Dieting vs. Non-diet approach to health coaching

How many here have ever been on a diet to lose weight? Weight-watchers, Slimming World, low-calorie, low-carb or low-fat… how many have you tried??

In 2016, Huffington post shared an article claiming that 57% of British women had been on a diet to lose weight in the last 12 months and of those, two-thirds reporting being on a weight-loss diet most or all of the time. That’s pretty shocking! Dieting in the traditional sense is not easy. It takes effort to go against your bodies’ natural signals and purposely eat less food than it is asking for in order to lose weight. Yes you might lose weight but sustaining this tension between “want it” and “can’t have it” over a long period of time depletes your mental and emotional energy reserves, intensifying cravings and leaving you feeling drained and vulnerable to over-eating which undoes all of your hard work.

It’s no secret these days that diets don’t work but still many people continue to try for lack of a better option. I’m here to tell you that there is a better option! It’s called the Non-Dieting Approach to health coaching and it’s the method that I was taught to use with clients as a health coach. The Non-Dieting Approach is based on researched methods of health promotion including Intuitive Eating and Health at Every Size® which encourage working with your body rather than against it in your pursuit of health.

So what exactly is the non-diet approach to health coaching and how does it compare to traditional dieting methods?

Traditional dieting methodsNon-diet approach
Main goal is weight loss, body shape change or size reduction. Encourages you to adopt healthy lifestyle habits, regardless of weight, shape or size
Advises control of food quantities by weighing, measuring and counting portionsTeaches you to regulate eating based on internal signals of hunger and fullness (intuitive eating)
Often recommends using a food diary to count calories or macros with targets set based on goalsRecommends you use a food diary to understand eating behaviours or the effects of different foods or meals
Categorises foods as good or bad based on the rules of the specific dietRemoves all moral labels from food and teaches you to accept nourishment in all forms
Uses exercise (especially cardio) as a way to burn calories or fat and offset the food eatenSupports you to find ways to move your body that bring you joy and build self-appreciation
Self-monitoring of progress is typically weighing, measuring or taking photos of your physiqueSelf-monitoring is based on behaviours and may include a journal of thoughts and feelings.
Often any weight lost is regained within a 5 year period after the dietDoes not always result in weight loss but lifestyle changes and health benefits can be sustained long term
Risks of increased body dissatisfaction, reactive binge eating, chronic or yo-yo dieting, further weight gainEncourages positive self-image and body acceptance, boosts confidence, improves happiness and vitality

The Non-Diet Approach is exactly the method I used to recover from chronic dieting and find true health. Through this method I was able to get back my period after 8 years of Hypothalamic Amenorrhea caused by restrictive dieting and over-exercising, both of which I believed were healthy at the time. I was able to reintroduce foods I loved that I had been restricting for many years believing that they were bad and eating them even in moderation would make me unhealthy (and these were the same foods that I used to then go and binge eat in secret when I couldn’t hold myself any longer). I was also able to let go of my rigid exercise regime which was getting in the way of my social life and impacting my family relationships.

These days I have a very balanced approach to food. Unlike my expectation that lifting dietary restrictions would lead to a life long junk food and sweets binge, I found that actually I settled into a natural pretty healthy dietary pattern with plenty of treats sprinkled in without the guilt. After letting go of my gym obsession, I found more enjoyable ways to move my body which feel like a hobby rather than a chore or a punishment and I genuinely look forward to these activities! And what about my weight? I quickly settled into a natural set point weight for my body type and have remained there within a 5lb range for the last 5 years without any real effort other than maintaining the healthy lifestyle habits I built.

I want this type of health and wellness for you too! If you are sick and tired of restricting and punishing your body to lose weight and want to let go of dieting for good, I can help. We will work together to gain clarity on your vision of true health, develop goals and strategies to get there and I will offer you support and accountability in taking action. Breaking free of chronic dieting takes a 180 mindset shift and the unravelling of some deep held beliefs about what it means to be healthy but together we can get there!

If you are interested in learning more about health coaching with the Non-Diet Approach or want to apply for one of my coaching spots opening up this week, head over to the Contact page of my site or drop me an email at lovemoonlife.mail@gmail.com.

