Motivation is a con

How often do you say I’ll start Monday or tomorrow and then just never quite get round to it?

I don’t just mean diets or exercise, anything really. Motivation to want something is easy but motivation to actually act upon that want is much harder to come by.

That’s because motivation is really a bit of a con. Often to get motivated you need to see some results and to see some results you need to get started with something.

So rather than waiting until you are motivated you need to find a way to get started with something even if you don’t feel motivated to do so.

The easiest way to do this is to get into the habit of doing things. Once something is habit it’s easy to do it almost on autopilot, without having to think too much about it.

Creating habits is however, again, hard.

Until that is you create systems.

You want to make drinking more water a habit. To do that you need to remember to drink water often across the day. Systems to do this could include buying a half gallon water bottle for your desk, setting an app that reminds you at regular intervals, having a pint of water as soon as you wake up.

You want to train more often. Systems to help could include booking a class or arranging to train with a friend so it’s an appointment you can’t skip, identifying all your training windows in a week so if you miss one you know when else you can train, working with a PT or signing up for a challenge so you have a reason not to skip training.

When we start a project at work it seems obvious to make a list of what needs to be done and break it down into tasks and work out the best way of doing each task. We can approach our fitness in much the same way and take away the element of needing to feel motivated from the equation.

Calories are fact

There’s been lots of content around calories and calorie tracking in the news and on social media recently (at least there has on my feed).  The announcement that restaurants will have to display the calorie content of dishes in an effort to tackle rising obesity levels in the UK has been met with a variety of reactions.  Notably anti dieters have argued it could have a negative effect on some people, those with or recovering from eating disorders for example.  Others have argued that, much like the super skinny waif super models of the 90s, the emphasis could have a negative impact on young people (mainly female it is generally assumed) perception of themselves.

I struggle with the anti calorie counting movement if I’m honest.  That’s a slightly against the trend thing to say but hear me out.

Of course there are people for whom calorie counting is not beneficial and if your doctor or any medical professional you are seeing advises against it you should follow their advice.  Nor do I advocate obsessively tracking every last morsal of food nor restricting youself in the amount of type of food you eat.  I don’t believe you need to be a certain size or weight to be happy and I think you should eat what you enjoy eating, and be a meat eater, vegtarian or vegan for whatever reasons you so choose.

The fact remains however that being aware of the energy values of what you consume daily is useful.

People who are at a happy healthy weight for them probably consume about what they expend on an average day, either without thinking or conciously.  People who want or need to lose or gain some weight for their health probably do not. Yes there are exceptions, but generally the majority of us are not genetic marvels, the majority of us who wish or need to change of current mass are simply eating either too much or too little.

Again, I’ll say that anyone with any form of disordered eating should seek professional advice and follow that, not what someone on the internet says, but if you are an average Joe, then being aware of the energy balance equation is likely all you need to make any changes you either need or desire.

I was flicking through some recipes the other day, there were purposefully no nutritional values given because the author wanted to promote a non diet culture.  I respect that, it goes with their ethos and fits in with their values (and the recipes look lush), but I couldn’t help thinking, man it would be easier if they were provided so I didn’t need to add each ingredient into MyFitnessPal.  Because for me, knowing what I’m eating is useful, it’s like knowing how much fuel is in your car rather than just driving with blind hope you’ve enough to get to your destination or paying for things without knowing how much cash is in your bank account.

I almost feel like being so against calorie counting is as much of a red flag as obsesively calorie counting.  If the idea of knowing how may calories is in your food on a menu really does trigger something and stop you eating it (as opposed to heping you making an informed decision) then perhaps that is also a sign you need to look at your view of food.  Because eating what the fuck you like because you enjoy food is great, but if the idea of knowing the energy number attributed to that freaks you out there’s still an issue.  The goal is surely to know that sometimes you’re eating higher calorie foods but you’re just aware of your overall energy balance so allowing yourself to mainatin your energy levels, feel good and remain nurourished and healthy.

For every person who has struggled with an eating disorder where calories are a trigger word there are plenty of people that just aren’t really sure how the energy balance works.  All the media coverage around diet clubs like Slimming World attest to this.  Fitness professionals argument against these clubs is that they don’t properly educate people, bringing the notion of calories more to the forefront of people’s conciousness could help change that.  There will be people for whom calorie counting is not beneficial, they can ignore those numbers.

