Before I start to get too involved in the nitty gritty of this post, I want to tell you that I am sitting in Costa Coffee in my home town with a large Americano and a small pot of double cream at my side. I love sitting in coffee shops, it’s one of my luxuries in life, so I’ve decided to, at least 2-3 times per week, combine ‘work’ and play, and write from my virtual office in town. You get the chance to get distracted talking to nice people, but I feel that I will get as lot more done than sitting in my home office, where the distractions are a plenty.
Anyway, I decided to write a post about results………. and progress of course. One of the biggest problems that we have in the desire to over-analyse pretty much everything when we start on a journey towards health, fat loss, fitness, etc. Now, there is of course nothing wrong with keeping tabs on what you are eating, how much weight you are shifting during a training session, keeping an eye on the scales (especially relevant if you have a heap of weight to lose), but a lot of people get so drawn into the RESULTS mentality, that when there is a hiccup, or a stall, they lose faith in themselves and the process. This tends to put them on a direct path to giving up, and going back to the old status quo that wasn’t working before.
I’ve been on that path, I’m sure you have too at some point. But rather than concentrating on just one aspect of you weight loss journey, I’m going to give you a few tips that I use myself, to allow you to monitor, adjust, adapt, and to keep on keeping on. One statistic (usually the scales) is just not enough to give you a valid indicator of your progress, and I am going to do my utmost to cajole, persuade, arm twist, wedgie you, into taking something of a broader view of your journey. You’ll most likely enjoy it more, and when you enjoy what you are doing, doing it becomes easier.
A Quick Word On Goal Setting
So, firstly, I want to tell you, that, IMHO (in my humble opinion if you are an oldie), setting a single goal of ‘losing weight’ is not the best goal to set for yourself, even if, at the start, that is the obvious issue that you, and perhaps your doctor, partner, friends, have highlighted. There is no doubt that weight loss (and when I say that, I nearly ALWAYS MEAN FAT LOSS) will generally have a significant positive impact on your health, your blood results, your general feeling of wellness, and improved self-esteem. But having IT as THE goal is often psychologically negative, especially as it is a slow process to go from very overweight to healthy weight and body composition.
That said, I like to, for myself, and the wonderful people who I have the awe-inspiring privilege to work with, setting perhaps a fitness goal, a goal of a particular dress or suit you would like to fit into, or a lifestyle goal, is often the more productive way to move forward. When you do this, the scale weight moves from the forefront of your mind, and is replaced by the idea of something that is more exciting, and hopefully inspirational for you. I fundamentally believe that ‘losing weight’ is not going to be the THING that makes you happy, the THING that makes all those years of emotional eating, yo-yo dieting, failure snatched from the hands of success, better. BUT, being able to achieve a lifetime ambition to sail a yacht, to climb a mountain, to enjoy the sun on a beach and dive into the crystal clear waters without embarrassment, now those things can really get the passion rising. (and I’m not talking about that type of passion, but people report that it gets better too :-))
Right, I’ve got that off my chest, so let’s get stuck into a few little snippets of knowledge, experience (whatever you want to call it), that you might find useful. If not, disregard and head off to a fitness or leisure centre where all they want to do is conduct 137 site skinfold caliper measurements on you to see if you’ve lost 0.0000045678 percent of fat this week.
The reality is, that fat loss is often a relatively slow, but luckily, often relatively linear process if you get things dialed in properly. It will have stalls, accelerations, plateaus and other small annoyances, but when you look at the graph after my 12 week programs (or however long you set your timeline), you should see a relatively steady trend downwards. If not, then you will need to take a serious, and honest look at what you are doing, or not doing, and make some changes before playing the ‘I’m seriously metabolically damaged’ card, it exists, but for the majority, it is probably not the ‘first’ factor to look at.
Here goes then. Things I hope you will consider implementing on your journey towards your ideal body composition. Play with these, they’re free, and see how you get on. Please comment at the bottom of this post, either with your experiences on these points, or with any other great tips and tricks you may have to share. Sharing is GOOD, if you like what you read here, share it, if these ramblings can help one more person, I’ll be happy.
