The belief about food that you need to change in order to see success.

So, here’s an idea for a post that I’ve had for a little while… and I want to start by letting you know that it is partially an observation and commentary on the fitness industry, but it will have a conclusion that will not only be applicable to the general public, but actually could be of potentially life changing significance to serious fitness enthusiasts who struggle with the nutrition side of things.

This was inspired by something that came across my social media feeds last week which I don’t seem to be able to find again right now, so perhaps I’ll misquote this, but it got me thinking anyway. It was something to the effect of “how to change your client’s belief systems about foods” so that they’ll have good adherence, or… be successful… or something.

Now, this got me thinking because generally speaking, when you look into these things you tend to find that the “change in belief systems” actually infers adopting a lot of beliefs that don’t quite stand up to scrutiny and aren’t actually factual. These sorts of things are intriguing to me. It’s easy enough to just write everyone off as a scam artist or a Pete Evans style delusional simpleton repeating a bunch of nonsense and trying to brainwash other people into believing it… but in some cases that would be a little unfair, as you have actually quite decent people with the best intentions of contributing positively to the industry by teaching valuable skills to aspiring professional coaches.

With all that said, the question remains: why is that good and intelligent people would believe so passionately in things that just aren’t factual?

Well, that was a long introduction so let’s cut from the chase from this point on. Refer to my rather excellent flow chart below, and let’s start at the top and then work down just the green boxes on the left hand side.

Pretty simple, right?

You read… oh, let’s say you read “Good Calories Bad Calories” or you watch one of those food documentaries on Netflix, and it tells you “this is the problem, and this is the solution”. Fortunately for you, your reaction happens to be “hmm… well, that seems to make some kind of sense, and doesn’t sound too difficult to me, so I’ll give it a go”. And what do you know, it actually works and you actually see good results.

Fantastic. So, seeing results you have every reason to believe “obviously this works” and it’s not unreasonable to extend that to “obviously this works, and it works for the reasons I have been taught. This is what everyone needs to do”.

That’d be an understandable conclusion, but really… all we really know at this point is that it happened to suit you, and it happened to work. We don’t necessarily know that it worked because what convinced you to try it in the first place was 100% factual.

Now let’s back up though and we’ll follow the chart but end up in some of those red boxes.

You hear about something or are instructed to do something by your coach, and you can see these other people very enthusiastic and having a good time with it. Maybe you think “ok that sounds easy enough”, or maybe you think “this sounds awful, but fuck, what choice do I have if that’s what it takes?”. Either way, in this example, you give it your best shot, but for some reason you just can’t seem to make it work.

Or… actually you know what? Maybe you don’t even give it a shot because it sounds that awful and you’re just that lacking in optimism about your chances of pulling it off. Contrary to the way a lot of the fitness industry seems to think, this can be entirely understandable. You’re told a diet that is high in animal fats is required, and you want to be a vegan. Or you’re told a grain free diet is required, but you love bread and cereal. Or you might even be told a vegan diet is required, but you love steak. Maybe you’re just one of these people who only really likes a rather limited variety of foods and isn’t very good at trying new ones. I’m in the minority but for whatever it’s worth, I for one would not blame you for giving up without even trying under any of those or similar circumstances.

But in any case, in these red squares… either you’re not enthusiastic and not able to adhere to it, you attempt to force yourself but it still doesn’t work, or you were actually quite enthusiastic and you’re pretty sure you’re doing everything you’ve been told, but it’s still not working. If you or your coach really believes “it you do this it works, if it’s not working you’re not doing it right, and it has to be done like this and no other way”, then you’re screwed. Especially if you’re one of those unfortunate people who spent a lot of time mouthing off online about how stupid everyone else must be, and then found your condition going backwards no matter how much harder you tried to stay in ketosis, just saying.

Here’s the wild card though. That other box all the way on it’s own on the right.

Let’s start again from the top. You get told about something and how great it is, it may or may not really make sense, it may or may not be based in reality, but either way you already have some other approach that you like, which is working out very nicely for you.

Now, for some reason… that’s a situation that not many people in the online fitness world seem to be able to imagine. Think about it… how could two different people be doing two different things, and both of them successfully? How could someone think that is good, when I think this is good? Are they trying to insult me, or what?

Honestly, it gets so silly. But here’s the thing.

As per what’s in the green section of the chart, here’s what we can assume about every person out there who is having a good time and maintaining improvements in condition.

  1. They have a decent approach to training that they get stuck into enthusiastically.
  2. They have an approach to nutrition that they believe is the best, that happens to suit them, and actually does consistently give them enough of all the energy and nutritional resources that they need to facilitate results, at least to the level at which they’ve achieved so far.

Also let’s specify that we’re talking about people who’ve maintained a degree of success for… oh, let’s say five or more years. We’re not talking about people who did some “miraculous transformation” for about half a season but then regained 30kg or something like that, and we’re not talking about the people who will eventually come clean and confess that they were miserable the whole time either.

We can probably safely say that no one who has been successful long term was doing something that didn’t appeal to them, that didn’t suit them, that they hated, or that they forced themselves to believe in even though it didn’t really seem to make sense. We can definitely say that they don’t have the same approach, or even necessarily a similar approach to one another. And while many people will want to believe that there is a specific, scientific reason why their personally preferred approach is “the best” approach for anyone… if you like the approach, if the approach is working out for you satisfactorily, it should be enough just to be confident and to be enthusiastic about having found the approach that is best for you.

In short, the belief that you need to change is that there is ANYONE out there being successful by doing ANYTHING other than what happens to most appeal to them and what happens to best suit them. And if they try to tell you anything else, they’re full of shit.

So, the take home point from all of this, for you.

