It’s 2014. Unless you’re one of those crazy people that got up on Christmas morning and rode 100 miles then you may have sat on the couch at some point and poked a finger into what is generally termed ‘middle age spread’. A paunch has appeared with ninja like stealth and is glaring up at you during the Emmerdale omnibus. On New Year’s night as champagne flutes are drained, yours and millions of other silent New Year resolutions float up to the heavens accompanied by those Chinese paper lanterns (that will set fire to quaint thatched roof cottages much to the anger of Daily Mail readers).
“I will lose weight and get healthy this year.”
There’s a lot to losing weight and it’s not always what you expected to hear. It’s not always easy and it’s not always fast. But it is most certainly worthwhile.
Some people want to lose overall weight some people want to strip fat. Whatever your goal here are ten tips to help you on your way to a healthier lifestyle.
Whoa!! Before you go any further I absolutely insist that you seek the advice of a medical professional before undertaking any kind of a fitness plan or training regime. The following advice is general and does not take into account any specific dietary requirements or medical conditions you may have.
This will sound blindingly obvious but hear me out. As a result of resolving to get fit you have probably changed your diet. A grease burger looks much less appetising when you know you just burnt 600 kcal on the morning’s cycle. But how many times have you found yourself justifying that guilty snack on the basis that you have eaten healthily or exercised all day. Keep your hands up, now how many have justified this to themselves have then had a second snack. It’s a slippery slope and it’s easier to go down than climb up. Ask yourself “Have I slipped?” Eating the bad stuff is not always a terrible thing (see point 8) but discipline in cutting down the impromptu sugar hit learnt early will stay with you throughout.
A quick scan of the internet will show you that almost everybody has come up with a new diet plan. Someone spoke to me about a diet where she ate nothing for two days then gorged herself on the third. Lunacy. The result was a very grouchy lady who shovelled the fat and sugar in as soon as she was allowed. She didn’t change the food she ate, just changed the time and manner in which it went in. I get grouchy when hungry, two days of absolute fasting will make me (even more) unbearable. At its core, weight loss is pretty simple; Expend more calories than you eat. The buzzword when eating during weight loss is ‘Balanced’. Morgan Spurlock famously ate nothing but McDonalds for a month and, unsurprisingly, fared pretty badly. Health issues would probably have developed if he ate nothing but lettuce. They’re both opposite ends of the scale and neither will do any good in the long run. Our food is a complicated collection of carbohydrates, fats, sugars, proteins and more all with their own jobs once they enter your body. Learning how each of these works within you will improve your relationship with food. Also, if you’re not looking to necessarily lose weight but body fat an understanding of nutrition is essential.
3. Working too hard?
If you go out on your bike and ride absolutely flat out you probably congratulate yourself on a hard, sweat dripping workout. Don’t be too eager to pat yourself on the back, the harder you go the more you are reducing your body’s ability to burn fat. If you pedal at around 80% (Anaerobic zone) of your maximum heart rate your body produces its energy by burning glycogen in preference to oxygen and fat. Sticking between 70-75% and 80-85% will shift the balance into burning calories. Above 80% will develop muscle, speed and lactic tolerance (which is obviously a good thing) but it’ll be hiding under a layer of fat. Mix the efforts up and get the most out of your exercise.
Working out according to heart rate zones is not exact science but it provides a best guess of how your body is performing during exercise and is a very useful tool. Of course, monitoring your heart rate is much easier if you have the right equipment. Heart monitoring watches are used by many when training to provide data on many facets of training including an approximation of how many calories you’re burning. Technology can help you on nutrition too. Phone apps like ‘My fitness pal’ will let you scan barcodes of food products to track calories and allow you to see what they contain. You may be surprised how much sugar is in that healthy cereal you eat. Counting every calorie is an option but it’s often better to use this tool to develop a kind of ‘calorie awareness’. You’ll have a rough idea of what is really in the stuff you pick up at the supermarket and begin to develop a sixth sense for the good and the bad.
5. Challenge Yourself
When you have been doing an activity like cycling for a while your body adjusts to its new regime, makes changes it needs to (weight loss, muscle development) then settles down. It’s the settling down that will contribute to a weight loss plateau. It’s surprising how a body can be very fit for one purpose. Running had always frustrated me. I couldn’t fathom why I could ride a hundred miles without too much problem yet be completely unable to run just one. It’s a completely different level of fitness required to run than it is to pedal, but learning to run (you definitely have to learn) and adopting a different fitness caused further weight loss. Don’t just mix up your efforts, mix up your activities.
