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What the diet industry doesn’t tell you

January 2, 2015

In the New Year lots of people make positive changes in their life that aren’t sustained. A lot of this is down to confusing advice. Over the years I’ve come to realise a few things the fitness and diet industry keeps telling us aren’t quite true.

Industry myth: burn off more calories than you eat and you WILL lose weight

There is a health benefit from all kinds of exercise. But if you want to change your body shape or increase fitness, arbitrary exercise is not enough. It is very difficult to be successful if you don’t, over time, gradually increase the demands you place on your body.

Exercise works better when it increases in intensity. For exercise to be mor effective, aim to be able to do more as the weeks and months go on.

I have been running for years. But it took me almost two years to get a 5k time under 25mins. I was making the same mistake many other people who aren’t able to achieve their goals are making. I wasn’t pushing myself.

An example: you can jog 5kms, three times a week. At first, it may be hard. Gradually, this will become easier.

Once it becomes easier, its impact on your body will be limited.

This is the point at which you increase your load. You could make one of those jogs a faster run. Or make two of them 6kms. Add some sprints. But whatever you do, it must further the demand you place on your body.

This requires a bit of mind over matter.

We are used to getting out of breath every now and again, then congratulating ourselves. The truth is, we are all physically capable of doing more things than our brains will allow us to believe.

Starting to train is not enough. Make sure you plan ahead, push yourself and keep yourself out of the ‘sweaty rut’ – breaking into a sweat with no results because you’re working hard, but should be working harder!

Industry myth: BMI is the best indicator for fitness

Most people think getting fit is about losing weight, but there are slim people who are incredibly unfit and bigger people who are in great shape. If you know someone who stays trim, eats terribly and never does any exercise, it’s likely the fat you can’t see is simply collecting around their vital organs or clogging their arteries.

It is completely normal to want to trim some body fat as this does have undisputable health benefits but personally, I think the worst way to measure success in doing this is by using scales.

To lose weight in a sustainable and healthy way, health professionals recommend shedding about 3lbs/1.3kgs a week. This is painfully slow! Why monitor this slow progress on scales?

At first, you might not lose any, perhaps because you are new to exercise and you are getting used to the sensation of being epically out of breath, perhaps because you build muscle easily (muscle weighs more than fat).

Instead, measure your success using fitness indicators. Not only are you more like to achieve these goals, in reaching them you are more likely get what you’re really aiming for; that change in body shape.

So, take up running and aim to cover 10km within a realistic amount of time (dip under the hour if you can!). If you use a gym, jump on the rowing machine and aim to cover 2000ms in under 10 minutes.

Perhaps you’d like to be able to do 15 press ups, or 50 squats.

Whatever you aim to do, make it physical and don’t forget point number one, once you achieve your goal, set yourself a harder one.

Industry myth: exercise in the fat burning zone if you want to lose weight

The ‘fat burning’ zone that gym equipment likes to keep you in is misleading. Whilst you can maintain exercise for longer working at that rate, you use less energy to do so. Constant exercise at this level will eventually become unchallenging and as per point one, will have less of an impact after a while.

Try and incorporate sprints into your workouts. The purpose of these short, intense bursts of exercise is to raise your heart rate to its absolute limit. You don’t need a heart rate monitor to know you’ve reached this. You can tell by your ability (or inability) to talk.

Get to a point during every exercise session at which you would struggle speak. Work at a pace that you wouldn’t be able to maintain for more than 20-30 seconds. Then rest. Exercise like this increases your heart health. The healthier your heart, the harder you can exercise. The harder you can exercise, the more energy you can burn.

Industry food: eat low calorie foods to lose weight

Not all foods that are low in calories are good for you, not all foods that are high in calories are bad. It’s also important to look at how much sugar food and drinks contain.

Sugars can be really bad for sedentary humans. There is not a scientist alive who would dispute this. Sugar in all its forms is metabolised by the body incredibly quickly and converted into fat if not burnt off soon after ingestion. Since the food industry puts sugar into everything, you’re going to have to get used to reading nutritional labels if you want to avoid it.

All food labels will tell you the nutritional value of a product per 100gms. Look for the carbohydrates. Then look for the carbohydrates which sugars. This is your magic number. A teaspoon of sugar is 5gms. This is great news because it means you don’t have to be good at maths to work out the sugar content of your food. Did you know low fat yogurts can have four teaspoons of sugar in them (they tend to range between 12-20gms) and fruit smoothies can have up to six? If you wouldn’t put it in your tea, why put it in your dairy products and cold drinks?

Sugar is often added to low fat foods to make them taste good. Don’t look at the snazzy name manufacturers have given their products (like Special K, Muller Light etc.). Start looking at the numbers if you really want the truth about what you’re eating.

Since fruit contains lots of sugar, it helps to rethink their role in our diets. If you want to see results, aim for no more than two pieces of fruit a day (make up the rest of your five-seven a day with vegetables). This is still an awful lot of fruit (seven bananas and seven apples a week is plenty!) but it will mean you’re consuming sugars at a rate you’ll realistically be able to burn off.

The recommended daily allowance for sugar is 90gms. Try to avoid exceeding this, especially on the days you exercise. If you can start to reduce your sugar intake, you will see results more quickly and be weaning yourself off an industry inflicted addiction. It really is worth it.

Industry myth: swap carbohydrates for protein

The diet industry obessess over protein and carbohydrates and forgets about fibre. Make sure a third of your meals are made of green vegetables. This is a really easy way to reduce your carbohydrate intake and top up your nutrition. Green vegetables like kale, broccoli, green beans, spinach, collard greens, salads and brussel sprouts are full of vitamins, minerals, protein and most importantly fibre. Fibre fills you up, keeps you regular (ahem), and sustained intake is a known preventative of all sorts of nasty chronic illnesses associated with the digestive system.

If you don’t like the taste, experiment with seasoning like soy sauce, ginger, fennel, coriander or just grin and bear it! It really is worth it.

Industry myth: cut out fat from your diet

Saturated fats (from meat products and fried foods) aren’t great for you. Mono and poly unsaturated fats (from nuts, some fruits and vegetables like acovacods and coconuts and oily fish) are great. If you struggle to keep your diet healthy, make sure you include enough ‘good’ fats in your diet. Food that contains them tend to contain lots of other things that are good for you and will keep your satiated, meaning you miss the chips and bacon a little less.

This is just advice, if it helps, thank me later!

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