For everyone out there saying, “but you can’t do it unless you cut out grains and never eat cereal for breakfast or a sandwich for lunch again”, there are people out there who are doing it while eating cereal for breakfast or whatever else. For everyone out there saying “but you can’t do it on a vegan diet” there are some incredibly successful vegan athletes out there as well. The same goes for anything to do with the number of meals per day, the timing and frequency of meals across the day, the same again for any other, more elitist ideals about what people “need to” do, or what they should and should not want to do as far as their approach to nutrition goes as well.

Now obviously there are some technically concerns that come into this. Your dietary habits cannot be conducive to excessive energy intake if you expect to develop a leaner condition. At the same time, your dietary habits must provide an adequate total level of energy intake, and an adequate level of protein intake, to facilitate improvements in performance, recovery after training, and to maintain and increase lean mass. Also you need to get enough fibre, vitamins and minerals from some of the healthy stuff.

Aside from that? You require an approach that you’re enthusiastic about, and are able to adhere to with a reasonable level of consistency. What better reason to be enthusiastic than because you truly believe it is best approach for you? What better reason to believe that, than because you have actually designed and continued to refine the approach to be what is best for you?

This is how I like to do it, the way that suits me best, and I’m more than happy with the results. How anyone else prefers to go about it is irrelevant. I have my own story. They aint me and this isn’t their life.

Now, as coaches I believe it is fine to only offer one approach that you specialise in. I only offer one approach, and if someone tells me they’re looking for something different, they’re free to and in fact best to go looking for another coach who specialises in that, because I won’t accept them as a client. But as coaches whatever we are telling people in support of our preferred approach should be truthful, and where applicable should be able to be supported by credible scientific evidence as well as every day observations. It shouldn’t be bullshit that robs the people who aren’t suited to that approach of the belief that they too can be successful.

Why not come and discuss this post with us on my facebook page?

Why I can’t in good conscience continue to offer Weight Loss coaching, and probably no one else should either.

This is more complicated than you probably think.

People tend to want everything broken down into just one slogan or soundbite that either suits their biases or that they find easy to argue against. The reality is, there are a lot of angles to cover here. I’ll do my best to cover them all within a reasonable word count, but I make no promises on that last part.

Now that that’s out of the way, let’s get started.

For reasons that will hopefully become apparent, I’m actually going to start with the conclusion, and the conclusion is actually a paragraph borrowed from something I posted on instagram the other day, as follows:

More than ever, the longer I do this and the more people I work with as a professional coach, the more I truly believe that our focus needs to be on simply enjoying the physical challenge of productive training, and enjoying the intellectual challenge of working to a productive fueling strategy, as well as assessing your physiological and psychological responses to each as you learn to do more of what keeps you strong, healthy & happy, and to reject whatever doesn’t.

That sounds great, but what’s the problem with wanting to lose weight?

Well I’m glad you asked. First of all though, that headline at the top of the page doesn’t translate to “I don’t want to coach fat people” or anything silly like that. Also, I always object to anything that gives anyone a message to the tune of “you might as well not bother trying, just accept that where you are is where you’re supposed to be”, so that’s definitely not my point either.

Obviously I’ve helped people to lose weight successfully in the past. Clients, other people who follow my pages and put the pieces together for themselves. Some with medical conditions such as autoimmune diseases. Some who got on top of a restrict, binge & purge type eating disorder and lost weight. Some who rather generously credit me with facilitating a “life saving” level of weight loss.

A handful of fast facts about diets and weight loss:

  1. All diets work for the same reason; they create a caloric deficit.
    Whether people are aware of the amount of calories or whether due to restriction of food choices, any changes in dietary habits that result in weight loss infer a caloric deficit.
  2. Different named diets, low carb approaches, balanced approaches… when the energy and protein provision is matched, the clinical evidence suggests there is little if any difference in the results of different approaches. So there is not just “one correct” or “one best” set of eating habits we should all adopt.
  3. Regardless, the statistics are that over the long term there is no approach that has a high success rate. People tend to regain the weight.
  4. In fact, according to the International Journal Of Obesity; “it is now well established that the more people engage in dieting, the more they gain weight in the long-term.”

So, what is the problem then?

Well that depends.

In theory, you make changes in dietary habits resulting in a caloric deficit. You lose weight, and so long as you do not revert back to habits resulting in a caloric surplus you should not regain the weight. Therefore the simple explanation is that the problem is down to continuance of adherence. Or so it would seem.

As an example, here’s how it is supposed to work, and for that matter actually does work.

Imagine I have a new personal training client who is a younger woman and let’s say 5, 10 or 15kg overweight due to not being in the habit of being active, and perhaps in the habit of over indulging a little too often. As a competent and responsible trainer, I get her started with a decent, strength based training program, and the appropriate energy targets at a suitable level of deficit and with a reasonable margin for error. If she follows my instructions with some level of consistency she’ll certainly lose weight as she develops a more athletic condition.

Assuming she then maintains her interest in training and does not revert to an excessive energy intake, she should not regain any weight. That’s how it works in theory anyway. I want to move on but first let’s just acknowledge that what I’ve described is not really a “weight loss approach” the way most people would go about it.

So, whether it is working to a caloric deficit, whether it is sticking to this particular diet and this particular set of foods… if the people continue to do it, it would continue to work, right? You’d like to think so. So why don’t people just keep doing it?

Reasons for non-continuance of adherence:

There could be any number of reasons and I’m not forgetting that mere complacency or even delusion are two of them, but it would be a flagrant cop-out to pretend that those are the only reasons and therefore absolve trainers & health coaches from their obligation to provide approaches that are feasible and efficacious over the long haul.

