I don’t know about you, but I’m an obsessive reader. This applies to fiction for fun, but also non-fiction, articles, blogs…
If I want to learn about something, I trawl through EVERYTHING I can find on the topic. It’s a little bit weird and obsessive, actually…!
And this can be a really useful (if nerdy) habit, especially if you want to learn how to do or achieve something.
I think education and research is so important and it pays to be well informed! But if, for example, your wellness goals are as follows:
Get healthier by exercising 3 times a week and improving my body composition
Meditate or do yoga or something for stress relief.
They’re great goals to have! Doing some reading about nutrition is going to be key, and if you’re new to exercise, you’ll want ideas for what to do, how to train, how to do it safely… and if you want to reduce your stress levels but don’t know how, have always thought meditation and yoga were a bit woo woo until recently til they became in vogue, you’ll want to do some reading around that too… which type of meditation, how do I do it, how do I know if it’s helping, does it really work, where is my nearest yoga class…?
I’m not for a second advocating skipping your due diligence! But there does come a point where people fall into blackholes of reading about their goals instead of getting up off the sofa and doing it!
It’s almost like we think by READING about the best foods to eat, or the BEST ab exercises, that will give us the results.
Sadly, it won’t.
So as I say – be informed, please do! – but know when to stop.
Staring at articles about celebrity diets and training programmes and how to optimise your training and best butt exercises will not make your dream health (and bonus improved body!) goals any better.
Reading about relaxation, fancy breathing and meditation techniques, or fun buzzfeed things on ’10 things you’ll know if you’re a yogi…’ will not make you less stressed.
You need to do the work darlings.
I have fallen into this trap SO MANY TIMES! I spent money on more nutrition programmes and coaches, read EVERYTHING, stalked celebrity height and body weight stats and how they achieved their results, googled everything to do with nutrition and fitness… It wasn’t until I’d fully healed my eating disorders, seen a Harley Street nutritionist, spent some time in therapy and done a whole lot of soul-searching that I stopped obsessing and started focusing on what I was doing.
Stop worrying about the pros, about what is ‘optimal’. Chances are, you’re not an Olympic athlete.
Regular physical activity, and healthy balanced nutrition will get you where you need to be if your goal is fat loss, for example.
People read about bro splits vs full body days vs intermittent fasting… basically, it’s about finding what works for you, and even IF a study says something else is ‘optimal’ if it doesn’t suit you, you won’t stick at it, so it’s not really optimal for you is it?
I hope this makes sense – I just see so many people get either overwhelmed with information, or get sucked into this idea of perfection by reading everything under the sun rather than making small, sustainable changes.
PS. if your goals are fitness and health based, these are the essentials on this site to browse, and from there just get going!
I doubt there’s anyone out there who hasn’t experienced that 3pm ‘must have a snack’ feeling, or who has had [insert meal here] but then absolutely *must* have something sweet to finish the meal… you catch my drift!
What NOT to do
Now I am 100% not for crash diets and depriving yourself. You guys know what I’m about by now. But for optimum health (and the side-effect bonus you get with that – aesthetic goals!), you need to get back in touch with your body: more specifically, learn to better read your hunger signals.
I am not about tracking macros or calories (I get that some people, especially competitors, find this okay, but personally as an ex-ED sufferer, it’s not good for me, and also for many people I’d argue it takes the joy out of food – but you do you!)
I am not about prescribing set cookie-cutter advice, e.g. “everyone should intermittent fast!”, “everyone should go keto!”, “everyone should go paleo!”
Simply following the 80/20, or 90/10 % rule. The majority? Foods which are as WHOLE and natural as possible (i.e. not processed, in their natural form – this way their chemical compounds and nutritional value is optimal for utilisation by the body, in general terms), and for that other cheeky 20%-10%? Don’t worry, be happy. Have a little bit of what you fancy. My 10-20% tends to be pizza, champagne, and occassionally a chocolate brownie (maybe with some rum, salted caramel or hazelnut icecream involved!)