The 5 Top Tips Towards Body Recomposition Heaven
Top Tip Numero Uno (No.1 to you and me) – Food choices are No.1, what you eat plays a major role in losing body fat, and consuming nutrient and vitamin dense, but calorically sparse foods, will keep you full, satisfied, and should improve your health as well as your body composition. Now of course, as long as you are in a calorie deficit, you should lose weight, but some foods (read processed foods) do nothing to provide satiety for a decent length of time, and are usually very dense in calories, but sparse in nutritional content, so not really feeding your body what it needs to be healthy and hunger free. You eat crap, you get hungry in no time, you have to eat again. It’s just not a sustainable way of eating for the long-term, although it is now the generally accepted way.I do understand the IIFYM (if it fits your macros) approach, where as long as you eat the right amount, in the right proportions of fat, carbs and protein, weight loss ail occur, but surely we want something better than that for ourselves????? Foods to eat include, but are not necessarily limited to:
- Meats, preferably sustainably farmed, grass fed meat, but if you can’t get it, then get what you can. If you live in the States where CAFO raise animals are rampant in the food store, consider going for leaner meats and adding your own fats. Probably a healthier option. Ruminant meat, beef, lamb, mutton, bison, elk, are the mainstays here. Mix it up. If you can get some wild caught/shot? meat occasionally, then I would.
- Poultry – Chicken is the most widely eaten, and it is certainly worth eating, but if you can again, diversify the variety to include duck, pigeon, wild birds etc, then this variety will provide you with a more diverse nutritional profile, which your hunter/gatherer genes will no doubt thank you for.
- Fish And Seafood – It goes without saying that food from the sea is generally a good source of nutrition and should be a regular part of your diet, unless of course you are allergic, which is bad for you, you’re missing out!!! Fish, shellfish, seaweed, are all nutritionally dense and offer some good vitamins too. You don’t need to eat it every day, once or twice a week is a good ballpark.
- Note on fish – A lot of people are worried about the heavy metal and other contamination of ocean fish, and it’s a fair cause for concern. Couple of things…..mercury and other nasties like that are bound in protein, not fats, so if you are someone who enjoys fish oil capsules, you’ve got nothing to worry about, the evidence on their efficacy is being called into question, but they’re probably not going to kill you (the poison is in the dose after all). Oh, back to fish. If you want to avoid the risk of ingesting heavy metals, go for small fish, rather than the huge long lived ones, which obviously, by living a long time, have a longer time to ingest such contaminants and then pass them to you when you eat them, some fish are just plain selfish 🙂 Go for small fish like mackerel, whitebait, sprats, you know the sort. Farmed fish are another safer option from the heavy metal perspective, but they are most likely to have been fed a load of crap through their lives, so the fatty acid profile is likely to be less favourable than from wild caught fish.
- Eggs – Eggs are fab source of nutrition, after all they have all the nutritional components to allow a creature to develop and thrive within the egg environment. Some people worry about the whole cholesterol thing with eggs, it’s pretty much proven to be a fallacy. A small percentage of the world’s population are identified as hyper-responders to cholesterol rich foods, for the rest, dietary cholesterol intake has zero effect on blood cholesterol levels so forget it. Even if you are one of the few, do some research into cholesterol, there is a great book by Malcolm Kendrick, a UK doctor who really puts a lot of the myths to bed.
- Vegetables – Pretty much everyone considers vegetables to be a healthy foodstuff, whether they are actually ESSENTIAL to health is another discussion, but they can certainly provide a great source of vitamins, minerals, and phyto-nutrients (plant nutrients) to the body. Eat them in abundance, leafy greens a re great, brightly coloured, a good mix of different veggies are a good starting point, I enjoyed a stack of ocra in a green fish curry last night, with a couple of baked sweet potatoes on the side, yum.