In simpler terms, I’m asking you just humour me and consider entertaining the mere possibility that people sometimes lose motivation because the approach has stopped producing results, or simply because the approach is impractical and any expectation of continued, long term adherence was entirely unreasonable.

Weight loss dieting tends to be of an extreme variety, either with strict low calories, strict food exclusions, or both. Strict adherence would prohibit ever going out to eat socially, visiting your parents for a home cooked meal, having a takeaway night or ordering home delivery. These approaches tend to be temporary by design, and as discussed, the long term consequence is greater weight gain.

With that in mind and getting back to my hypothetical client we described earlier, if we focus on developing an interest in a productive approach to training, we can expect weight loss. However if we focus on weight loss and my instruction is a low carb, low cal, clean eating style of extreme and restrictive diet, as well as high intensity activity “to burn calories”… any expectation of continued long term adherence is overly optimistic at best, any weight loss is temporary at best, and the long term consequence would be weight gain, a worsened relationship with food, and likely a decrease in enthusiasm for exercise as well.

In the case of a second new client of a higher and more excessive weight, it is very likely that their current weight is actually the consequence of previous attempts at weight loss perhaps over a period of years or even decades, and this is the outcome we wanted to avoid with the first hypothetical client. For this reason, it would make no sense at all to give them more of the same now. It would make no sense to take an attitude of “we need to lose weight first” via the same restrictive and unproductive approaches.

There are benefits to any amount of activity over being inactive, and benefits to getting out of restrictive dieting and developing more consistent, structured and appropriate eating habits and a healthier relationship with food. When the type of activity resembles some form of what we might describe as “productive training”, in a more overweight or obese client we can expect significant decreases in measurements as the body begins to better ultilise energy and resources in support of lean mass at the expense of fat mass, as well as numerous other health benefits.

Here’s the curious thing. While seeing significant results in fat loss you’d expect to see confirmation of this when weighing in on the scales, but the reality seems to be that this is not always the case right away. What a pity it would be to fail to value or appreciate the good results in fat loss, strength and performance at training, improved health markers and the rejection of restrictive dieting, just because the scales do not confirm these results with the corresponding loss of body weight.

There’s more though. 

To wrap up and reiterate, by developing an interest in productive training and with suitable sports nutrition guidance there will be certain client profiles where weight loss is very likely, certain client profiles where weight loss could be expected but cannot be guaranteed, and let’s not forget there will be some for whom weight loss should not be seen as an acceptable outcome at all.

My observation is that when people are focused on and overly concerned with weight loss per se, even when given a good and productive approach to training and the appropriate instruction, the tendency will be to sacrifice the efficacy of the training strategy by falling back into weight loss type behaviours and mindsets as previously described. For example, making changes or additions to the training program “to burn more calories”, and to skip meals or otherwise fall short of the prescribed levels of fueling that are required to facilitate any sort of results.

Ironically, it will be the very things that people feel compelled to do because they “are trying to lose weight” which ultimately prevent them from reaping the many benefits of a sensible and productive approach to training.

While there’s absolutely nothing wrong with having body composition and condition related goals, we must pursue them with sensible, effective and productive approaches and attitudes, and resist the social conditioning that sees us more inclined towards the extreme, destructive and ultimately futile methods typically associated with trying to lose weight.

Come and let me know what you thought of this post, on my facebook page.

No, I will never “acknowledge my fit privilege”

Where do I even begin?

I will start by saying that I have long since lost interest in trying to convince people who aren’t interested of why they should want to train, or why they could be successful if they tried. There are things I’ve been quite passionate about in my past that I’ve moved on from, and I get irritated when people try to pressure me into “getting back into it and giving it one more try”. I can only imagine how much more irritating it would be to be trying to live your life and pursue your interests and mind your own business, and to keep hearing “ok but you’re a fat person and you should try not being fat anymore, you could not be fat if you really tried” as if nothing else you do counts if you don’t and as if it’s any of anyone’s concern in the first place.

I will continue by reminding you that I have written countless blog and social media posts to the tune of “quit acting like training makes you better than everyone else. You took an interest in something, gave it a try, found that you liked it, and now here you are” especially in response to those obnoxious “what’s your excuse?” type posts that go viral for all the wrong reasons every once in a while. What’s their excuse? Why do they need an excuse for not pursuing something they don’t have an interest in? Why do they owe you a justification or explanation? What’s your excuse for not knowing how to rebuild an engine or play classical piano?

No one is asking “what’s your excuse for not knowing how to play an instrument?”, but on the other hand no one is telling the serious musical enthusiast who learned the theory and practiced the technique for hours every day to “acknowledge their musical privilege” even though others might not have been so fortunate as to have access to a good teacher or to afford a decent instrument. Because to do so would be ridiculous.

I think it is probably important that people in the fitness industry acknowledge that weight stigma is a thing that people experience and probably only the tip of the iceberg. This entry does not deny or mitigate the fact that weight stigma exists.

Fit Privilege though? Really?

The way I’m reading into this… it’s as if the suggestion is that the only reason anyone is in “fit” shape is because that was always the most likely thing for them, and that they’ve had an easy time of it all along, and if anything should probably feel a little embarrassed and a little bit guilty about how much harder other people have got it.

Really though? That’s a load of garbage.

People get into fitness for different reasons. Perhaps they got started after a health scare and on doctors orders. Perhaps they just decided one day “I don’t suppose I’ll be very good at it or very successful at it, but it’ll be nice to have something to do after work other than just veg out in front of the tv”. Often people have become passionate about fitness because it was something that got them through a dark chapter of their life when it seemed like nothing else was going right for them. Perhaps unemployed, bereaved, following a difficult relationship breakdown, while struggling with poor mental health, or any combination of these and other issues.