Learn the ideal portion sizes
Generally speaking, with a little give and take because, y’know… life (!), each of your 3 daily meals should consist of:
1 fistful of complex carbs (think grains – these are great! But white potato, sweet potato, brown rice are all absolutely fine!)
1 palm-size of lean protein (chicken, red meat [ideally only once a week!], tuna, prawns, cod, turkey, you name it!)
1 thumb size of healthy fats (olive oil, avocado, nuts, fish oils like salmon)
This is your baseline. It’s not something to panic over, but it is a guideline that if you follow broadly, will help you ditch diets and embrace not only healthier living, but a better, more energised body (and over time, if you are carrying excess body fat, if you stick to this and move a moderate amount, you’ll lose weight in a healthy, sustainable way!)
What kind of hunger am I feeling? Is it in my stomach? That kind of growling, urgent, physical feeling, that’s a bodily sensation and not attached to the idea of a specific food? Then yes, I should probably eat something.
Am I craving something specific i.e. ‘ooh I really fancy a biscuit!’? Was I hungry before I saw that office email about cake in the kitchen? Am I assuming I’m hungry because it’s a particular time of day (e.g. 3pm, so therefore I just assume I’m having an afternoon slump despite the lack of any physical symptoms)? Is there ANY SENSATION AT ALL in my stomach? No? It sounds like this is mental or emotional hunger. I don’t really need to eat.
If you’re still not sure, ask yourself this:
Would I just as willingly eat an apple/some carrot sticks/ some celery?
If you’re physically hungry, these things will sound fine! If you’re emotionally hungry, chances are you only want a bit of cake, or something “nice”…
In these instances, I think it’s beneficial to avoid snacking. To be clear: there is NOTHING WRONG with eating when you’re TRULY HUNGRY. But one step to optimising our nutrition is avoiding those emotional hunger snacks which are usually sugar-laden-processed-not-that-great-for-us-pick-me-ups.
Is there an alternative to never eating when I’m emotionally hungry?
Of course! You can do whatever you want! Sometimes, if you really fancy it and someone’s brought a rainbow Hummingbird Cake into the office, as long as you don’t do it on a weekly basis, just eat it and enjoy! Life’s too short. This isn’t about a ‘punishing’ or restrictive regime. This is about sustainable solutions and tuning in with your body.
If you’re really struggling mentally and want to snack, replace it. Some great options are:
Carrot sticks and hummus
Celery and almond butter
2 ryvita with cream cheese & a handful of cherry tomatoes
A handful of nuts, a handful of sunflower/pumpkin seeds & a handful of blueberries sprinkled with cinnamon
A bio-live yoghurt with added raspberries, blueberries or goji berries
So you’re feeling emotionally hungry… how do you ‘overcome’ the craving?
I like to go through the questions above as a mental checklist. Be really honest with yourself. It’s totally okay if to begin with you struggle to recognise if it’s physical or emotional hungry – after years of eating disorders and alcohol binges it took me years to get back in touch with my body and properly re-set!
Think about the food you’re craving – cheesecake, or whatever it may be. Decide now if this is when you want to use your 20% treats. IT IS NO BAD THING IF YOU DO! THERE IS NO GUILT HERE! Just be honest with yourself if now is truly a mindful treat time, or if you’d rather have a glass of wine, or pizza, or brownie with friends at the weekend, or tomorrow on a solo lunch break with your favourite magazine when you can enjoy it.
If it’s mindful treat time, ENJOY IT. Eat it mindfully. Savour it. Don’t scarf it down at your desk and barely notice it!
However, if you decide this ISN’T one of those 20% treat times and you don’t actually need it… If you are truly hungry, try swapping it for one of the ideas above, or your own healthier upgrade. Imagine how you’ll feel after eating something that nourishes your body rather than spiking your blood sugar.
If it’s emotional hunger, sit with the feeling for a moment. Identify how you’re recognising it. Identify your reasons. Either say it aloud if you can, or if you share an office and don’t want to sound mad (!), write it down.