In fact that’s the issue isn’t it.  Almost every policy in the world will not benefit some people, but will benefit others.  We need to know how to ignore things that don’t help us, to learn how to not get affected by things that we may see as opposed to be outraged that something that could benefit someone else but doesn’t benefit us is visible to us, even if it upsets us.

That isn’t saying not tracking calores is wrong or that you should track every day.  It’s saying that for some people who want or need to make a change undertsanding and being aware of their consumption is vital and clouding a realtively simple process of tracking with intuitive eating, mindful eating, anti diet ideas doesn’t help them.  Those concepts all work, they are all valid but if you are eating intuitively and not happy with the direction you are going in you need to retrain your intuition.  When you learn something new you follow rules and methods and don’t follow intuition, eating isn’t much different in this case.  If you are happy and feel your energy levels are great you can crack on with what you are doing.

The crux of the matter is calorie counting isn’t the thing that causes disordered eating.  Deciding you wat to lose some weight because you’d like to or because you’ve been advised I would help isn’t the sign of disordered eating.  Caloires in v. calories out is a simple fact, like gravity.  The issue isn’t that it’s all the stuff we have constructed around it. 

We Are Back

Today we head back to indoor classes. That means more than just doing classes again, it means a change to routine, sleep patterns, activity levels, how I plan my week.

I think we have all wondered over the last few weeks about our fitness levels, how we would feel in the first few classes back. We’ve all looked forward to seeing people again after such a long time.

Remember this week however, if you are back in the gym doing classes, whether as an instructor or participant, that fitness levels will improve. It is however bound to feel a bit tough at first, but that’s ok, because it will feel like that for all of us.

What I think we need to focus on this week, instead of ‘getting back to where we were before’, is making sure we don’t over do it and making time to recover as well.

There is bound to be a bit of an urge to go for it, and for instructors, you’ve no choice but to teach all your classes. I think it’s worth remembering however that when we fist started doing classes we probably built up to the levels we were at when Lockdown hit. Since then there’s been over a year of upheaval and it will take a bit of time to ease back in to feeling ok with our previous levels of activity. You might have noticed if you’ve gone from working from home to back into the office, just that change to your day can actually be pretty knackering.

Enjoy your classes this week, but rest and recover too.

The Cycle

You know when people say exercise is good for your mental health, and can help with conditions such as anixety and depression.

The kicker is that often, when you are feeling particularly anxious or low, exercising can be one of the hardest things to actually make yourself do.

And there begins the cycle of knowing something will make you feel better and yet not feeling able to actually do it, that in itself can make you feel bad for not doing it which adds to the feelings you already had.

Whilst it might feel like you are the only person who ever feels like that it’s actually pretty common, I think particularly over the last year or so when gyms have been largely closed and classes not accessible, because let’s face it, the gym environment or the instructor make a difference in getting yourself motivated to move. Training at home- even with Zoom classes- takes a lot more self start, and self start isn’t always something you have if you are feeling depressed.

The good news is of course that gyms and classes are reopening and that structure that can be so helpful to our routine will soon be back in place. Classes can act as appointments, so even if you’re not ‘feeling it’ you turn up and someone basically gets you moving. Even just the act of going to a gym and being surrounded by strangers can make you more motivated to move. You’re in ‘that’ environment, free of distractions, it makes it just that bit easier to get started.

In the mean time however, if you do find yourself not really wanting to train, even if you know you’d feel better, think about going for a walk or doing whatever form of exercise you enjoy the most, even just for twenty minutes and allow yourself to ease back into it rather than feeling guilty and forcing yourself to commit to punishing schedules you know you won’t stick to and then you’ll feel bad about failing at. This will hopefully allow you to break that cycle and start to feel more motivated to train again over time.

Are you ready for classes?

Who’s slightly nervous to get back to classes?

I’m really excited to get back to teaching and to see everyone again and move to music (I find it so much more motivating than working out alone) but I’m also a bit apprehensive about how hard it’s going to feel in those first few classes.

The truth is, no matter how much I prepare in the gym I know that doing a full on group cycle class for 45 minutes or a HIIT class is going to feel really tough. I remember after the first lockdown when I taught my first class I was beetroot after. Like redder and more sweaty and out of breath than I think I’ve ever been. Sitting on a bike had never felt so uncomfortable (three classes in 24 hours when you haven’t sat on a bike for a while is an experience let me tell you).

Of course that makes me a little nervous, but I keep reminding myself that everyone else is coming back from the same break. If I struggle a little during a class I’m likely to be feeling the same as many of the class members and together we will all get used to training again and gradually rebuild our endurance levels.