If you’re someone who has used an interest in fitness as a coping mechanism when you were unemployed, unloved, trying not to give in to depression and despair, and trying to channel your energy into and focus upon some positive outlet… to be informed that “you have fit privilege” is incredibly insulting and offensive.

“Acknowledge your privilege?” How about acknowledge that you could have just as easily turned to self destructive behaviours, could have taken your issues out on others in an abusive or manipulative manner, and quite possibly might not have overcome those hardships at all?

I would suggest this applies to many, many people. And even to those that it doesn’t apply to, how is it in any way helpful to insist that they “acknowledge their privilege” as if they are selfish and their interest and success in pursuing their fitness goals is something they are undeserving of?

That’s how it comes across to me anyway.

Now, the issue here isn’t that everyone has to be impressed by or give credit to people for pursuing their fitness goals. I feel like most fitness enthusiasts aren’t actually asking for that. I feel like most people just want to be left in peace to pursue their interests without the uninvited negative opinions of others trying to rain on their parade, and that applies to people of different sizes with different interests as well. Regardless of your shape, size, education, economic status, whatever… there are certain people out there whether strangers, on social media, or people you are acquainted with or related to, who just do not want to see you happy on your own terms and who want to control how you see yourself and how you feel about yourself. Anyone who has achieved any level of success in anything or any level of happiness in general has had to deal with and over come this.

That said, this notion that anyone who is in “fit” shape as an adult must have been someone who excelled at and was encouraged in sports from a young age, who never experienced difficulty around “healthy eating”, never had a medical or mental illness that would preclude them from being successful… I can assure you I’m the opposite of all of those things.

Why this really matters though is not about me or about other fitness enthusiasts being given credit for trying their best and overcoming adversity in their lives. It is actually about the people who might like to take an interest in training but lack the confidence or the belief in themselves to do so.

Splitting people into groups of “people who were always going to end up in fit shape because it’s easy for them” and “people who were never likely to end up in fit shape no matter what” only discourages those who are interested and could benefit from encouragement. It disempowers those who need to be empowered. It will be one more young woman who started out thinking she wanted to lose 5kg who by the time she comes to me is more like 30kg overweight with a binge eating disorder because she identified as a “fat person” rather than a “fit person” and so believed she would need to restrict her intake to a half or a quarter of what would be minimal for someone else with the same goals. Or something like that.

I probably didn’t even say half of what I was thinking on this topic but I suppose 1150 words is plenty.

Perform, Refuel, Recover, Adapt

You might have noticed this slogan on the new line of tanks & tees that me and some of the guys and girls who I coach have been showing off online and in the gym lately.

Perform, Refuel, Recover & Adapt. These are the things that Sports Nutrition facilitates, and which “dieting” only hinders.

When we talk about “dieting”, the inference is on calorie restriction, or an arbitrary list of restrictions on the choices of foods you’re allowed to have. What’s rarely involved is any sort of system of estimating or determining your actual energy requirements; it is just arbitrary restriction and deprivation to ensure that you fall short of those requirements, usually with the misguided belief that fat loss will be the outcome.

These are the facts, whether people like them or not:

There are no “fat burning” or “fat storing” foods. Clean eating, paleo, low carb and other deprivation based approaches work because restricting food choices, and in particular the omission of energy dense choices, results in a “calorific deficit’.

If you’ve been in the habit of consuming an excessive amount of energy, you’ll have gained weight. When you make dietary changes resulting in a less excessive energy consumption, you lose weight. Regardless of the choices of foods.

The exception to this rule appears to be when you have an extended history of extreme and erratic chances between excessive intake and overly restrictive, insufficient intake. Also known as “crash dieting”, “yo-yo dieting”, and so on. It seems apparent that at a certain point, the body just settles at a certain weight & condition and does not respond to short term changes in energy balance the way we would normally expect.

Regardless though, other than in the specific circumstance described above (and even then, not necessarily in every case of the above) it is generally correct to say that “any change in dietary habits resulting in a caloric deficit will result in weight loss, regardless of the choice of foods”.

However… it goes without saying that we’re not here to talk about “weight loss” dieting. While fat loss may be an aspect of our athletic performance, condition and related goals, a weight loss focused calorie restriction approach tends to end up in a that counter productive pattern of erratic shifts between excessive and overly restrictive dietary habits that we discussed earlier.

So while it is technically correct to say that a caloric deficit is required to ensure fat loss, a calorie deficit shouldn’t be our only focus when determining our sports nutrition requirements, and contrary to popular belief, merely being in deficit does not ensure improvements in condition.

Perform, and Refuel.

It should go without saying that the human body requires fuel to be available in order to perform at training and sports. For some reason, many people seem to believe that it is necessary to restrict their energy intake to (or even below) their BMR or Basal Metabolic Rate in order to draw upon fat stores. Doing so actually ensures that NO energy is available to perform. Obviously the body finds a way to cope and you don’t just instantly collapse in a heap upon exertion of energy… but this is far from an ideal situation.

When active people who have been chronic dieters or have otherwise been restricting to an insufficient level of energy intake begin to fuel more appropriately, they see rapid and significant improvements in sports performance benchmarks and increases in personal bests, simply because the energy is available in the muscles to facilitate such improvements.

An active person’s energy intake can and in most cases should be significantly higher than their BMR, without becoming excessive or precluding fat loss. It stands to reason that we want to do this more than once, and having fueled adequately, performed at our best, we need to refuel in order to do it again.

Recover & Adapt.

You require energy in order to perform, and having put in your best effort at training, you need to refuel in order to do it again. Failing to do so is just running yourself into the ground, and has the effect of making training destructive rather than productive. For this reason a lot of people think “net your BMR”, as in… keep track of the amount of calories burned at exercise, add this to your BMR, and then you have your calorie requirement. Also referred to as “eating back” the calories burned at exercise.

