The danger of low-calorie diets

Hands up who has been on a low-calorie diet
to lose weight?

Yep me too.

And who has lost weight pretty quickly
while on it and then put it all on again afterwards?

And again, me too.

Having been through every fad diet out
there I’m now preaching the benefits of doing a bit more research and learning
what your body needs before you start depriving it of anything. Continue Reading…

Keeping The Family Balance

This year the Jewish festival of Pesach (Passover) and Easter fell on the same weekend meaning that there was even more emphasis on eating over the long weekend. For the first 2 nights of Pesach (it lasts 8 days) we have a big meal with lots of family and friends and I can safely say that I’ve eaten enough to last me a week… 

Now that I’m sitting on the sofa the day after in a bit of a food coma I’ve been  thinking about some rules to maintain the balance when you have family functions, religious days or celebrations. 

3 generations of women in red

Rule 1) Someone will have spent days preparing all of the food you’re about to eat so unless you’re REALLY allergic, be respectful and polite. One bite of something that’s made with love isn’t going to ruin your progress

Rule 2) Don’t get preachy about your approach to nutrition or exercise unless someone specifically asks you about it. It’s not a ‘look how strong my quads are looking’ party, it’s a time for family

Rule 3) Prepare your body so that you can make the most of all of the food that’s about to come your way. An interval cardio session followed by some heavy work on your legs will mean that your body will use some of what you’re eating to repair muscles and replenish energy stores

Rule 4) Don’t starve yourself the following day to ‘make up’ for eating a lot. Just go back to your normal schedule for eating and exercise, chances are your body won’t even register the big meal and it won’t have an effect on your progress

Rule 5) Don’t feel guilty because food is something to be enjoyed, not to regret, especially if you’re making special memories with friends or family

Now, where’s that last remaining Easter egg… 

Things Personal Trainers say

So you’ve taken the big step and got a
personal trainer. Congratulations! You’ve booked in your first session, you’ve
told everyone how hot you’re going to be in approximately 2.5 weeks time and
you bought a load of expensive lycra that will DEFINITELY mean you can bench
press like 100lbs.

It’s time for that first session and your
trainer is about to send lots and lots of buzzwords and jargon your way. The
problem is how do you know
you’ve found a good trainer? Well, I’m glad you asked.

Things PTs will/should never say:

–      
‘Yes, it’s a really good idea
to do a juice cleanse and then come for a session. A little bit of dizziness is
fine’

–      
‘No problem we can take it easy
today and have 5 minute rests between each rep because you’re a bit tired’

–      
‘Just do everything as fast as
you can it doesn’t matter that your form is all over the place’

–      
‘Oh well if it’s tough we
better stop, let’s just do things that are easy and won’t make you sweat’

–      
‘I can make you lose 10lbs in a
week. Easy’

–      
‘It’s totally true, just by
signing up to the gym you’ll get fitter, you don’t ever actually have to go’

–      
‘Oh you’ve got a cold? That’s
ok, come for your session anyway and spread your germs all over the equipment’

–      
‘I love your new Nike Air Max,
they’re perfect for running and lifting’

–      
‘Definitely go for an
extra-large stuffed crust with double pepperoni after your session, you’ve
deserved it’

–      
‘Our 1 hour each week will
make all the difference. Eat whatever you want and sit around for the rest of
the week, we’ll have you bikini-body ready in no time at all’

–      
‘The 15 minutes that we spend
chatting at the beginning of every session counts towards getting those abs’

Can I suggest that if you hear your trainer
say any of these you get the hell out of there and find a professional?

HIIT vs LISS cardio

You might have seen a previous post that I did about the benefits of cardiovascular training which is a great place to start because anything that raises your heart rate is going to be beneficial to your cardiovascular system. 

There’s so much more to cardiovascular training however and I’m going to discuss the biggest 2 right here for you, you lucky people. 

You might have heard people talking about HIIT (high intensity interval training) but have you heard about LISS (low intensity steady state)? 

Chances are you might not have heard about it but you’ve more than likely done it before. When you’ve decided that the 3 doughnuts you’ve eaten today were a bit much and you’re going to go to the gym and jog on a treadmill? LISS. When you dare to bare your pale skin for a gentle session at the pool for the first time this year? LISS. When you decide that you’re going to be healthy and go for a long walk ending up in a not-so-healthy pub lunch? LISS. Basically, if you can hold a conversation whilst training, you’re doing LISS.