- Fruit – Fruit is good, you don’t need to eat a stack of it, it’s a great post workout source of carbs to prevent muscle breakdown, contains some ok nutrition, plenty of water, some fibre etc. Eating 10 bits of fruit a day might not be the best choice if you are looking to lean down, but stick to your macro ratios and calorie limits and you can certainly include some.
- Nuts & Seeds – Eat some, be conservative with them. Most of them have an extremely high calorie load per unit of weight, if you think a twice daily snack of a couple of handfuls of almonds is going to do your body composition any favours, think again. All this said, you certainly need to take everything in the context of your own personal energy needs, if you train like a gladiator, you can handle more than the sedentary individual.
- Booze – Everyone wants to know about alcohol – Moderation is a great word, but it gives too much leeway I think. Is moderation 1 glass of wine per week, or per night? I had my first glass of red wine for about 2 months last night, 120ml = 120 calories, I was surprised that 1 ml = 1 calorie, but it makes it simple to work out. If you can avoid it, perhaps have a beer or wine just one night a week, just until you hit y our body comp goals, power to you, it’s probably the best thing. Everyone else, work it into your intake allowance, it’s not just something to add on top.
- Water – Now this is a subject that pisses me off a bit (oops, sorry I swore). All this crap about ‘if you feel thirsty, you are already dehydrated, drink before you are thirsty’, it’s the same old BS from the government and medical community, probably because they are worried that someone is going to sue them if a family member gets ill or dies from not drinking enough. So here is the reality (with some exceptions, which I will mention).
- We evolved over millions of years to have a thrist mechanism to tell us to drink. Every other animal on the planet drinks when it is thirsty, why are humans any different? We’re not………….but here are a few exceptions you might like:
- If you are training, and not able to drink effectively during the session, drink some fluid a little before you start, and make sure you re-hydrate afterwards, your thirst response will help with that.
- If you work in a very hot environment, consider dehydration at all times. I was a firefighter, and dehydration could be a real issue on the fireground, it makes sense to keep topped up.
- If you are a person who just plain forgets to drink, or ignores thirst, or the person in question has dementia or some other illness where they could forget or be unable to communicate thirst, this needs to be considered and the necessary actions taken, commen sense eh?
- We evolved over millions of years to have a thrist mechanism to tell us to drink. Every other animal on the planet drinks when it is thirsty, why are humans any different? We’re not………….but here are a few exceptions you might like:
- Dairy – This is a question that a lot of people ask when going on a fat loss diet (eating plan, protocol….inject your preferred word, whatever makes you feel more comfortable). Dairy is a bone of contention for a lot of folks, those with lactose intolerances obviously, but also for the paleo / primal / ancestral eating community. Did our ancestors eat dairy, and if so, how much and how often? That is probably a question that we will never get a definitive answer to, but we can assume that our ancient forefathers will have consumed dairy on occasions, some cultures more than others, some only perhaps from devouring the mamary glands of a lactating animal after killing it. (Deon’t panic, we are not going to be eating the tits of any animal (I don’t know exactly what goes into minced meat, so I cannot guarantee). Dairy products, (in particular RAW dairy) are a good source of nutrition, fats, proteins, sugars, in fact, they form a complete food for newly born critters. So dairy, although it probably should not form a major component of your diet, is probably ok in moderation. I occasionally use a little double cream in my coffee, some cottage cheese or paneer, perhaps some feta in a salad. It’s all good, adds some variety, and is unlikely to make a noticeable difference to your fat loss results. If things stagnate on the fat loss program, then dairy (and also nuts) are probably a good place to start looking, if everything else is in place and adherence is good.
Note: Although I would definitely advocate raw dairy products over processed dairy, you do need to be aware of the relatively high fat content, particularly in hard cheeses etc. I hate the whole skimmed milk, low-fat cheese thing, but as a means to an end, these relatively healthy low-fat alternatives work well for some people who are struggling to stay within their energy intake window. In fact, one could argue that lower fat varieties of real foods (I’m not talking low fat yoghurt or the type of processed foodstuffs where the manufacturers substitute fat for sugar to maintain or increase palatability) can work well as part of your journey to a better body composition. I definitely wouldn’t recommend a low-fat approach a la many of the diet companies and weight loss ‘clubs’, but as an example, buying lean meats and then adding your own fat in the form of butter, coconut oil, olive oil etc, can allow you to manage you calories and macronutrient intake a lot more easily.