While this is better than falling short of your BMR, it is still insufficient. We need not to merely replace the energy we have expended while active, but we need to provide energy and resources in order to recover from the stress we have placed our body under, in order to make that a productive level of stress rather than a destructive level of stress. Recovery may have two meanings here as people often have a goal of recovering from eating disorder, recovering from years of dieting, recovering both psychologically and physiologically.

Further still though, our aim is not merely to expend and then replace energy. Our aim is to facilitate further improvements in performance, and to adapt to training with a stronger, leaner, more athletic physical condition. This can only occur when sufficient energy, protein, and other resources are available to support and maintain an increase in lean mass. Your level of activity and fueling can either put you into an anabolic state where your body is able to prioritise the creation of lean mass, or it can put you into a state where lean mass is squandered to make up a shortfall in energy provision. It is important not to make the mistake of believing that fat stores are always the only, or the preferred resource that your body will draw from to make up an energy short fall.

Sports Nutrition takes all of this into account. Conventional weight loss dieting and buzzwords like “eat clean”, “calorie deficit” and so on do not.

If this sounds like an approach you’d be interested in, check out the Online Coaching or Personal Training pages for more information. You can order this or other designs on a tank, tee or hoodie via my webstore.

Should you take nutrition advice from a body builder?

For the sake of hopefully avoiding controversy, I’m going to begin with the conclusion. As with many questions, the actual answer is “maybe, it depends”. People tend to prefer black & white, yes & no, good or bad, blanket statement type answers… *shrug* sorrynotsorry if you’re disappointed.

The quality of advice should really be assessed on the basis of the quality of the advice, rather than the description of the person it comes from. Any specific individual trainer, bodybuilder, nutritionist, dietitian, or other person may give good advice or bad advice. We may observe that generally speaking, one profession is more or less likely to give solid, factual, reasonable and helpful advice than another… regardless, advice is good or bad based on how solid, factual, reasonable and helpful it is, not based on who it comes from.

Diplomatic enough for you? Everyone still happy so far? No one’s feelings hurt? Good. Let’s continue.

Now then. Let’s agree that it makes sense to assume we’re talking about people with a weight loss &/or fat loss goal. Who knows more about how to maintain lean mass and shed fat than a bodybuilder? Few if any.

Or so it would seem. Someone may have done a body building contest and achieved a lean condition under the instruction of their coach. Does that necessarily mean they understand how to assess another person’s requirements, understand their circumstances and coach them to a satisfactory outcome? Hardly. This is unfortunately a common, and problematic phenomenon especially related to instagrammers who get lean for a show or a photo shoot, and then start charging for “clean eating” meal plans and so forth. I would avoid anything of the sort like the plague.

So, let’s consider that particular variation of the question resolved. Should you follow dietary advice from a person on the sole basis that they’ve competed in a bodybuilding show, or are otherwise in impressive & athletic shape? Absolutely not.

What about bodybuilding coaches though? As with anything, it’s a mixed bag but I personally know a few who I’m confident are knowledgeable, competent, and usually have a few tricks up their sleeve that are more than merely starving and burning calories.

With that said, I’ll start my list of red flags with the following:

Do they understand that there’s a difference between “contest prep” and appropriate, sustainable eating habits & advice suitable for fat loss and more athletic condition in a normal person?

What might be necessary for and reasonably expected of people in the final stages of contest prep bares little resemblance to what’s reasonable or helpful advice for the rest of us who are looking for sustainable results towards a more athletic condition while actually enjoying the rest of our lives as well. If your coach doesn’t understand this, you’re in for a bad time.

Are they on the gear?

A lot of the times people will present their own physique or that of their clients as evidence to support their views on nutrition and the superiority of their understanding of science. That’s fair enough, but if they’re using steroids then all bets are off. I’d argue that differences in results between enhanced athletes are far more likely to be down to differences in dosage or choice of drugs than due to which carbs they feel are “clean” enough to eat. And if they’re on gear and talking about “discipline” and how people should want to do it the hard way rather than “cheating” with enjoyable foods on an IIFYM style approach, they can fuck right off as far as I’m concerned.

Bottom Line On Nutritional Advice

I’d ignore any advice from anyone that comes with the suggestion that adrenal fatigue or leaky gut are a concern you should have in mind with your dietary choices. I’d ignore any advice of the “calories aren’t equal” or “carbs are not equal” variety as well. Advice of the “this is what I did and it worked for me” nature is next to useless, and for advice of the “this is what everyone should be doing, even though it’s not actually working for me” variety it almost goes without saying.

Hmm what are some other red flags? “Sugar is addictive”, “fruit has too much sugar”, “artificial sweeteners will make you fat”, and any reference to Gary Taubes, Sarah Wilson, David Gillespie, or the various gluten fear mongers.

The best advice is based on the understanding that people have varying requirements, and unique circumstances, tastes, and idiosyncrasies which will determine what is reasonable to expect them to adhere to. Being expected to have the “willpower” or “discipline” to adhere to something that does not suit the individual is entirely unreasonable, and advice that fails to take this into account is inherently poor.

The approach and the selection of foods that best empowers and facilitates consistent adherence in meeting but not exceeding an appropriate provision of total energy from a suitable ratio of macronutrients is always what is best. Whatever approach that may be for each individual.

Whoever you go to for nutritional advice had best understand this, and ideally have both knowledge and experience in successfully coaching others to draw upon when issuing that advice.

What denotes a High Level Of Activity?

2017-02-22 13.51.52I think it is important to discuss and consider the concept of level of activity being different to merely the amount of activity someone engages in.