The benefits of this kind of training is that because you’re normally working at 60-80% of your maximum heart rate, you’re comfortably within the ‘fat-burning zone’ which means that you’re burning a higher percentage of fat within the energy that you’re using. 

Think of it like a cake. At this stage, the energy that you’re burning is the size of a cupcake (stick with me, don’t get distracted by the thought of cupcakes) and a majority of that is fat. 

LISS is therefore good for:

– Unfit or elderly people who want to lose weight but need a low-impact form of exercise to protect their bodies

– People who have the time to go out walking for a couple of hours or jog for an hour, it’s pretty time-consuming!

– Endurance athletes (marathon runners, triathletes etc.) who need to get their bodies used to working at low-intesity for long periods of time

– Anyone who wants to unplug for a while, force themselves to not look at a screen and enjoy the great outdoors

There’s one big flaw with LISS though. Whatever your goals are your body will need to keep adapting otherwise your progress will plateau. If you just do LISS you will reach that plateau quite quickly as the body finds it easy to adapt to and then gets very comfortable. 

Have you heard that story about the person who went to the gym 3 times a week, did the same workout each time including a 20 minute run on the treadmill and 15 minutes on the stationary bike? Do you remember when they stopped going after a few months because they stopped losing weight? They should have done some HIIT. 

Which bring us to HIIT (funnily enough). HIIT covers any kind of cardio exercise that combines periods of near-maximum work with periods of recovery. It can be applied to most forms of cardio including running, cycling, swimming, skipping, boxing etc. and includes things like tabata and circuit training. For example, you could warm up, then sprint for 30 seconds followed by a recovery period at a jog for 1 minute and then you could repeat that as many times as you like before you cool down/pass out.

HIIT will bring your heart rate up into the moderate/intense training zone meaning that you’ll be improving your aerobic fitness and overall performance. In these zones you’ll be burning a higher proportion of carbohydrates than fat but don’t be fooled, you’re still burning plenty of fat. 

Let’s go back to the cake idea (focus now…). With HIIT the cake is now Bruce Bogtrotter-sized (if you don’t get this reference then shame on you, go and read Matilda right now).

The amount of calories from burning carbohydrates and fat is much higher than what you’ll burn through LISS meaning that you’ll probably burn more fat overall. It’s a smaller percentage of the cake but the cake is so much bigger with HIIT. Makes sense? 

Here are some of the benefits of HIIT:

– Great for time-poor people, you can squeeze a brilliant workout into whatever time you have available, even as little as 7 minutes if necessary, and keep your heart rate up

– It keeps the body adapting because your heart rate is going up and down with periods of work and recovery and your body doesn’t know what’s coming next

– The ‘after burn’ effect or excess post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC) from HIIT keeps your metabolism high after exercise meaning that you continue to burn calories when you’re lying in your post-gym bubble bath. Result

– HIIT allows you to keep any muscle mass (within reason) as it uses muscles to their maximum capacity, keeping them working. Think about a sprinter’s physique vs a marathon runner

– The explosive nature of HIIT will help you to increase the strength in your muscles which in turn could improve your endurance performance – a good point to remind endurance athletes of the importance of cross-training

It might seem like I’m leaning towards HIIT as the preferable form of cardio but actually, I believe that both LISS and HIIT have their roles in fitness depending on the individual and their goal. Ideally, a combination of both would help to improve overall cardiovascular fitness and health and to reach personal goals. 

Try including a few sprints next time you go running and reap the benefits! 

Fitness Trends for 2015

2014 was the year that fitness became mainstream. 

No longer is it strange to hear people say ‘oh, I can’t go for dinner, I’ve got Pilates’ or ‘let’s catch up at spinning’. Juicing, whether at home or bought, is more acceptable and quinoa is now a staple of a lot of people’s diets. AND they know how to pronounce it correctly. 

So what does 2015 hold for us then? 

