Healthy eating: the new ‘normal’

Eating a healthy diet seems to have become increasingly complicated of late. If you’re not counting macros, activating your nuts and chucking raw cacao/baobab/unicorn dust into your meals then you’re obviously not doing it right. And the big question? Do you eat ‘clean’? Because if you don’t, you’re a bad person and processed foods are the Devil.

Ok, so I’m exaggerating. A bit. But given the recent slew of cookery books and blogs from a host of healthy eating gurus in their 20s (and many without any kind of legitimate nutrition qualification) you could be forgiven for thinking that your storecupboard has an inferiority complex if it isn’t stocked with maca powder, raw cacao and coconut blossom syrup. No one I know eats like that. I don’t ask my clients to eat this way. I do not eat this way to be healthy. It is completely unnecessary and beyond the weekly food budget of most people.

We seem to have ended up very far away from eating ‘normal’ food, just enough for our energy needs and optimal nutritional value, and not too much of it, to paraphrase food anthropologist Michael Pollan. We also have so many labels attached to different ways of eating: Paleo, ketogenic, ‘if it fits your macros’ and of course ‘clean eating’, a phrase from which many early embracers are now distancing themselves as it has become increasingly associated with forms of disordered eating.

Now, I don’t prep clients for bikini competitions, so you’re not going to get me wading into the debate on how many grams of protein you need per kilo of body weight for ‘gains’. There are plenty of people out there who will do that for you. I just want to remind you of some very simple guidelines for eating a balanced diet for solid nutrition and offer a few tips for fat loss, if that is something you are working towards. I don’t want you to weigh your food or be the goon who turns up to someone’s wedding feast clutching their plastic box of chicken and greens. No, really. Just don’t. Food can be a joyous social celebration, so get stuck in occasionally. For the most part, here’s what to bear in mind.

– learn how to compose a plate. Start with vegetables, 2-3 kinds to take up half the space. Add a palm-sized portion of protein (meat, fish, two eggs, tofu, beans, lentil) and a dribble of healthy fat such as olive oil. You can also cook with a small knob of butter, eat a small piece of cheese or add a few nuts. Add starchy carbs like rice or other grains only after exercise to help refuel your muscles, if you tend to over eat them. Ultimately, though, if you are trying to lose weight, you just need to consume fewer calories than you expend, and carbs can still make up some of those calories. Just choose wisely.

– three meals a day? Five? It doesn’t matter as long as you don’t eat more than your body’s energy requirements. See my previous post for the link to the Precision Nutrition calculator

– you’ll get more nutrition out of your food if you cook it from scratch. Ready meals can be high in salt and low in nutrients.  However, we’re all busy so do shortcut where you need to to. I use those packs of microwaveable rice (no, microwaves don’t kill you) and prepped meat or fish fillets with some kind of sauce. With a bag of mixed vegetables, it’s a quick and healthy dinner at the end of a long day. If you do have time, batch cook a big casserole or curry on a Sunday. Home made ready meals can’t be beaten when you’re home late and tired and only have to quickly reheat something tasty.

– Remember that the basics are healthy: eggs, chicken, fish, lentils, cheese, vegetables, fruit, nuts/seeds and dairy. You don’t have to do all the fancy stuff and add loads of supplements – there is no evidence that they work. You don’t need to cut out dairy or gluten unless you have a clinical reason to. If you care about the welfare of your dairy and meat, buy organic and free range if your budget allows, or eat less of it. There are plenty of plant-based sources of protein but you will need to combine them to get complete proteins; these only come from animal sources.

– if you’re worried about eating out, many restaurants post their menus online so you can have a look in advance and make the best choice based on what’s available.

– if you are starting to gain weight around your middle over 40, then you may need an honest look at what you’re eating and start creating more of a calorie deficit. Cutting back on alcohol is a good place to start if you have become a regular wine drinker of an evening. Getting more weight-bearing exercise will help maintain bone density and strength as you age, too.  Get moving and avoid being sedentary as much as you can. All the incidental exercise adds up.

So, keep it simple and feel free to ignore the complex advice and ingredient lists. Poached eggs on a slice of good quality toast with some creamed spinach, or a piece of grilled fish with a green salad is far less fuss and just as good for you as some bonkers recipe full of sea buckthorn berries and baobab powder. And there’s always room for cake. Keep it real, people, and you won’t go far wrong.

www.brainboxcoaching.co.uk

www.befitbristolfit.com 

 

 

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Ageing, menopause and my man-sized appetite

My own trainer likes to joke that, for a small woman (5 feet 2 and 126 pounds), I have the appetite of a large man. This is ridiculously accurate. I love to eat. I love food. I am not and have never been one of those people who just ‘forgets to eat’. This is a totally alien concept to me. Not having a cigarette or coffee habit to fall back on, I eat. Food is my habit. I don’t do it for comfort or out of boredom. I like to make and enjoy eating really bloody good food, and I live in anticipation of each meal. That is all.