In assessing level of activity, I suggest you must consider all of the following:

  • Amount of time spent active.
  • Frequency and consistency of attendance and participation in training.
  • Quality and efficacy of training strategy.
  • Intensity of effort.
  • Proficiency and prowess at training.
  • Activity levels outside of training.

It stands to reason that a more active person has a higher energy intake requirement than a less active person. A more advanced athlete will have a higher energy intake requirement than a beginner. An athlete who turns up to training regularly and puts in her best effort will have a greater energy requirement than one who turns up less often and drags her feet a little, lacking in enthusiasm.

Activity levels outside of training should be considered as well. It is possible to still have a high level of activity despite working a desk job or being otherwise less active outside of training. Moving around a lot throughout the day will contribute to a higher energy requirement than being inactive, and strenuous activity at a physically demanding job will increase them further still.

A higher level of activity should produce better results in terms of a more lean and athletic physical condition, provided energy requirements are being met. Best results will come when meeting a higher requirement, rather than being further into deficit of it.

It should be noted that while an increase in level of activity should be conducive to improved results, this does not necessarily mean more time spent at exercise or adding extra sessions. First ensure that your training strategy is effective and productive.

It is important to consider quality of activity as important, as well as amount. A high amount of low quality activity will not be conducive to best results, and adding more of the same will not improve the situation, especially if level of energy intake is not appropriate.

Why you failed to see results on your last IIFYM plan.

Even though I have some new followers I’m going to go ahead and assume everyone knows what “IIFYM” means, feel free to ask if you require clarification.

If you’ve done some form of an IIFYM approach in the past and found you couldn’t stick to it or it didn’t work, I’m going to explain why. First though let’s draw some distinctions, as there might be more than one possible situation.

  • Scenario (A): Had an IIFYM plan but was complacent about actually working to it, it was more like a vague idea of what I thought I *should* be doing.
  • Scenario (B): Had an IIFYM plan but really ate by intuition / appetite / randomly and logged at the end of the day hoping to be on target.
  • Scenario (C): Had an IIFYM plan, diligently attempted to work to it with strict adherence, but it was too hard and I kept giving in to hunger and over eating.
  • Scenario (D): Actually stuck to it, distracted myself from the hunger, only eat clean foods… still didn’t achieve a damn thing in terms of improved results.

There aint (but then again there kind of is) a “one shot” answer that covers all people, all circumstances and scenarios.

Now, Scenario A barely requires explanation. You have to actually DO the thing in order to make it work.

Scenario B… much as per A. Humans are notoriously unreliable at accurately recalling their meals, snacks, portion sizes, and so on. Particularly if you’re prone to grazing rather than scheduled meals and snacks, and PARTICULARLY if you have some guilt/shame type associations with eating. In any case when logging meals retrospectively, you’re subconsciously very likely to fudge the numbers a little to match your targets. So on paper (or more correctly “in the app”) you appear to be bang on target but this may be far from an accurate record & recollection of what is actually happening.

Scenario C & D: your plan was shit.
The plan you have been given, likely paid some chump a few bucks for, it was shit. It was not based on a reasonable or accurate estimation of your energy requirements.

Or to be more fair… it is likely that your plan did not anticipate and account for changes in your energy requirements. This is a disagreement I continue to have with other trainers, coaches & random people who think they understand IIFYM and Sports Nutrition. The commonly held belief is that a client’s energy intake will need to decrease as they see progress in fat loss, but nothing could be further from the truth.

Real quick before we continue and as per the infographic above, lets define “level of activity” as follows:

Not merely the amount of time spent active, but the quality of the activity in terms of a more effective training strategy, intensity of effort, and your prowess at training as well.

Now… on this page you can safely assume that I’m talking about fueling requirements for people who are training with a productive strategy. It is a different matter if we’re talking about merely “being active”. For an inactive person who decides to “get active” by taking a one hour walk to the park and back every evening… that’s a great idea, but an excessive energy intake via inappropriate dietary habits will mitigate the potential benefits. In an active person participating regularly in productive & strategic training, with improving physical prowess and increasing intensity… insufficient energy intake will mitigate the potential benefits and the potential for facilitating those improvements in performance.

Both people in the above examples should practice appropriate eating habits relative to their energy & nutritional requirements, but in each example the focus is slightly different. “Not excessive” vs “not inadequate”.

More often than not, what active people on an IIFYM, or other calorie limited plan, but also while “eating clean” are actually doing is to restrict to an inadequate & insufficient level of energy provision… often due to failing to anticipate an increase in fueling requirement as the quality and level of activity increases and to maintain an increase in lean body mass.

Here’s the danger though, even when heavily restricting energy intake via reducing calorie limits or limiting food choices… when we do not see continuing results in terms of fat loss, we are inclined to, encouraged to, and in some cases instructed to assume that the only explanation must be “still not burning more than you’re consuming” and that the solution is to reduce calorie intake even further. This is likely to have disastrous consequences.

In our earlier examples… the person merely “being more active” with a one hour walk around the park will have a certain fueling requirement or limit which probably won’t change very much. A person participating in more productive training or more intense activity will have a higher fueling requirement. A person progressing from a beginner level of productive training to an intermediate level will have a higher requirement still and can expect pleasing results in terms of body composition and condition provided those requirements are met consistently.

Note also that this increase in fueling requirement may or may not be reflected in the “calories burned” records on your activity tracking devices.

For these reasons, if you start out as a beginner on a level of fueling suitable to a beginner, but you train diligently following your program… after a period of let’s say 12 – 16 weeks you’re likely to find that either (a) progress stalls, (b) you’re extra hungry and unable to continue to adhere to your fueling plan, or (c) both.