Ultimately I know none of that will really matter because as soon as we start and the music starts playing it will feel so good to get back to it any tiredness will be totally worth it.

So if you’re nervous about your fitness or whether you’ll be able to get through a class when we re-start, don’t be, fitness is a never ending journey and we will always have periods where our fitness peaks and troughs and at least this time many of us will all be in the same boat and the same time.

Listening v. Learning

Listening to your body / eating intuitively / being kind to yourself. All buzz words and phrases in recent years. And as I’ve written many times before, a perfectly valid way to eat if in doing so you are in a position where you are happy with your body and your energy levels.

I can eat and stay on track without tracking quite easily. I do track, largely as a habit that I don’t find particular cumbersome or triggering, but I could not track and still roughly know how my week’s food intake was likely to affect me. I maintain, as I have written previously, that is largely because I have mastered tracking, got an idea of what I need in terms of food.

But to move beyond the arguing what works best to lose body weight thing for a moment, you know what I personally could not do via intuitive eating. Listen to what type of food my body wants.

Because the idea of feeling like I need xyz so that’s what I’ll give my body allows me too much freedom to eat things that will derail my goals and in portions that at no point would my body actually intuitively be asking for. All I’m saying is my body rarely screams at me in needs vegetables.

Perhaps I need to be more in tune with myself. Maybe I could teach myself to think hmmm I feel fatigued my body is craving carrots instead of god I’m knackered I really need a tub of ice cream. Point is though I do know what my body needs. Over the years I’ve learnt what my body needs, what works, when, what actually makes me feel sluggish even though I think it won’t, what times of day I prefer exercising on an empty stomach and when I need to be fed first and so on. That was by trial and error and planning and tracking rather than eating when my body told me and what it old me. I mean apart from anything else I think with my brain how would I even plan my shopping eating intuitively! I’m flexible of course I am, sometimes I don’t feel like whatever I’ve planned, sometimes I need extra food than what I planned, or more sugar or more carbs.

The fact remains I think by understanding my body by seeing what works and then sticking to the systems that have worked and suit me and my taste buds and make me feel good when I train, I mat not be listening to my body but my body is probably more grateful that I’m doing that over eating what it thinks it want (it seriously only ever think it wants cake I tell you now). Is what I do more onerous that intuitive eating? I really don’t think it is.

Ultimately I don’t think we need to get caught up in the idea that tracking and planning and eating mindfully is bad. It may not suit some, there may be some it isn’t a good option, that’s the case for most things though. Like anything intuitive eating might not be the solution to all diet problems.

Building Back Slowly

Back at the gym this week. I’m incredibly glad about this, I feel like I’ve trained harder this week than the last year out together. It’s also ironically made running feel better, partly I think because I’ve run slightly less so my legs have felt a bit fresher on the days I have.

What is going to be a challenge however is fitting the gym (and soon teaching) back into my normal life. I think over the last year I’ve got so used to not being able to go to the gym and just getting up, going to work then training at home or running that adding the gym back in is going to feel a bit weird. Even if I use the gym at work at lunch time which I used to do I’m out of this habit so it’s going to take some effort to get used to doing this again.

Part will be fitting everything back in and getting sued to a change in tempo (as well as going out and about again now that we can kind of see people again). Part of it will be getting back the stamina to do everything I used to do and not feel totally shattered.

I think this is something I will need to mindful of over the coming weeks, as I’m sure many more of us will also. When someone first starts training and looking to add exercise into their routine we always say ‘build up slowly’ ‘don’t expect to be able to train every day or you’ll be setting yourself up for a fall’. Wise words of course and incredibly correct.

We are all kind of starting from scratch at the moment though, so I think it wise for us all to remember, whether we are new to exercise or regular gym goers or even gym / class instructors or PTs, that we need to build ourselves back up- not only to the amount of weight we can lift in the gym, but also to the actual intensity of our every day lives pre Lockdown.

DOMs

I’m going to bet that after everyone in England’s first week back at the gym a few people will currently have DOMs!

Getting back to training that your body perhaps hasn’t done for a while, with weights heavier than you have been using at home is likely to leave your muscles feeling sore and recovery times feeling longer than you were previously used to.