Top Tip No.2 – Meal Distribution – Ah, what’s that, it sounds complicated I hear you holler. Well, it is just a fancy name for meal timings, and in particular, the number of meals you eat per day. For a lot of folks (me included), getting this part right, obviously having got to grips with the whole food choices idea, is perhaps one of the BEST ways to manage your food intake, your cravings, your propensity to binge, and a plethora of other goal-screwing-up habits. Some people would call this intermittent fasting, and yes, they might be right. BUT, remember that when you hit the sack at night, sleep for 8 or 9 hours (you should be), you are actually fasting, you just don’t think about it or consider it that, it’s just a normal part of the daily routine. What we might consider though, is to extend that fast for a little longer into the day, perhaps lunchtime, and eat all our food between noon and 8 pm. Here are some benefits and tips to consider:
- Most people, once they get a few days under their belt, have little, to no problem skipping breakfast. Many of us do it as a matter of routine, due to job pressures, family pressures like getting the kids ready for school, or simply because we don’t fancy it when we get up. The evidence that you MUST eat breakfast just doesn’t hold up, blood sugar issues are generally only an issue for those that eat carb laden breakfast, not for those who skip it or eat a protein based petit dejeuner (sorry, I’ve just got back from Paris, so had to inject some of my limited french vocabulary)
- Skipping breakfast keeps your body in that fat burning, fasting mode for longer, and there seems to be some definite benefit to that, from a fat loss perspective. Our bodies will preferentially utilise carbohydrate given the chance, so when we stuff a massive bowl of cornflakes or some toast down our necks in the a.m, fat burning stops, or at least takes a back seat whilst the carbs are utilised, for energy, or for storage in your fat cells. It is perfectly feasible to do breakfast, and to improve body composition, and if you prefer that, or want to eat 6 meals per day, it can work, you still need to meet those calorie numbers though, and I have certainly found that saving my calories for a little later in the day allows me to manage my intake a lot better.
- Most people like to enjoy a big meal during the day, one where you lay back in the sofa feeling well fed and happy. This could be at lunchtime, in fact a lot of fitness coaches advocate the biggest meal post workout. Why? To take advantage of the body’s enhanced ability to shuttle glucose to the muscle cells that occurs after exercise (particularly heavy weight training). Also to reduce the catabolic effects of exercise (catabolism means ‘break-down’, and in this context we are particularly concerned with muscle cell breakdown after training). Thing is, you can pretty much prevent this by taking in a small amount of carbs in the form of a piece for fruit or two, so even if you train at 11 a.m, then eat some fruit, then eat your protein/fat centric lunch, you’re not going to fall apart if you don’t eat a large meal to the evening. Seriously, when you get to the really low body fat percentages, are training for a bodybuilding contest etc, training more than once a day, then we may need to tweak things, but for the ‘general’ population, just eat big at night, adding some more carbs on training days. The process of breakdown and repair occurs over a long period (24 hours or so), so as long as you are meeting your macro targets during that window, it’s all good.
- From a social perspective, eating the bulk of your food at night ties really well into the family meal, meal out with friends, a reward after a busy day at work or with the children. Eating a pokey salad or a dry jacket potato whilst everyone else is tucking into potato wedges, curry, or some other delicious treat, is not only sole destroying, but us also likely to cause you to screw up and just tuck into whatever they are having. Even worse, you may just give up and go back to your old habits, the ones that have caused you to get to the point you currently find yourself at, overweight, unhealthy, and fed-up.