“I’m emotionally/mentally hungry because I’m bored”
“I’m emotionally/mentally hungry because I’m stressed”
“I’m emotionally/mentally hungry because I’ve gotten into the habit of always wanting chocolate with my coffee at 3pm”
“I’m emotionally/mentally hungry because someone just emailed that there’s birthday cake in the kitchen and now I just have to go and see what type it is…!”
“I’m emotionally/mentally hungry because I don’t want to be hungry later!” (my fave excuse!)
Once you’ve identified your why, sit with the feeling. Breathe deeply into your belly. Try and wait for the impulse to pass. (This gets easier and happens more quickly with time! I literally rarely have to exert willpower here now, it’s just a habit!)
If you’re still struggling, think about the healthy alternatives listed. Think about their positive impact on the body – maybe the antioxidants in the blueberries which help fight free radicals, reducing your likelihood of getting cancer. And think about how good they taste with cinnamon. Focus on how great healthy food can taste – and eat a half snack serving, as we’re trying to train ourselves out of eating for the sake of it, but it’s totally cool if the reflex takes a while to beat.
I hope some of these tips help you re-tune your brain into your body… we’ve been so conditioned by the media and our pesky emotions that often, especially in our culture, food becomes something we scoff mindlessly for the hell of it, and we’re usually not chowing down on kale…!
The key is to address our habits by recognising them, and what drives them, to ensure we don’t obssess and still treat ourselves (remember – 80/20 or 90/10%!) and to adapt accordingly.
No-one is perfect. Literally, nobody. But we can all feel our best if we take care of ourselves, and this is a maybe controversial tool, but a super helpful one to get to a point where we can eat what we want, when we want because we’re eating intuitively – in tune with our bodies’ actual needs, rather than steered by media messaging and emotional binge-prompts.
*As ever, the usual disclaimer applies – I’m not a nutritionist, please remember there’s no one-size-fits-all and consult a medical health professional and ACTUAL nutritionist for personalised, tailored advice. Do your own research, don’t mindlessly believe cowboys (or girls in my case haha!) on the internet – anyone with a computer can blither on about something… be safe and street-smart, and don’t trust stuff without question – even best-intentioned pieces (like this one!) can make mistakes. But I am essentially adapting advice I’ve received from my nutritionist, with my own spin on what works in my experience, and I am studying a Professional Diploma in Nutritional Therapy, so while I won’t become a nutritionist, I’ll have a qualification enabling me to better advise in a more official capacity.*
Over the course of, for want of a better phrase (!), my ‘health and fitness journey’ *mini cringe*, my outlook has changed a lot.
Ironically, I discovered that the influence slogans were true – trust the process, fall in love with the process, and you’ll get better aesthetic results.
I didn’t believe it when I first started either.
However, as I have become happier with my body, fitter, stronger, admittedly my goals have shifted towards process-driven ones (to be able to do an unassisted pull up, to improve my boxing technique, to be able to do plyo push-ups) which is a much healthier place to be instead of obsessing over body size.
I’m glad to be in a healthy physical and mental space, and to be trying to share that message more, instead of feeding the ‘must get skinny’ toxicity that still runs through society in a big way.
HOWEVER it does mean that talking about fat loss for me is difficult. How do I do it without promoting orthorexia (we can’t say clean eating anymore) or implying that fat is bad?
A poll on my Instagram lately indicated that loads of you are still super interested in fat
loss so I wanted to address it as a topic in a healthy, balanced, sustainable way. Because I think it is possible (though perhaps tough!) to change your body composition and lose some fat in a body positive way… it all depends on your mindset.
As always, bear in mind that while I’ve had a successful weight loss journey to a place where I’m happy, that followed times of being underweight and bulimia before my excessive weight gain, and while I’m recovered and I have been active in the online wellness and health community for over 5 years, I am not a nutritionist or doctor. The only qualification I’ve done is a group exercise instructor REPS level 2 course where the nutrition content is minimal. My knowledge is from personal interest and research only, and so you can use it as a jumping off point to conduct research yourself, but you can’t rely on me for personal advice. Ok? 🙂
Fat Loss: how do we do it healthily?
You may or may not have heard the saying ‘you can’t out train a bad diet.’