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Why (and how) women should approach health and fitness differently to men

Ladies, ever wondered why it seems so much easier for your boyfriend or husband to stick to a diet or fitness plan and get results? Why some weeks you are full of energy and others you hardly want to drag yourself out of bed? How you can go 2 weeks eating healthily then all of sudden all you want is chocolate and ice cream? If you’ve found yourself questioning whether you just have less motivation or your body just doesn’t function as well then you’re not alone. The answer is simple and something that we live every single day, often without even being aware of it. Can you guess?

IT’S

OUR

MENSTRUAL

CYCLE!

As women we are simply not the same from week to week. Our hormone levels are continuously shifting which has a huge impact on our energy levels, mood, cravings, sleep and so much more. This can make it hard for us to stick to a routine and often feel like a failure for being inconsistent. We can think of men as being like the sun and women more like the moon. The sun shines consistently day by day, sometimes there might be some clouds in the sky or even a huge storm that affects how brightly we see its rays but behind all of that it keeps on shining just the same. The moon however moves through it’s lunar cycle from the new or dark moon where the sky appears empty to the full moon where it shines big and bright.

The lunar cycle is such a good metaphor for our menstrual cycle. The new moon represents menstruation, the time of the month when we are much less energetic and physically need to rest. The full moon represents ovulation when our energy levels are at their peak and we are overflowing with creativity and physical energy. Don’t get me wrong though, just because the moon appears dark at the new moon, it doesn’t mean there is no light, the light is just on the other side so we don’t see it. This is the time when lots of inner work is being carried out including physical and mental healing and the seeds of inspiration for creative projects are being birthed.

Because for men, the hormonal shifts are much more subtle and occur mostly on a 24hr basis, they can more easily stick to a daily routine that works for them week in week out whereas us women have both our daily and monthly rhythms to take into account. Our bodies are also more sensitive to stress from working out or not eating enough food as they are constantly trying to maintain hormonal balance and fertility. We can choose to see this as a weakness or we can see it as a super power that we can work with. There are times of the month when our strength and stamina can feel unlimited and we can surprise ourselves with what we can achieve and there are other times when we can push ourselves through a grueling workout and actually cause ourselves more harm than good because our bodies have to rely on stress hormones and adrenal reserves to make it through.

Of course we all know this on some level but we often think of it as something we have to work against rather than work with. Often we feel like we are “normal” for a couple of weeks and then BAM our hormones come along to ruin everything and we fall off the wagon. But what if we became more aware of how our bodies change throughout the month and actually build this into our health and fitness plan? What a game changer that would be! No more beating yourself up because you got so hungry before your period that you ate a large bar of chocolate every day. No more dragging yourself through intense workouts on your bleeding says when your body is crying out for rest. Instead using self-awareness and self-compassion to create a health plan that truly works for you.

What could this cyclical approach to health and fitness look like? When it comes to nutrition, this would be truly trusting your body and allowing yourself to eat intuitively. This doesn’t mean allowing yourself to eat a large bar of chocolate every day because, “PMS”, but it does mean loosening up on the diet rules, understanding why those cravings might be there and making sure that you are well fed and nourished during the day. The quantities and types of foods you crave will likely change throughout your cycle and this is ok, in fact it is essential. Your metabolic rate and nutrient requirements shift with your hormones and so the foods that will support your body also change week to week. The simple overall guideline for a healthy diet of eating mostly whole, unprocessed foods applies throughout the cycle but the amount of energy, macro-nutrients and the ratio of raw vs. cooked foods can definitely change. It’s much better to tune into your body to find what works for you, but if you’re struggling with getting started I did write a series of posts on how to eat for each of the phases of your menstrual cycle.

With fitness and exercise, again it is very individual. Some women need to fully rest during their period otherwise they will feel like they are dragging throughout the month ahead. Others, me included, need a bit of easy movement to help manage painful cramps. I’m sure there are some women who can exercise intensely during their period without any issues but I think this is the exception rather than the rule. If you do workout during your period, ask yourself whether you are doing it because you feel like you should or whether it is what your body is genuinely asking for. In general, during your period and the few days before it’s a good idea to at least slow down, decrease the intensity of your workouts and create space for some more restorative activities like yoga, stretching and gentle walking to help your body recover and restore energy.