- From a dietary perspective, in particularly with regard to overeating, saving your calories up, gives you a better chance of sticking within you dietary intake window. Surprisingly, and by way of a personal anecdote, eating most of your calories at night, makes it actually quite hard to overeat. I tend to eat around 5-600 calories for lunch, and then have the leeway to eat around 1500 calories at night, either in one big meal. or on occasions, two smaller, but still sizeable ones. as part of the 90 day body recomposition experiment I am conducting as of today (4 November 2013), I’ll be providing some photographic evidence of the sizes of meals I eat, just to shock you, and to demonstrate that one definitely does not need to be hungry when on a fat loss diet, in fact, it’s quite to the contrary, sometimes struggling to eat everything you need to, to hit your target. This is, certainly for a greedy guts like me, the preferred route 🙂
Top Tip No. 3 – Don’t Be To Hard On Yourself – Well, this is one area that so many people (read probably everyone) struggles with. Reaching, and maintaining a good body composition is a journey, one that can take quite a while. We live in the era where everything (well almost) can be acquired instantly, from information on the internet, to products and services, available in a seemlessly unending quantity, from a plethora or sources. Hell, I can order almost anything from Amazon mid-afternoon, and with the wonderful Prime service, it will be with me by midday the following day.
Now, unfortunately (or indeed fortunately), there are some things in life that you just can’t buy, and whatever the technological advancements in medicine, nutritional knowhow, new fangled exercise gadgets that you can take away with you on holiday (just to leave in the bag for the whole trip), you, we, I, have still got to do something to reach our goals. You can pay people to write your nutrition and exercise program, you can pay people to watch you exercise, but there is not a hope in hell of you making forward progress without YOU doing the hard work. So forget that, it is NEVER going to happen. And what if it could?
A LEAN PILL that would help the world shed the lard without having to make a single change to their lifestyle. Yippeeeee!!! Would that really be worth having? The journey to the goal is there to build your character, to build small success after small success, each one building confidence and knowledge, and a yearning to continue. If you are a person who has, or will, get lean, fit, healthy, and resilient, after years of being stuck out on the processed food and sedentary wilderness, you are going to be building a mind and body that can do anything. Yep, success and perseverance, building good habits, and binning the shitty ones, re-programs the brain. You are programming yourself for success with every positive step you take.
So, be sure, you are going to screw up, you are going to miss training sessions, eat a load of shite you ‘shouldn’t’, you are going to want to cry because you got so close to that goal, then messed things up. But, that moment is gone, no point crying over spilled milk, pick yourself up, dust yourself down and get back on the mission. You have to want this, you have to make you the most important thing in the world, if you can make it, you are going to have so much inspiration to offer to your partner, your kids, the people around you. Sure, the naysayers are always hiding just around the corner, but treat them with the contempt they deserve, this is about YOUR journey, not theirs.
Top Tip No.4 – Exercise (Don’t Panic Yet) – Exercise is a dirty old word isn’t it? It just has that implicit vibe that it is something unpleasant that just has to be done, sort of bootcamp, military training academy, school PE lesson sort of stuff. Who the hell would want to batter themselves into the ground doing that? Well, strange as it may seem, some people love that stuff, and I think it is fair to say, that exercise kinda grows on you, the more you do (as in the weeks, months that you have been actively participating), the more you want.
There is definitely a feel-good factor to exercise, and for people who exercise/move, in a sensible fashion for a sensible amount of time, the benefits are huge. Increased strength, better aerobic capacity to do the things you love doing in life. jeans that fit better, the ability to hit the beach, get some clothes off, and feel proud of your body rather than ashamed. And let’s not forget the increased vitality, the energy levels that you may never have seen before, the reduction or removal of many little health complaints that have been niggling you for years. You might even end up looking younger too!!!
But, and there is always a but. So many people are so tied up in this paradigm that if exercise is good for you, more must be better, that there is a whole sector of society that is smashing themselves into an exercise-induced coma every day, and they are probably damaging their health, not improving it. It’s a crying shame, but the reality is, that you can see some pretty staggering results from a relatively abbreviated fitness training plan. I’m talking 3-4 sessions per week of organised training, and then any other days doing some non-exercise related activities, like walking, riding your bike, whatever you ENJOY. Enjoyment, there’s a word that a lot of people would not associate with exercise. But you’ve got to enjoy what you do. If you don’t attack it from a different angle, or do something else. There is more than one way to skin the cat.