This is totally true.
So if you really want to alter your body composition (i.e. lose some fat) then you need to address your nutrition first and foremost.
This can be a bit of a minefield as I think it is CRITICAL that you do this in a way that isn’t detrimental to your health (which is where so many people go wrong – fad diets encouraging cutting food groups, for example, are not sustainable long term and deprive your body of vital nutrients).
The way I have approached fat loss that I feel is most physically AND mentally beneficial is:
NO CALORIE OR MACRO COUNTING (however I know some people without ED backgrounds can count numbers and not obsess, and I acknowledge that maybe the reason I can eat healthily and intuitively is because I know a lot about the nutritional contents of food because I HAVE calorie counted and macro counted in the past!)
But DO address portion sizes! If you’re sedentary in your day job like me, you don’t need insane plates of food! I like to make 2/3 – 1/2 of my plate veggies (mostly greens!) and then a palm size of lean protein and hand-size of complex carbohydrates.
Spend a week (or ideally two) keeping a food diary which includes WHAT you ate, but also how you feel mood-wise (before and after eating. It can help you learn the difference between ACTUAL physical hunger, emotional hunger and psychological hunger, and assists you in cutting out ‘mindless’ eating.
Give up alcohol for a while. I think this gives you the mental space to assess your relationship with food and your body and confidence, as well as being an easy way to trim out non-nutritious food. I had a 6 month period without alcohol because its essentially of no nutritional benefit, it’s a depressant, and it makes you less aware of the choices you’re making. I’m not suggesting you quit for half a year! I’d say do a 2 week break and then introduce it back in a mindful way – have a drink as an indulgent treat, but stick to one or two and savour them.
Once you’ve mastered streamlining what goes into your body (think 80-90% foods that are top quality fuel – nutrient dense, natural, whole foods, try to limit processed food as much as possible and avoid additives – extra sugar and all kinds of stuff gets added in to things you’d least expect! – and 20-10% treats, because this is about sustainability long term – no food is bad, no food is out of bounds, but you need to get out of a binge-restrict mindset).
Mentally reset: leaning down safely
Once you’ve worked on your dietary approach, you need to check in with yourself about how and why you’re losing weight. You shouldn’t embark on any regime without consulting a GP or medical health professional, particularly if your goal is solely aesthetic – there are a range of health problems that can come from being underweight including loss of bone density, osteoporosis and infertility as well as heart problems, so have a think about why you want to lose weight.
Regularly mentally check yourself that you still love and appreciate your body for what it is and can do NOW.
Realise that losing weight isn’t inherently good or bad; it won’t ‘fix’ your life, and if you have self-esteem issues, for example, a perfect physique (what is perfect anyway?!) won’t solve those problems.
Every time you’re thinking about fat loss, try to tune in to how you feel emotionally. Are you anxious, stressed, self-loathing? These might be signs you need to take a break from this goal and talk to someone. Or are you happy, enjoying being full of energy, with a nice bonus of preferring some of your aesthetic changes, without obsessing about it? Then you’re in a good place.
The fat loss formula
Essentially, to assist your nutritional changes, you want to up your energy expenditure.
DON’T FALL INTO THE TRAP of thinking you need to ‘burn off’ eating food.
DO try to find physical activity you enjoy, and build up slowly.
Low intensity steady state training (brisk incline walking, swimming, cycling) may burn fewer calories overall but its technically most effective for fat loss as to use fat stores as fuel rather than stored glycogen in the body, you need oxygen available to do this. So while anaerobic exercise like HIIT burns more calories in the same time technically, less of this will come from stored fat.
When thinking about a workout schedule, here are some key tips:
Be realistic. Don’t aim to train 6 days a week for an hour if you hate the gym and have a mad work schedule. 6 days is overkill even if you love training, probably… overtraining can be counterproductive.
Try to pick exercise you enjoy. Basically, consistency is key. Don’t think about ‘I have to just do this for 10 weeks to get my dream body then I can stop woohoo!’ We’re talking LIFESTYLE CHANGES people, because otherwise once you hit your goal, you won’t stay there for long.