On the other hand, the rising energy and stamina in the couple of weeks after your period (the follicular and ovulatory phases) are a great time to really get out there and move your body. This is a good time for more intense cardio workouts as you can get all of the benefits of getting your heart rate up and sweating without feeling totally drained. Movement can also be a great way to boost your mood and reduce PMS symptoms as you approach your period, but our energy levels tend to start to drop off towards the end of the pre-menstrual phase so it’s good to be aware of this and be prepared to take it easier without feeling guilty for not performing at your best. In general it’s about understanding and accepting that as women we are not the same everyday and we can’t expect ourselves to show up, robot-like, in the same way every day. That is a recipe for disappointment, hormonal imbalance and burn out as I’ve learned the hard way!

Over to you

I hope you found this post interesting and it gives you a new perspective and understanding of why a traditional approach to health and fitness might not work perfectly for you as a woman. If you have any questions or want to share your experiences, let me know in the comments below! If you’re interested in health and wellness for women, follow along with my blog and please share with anyone else who might be interested. I’ll be making a post soon on my top book recommendations for learning more about synching with your menstrual cycle so watch out for that too.

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Real health #23 Keep it simple to lose weight easily

Following on from yesterday’s post on perfectionism, today I wanted to talk about how simplicity can be the way to reach your health goals with minimal effort. I’m not telling you you can lose weight by sitting on the sofa eating cookies all day. But you don’t have to be following some elaborate diet and exercise plan either, unless you are training for a bikini competition or some other competitive sport. Most of us just want to feel healthier and happier in our bodies, quit the obsession with food and exercise and just live and enjoy our lives. Right?!

If you want to make things as easy as possible for yourself, focus on simplicity and habits. Choose simple actions that you can take consistently until they become habits. When you first start to make healthier choices, of course it’s going to be a challenge. You might have to learn new information about which types of foods to eat, how to move your body and how to tune into your body (for example through tracking and syncing with your menstrual cycle!). You probably have to change some of your existing habits, try new things and get out of your comfort zone. You have to constantly be self-aware and make decisions about which actions to take. There could even be some uncertainty holding you back and you might not fully trust the process, especially if you have tried hundreds of times in the past to lose weight and improve your health. All of this means that there is a lot of mental focus at the start and you need to put in effort to keep yourself on track.

But as time goes on, if you continue to take consistent action in the direction of your goals, those actions will start to become habits. You won’t have to make so many decisions, you won’t even think about them anymore. It will become automatic and easy. For example, when I started my “diet recovery” process many years ago, I wanted to change the habit of eating low-fat foods as my goal was to gain weight and get my period back. In the beginning, my habitual action was to choose the low-fat version of everything and so every time I went to purchase a low-fat food, I had to stop myself and choose to act differently. This was difficult for the first few weeks but after that, choosing the full-fat option became my new normal and I didn’t even think about it anymore. The same process works for any habit you want to change, whether it’s starting to eat breakfast in the morning, going for daily walks, eating vegetables with your dinner or meditating.

It’s much easier to build habits when the actions you take are simple. If you need to use fancy recipes, have access to gym equipment or follow some 20-step process it puts you at a greater risk of letting things slip and giving up when you feel tired or when things feel too difficult. If the actions are easy they can become automatic to the point where no matter what is going on in your life you still do them without thinking. You want your healthy choices to become the easy option. On that note, I will leave you with some suggestions on building simple habits which will help you to stay consistent and meet your health goals with less stress!

  1. Have a fixed shopping list prepared with healthy items that you eat every week. Especially staple foods like produce, grains and dairy products. You can always add extra things to the list that you don’t need every week and rotate the list every couple of months. This will make your shopping trips much faster too as you’ll know where the items are!

  2. Limit your meal choices and rotate. I usually suggest having 3 breakfast ideas, 5 lunch and dinner recipes but it depends whether you like more variety or you’re happy eating the same foods on repeat. Eating similar meals day to day takes away some of the decision fatigue of choosing what to eat.

  3. You can also use “component based” recipes like I recommend to my health coaching clients where the base recipe structure is fixed and you vary the different ingredients e.g. porridge with different fruits and spices, stews with different vegetables and beans. This gives you enough variety to not get bored without having to learn loads of new recipes.