1) CrossFit-style workouts

While not everyone feels brave enough to step into a Box (yep, that’s what CrossFit gyms are actually called), the high intensity circuit-style workouts are finding their way into ‘normal’ gyms. Anything that combines explosive movement, weightlifting and a lot of reps (read: sweat) will have you building muscle and burning fat like a pro. Embrace it but make sure you pay lots of attention to technique especially with the weightlifting. Oh, and don’t become a CrossFit douchebag… 

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2) One-stop shop gyms

A gym or fitness studio is no longer just a sweaty room that smells a bit like that time you left your PE kit at school over the Easter holidays and had to put it on again afterwards… Gyms now have spas, like Equinox so you can get a facial after boxing, and plenty more are offering pre and post-workout nutrition like 1Rebel, a new gym in Liverpool Street, London, that provides a complimentary cold pressed juice or healthy salad with lunchtime classes. As fitness is becoming a part of our busy lives, gyms that can offer something extra have that edge.

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3) Cross-training

No, I don’t mean that weird ski-type machine in the gym. I mean training in ways that aren’t necessarily directly connected to your chosen discipline. More and more runners are getting into yoga and strength training to improve their technique and keep their muscles in optimum shape. For sports players it’s no longer about spending hours kicking or hitting a ball, they now might be as familiar with a cadillac in the Pilates studio as they are with a footwork drill. Unless you’re an Olympic athlete then cross-training WILL be beneficial, step out of your comfort zone and give something else a go this year.

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 4) Fitness trackers

Athletes have been using heart rate monitors to track their intensity levels for years but the mainstream market is catching on. A lot of fitness trackers were introduced to the market in 2014 but 2015 is going to be the year that they go mainstream. There’s plenty out there on the market (eg. the Misfit Flash, the Fitbit Charge and various watches like the Samsung Gear and the Withings Activité) so do your research and find out which would suit your needs best. It could help to motivate you through the rest of the winter for that summer body!

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5) Fitness is for life, not just for beach season

Fitness isn’t just about being skinny or having that 6-pack any more, it’s about long-term health and strength, inner and outer. You’ll hear more and more people talking about wanting to be strong not skinny (myself included) and feeling ‘better’ rather than ‘thinner’. It’s about finding a sustainable diet and level of exercise that isn’t restrictive or obsessive, something you can enjoy with friends and family and that compliments your life but doesn’t take it over. Sounds pretty good right?

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The Problem With Bulking

Lift more weights, eat more food, do less cardio. 

Sounds pretty easy right? 

Well, I guess it is physically but it’s not so easy mentally.

To put it into context, I’m coming to the end of the first month of a 6 month plan in which I’m spending 3 months building muscle and then the last 3 months will be spent trying to strip body fat to increase definition and get that ‘toned’ look that I’m after. 

To build muscle, you need fuel. And that fuel is being supplied by nearly 2,000 calories each day of unprocessed food. That’s an awful lot of food, especially given that to meet this I’m having to eat mountains of vegetables, lean protein and lots of carbs squeezed into 3 main meals and 2 snacks each day.

The workouts are focused around lifting increasingly heavy weights and doing very little cardio training (apart from my daily commute and occasional cycles to see friends) which is very different to the high intensity stuff that I normally do. 

The result is that although I feel stronger (I’m PBing all over the place on squats, presses and basically everything), I also feel ‘bigger’. You’re probably thinking ‘well obviously, you’re building muscle’ but for someone who has spent their entire life trying to be smaller, this feeling is alien and not entirely comfortable. 

Watching my abs disappear day by day, the scales creep up slightly and my legs getting bigger is actually bloody difficult. It goes against the grain and it makes me feel out of shape bizarrely. It’s having an effect on my willpower too as I’ve never had to eat more to hit calorie goals before, so I’m thinking ‘well I might as well have 3 biscuits, it’ll help me hit my calories’. 

As I keep telling myself (and my friends and clients), you have to trust the process and getting control over your willpower and brain is part of this process. So I’m making sure that I eat plenty of ‘clean’ foods and hitting the gym to try and avoid the dips in willpower. 

Most of all, I’m accepting the fact that I’m struggling and that is ok. Not everything is easy and I know that I will appreciate the results a lot more because of the battles that I’ve been through. 

Top 10 Gym Fails

Most people join the gym to lose a bit of weight and they think that because they’ve watched a few episodes of The Biggest Loser they know what they’re doing. WRONG. The gym can be a dangerous place is you don’t know what you’re doing. Oh, and chances are you’re going to look ridiculous while you’re doing it…

However, if you get it right (with the help of Personal Trainer like me!) the gym can be a magical place that will help you to hit your short and long-term goals. It can encourage a healthier lifestyle by changing your attitude towards your body. And if you lose a bit of body fat and gain a bit of muscle in the process that can’t be a bad thing!