Variety helps you stop getting bored. It can also be used if after 6 months of training you hit a plateau and need to re-set and boost results.
SET PROCESS DRIVEN GOALS TO USE AS A FOCUS INSTEAD OF FAT LOSS. It will help you melt the fat off anyway! Examples might be to be able to do your first high box jump or pull up, to do 20 on your toes press ups, to run 2k, 5k, 10k, to go to a boxing class and not feel like death at the end…! Anything that means you’re working on something outside of the fat loss thing. Think about strength, agility, flexibility.
So what kind of training is optimum for fat loss?
The goal here is to lose fat without exercising solely thinking about that, right? I’d say DON’T WORRY TOO MUCH ABOUT THIS BECAUSE IF YOU HATE THAT KIND OF TRAINING, YOU WON’T STICK TO IT. And if you can’t stick to it (i.e. see yourself being happy to do something similar for pretty much the rest of your life, obviously amounts will vary, but still…) then the benefits won’t stick.
Personally, I think balanced training is the way to go.
Increase your Non Exercise Activity Thermogenesis (NEAT). This is energy you burn while not ‘exercising’, so taking the stairs, extra walking, that kind of thing, falls into this category. Do as much of this as possible – for health reasons as much as anything! I ALWAYS take the escalator at a walk / jog, climb stairs if I have the option, and add a 45 minute walk in to my weekend.
HIIT is a great way to exercise if you’re time poor. They say it’s great for revving the metabolism and torching calories in a short session. Just be careful not to overtrain in this way as it’s touch on joints where it’s super high impact and the central nervous system. If you’re a beginner I’d do some simple weight lifting first instead to make sure you’ve got the form and stability.
Plyometrics – often used with HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) uses explosive, often jump-type movements, really rocking those fast-twich muscle fibres. As above with HIIT, while this is super effective and efficient, it can be tough on the body so don’t over do it.
LISS (low intensity steady state) – the bread and butter that you should try to get in as much of as you sensibly can.
How do I train these days? I’m not saying copy this, but this schedule works for me:
Most of my LISS is NEAT to be fair – weekend walks, climbing stairs. Sometimes I’ll do rowing, cycling or a high incline walk at the gym once a week.
HIIT / plyometrics – for my biggest weightloss period I used Kayla Itsines BBG programme which is basically this which involved 28 mins of this three times a week. Now I do boxing style workouts with my PT or at Kobox 1-3 times a week for 50 minutes.
Don’t start at max capacity. If you currently do nothing, schedule 1 high intensity and 2 low intensity sessions a week.
If you do some, up it a little.
But all of this goes hand in hand with checking in with yourself mentally (how do you feel? Are you feeling drained, stressed, desperate to lose some fat? You may need to stop, reassess and do some work on your mindset. I’d recommend Mel Well’s The Goddess Revolution here. Or are you feeling empowered and starting to enjoy the process more and care less about the fat? That’s the ideal!)
Consistency is key
This is probably the most important thing to remember. Consistency with both nutrition and training is the way you see changes in your body. Slow, steady progress means your results are likely healthier, and sustainable long-term.
Structure can be super helpful if you’re a beginner. I guide my own training now, but following Kayla’s programme in the past was perfect as it was basically three 28 minute workouts that fit around work.
I hope this dive into trying to do fat loss in a body positive way was helpful.
As I said, I’m just a former group exercise instructor and fitness fangirl who loves to connect with people who have similar health and wellness interest. My tips aren’t a substitute for qualified advice.
Just try to remember that our bodies are here for the long haul (our whole lives!) in fact. Don’t sacrifice health and happiness to weigh 5% less people.
However, that said, you don’t need to feel bad for having aesthetic goals. While it’s not why I train now, I LOVED feeling on top form training hard last summer and seeing my abs and myself get leaner (although not my leanest!) whilst also getting stronger.
I’m looking at further study soon because I want to feel more able to advise and share information from a place that’s safe and sensible to do so. If you might be interested in coaching in future if this becomes available, let me know.