  4. Add daily walks into your routine. Walking is an amazing exercise for your overall health and weight loss, don’t underestimate it! Walking gets you outside in the fresh air, get your body moving in a gentle way and helps you relax your mind and de-stress.

  5. Have options for when you don’t have time. Especially have some go to meals that take less than 15 minutes to prepare and some at home workouts you can do in under half an hour (including walking!). You can spend more time on the days you feel like it but having a minimum that feels easy to achieve makes it much more likely that you’ll follow through.

  6. Stack habits together to help you build multiple habits at once. For example, taking a vitamin D supplement with a glass of water first thing in the morning or focusing on mindfulness and meditation when you are walking

Over to you…

I hope you enjoyed this article and the series so far. Let me know in the comments below your thoughts on keeping it simple to reach your health goals.

  • If you want to follow along with this Real Health January blog series, like this post and follow my blog for daily updates. And please share with anyone you think might be interested!
  • If you are looking for guidance, support and accountability on you health journey, please contact me for information on the health coaching packages I offer. I would love to work together with you to get you feeling your best again!

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Real health #18 Masculine vs. feminine energy a balanced approach to weight loss

Think about the last time you tried to lose weight? Did you have a structured meal plan, count calories or track macros? Did you think that carbs were the devil or “the fat you eat is the fat you wear”? Did you stick to a regimented workout plan from a coach or personal trainer and never miss a day no matter how tired you were? Did you have an expectation to lose Xlbs in 12 weeks and feel disappointed with anything less than that? How did these strategies work for you? My guess is if you’re reading this article it probably didn’t work out so well!

The thing that these strategies have in common is that they are all a masculine energy approach to weight loss. Masculine energy is great, we all need a dose of it in our lives. It is logical and rational, it gives us structure and helps to build discipline. All excellent things! The problem with masculine energy approach to weight loss though is that it forces us into this micro-managing mindset where we believe that controlling every aspect of our lifestyle will get us the results that we want. All that calculating and measuring is tiresome and you need a lot of motivation and will power to keep it up long term. Not only that but our bodies hate to be restricted and deprived and it won’t be long before they fight back with increased hunger and cravings. This is why most diets fail and you end up gaining the weight back, plus some.

So if these are masculine energy approaches, what does a feminine energy approach to weight loss look like? Feminine energy is that flowing, surrendering quality that brings beauty and mystery into our lives. When it comes to weight loss, a feminine approach is much more intuitive. Rather than relying on external factors to determine how much to eat and how to move your body, you turn inwards and listen to your own body, learning to work with it rather than against it. No more rules or restrictions but instead a flexible approach that is adapted to your needs and preferences. Rather than being your own bootcamp trainer you take on a caring, nurturing approach, having compassion and acceptance for yourself rather than criticism and shaming. Understanding that health is about more than just weight loss and being open to seeing all of the holistic improvements in your health rather than being focused only on the number on the scale.

So how can you start to implement a feminine energy approach to weight loss?

Feminine energy approach to diet

  • Intuitive eating is the foundation of the feminine energy approach to weight loss. Learning to tune into your hunger and fullness cues is key! Trusting yourself to know when you are physically hungry and allowing yourself to eat until you feel fully satiated rather than stopping because you should or because you have eaten your allotted calories for the day.
  • Tuning into your cravings and understanding what your body is trying to tell you. We have cravings for a reason, whether it is a physical or an emotional need. Choosing the right foods and the way you build your plate plays a big role in how satiated you feel – something I dive into with my health coaching clients.
  • Understanding that you are human, not a robot! Developing understanding of why you act the way you do and not expecting perfection. Always plan for failure and have a plan B so that you don’t panic and completely give up when you can’t prepare your meals yourself. You want a weight loss plan that fits in with your life so that you don’t have to worry about social situations, events, travelling etc.