Recommendations for a sensible weekly exercise routine:
- Strength Training – 3 or 4 times per week – Building lean muscle and strength should be a central tenet for a fit and healthy body. With muscle mass naturally diminishing with age, it is pretty easy to halt/reverse this natural process, and if you do it, you are more likely to be able to avoid the nursing home, hopefully for ever, but at least provide yourself with many more years in your home, away from the indignities of someone else bathing you and wiping your arse. Bodyweight exercises, barbell training, resistance machines, resistance bands, TRX, circuit training, kettlebells, the list goes on. There are so many ways you can build strength and muscle, there really is no excuse not to. The benefits will outweigh the effort for a long time into your future.
- Cardio – There is no real need to do a whole bunch of this stuff. If you like it, that’s fine, but a good hill hike or bike ride will get you the benefits. without feeling like a hamster on the treadmill. If you really do enjoy endurance sports, then who am I to pour scorn on that, whatever floats your boat. If it makes you happy, go for it. But for the rest of us, keep the cardio sensible, work at a low heart rate to build a good, broad aerobic base, and leave it at that. I tend to throw in a couple of 30 minute sessions per week, keeping heart rate in the 120-135 range. It’s easy, gets me sweating and breathing a bit, but it is still at a ‘conversational’ intensity. I feel invigorated afterwards, not crucified. I sometimes get on the static bike with a podcast or some music in my headphones, or I might mix it up. A few minutes of light jogging, some bagwork on the punchbag, chuck in a few minutes on the bike, some skipping, and I’m done. Not boring, not exhausting, not detrimental to my cortisol levels and general wellbeing. Win-Win I believe.
- High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) – Now this one isn’t always a hoot, but as human beings, I think it is fair to say that we are wired to move at high intensities………sometimes. After all, we have a energy system that needs glucose (sugar) to feed our muscles at very high work intensities, and we don’t have a lot of it. Around 500 grams of glycogen (glucose) is stored in the muscles and liver, it’s a finite source, for use in what we would probasbly now call ‘anaerobic emergencies’, running away from a bear, fighting, excaping disaster, chasing down prey. Us modern folks don’t really need to do that much any more, unless you live in one of the rougher districts where running for your life might still be a daily occurence. But, the fact that those situations occur a lot less frequently, our bodies are still capable, and designed, to carry out those activities, and I think we should train them as such, for a more complete ability range. I would still like to be able to run away from a mugger, fight to save the lives of my loved ones or myself, carry an injured person away from danger, rescue my children from a fire engulfing my home. And I am sure you would too. So do high intensity activity occasionally. Once a week, every ten days? That’s all you need. Start with 20 second all out effort, reast until recovered. Repeat. Work towards 6 or 8 sets. Then increase the duration to 25 seconds, work up again etc. You get the gist.
- Non-Exercise Activity – Walk, bike, dance, do yoga, garden, enjoy yourself, but try to develop a movement mentality where moving is an expected, and appreciated part of your day.
Top Tip No. 5 – Empower Yourself – No-one is going to do this for you!!! You are the only one who can be ready, the only one who can make the decision to improve aspects of your life, or go to your grave full of remorse and regret. I’m getting deep now, but this really is the point. Live long, be strong, be resilient, enjoy your time on the earth………..or don’t. The tips I have offered above are my view on some steps you could take to help you in that journey, there are others for sure. But having all the information is never going to happen, we all need to just start, start somewhere, anywhere!
Thanks for reading this rather long-winded post, the more I write, the more I get into the process and the words just flow. I really hope that you can use some of the concepts here to make a start, or to continue your journey with extra vigour. Life is a very precious commodity which we so often take for granted. Make yours the best it can be.
Please leave your comments, views, tips, opinions. Anything you can offer that can help others is a great gift to give. Thanks for reading, see you next time.