Having a large appetite wasn’t really a problem due to the sheer volume of physical activity I manage each week: I burn between 2,300-2,700 calories a day and walk over 100km a week. I can eat a decent 2,000 calories a day and still create a deficit for weight loss. And in case you’re thinking I’m fixated on calories and weight, tracking and measuring data is one of the most effective tools available for weight loss. High fat and protein diets where you blissfully ignore your calorie consumption and eat ‘intuitively’ can end in significant weight gain if you aren’t aware that 100g of almonds contains 576 calories – which could be one third of your total daily intake for a sedentary female, for example.

However, perimenopause kicked in and things have started to get more challenging. Hormonal changes mean that I am experiencing a frustrating paradox where I am even more hungry than usual but really need to be eating a less as my body develops a propensity to lay down extra fat around my belly. I feel ravenously hungry all the time and am having to think more carefully about what to eat, how much and when, so that I don’t go completely overboard.

What works in terms of nutrition and fat loss is very individual; a Paleo diet works for your friend because it works for your friend. You may find the low carb and no dairy approach too hellish to manage, especially with homicidal mood swings to cope with, so you need to think about the best carbs for you and when the best time is to eat them. Going dairy free is also not great when we need calcium for decreasing bone density as we age.

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(Yes, that’s me. I developed my love for carbs early. I’m a pro.)

While there is no one size fits all way in which to make losing weight work for you, here are some of the strategies I use myself as well as with my clients, so try some out, tweak them, and then stick to what works:

– the only thing we know for sure that works for weight loss is creating an energy deficit consistently over time. This means consuming less energy than you use. While there is not a simple and direct correlation between calories in and calories out (people metabolise food at different rates and some people will store excess calories from some food groups more readily than others) you still need to know what’s going in. I recommend the energy calculator at Precision Nutrition to help you get a more accurate picture of how much you really need to eat based on your activity levels. You may be surprised by how easy it is to over eat for your needs and trimming a couple of hundred calories daily might make all the difference.

– fill up on healthy sources of protein such as chicken, fish, eggs, tofu or pulses/beans. Protein is satiating for longer than other foods. If you start your day on toast, it’s no wonder you’re hungry soon after and crave more carbs. If I eat carbs for breakfast I will want to eat like a horse all day. Start me off with eggs and I’ll be happy for hours and manage my carb cravings.

– start by filling half of your plate with vegetables. They are filling and very nutritious for far fewer calories than bread or pasta. Veggies are a key source of dietary carbohydrates; I will poke you in the eye if you tell me you’re ‘carb-free’. You either don’t understand your food groups or you need to eat more greens before you drop dead.

– Speaking of which, please don’t ditch food groups. You need carbohydrates for energy, especially if you exercise, and carbs need to be present in the body for fat to be burned. Eat healthy, unrefined carb sources such as sweet or white potatoes, rice or oats for energy in the right portions. That’s a golf ball size portion of rice, not a plate of risotto, a small sweet potato or 50g or half a cup of oats. If you’re really struggling to lose weight, then limit your starchy carb portion to one meal a day, preferably post-exercise to restock your muscles with glycogen.

– don’t fear healthy fats like butter, olive oil, nuts or avocado, but be aware of their high calorie content. You may be making a ‘clean’, healthy smoothie but a tablespoon of trendy nut butter throw could will blow your calorie allowance for the day. However, flaxseeds are an excellent fat source and provide Omega 3 fatty acids which perimenopausal women can benefit from. Their anti inflammatory properties can relieve sore joints & dryness, as well as helping to balance mood and improve the triglyceride profile of post-menopausal women which can often be too high. Add a tablespoon of ground flaxseeds to porridge, Bircher pots or smoothies.

– if it’s in the house it gets eaten. Leave the trigger foods at the supermarket and avoid the psychological warfare of resisting them once they make it to your kitchen.

– be aware of any bad habits that can lead to self-sabotage and make a list of strategies to avoid them. If you tend to over eat in restaurants, check out the online menu and decide what to order in advance so that you make a better choice, for example.

– if you slip up, move on. Your next meal (not tomorrow) is your chance to start again.

Need help? My personal training clients are all offered nutrition advice as well as fitness, so visit my page if you live in Bristol and want to try it out. Not local? My Badass Body Online package is just £50 a month for a weekly tailored workout you can do at home and you get your nutrition support along the way.