There are two main problems with alcohol as far as weight loss goes. The first is that it’s high in calories. 1 gram of alcohol contains 7.1 calories, to put that in to perspective 1 gram of fat contains 9 calories. If you chug alcohol, you chug calories. The second is that the body deals with alcohol by converting it to something called acetate. The body then burns this stuff as a priority to all the other food you’ve eaten. That burger you had for lunch? It’s just sitting there doing nothing whilst your body deals with the two beers you had. You will need to work out for much longer to get through the acetates and near those burger calories.
Everyone knows that water is essential, it makes up around 70% of our bodies. Without it you’ll live a week, tops, and that week won’t be fun. How much water should you be consuming once a day? A number that the experts recommend is 8 x 80z cups a day which can vary depending on body size and weight etc. If you are thinking that you drink that already, you need to discount tea and coffee (diuretic that will cause your body to expel water through urine) and sugary drinks (stops your stomach from absorbing water. Ever felt strangely thirsty after that long cold drink of cola). Keeping hydrated has a long list of health benefits, but as far as shedding weight goes dehydration (you lose a pint a day just through breathing) will slow your body’s metabolism and in turn slow its calorie burning capacity. Drinking chilled water will also need warming by your body which will also burn more calories.
8. Cheat day
The cheat day is the carrot that dangles in front of your face as you (insert fitness activity here) to a healthier lifestyle. The premise is simple. You are good all week and diligently shovel down plates of steamed cucumber, then for one day a week you get the treat. Why would you do this after a week of counting calories?
“Surely it’s madness to fill your body with that delicious fatty, filth?” Well there are two main reasons.
Psychologically keeping your calorie input low all day everyday is like going to work in a job you hate. You begin to resent the eating plan no matter how much good it’s doing you. Unless you have the mind power of Obi Wan Kenobi you will fall off the wagon fast and you’ll be back to eating like a pig at a trough.
The other reason is to do with how your body deals with a reduced calorie intake. If your calorie intake is suddenly reduced the body can panic and begin to draw its energy from reserve sources in the body. This includes fat but also includes muscle. It can also begin to store extra fat as an emergency resource. A cheat day on fatty foods that your body is crying out for as an emergency boost gives a kick to leptin levels(the hormone that helps controls this behaviour). This signals to the body that it is not starving and it can carry on burning calories and fat normally. The extreme example of this is body building where muscle has to be maximum and fat a minimum. Despite a considerable calorie intake the body will panic and any fats consumed despite being a low level will be stored. A cheat day helps many keep this in check.
Cheat days ARE NOT the same thing as snacking. Snacking is the intake of bad foods whenever you feel like it. A Cheat day is a planned and controlled intake of goodies. It means eating the bad things, not a mountain of bad things. You need to do it then make sure you stop. Leftovers for the next day are a no-no.
9. Like minded people
Imagine the scene, you’ve just sat at the table to enjoy your chestnut and spinach risotto. You take a moment to savour the delicate scent of healthy nutritious food. You close your eyes and breathe in deep; its aroma fills your nostrils. It smells good, really good in fact. Hang on a minute. Your eyes open to reveal your beloved about to devour Battered Sausage and chips with curry sauce. A black belt in healthy eating would laugh of this attack but mere students of the art may stumble and fall face first into a delicious pile of deep fried heaven. Like many personal battles facing them alone can be a toughie and it helps if you’ve got someone to encourage and help you rather than tempt and distract. It can make all the difference. Seek them out, at work, at home, or on social media.
If after reading this article you forget it all that’s fine. No really. It’s A OK. I won’t mind. Just please take note of this next one. Sugar is the devil. I could write an essay on why you should avoid sugar at all costs and why it’s the most detrimental thing to your health since removing asbestos with your teeth. Take some time to type the phrase ‘Why sugar is bad’ into your search engine of choice.
I’ll wait here...
Back? Shocked? Re-thinking your diet?
Well there you go. 10 tips on shifting some of the bad stuff. Good luck and see you on the beach you chiselled handsome thing you.