So today a little reminder about DOMs as we ease ourselves back into our gym routines:

  1. DOMS are temporary — depending on how intense they are you will feel OK again in about two to four days without having to do anything (if you don’t feel better by then it might be an injury).
  2. Make sure you warm-up and cool-down.  Making sure your muscles are prepared for exercise and safely recover from physical stress can help reduce the likelihood of DOMs (they won’t guarantee you won’t get them though).
  3. Build up the intensity of your training slowly. If you’re brand new to any type of training and don’t build up your weights / distance etc. your body will react more dramatically to the stress (plus you increase the risk of injury) and even if you’re experienced, we’ve had an extended break from lifting and the likes and need to build back up to where we were pre Lockdowns.
  4. If you’re suffering from DOMs try gently massaging the area affected (tip getting a deep tissue massage will not make you feel less sore!).  Likewise using a foam roller to gently roll out your sore muscles may help.
  5. Keep moving whilst you have DOMs.  Not really intense exercise, allow your muscles to recover – but getting the blood flowing and muscles moving (walking, easy biking, swimming) can help you feel better.
  6. Drink lots of water – drinking water makes everything feel better!

Return of the Gym

Back to the gym this week. Like many people I’ve been ridiculously glad to get back to training in a gym, with more than the couple of bits of home equipment and proper gym floors and real space to be able to move and just the hustle and bustle of a gym.

Because even if I’m doing a body weight workout or a workout with a set of dumbbells or band or studio barbell which I could technically do at home it just feels better in a gym. I feel like my workout intensity is higher, I’m more focused , I enjoy it more and leave feeling like I’ve just worked more.

Part of it is I just don’t have much space and don’t really have the flooring for high intensity workouts (the first lockdown well and truly knackered my living room carpet) but beyond that I find the act of leaving the house, walking to the gym, entering that different environment mentally prepares me for the workout. I find that I don’t have the distractions I have at home (Ohhh I really need to clean under the sofa or that lampshade is a bit dusty). There’s even a case of the strangers not paying you any attention around you providing some form of silent accountability to not give up when you start to feel tired.

For some people the convenience of working out from home have been a revelation. Classes or workouts on demand, no traveling to and from time, no having to wait for equipment. I get that but for me the atmosphere of the gym, beyond providing a wider range of equipment and possibilities, gives me a focus that I just don’t have at home.

Home workouts were a mean to an end for me personally but I’m so glad I can finally get back into an actual gym!

Being a bit unsure is normal

Bit of a random one today.

Last year I worked from home from Lockdown until around about May when we had to start opening buildings back up again, so I’m by now fully adjusted to the day to day ‘going to work’ as opposed to ‘wfh’ or furlough. For many today and the coming weeks however will be a period of readjustment as they go back into their places of work.

It sounds so straight forward and practically speaking it may well be but what I discovered upon my return to leaving the house daily last May was that several things freaked me out a bit that I didn’t really think would.

For one I forgot how tiring it can be. After sitting at the kitchen table for weeks hunched over a laptop or on my mobile phone but seeing very few people are moving only at times of planned exercise or the food shop the sudden travelling to and from work, being around people all day and interacting was much more draining than I recalled. It took a fair while to get back into a routine, for the days to feel normal and not so tiring.

I guess that’s obvious though, but there was another slightly less obvious thing I found upon my return.

Sensory Overload.

That is the overstimulation of one or more of the body’s senses (touch, sight, hearing, smell, taste).

I suffer from what you’d call generalised anxiety disorder and I often notice is that the more anxiety I am holding the more likely I am to feel some form of sensory overload. I think it’s linked to adrenaline and the flight or fight mode the body goes into, heightening senses to make you more alert to the danger it thinks is there. I tend to find noise and light the most common although I also struggle with panic in enclosed spaces, even if they’re not very enclosed at all which may be linked to touch.

So I’m not unfamiliar with sensory overload, but what I found upon returning to work after being at home alone for sometime was the unique feeling of sensory overload separate to anxiety.

After being indoors or outdoors but in limited locations travelling to work felt weird, the buildings felt huge, the lights felt blinding, people’s voices were louder and general chit chat that you get in a work environment was harder to hear as background noise and more distracting. I found the difference between my home and other places disconcerting and after interacting with so few people seeing lots of people all day overwhelming.

Sensory overload of course is tiring, therefore not shocking that the first few weeks back at work were more than a bit exhausting. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with acknowledging these feelings. In fact being aware of how you feel and why can help you settle back into a routine quicker. We’re all looking forward to getting back to normal, it can therefore be confusing if as you start to get back to normal some things feel a bit odd or not great at first. Acknowledging that you need to readjust and that might take a few days can help you get back to normal quicker.