You want to lose a little weight, to get a little healthier, to feel like you have a spring in your step. But the thought of religiously counting calories (or indeed macros) every day fills you with dread..... I mean life is for living right, and the last time you counted calories you lost weight but it was so restrictive you lost your mojo after the first week and dived head first into a family size bar of Dairy Milk and a multipack of Doritos.
Whilst the 80's, and indeed the 90's, were full of magazine and newspaper articles telling you to eat celery with cottage cheese and to avoid eating anything after 6pm, nowadays we've got the likes of the Body Coach telling us how to whip up exciting healthy meals in under 15 minutes without so much of a hint of diet restriction or cabbage soup.
So who is right? Can we really ditch counting calories and still see results?
The simple answer is yes..... but only to a point. I am a massive believer in eating healthily, moving more and looking at how you feel and look to decide whether you need to change your diet. The thing is to do that you need to understand basic nutrition - what you are putting into your body and why. Counting calories was the way to negate that knowledge.... it was something that everyone could do, it was simple maths and pre-packaged food has the nutritional information on. We know now that the world would be a better place without food that has been fiddled with in a factory.... and your body DOES have specific nutrient requirements that you need to bear in mind when making food choices. However this whole thing DOESN'T have to be boring, restrictive and involve you drinking filtered water and eating cucumber sticks in the corner.
Here are my top tips to help you reach where you want to be physically and mentally...... and yeah occasionally you might have to get your calculator out for a few days so you can learn how much you should be eating of certain things BUT unless you are planning on being a physique competitior, it doesn't have to be long term thing and it shouldn't take over your life.
1. Forget the low-fat/low-cal nonsense that was pummelled into your head all those years ago
To lose weight you DO NOT need to be eating 1300 kcals a day. You DO NOT need to swap your steak for pre-packaged reformed ham. Low-fat spreads are NOT better than butter and you SHOULD NOT be eating fat-free cack yoghurt made by weight loss companies who then inject 58000 artificial sweeteners/flavours into it to make it taste like a shit version of a lemon cheesecake.
Your body was made to eat REAL food - not processed muck in a packet. Step away from the ready meals, the un-natural yoghurts, the chicken shapes and move back to the produce section, to the fish, to the stuff that may have been squirted into a tube but not laced with chemicals and sugar on the way.
1500 kcals a day is NOT a one size fits all like we were once led to believe and you would potentially need to be fairly short/small, and fairly inactive to need a calorie requirement like that. Just for the record, I am on 3500kcals a day.... now I am active and I have a decent amount of muscle so it's different for everyone. All I'm saying is don't be scared of the number..... listen to how your body looks and feels and it will tell you whether you should be eating less or more.
2. Move more
Your body was made to be active. It wasn't made to sit at a desk all day. So get it moving.... we cannot do anything about having to work, this is true. But you CAN do something about how you choose to spend your lunchbreaks and your free time. 'Oh but I've got a family' I hear you say.... Yup... but don't they deserve to be doing fun stuff too? Family bike rides, walks in the park, play badminton, play tennis, walk the dog, go on Geo Treasure Hunts.... whatever it is, there is something for everyone out there.
I for one would definitely prefer to make time to move more so I can eat more food. For me it's a no brainer.
3. Realise how active/inactive you are and tailor your food accordingly
Be realistic. Do you sit on your arse most of the day? Is the most exercise you do walking to the shop for your sandwich at lunch? If this is the case and you aren't willing to make any lifestyle changes to increase your activitiy then at least realise pasta, rice, bread and potatoes probably aren't your best friend. Yes you may still need to eat some, however if your energy expenditure is low then you don't need as many energy dense foods to boost your calorie intake.
Swap the calorie dense carbohydrates for more protein, green veg, courgetti, butternut squash, corn cakes etc etc and fill up on those instead. Your body will thank you for it!
4. Get to know your body type and what works for you
Everyone is different. It isn't just exercise that dictates what you should be eating, your body type can also play a massive role. If you are naturally lean and lose weight easily, chances are carbs are your friend. If you tend to hold weight easily and have a tendency to be a little 'soft' in all the right places then chances are you will tolerate carbs less well but may find healthy fats a little friendlier to work with. At the end of the day it comes down to how you feel inside and out as to what you should be putting into your beautiful body.
5. Eat more protein
Most people do not eat enough. That means that when they lose weight, they have a tendency to lose muscle as well. Now that will happen for most people - but it's the degree to which it happens which will dictate the effect on your metabolism. Basically the more muscle you have, the more energy you need to be able to do things - this means that even when you are sat around watching TV you are burning more calories. So if you don't eat enough protein and you don't stimulate your muscles while you are losing weight, you could lose a decent portion of the muscle you do have. And then yeah you may be smaller, but everything still feels soft and loose.... so keep you protein levels up and make sure you consume some with every meal. It doesn't just have to be meat and fish - they are plenty of protein rich dairy products, tofu and other alternatives for you to choose from.
