What Personal Trainers get wrong about diet advice
So often I hear in the fitness industry that weight loss is a simple equation. It’s just a matter of calories in and calories out. To lose weight all you need to do is create a calorie deficit. Simple. But as a long-term weight loss strategy it’s often proven to be ineffective. Weight loss requires sustainable lifestyle change.
Take out the drama of trying to control food and love food again! Love fresh, alive food that will improve your health. There’s no limit on this. So going against the grain, here’s some weight-loss advice that really works.
Delete My Fitness Pal
Or any other guilt-inducing calorie-tracking app. Throw out your weighing scales while you’re at it too. Calorie counting can help you feel in control when you don’t feel good about your weight, but research shows that when people count calories they gain on average 8-10lbs a year.
Being a slave to apps like these is also time-consuming. If you forget to log every meal, you’ll find yourself racking your brain at the end of the day trying to remember what you’ve eaten. Use those 30 minutes to read a good book on nutrition instead, or get inspired with a recipe book.
Stop trying to calculate yourself
When your calorie count is low one day, it’s really tempting to then use those extra calories on junk food. Calorie counting apps add to the myth that you can simply burn off any transgressions. But the body is much more complex than an abacus. Calories are absorbed differently depending on how your body needs them. Food packaging also has quite a wide margin of error, so are also unreliable
All calories are not equal
Jonathan Bailor, author of The Calorie Myth, worked as a personal trainer before becoming a bestselling author.His clients were mainly women over 35 who wanted to lose weight, so he advised them to stick to 1,200 calories a day. He on the other hand was also counting calories, 6000 a day to bulk up. The results, he realised, weren’t good for anyone. “I was getting sick and fat, and these women, even on such restricted diets, were also getting sick and fat. I stopped training because I realized that advising them to count calories was actually hurting them.”
A 2014 study in the British Journal of Sports Medicine emphasised that “it is where the calories come from that is crucial”. This determines whether your body is tempted to ‘store them as fat, use them for energy, or apply them to some other mechanism’. When food is viewed just as calories, the importance of its quality is often overlooked.
Eat fruit and fats
Focusing on calories means we restrict healthy foods. I once heard a Personal Trainer tell a client to only eat half an avocado due to the high calorie count. This takes no account of the way calories are absorbed or that healthy fats turn off the hunger hormones in our body.
Fruit is often viewed as having too many carbs and sugar. Not eating fruit means missing out on vitamins, minerals, anti-oxidants, fibre and prebiotics (yes pre not pro) that improve your gut health. The more you focus on eating natural food, the less likely you are to crave processed food.
Food is not just fuel
The fitness industry can make eating a pretty joyless task. Aside from the shame and control that surrounds the standard approach to weight-loss, trays of ‘meal prepped, clean-eating’ food places the emphasis on function not enjoyment. Although, seemingly healthy, boxes of sweet potato, broccoli and chicken can get repetitive.
Enjoying food and trying new recipes can help you eat more mindfully, and tune your body into those signals of hunger and fullness. Studies show that people who are more mindful also experience fewer weight fluctuations over time.
Replace your protein shakes
The vast majority of protein shakes contain sugar replacements such as sucralose. Whilst not proven to be carcinogenic, they are highly processed chemical substances shown to interfere with gut health. A study on sucralose and the GI microbiome found that sucralose altered the gut microbiome by decreasing beneficial bacteria by up to 50%. So many health issues including obesity, auto-immune disease and even anxiety can be linked to the microbiome. Choose protein shakes with natural sweeteners or sweeten with a small amount of fruit.
Forget macros too
The quantity of macros (protein, carbs and fats) your body needs varies greatly from day to day. Slamming a shake at the end of the day if your protein count is low, adds to the illusion created that your body resets itself in 24-hour periods. Whilst it’s important to get enough macronutrients in your diet, eating for health is an organic process, not a calculated one. When you stop obsessing about counting and weighing, and enjoy food for optimal health instead, weight-loss becomes a happy by-product alongside feeling more alive and energetic.
If you’re going to count anything, count portions
In the UK the recommended amount of fruit and vegetable portions a day is 5. Which is good, but not optimum. Five is recommended because 2 out of 3 adults consume only 3-4 portions a day, so shooting for five a day is more realistic. Research shows 10 portions a day is associated with a 24% reduced risk of heart disease, a 33% reduced risk of stroke, a 28% reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, a 13% reduced risk of total cancer, and a 31% reduction in premature deaths. Aim for 10 portions a day and you’ll be so full up on healthy food there will be no room for junk.
Sugar is not just a calorie
I have a friend who has struggled with weight loss despite working really hard at the gym. One day I saw him after training eating a Snickers bar. It’s ok! he said, my trainer told me I can have the extra calories as I’m burning them off, it’s ok to treat your self. I’m definitely not about deprivation, but believe in making food choices that nourish your body and make you feel good. Eating highly processed sugary food on a regular basis will just throw your blood sugar out of whack and make you crave more sugar. Don’t deprive yourself, but instead of that snickers bar have some dark chocolate rich in anti-oxidant flavonoids.
Choose quality not reduction
Many products targeting the weight loss market appear healthy, but are highly processed. Natural yoghurt is not natural when it’s low fat. It becomes a highly processed product with the good fats removed. Oil sprays are another culprit, promising just a single calorie output, but full of chemicals which convert the oil into a spray. Use olive oil or coconut oil instead, and benefit from the nutrients these offer. I love the way Dr. Mark Hyman, New York Times bestselling author, asks us to question: Did God make this or did man make this? That’s really all you need to know.