1)   Not reading instructions

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Most resistance machines will have instructions on the side, look at them. Not only can it be dangerous to use them incorrectly but they also won’t be effective. If there are no instructions, ask someone. Don’t look like a noob…

2)   Going too heavy too quick

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As funny as it can be when someone fails, it’s also really dangerous and you’re just putting yourself at risk of serious injury. Be patient, work up to the heavy weights.

3)   Getting bro’d out

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Just because your bro is pumping iron, doesn’t mean you can or should. Listen to your body, work up to where they are and take it slowly

4)   Not having a good spotter

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When you’re lifting heavy make sure you have someone that knows how to spot you and that you trust. You’re putting your life (and your face) in their hands…

5)   Getting ‘creative’

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Only start making things up if you really know what you’re doing or if an experienced trainer is there. Oh, and NEVER PUT EXERCISE BALLS NEAR TREADMILLS.

6)   Not checking your technique

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Incorrect technique can be dangerous and totally ineffective. And it can make you look like an ass.

7)   Ignoring health and safety

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Lift with your knees, not your back. Wear safe footwear. Use the machines correctly, don’t try to outsmart them.

8)   Showing off

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It will hurt and you will look ridiculous. Also, the type of people that find that impressive might not be the type of people you want in your life.

9)   Not checking the equipment

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 Although the gym will check their equipment every day, it should still be your responsibility to not use a machine or any equipment that doesn’t look right. Use your brain yeah?

10)   Not sharing space

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Everyone pays their gym membership equally so don’t act like you own the place. Share nicely, don’t sit on machines during sets and be nice to newbies, you were one once! 

Autumnal Vegan Spiced Pumpkin Soup

I know, I know, I eat a lot of soup! But it’s quick, easy, super healthy and it’s pretty much all I want for dinner when it’s cold outside and I’m hungry. 

This is my new favourite soup, inspired by my boyfriend’s dad who made a delicious version and gave me the basic recipe. I’ve tweaked it here and there but so can you! Add in more chilli if you like it hot and some extra root vegetables if you happen to have them available. 

Ingredients (makes 6 portions)

1 tbsp organic coconut oil

1 red onion

2 stalks celery

3 cloves of garlic

Thumb-sized piece of ginger

750g pumpkin

1 medium sweet potato

1 tbsp organic vegetable bouillon 

½ litre water

1 can low-fat coconut milk

1 tsp turmeric

1 tbsp cumin

1 tbsp garam masala

2 tbsp curry powder

Method

Chop the pumpkin and sweet potato into chunks (peel the sweet potato but you can leave the skin on the pumpkin, it’s easier to peel once it’s cooked). Place on trays and put in the oven at around 180 degrees for 30-40 minutes until soft (I know my sweet potato is white but it was very sweet).

While the pumpkin and sweet potato are cooking, finely chop the onion, garlic, celery and ginger and fry gently in the coconut oil for 15-20 minutes until soft

Remove the skin from the pumpkin and add it to the pan with the sweet potato. Add the spices in and cook gently for another 10 minutes to let the spices cook out, you don’t want the bitter taste of raw spices in the finished soup.

At this point add in the vegetable stock and coconut milk and let the soup come to the boil. Turn it down and simmer for 15-20 minutes to let all of the flavours combine. Blend the soup using a hand blender or a jug blender, whatever you have to hand.

It’s ready to serve so portion up into bowls and you can add a garnish of a swirl of coconut cream and a few toasted pumpkin seeds if you want to be fancy. I tend to just serve and shovel it in because it’s so tasty!

I keep a couple of portions in the fridge and freeze the rest so that there’s always a warming and delicious dinner for cold nights. Enjoy fitties! 

Food Cupboard Essentials

Picture the scene…. You’ve had a long day at work, you’re tired and hungry. You come home, open the fridge and, shock horror, it’s empty! 

What do you do? 

It’s so easy to pick up the phone and call your local Chinese or Indian takeaway shop but you had your cheat meal for lunch and a greasy plate of questionably-sourced food just isn’t going to cut it. 