Unfortunately most so-called “IIFYM” style coaches will believe that a stall in progress requires a further cut in calorific intake due to now being at a lower body weight. This is incorrect. The client (aka you) will not be able to adhere to the level of energy restriction, and in the unlikely event that they can force themselves to do so, it will only be conducive to a regression of physical condition.

Even at a lower bodyweight, even when continuing fat loss is a required outcome, increases in lean mass and improved prowess and consistency at training will necessitate a higher level of fueling.

A competent coach must anticipate this and have a strategy in mind to keep up with these demands to facilitate on going results.

Most however do not.

Setting The Theme For 2017

Lawd in heaven am I ever overdue for a blog post here. In my defense I do post at least a couple of blog worthy facebook status every day though. I haven’t been slacking.

Let’s kick off the New Year the right way though, and set the scene with a theme for 2017, as follows!

No Excuses:

I hate these jerk offs on social media that post those “what’s your excuse?” bodyshaming type memes. That’s not what I’m getting at here. People don’t need an excuse to not do something that’s not something they want to do, and not something they’re all that interested in. You follow?

But I’m talking to people who ARE interested in pursuing their goals through fitness. To those people… be looking for ways to make it happen, not reasons why you can’t. Don’t cheat yourself like that.

So it means you’ll have to get up early to train? So be it.
So it means you have to train in the evening after work and there’ll be days when you’re tired and tempted to just zonk out in front of the tv instead? Go fucken train.

But you don’t like the right foods? That’s not a thing. Do some form of IIFYM.
Too busy to eat regular meals and snacks? Bullshit. Schedule your meals and have a plan based on choices you like, to meet your requirements. As a living organism you need to eat, and you inevitably WILL eat… so do it with a plan to meet your requirements and facilitate health, happiness and results. Any variation on “but I can’t” is bullshit.

Some of us will find this more challenging than others… but try your best. Even a small improvement is worth making, and the situation is never hopeless unless you refuse to try.

No Apologies:

You need to eat and you’re passionate about training.
Lock training into your schedule. Plan and eat stuff that you like.
Anyone has a problem with it? thinks they get to have an opinion on it? wants to distract, derail, or discourage you from doing what YOU want and what is in YOUR best interests? They can go fuck themselves. They can zip it.

Action:

Not just “action” but RIGHT ACTION.
Strategic action. Productive training and fueling for results rather than restrictive eating and destructive fatigue chasing “calorie burning” approaches. Train with an enjoyable and strategic approach that is conducive to your goals, whatever they are.

And Excellence:

We’re here to have a good life and be a version of ourselves that we’re proud of. Not thinking “I wish I could, if only… & if not for all these reasons”. Find a way. Find all the ways. It doesn’t have to and probably never will be perfect but do what you can, as well as you can, as often as you can, and be proud of yourself.

Good news, bad news… whatever.

2016-04-25 13.48.08Most of what I post on here is actually good news even though “some people” will get their nose put out of joint by it. Other stuff is more like “real talk; whether we like it or whether we don’t like it, this is how it is so you might as well just face up to it”.

The good news? Starve and burn approaches don’t work.
Yeah I’m saying that’s actually good news. You can starve and burn some weight off, but it’ll only take you so far before starving harder and burning hotter won’t take you a step further and lawd will that weight ever come back and then some when you quit.

But I’m saying that’s good news. It’s good news because those approaches suck balls in hell anyway and now more than ever there’s no reason to subject yourself to that sort of deprivation and punishment KNOWING that it won’t pay off in the long term anyway.

That’s good news and you should be celebrating.

I talk about this enough so real quick: be suitably active and eat enough but not too much. Simple. Lots of people have lost weight and kept it off that way. I’m a trainer though so let’s talk PRODUCTIVE TRAINING with some strenuous activity to make this process more efficient and arrive at what we’ll describe as an ATHLETIC CONDITION instead.

To do that you need to be fueled and what that does NOT mean is going hungry, swearing off all the foods you like and forcing yourself to eat according to someone else’s bizarro ideas about blocks of butter being a healthy snack and fruit not so much… or whatever else. You don’t actually need to go low carb, low carb high fat, keto, paleo, intermittent fasting, 5:2… any of that.

The GOOD news is that on the nutrition side you can do it YOUR way, with YOUR choices of foods, YOUR preferred meal schedule, all put together as best suits YOU in meeting YOUR energy and macronutrient requirements. Ideally also with lots of fruit and veg.IMG_20160429_214343

All good news so far.

Now the other stuff.

Everything I just said is true and so long as you keep doing it, you’ll make progress towards a more athletic physical condition. At certain points your fueling requirements change and you need to revise your targets. Generally your requirements increase but you should be working to periods pushing towards your maximum level of usable energy, and then periods that are at a strategic deficit to that maximal amount but are still adequate to facilitate performance at training and maintain lean mass.

However…

This stuff only works so long as you actually keep doing it. Choice of words here is important because while we could choose different phrases that mean more or less the same thing, the choice of wording reflects our attitude and our feelings towards the statement we’re making.

So I could talk about “consistent adherence”, but that sounds a bit like I expect perfection and that any deviation from the plan would mean failure. When you take out all of the lies and the bullshit and the cults and the marketing, there’s not really that much to it other than “effective training and appropriate fueling”, but we need to see this as an ongoing process that we keep working on, and as habits that we keep practicing.

I’ve said a few times that even when you are on the right track, seeing results and feeling good about yourself, the easiest thing in the world is gravitate back towards old habits, behaviours and ideas. Long term success doesn’t require obsessive, precise attention to your diet, and if anything the ultimate goal should be for eating to be as intuitive as possible. However, these are things that take practice, and we need to keep practicing structured and appropriate eating habits, rather than random and erratic ones.

