having a great time but doesn’t ask how I am I’m less likely to bring it up as I’ll assume they don’t want to talk about it. Maybe I’m odd, but I actually think that scenario is quite common. I think lots of people who struggle want to talk, but they want to talk to someone who they know wants to listen.

So sometimes saying generically on social media I’m here reach out to me, whilst well meaning, isn’t enough to make someone do so. Equally within business, a company saying in emails come and speak to us if you have any concerns, whilst yes, technically an invitation, doesn’t actually encourage people to come forward and speak. What actually is likely to encourage people to open up is to approach individuals and ask how they are one to one, especially those you’ve noticed are quieter than usual or seem a bit ‘off sorts’. I’ll say from experience, for someone with anxiety in particular, to approach someone ‘cold’ and open up voluntarily requires a certain degree of trust and confidence that it will not all end up very badly (and we tend to think everything will end badly) so if you take anything from World Mental Health Day, I think knowing that being there for the people around you does not require public statements of commitment to the cause online, it just requires checking in on your friends and work colleagues and ensuring you are ‘open’ to being there if they need. And if someone does open up to you, understand they don’t expect you to have solutions or fix things, often just being able to talk without someone judging or laughing at you is more of a help than you think when you’re heads all over the place.

And if you’re the one not feeling great right now, it’s ok to ask for help, whatever the reason, and your local GP surgery will be able to signpost you to the most appropriate help so I’d urge you to contact them as generally these things are easier to learn to control the quicker you identify them and seek help.

Coffee Breaks

How much of an effect can coffee have on your weight?

Now someone said to me the other day that they were no longer drinking coffee because of all the calories. As someone who generally only drinks black coffee that threw me a bit at first, on the basis that coffee can be calorie free. Even my recent foray into the world of a decent cup of tea is hardly a killer for the diet, probably adding an extra 13 calories a cup to my day.

Now I get as a PT I spend a lot of time talking to people about hidden calories. You know where you say I don’t eat that much I don’t understand how I’m putting on weight, but you aren’t counting the alcohol, fizzy drinks, kids left overs, sauces and so on.

But a few cups of tea or coffee with a dash of milk is probably (in my view) not the main issue if you are consistently in a calorie surplus. I mean you could always allocate 50 calories a day to account for it if you wanted to be strict but that’s probably taking the counting things too far.

Where you do want to be careful is your coffee shop drinks. Fact is if you are a put the kettle on kind of brew drinker (not being a born and bred Northerner I class all hot drinks as brews) you probably aren’t sabotaging yourself too much. If you are a pop to Costa kind of coffee drinker you are probably consuming a lot more hidden calories than you think.

As it turned out the person who said they needed to knock the coffees on the head mainly bought their coffees and so thy were talking mocha, latte, flat white. These coffees i would always tend to log if I happened to be tracking my calories, because they can have the calories of a small meal in them at times.

If you do like a coffee but want to cut the calories consider switching to instant for at least some of your daily hot drinks so you don’t lose out on the caffine fix.

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