Here’s my top-10 list of things that you should always have in your cupboard or freezer to avoid these disastrous evenings:

1) Gluten free pasta – simply boil and mix with a can of tuna, a tbsp of pesto or pasta sauce, some frozen vegetables and a few pumpkin seeds for a quick and healthy comfort-food dinner

2) Pole and line caught sustainable tuna – canned tuna is never as good as fresh tuna but it can sit in the cupboard for months and it provides a great hit of low-fat protein with a salad or mixed in pasta as above

3) Quinoa – cook with some organic vegetable bouillon and then add in whatever you want. It’s a great source of vegetable protein, filling and a healthier alternative to white rice

4) Frozen vegetables – I always keep frozen soy beans, peas and spinach in my freezer to add to pasta sauces or defrost to add bulk to a salad

5) Frozen fruit – cherries, berries, bananas, mangoes, the list goes on! Great for putting in smoothies, porridge or just munching when you want a cold, sweet treat

6) Oats – If you’re really desperate, porridge makes a great dinner. 25g of oats with a sprinkle of seeds or nuts and some frozen cherries, all cooked with water is delicious

7) Canned beans – I love adding cannellini beans, kidney beans or chickpeas to a salad for a serving of plant-based protein. They’re also really filling,which is great when you’re starving! 

8) Frozen soup – When you’re making soup, make enough to feed a small army and then freeze what you don’t need in individual portions. It can be defrosted very quickly and is perfectly satisfying

9) Thai curry paste – if all you have is scrag ends of vegetables, stir-fry them with some Thai curry paste and you’ve got a spicy and warming dinner

10) Frozen wholewheat tortillas – this is for when you’re really desperate… defrost a couple of tortillas, spread some tomato paste on them and top with grated cheese and whatever else is left in the fridge. Ta dah! Healthy pizzas! 

What’s your favourite food cupboard dinner? 

Be:Fit London – my highlights

Last weekend was Be:Fit London, a 3 day health and fitness event aimed purely at women.

Now, as a woman who is just starting on her health and fitness journey and is somewhat confused by all of this talk of macros, protein bars and tabata, I decided it would be a useful thing to go to. And it was.

I recruited my mum (who has been doing pilates for the past 15 years and has dodgy knees) and my friend (who is getting fit for her June wedding) to come with me and so, dressed in our snazziest workout gear, we headed down to Old Billingsgate Market on the Thames.

As soon as you walk in, you’re assaulted by a huge number of companies giving out tasters and wanting to talk to you about their products. It was a little overwhelming so here are my highlights:

1) Chia Pods – I’ve heard a lot about this supposed wonder-seed but have never found them cheap enough to warrant trying them! These little seeds soak up a lot of moisture making you feel fuller for longer as well as giving you 10% of your daily Omega3 as well as 25% of your daily fibre. And they taste pretty satisfying too! 

2) Quest protein bars – These are everywhere online and everyone keeps talking about the #chunkporn… So I had to find out for myself if they’re as good as everyone makes out. I got 2 free samples, the cookies and cream bar and the peanut butter supreme bar. They’re very sweet which is good if you’re having a sugar craving but they still have that slightly synthetic taste of protein which puts me off. Still, for 180 calories, 21g of protein and only 3g of carbs you can do a lot worse.

3) Eat Water – This company is tagging along on the back of the supposedly miraculous Zero Noodles which are calorie free noodles and pasta. Eat Water’s offering is made from the konjac plant from Asia which contains high quantities of soluble fibre meaning that it’s easy to digest, keeps you feeling fuller for longer and prevents some fat from being absorbed. Mixed with a simple tomato and vegetable sauce, the testers that we had at the event were delicious! The texture is a bit weird as it’s nothing like pasta but for a quick low-cal meal (only 7 calories per serving!!) mixed with some sauce and protein these are a great idea.

4) The Reebok Fitness Studio – Be:Fit paired up with Reebok to provide 30 minute tasters of some of the hottest classes around. Seeing as we’d done a killer PT session that morning and we were totally preoccupied with trying as many freebies as we could, we only made it to one class! We tested out The Body with Carly Newson which was a hardcore hiit class that didn’t stop for the entire 30 minutes! Within seconds we were sweating and our legs were groaning as we worked our way through a strengthening routine to pumping music. 30 minutes later, we staggered out and had some frozen yogurt to cool down. 

I would definitely come back next year although I would come with a bit more of a plan as to which classes to do and then explore the stalls in between each session. 

Details

When? March 2015 TBC

Where? Old Billingsgate Market, EC3R 6DX (TBC)

How much? £18 per adult although you get a £5 ticket for a friend if you buy full price. Bargain!