Good luck!

www.brainboxcoaching.co.uk

www.befitbristolfit.com

The 40+ body in the fitness business

I am, apparently, recognisable by my shoulders. This is according to the film crew at Troy TV who drove up behind me on the way to a shoot and spotted me by this rather well developed part of my anatomy. People usually recognise me by my bum but, hey, things change…

As a personal trainer, I’ve realised that people comment on my body more than they used to. I wasn’t offended by the point about my shoulders: in fact, even my clients are becoming recognisable by their unique shoulder definition! However, in an age where body comparison and paranoia  is rife thanks to social media – see my earlier post on this one – I feel even more under scrutiny being a fitness professional, especially being over 40. I guess people see the body of a trainer as a useful point of comparison for their own development, although I do occasionally get people asking how the ‘bodybuilding’ is going, with a bit of a smirk,  or men telling me that having muscles is ‘unfeminine’. I thought we were beyond all of that, but apparently not.

It’s my job to be fit and have a body that looks that way; I have to be a good advertisement for my job. Instagram is full of photos of young trainers baring their six packs, vascular thighs and bulging biceps, but are they the appropriate criteria on which to judge how well they can train a client, and not just themselves? Can they adapt their training to suit someone with far less ambitious body goals? I don’t have a six pack but am in good shape for a 45 year old. However, part of me still remains a little pressured by the fitness industry norms to get leaner so that I ‘look like a trainer’.

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With the right lighting and from a good angle, I can Insta with the best of them but I have to remind myself of two things when I start all the negative comparisons: one, I’m 45 not 25, and two, being a good personal trainer is more about being a good coach than having a great body (and who decides what a great body looks like?) and that coaching is what I do best.

Personal trainers and fitness models are not the same thing, although social media may convince you otherwise. My body helps to sell my business but what keeps my clients with me is my ability to build a strong working relationship with them. My goals are not your goals. Training myself is not an indicator that I can also train you.

My job is to help you identify your fitness targets and motivate you to achieve them with my skills and knowledge base. My formerly unhealthy past of being chronically ill and a bit chubby actually helps me work more effectively with my clients, as I know how hard it is to make a change. And being older? I’ve been around the block many times so when clients need to unload about their personal life (if you’re thinking about becoming a trainer, sharpen up your counselling skills because it’s not all about reps and sets) I’m sympathetic and pretty unshockable.

I’m already planning ahead for my future career as I have a limited time frame as to how long my body will be able to work at such physical intensity. I have an appointment with my physio this week to sort out a range of aches and pains. Switching to a more coaching-led practice is one way forward, as is specialising in working with an older age group. I’ve also just started a course that will qualify me as a specialist in corrective exercise, as I want to deepen my anatomical knowledge and I enjoy the challenge of working with clients with postural issues and injuries – that would be most of you!

For now, I’m working on myself to stay healthy and fit so that I can enjoy my job, and to make progress with my own strength goals. We have to look inside and focus on what we want to achieve for ourselves, not to fit other people’s conceptions of how our bodies should look. So for anyone who has been called unfeminine, too muscly, too skinny, too big or too much of anything – screw ’em. Do the best for you, right now, to get yourself one step closer to whatever you are trying to achieve: a pull up, a Parkrun, a walk around the block without getting out of breath. And, if you need a motivational trainer with a sympathetic ear who’s already been there, you know where to come…

www.brainboxcoaching.co.uk

www.befitbristolfit.com

 

Fittie Over 40: the sometimes relevant ramblings of a middle-aged personal trainer

I thought it was time to offer a few musings about my own life as a fitness instructor, yoga teacher and personal trainer at the grand age of 45, given that I have plenty of clients over 40 these days who seem to enjoy my social media posts and look to me for fad free, no frills advice on healthy living.

I want to share the truth behind being a middle aged female working in the fitness industry, dealing with all the physical and hormonal delights that come with ageing. And yes, that means talking about menopause, ‘cos it sure isn’t going anywhere and is a natural phase of life that all us female badasses have to learn to negotiate.

So stand by for some fairly honest observations about trying to stay fit as a middle aged training professional when you’re hormonal and knackered and yet still needing to perform and set a good example to everyone else. Because in the face of green juice, I’ll always take a chocolate milkshake instead, and *no one* will replace my love for Dairy Milk with raw cacao.

If you’ve had enough of quick fixes, eating clean and trying to reach unattainable standards of six packs and svelteness, you’re in the right place. I’ll be sharing my own struggles to keep myself on track while offering some sound advice on how to succeed for yourself. Until then, where’s my next client?

Find me at www.brainboxcoaching.co.uk and on the telly box with www.befitbristolfit.com