6. Reduce your calories proportionately
Now as we talked about above you don't want to lose your muscle.... if you all of a sudden cut your food intake in half and start living off lettuce and water you're going to find that you lose weight of course, but it might not be the weight you wanted to get off in the first place. We want to keep the muscle.... that's what's going to make you look 'solid' when your body fat reduces...... so even if you can't be arsed with all the calorie and macro workings out that it would take to be specific (and that's totally cool).... think about a normal food intake on the back of all the food packets we buy. 2000kcals for a woman. Now decrease that by 10% which would incur a weight loss for that target person.... 1800 kcals.... what would that look like? Its still 3 decent sized meals.... it just might not contain a lot of cheese/carbohydrates because they are much more calorie dense? If you exercise a lot 2000 kcals may not even cut the mustard..... on a low day (like if I'm sat on my ass the whole day) I still eat around 2500.....again that's not for everyone. However, if you work in a warehouse lifting boxes all day and then you hit the gym after work for a decent sesh you could be around that mark. It's about weighing up what you do in a day, what your build is..... and how much food you put in there.
7. Stick to your guns
Don't be that person who tells everyone they are on a health kick but by 10am they have their face in the biscuit tin. You made this decision for you. You made it for a reason. Don't let other people and their temptations get in your way. Why does that biscuit mean so much to you? It's a frigging biscuit.... it tastes good.... but I tell you what tastes better. Success. Going about your day knowing that you resisted something that normally makes you weak at the knees. Now I'm not saying that you have to go through life never having a biscuit. But it's people's habits that make it harder.... the 10am biscuit, the 3pm chocolate bar, the 8pm bag of crisps on the sofa, the 9pm glass of wine..... ditch them. I mean it.... who are you to be limited by your habits. We are amazing, capable of so much strength and awesomeness but we all let our habits and our timetable dictate what we eat/do that day.
Now for some people having a cheat meal works.... for other people it's having a little of what they fancy... for other's it's doing four weeks on and then having one messy weekend. Whatever it is, that's absolutely fine.... as long as the 'cheats' don't outweigh all the hard work. We've all been that person who was epic Mon-Thurs and then smashes in 3 bottles of wine, 12 vodkas and half of the Golden Sun's supply of chips over the weekend. By all means go out with your mates, with your significant other.... but does it always have to involve alcohol and 85 times more food than usual? Mix it up - create new habits that make you feel successful, not limited.
8. Don't beat yourself up
On the flipside I'm a massive advocate of not punishing yourself for making a mistake. Eating a biscuit doesn't mean you need to spend an extra 20 mins on the treadmill or starve yourself until dinner. That's eating disorder territory. It just means you had a biscuit. The rest of the day is not lost. See it for what it is.... a biscuit. Its carbs and fat basically. So if you eat three of the little buggers, then potentially it might be worth eating a slightly lower carb lunch to balance it out.... or not. The thing is, it's whatever you have to do to stop yourself from feeling like crap just cos you gave in to the Sugar Fairy. It's gonna happen sometimes. Especially if Mary from Accounts keeps coming down waving Krispie Kremes in your face. It's how you feel and what you do about it after that matters..... one doughnut does not mean you may as well not bother and you wait for the food truck to arrive at work and spend 15 quid on flapjacks, sausage rolls and cake. IT WAS JUST A DOUGHNUT. Take the hit and move on.
9. Get some sleep.
Ya, I said it. SLEEP! Relax!!! Getting a good night's sleep is better for your hormones, better for your cravings, better for everything. And it'll help if you want to lose weight, feel healthier, be happier, decrease stress.... whatever it is sleep is the king of everything!
In summary, life is for living. It's for enjoying time with our loved ones and doing the things that make us happy. The thing is we want to do that for a long time, and preferably maintain doing the things we love for as long as possible. And that means being healthy..... we want to be able to get up and down off the floor when we are 70, we don't want to walk with a frame, we do want to be able to enjoy our lives. It's not all about losing weight, it's about being strong, fit, confident, positive and feeling like a spring chicken for as long as we can. I'll be buggered if I'm not still dry humping my classes when I'm 60.... this body has to last me, and I intend to make it happen.
For more info on Anna's classes in Feltham & Hounslow go to www.annamartinfitness.co.uk
For more info on Anna's home workout program '14 Day Fix' go to www.always-moving-forward.com
Anna is a qualified Personal Trainer, experienced Group Exercise instructor and a Master-Trainer for an international fitness brand. Owner of Vital Signz Dance. Creator of 14 Day Fix home workout program.