We need to practice consciously rejecting fad diets and other “lose weight quick” schemes and scam products, and we need to treat any intrusive thoughts about skipping meals as exactly what they are.

Strategy, Structure and Inevitable Success.

2016-03-25 12.36.19Real talk though you lot.
I talk a lot here on the blog and elsewhere on social media about how valuable and how crucial a STRATEGY is, and that’s legit. I talk a lot here on the blog and elsewhere on social media about how valuable and how beneficial it is to have STRUCTURED habits, particularly eating habits to ensure that you meet your fueling requirements across the course of the day. That is legit.

Big or small, just about anything you want to achieve in life is going to be a hell of a lot easier with a strategy, and with a structured approach. Those words are practically synonyms in this context.

A strategy! Not just random actions. A strategy and a structured approach rather than an erratic and inconsistent one. Just saying “well here’s what I’m trying to achieve, and here’s what I hope is going to happen… so like… uhh… some things, I guess?” isn’t really a very good bet. It’s pretty much what most people are doing though, isn’t it?

You need a strategy. What’s even more important though is to have an attitude that has you looking for ways to MAKE THINGS WORK rather than reasons why you’re screwed and might as well quit before you even get started. Right? Am I making sense? Of course I am.

Let’s recap though:

  1. You need to be looking for ways to make things work.
  2. You need… actually scratch number 2.
    “a way to make things work” is what a strategy is anyway.

OK, now PAY ATTENTION HERE because I’m about to hit you with your free strategy and all you gotta do is DO IT, right? Just do this stuff I’m about to tell you, exactly the way that I tell you to do it. That’ll work. Right?

NO. Well… yes, but not in the way you might be expecting.

Here’s why “just tell me what to do and what to eat” doesn’t work.

Imagine that I tell you “eat a small meal every 2 hours” or some such nonsense. However, you can’t do that because you have a job where you actually have to do work and can’t just vanish whenever you feel like it to warm something up and cram it into your face… so that’s that & you just can’t do it.

Or I tell you “these foods, not those foods” but you hate all the stuff I’m trying to force you to eat… so that’s that & you just can’t do it.

Or I tell you “fasted training at 5am before breakfast” but you work nights and can’t get up at that time or maybe you are just not a morning person. Morning person? Hell I’m barely a person at all that early in the morning. So anyway, that’s that & you just can’t do it.

Here’s what I’m driving at.

People out there… people who are a little lacking in imagination or empathy are always going to be like “why can’t you just do this? why can’t you just do that?”… and a lot of the time they’re a little judgmental and a little dismissive about it, as well. Well, this may be a revelation for them, but it’s a lot like Blaze Bayley said; “they don’t understand my life, or yours”.

When people start giving you generic sort of advice similar to the examples I gave above, really what they’re doing is suggesting options. They may actually be suggesting non-options, depending on your circumstances… but either way… these are suggestions of options that you might consider as a part of a strategy. However, they’re not “the one and only” much less “the morally superior” way to get it done, the way people tend to infer when they start helpfully letting you know all the things you should be doing.

Let’s wind this up. It’s not about doing what someone else did, or someone else hasn’t actually done but figures you ought to be doing. It’s about you, not them. It’s about your unique personal circumstances, and about taking you from where you’re at now to somewhere closer to where you’d like to end up.

Sounds horribly complicated right? Well fortunately, it really isn’t at all.

One: Start with what you can do.

Look at this as a balance between what you could potentially do, and what you’re actually prepared to do. Again, something inconvenient that you can only force yourself to stick to for a couple days until it just gets annoying is no use to you.

Here’s an example, very simply.
“Well… I could have three meals, six hours apart and a snack half way in between. Breakfast as soon as i get up before work, lunch at noon, and dinner after training in the evening.”

That’s something you could do. Maybe you’re someone who hates eating breakfast as soon as you get up though, and you’d rather train first thing in the morning. That’s fine too. Set the structure that best suits you though, and don’t be in the habit of putting off eating until you’re famished.

Two: Schedule it around what you have to do.

Obviously, right? No point scheduling things when you can’t actually take a break from work or some other time you’re unlikely to actually be able to do it. Take advantage of the most suitable opportunities, like someone who is looking for a way to be successful would do.

Three: Including what you’re likely to do whether you make it part of the plan or not.

Be honest with yourself. If you know you’re going to end up having those two chocolate biscuits at supper time with your cup of tea no matter what, don’t kid yourself. That’s the next thing you work into your strategy.

According to conventional wisdom, this is the stuff you’re supposed to be cutting out. The stuff you’re not supposed to want. The stuff you’re supposed to see as a problem that you need to overcome. Why though? Something is a problem if you make it a problem. We’re here as people who are looking to make things work, not looking for problems to get tripped up on.

Four: Take all that and shape it into something that will get the job done.

You’ve set the structure and the schedule to be the best fit of what you’re able to do, around the other things you have to do, and incorporating some things you were probably going to do anyway, but we’re seeing them as a part of the strategy that will be more conducive to good adherence, rather than making a problem of them unnecessarily.

Now we need to look at the specifics. We have a target range for an appropriate total energy intake that we need to work to, we need to meet an adequate amount of protein, our minimum recommended 2 pieces of fruit, 5 serves of vegetables, and I recommend 30 grams of nuts as well assuming you like nuts. Choose the foods you enjoy the most, in amounts to meet those requirements, at the times of the day that best suit your schedule.

That’s what flexible dieting is. It’s quite a simple concept, and there’s no good reason why it should be done any other way. Why would there be? To prove something to other people who want to see you doing it the hard way and not getting anywhere? Fuck those people if they’re not happy to see you happier and making progress towards your goals.