Feminine energy approach to movement

  • Make movement a part of your daily life rather than separating out your “workouts”. We are designed to be active and we feel good when we move. The active couch potato model of sitting down all day then going hard-core with high intensity exercise for an hour is not aligned with how our bodies work and can cause excess stress and even weight gain long term.
  • Move your body in ways that you genuinely enjoy rather than forcing yourself to do something for the results. Some of my favourites are walking, dancing and yoga but you can try anything that is fun for you. See exercise as a pleasure and a way to connect with and enjoy being in your body, remember that it’s the only one you’ll get so you might as well make the most of it.
  • Listen to your energy levels and be flexible with your routine. Skipping a day of exercise is not going to harm your weight loss efforts and might actually be just what you need. Pushing yourself to the extreme is a recipe for burn out, hormonal imbalance and even weight gain as it is a physical stress on your body even if it does feel good in the moment. Rest and relaxation is a necessary part of weight loss too and might actually improve your results.

Feminine energy approach to mindset

  • Start with a 30-60 minute morning routine every day. Set yourself up for a positive day by connecting with your body and setting your intentions first thing. Ask yourself what you need to let go of and what you need to support your energy levels for the day ahead.
  • Keep a journal of the changes you are making and how they make you feel. Do more of the things that make you feel energised and happy and less of those which cause tension in your mind and body. You want weight loss to feel as easy and natural as possible so that it is sustainable long term. If a habit feels obsessive or restrictive, ask yourself how you could do things differently.
  • For the ladies, track your menstrual cycle and start to sync your lifestyle to your natural rhythms. Our hunger levels, energy levels and performance change from week to week. Learning to ride this wave will stop the pattern of falling off the wagon every month when “shark week” comes around. This is another thing I dive deeper into with my health coaching clients!

And above all, remember that all bodies are different and focus on YOUR PROGRESS rather than comparing to others. A huge part of feminine energy is surrender and acceptance of what is. Building healthy habits so you can look and feel like the best version of yourself but knowing when to stop pushing and how to find your balance.

Over to you…

So those are my tips on how to adopt a feminine energy approach to weight loss. I hope you found it interesting and have some ideas to implement yourself. Let me know your thoughts and experiences below.

  • If you want to follow along with this Real Health January series, like this post, check out the recommended posts below and follow my blog for daily updates. And please share with anyone you think might be interested!
  • If you are looking for guidance, support and accountability on your health journey, please contact me for information on the nutrition and holistic health coaching packages I offer. I would love to work together with you to get you feeling your best again.

Real health #12 Signs of a low metabolic rate and how to speed up your metabolism

People always talk about metabolism but what does it actually mean?! Your metabolism is all of the processes which go on inside your body to keep you alive and functioning as a human. This includes digesting the food you eat into macro and micro-nutrients as well as using these nutrients to generate energy in your cells. So what does it mean to have a slow metabolism? In reality, your metabolism can’t be fast or slow, it just is what it is. Actually what people mean when they say this is that their metabolic rate is low. To “speed up your metabolism” you want to increase your metabolic rate.

Your metabolic rate is the rate is how quickly you burn energy to fuel all of these processes. Your basal metabolic rate (BMR) is the amount of calories you burn at total rest and your total energy expenditure (TEE) is your BMR plus the energy you burn through daily activity, exercise and digesting foods. If you have a “slow metabolism”, your BMR is lower than optimal meaning that your body is in energy conserving mode and burning less calories at rest than it usually would. Slowing down your metabolic rate is actually a survival mechanism as it makes your body more efficient and able to keep functioning when less food is available. However, it isn’t the most enjoyable state to live in! A low metabolism affects the way your body functions and can prevent you from thriving and feeling your best.

Sometimes a low metabolic rate can be caused by being underweight, especially if you take extreme measures to get there. But if you are trying to lose weight to get into the healthy range, you want your BMR to be as high as possible so that you can lose weight whilst still eating plenty of food and getting all of the nutrients you need. It’s much easier to lose weight if you are maintaining your weight at 2000 calories compared to 1500 calories as you have that bit more wriggle room. And when your body is in a low metabolic state, it wants to hold onto it’s fat reserves to keep you safe. So if you feel like you’re doing everything right and the scales aren’t budging, a slow metabolism could be to blame. Read on to find out some of the signs of a low metabolic rate and tips for how to increase your metabolism.

Signs of a slow metabolism or metabolic rate

  • Feeling cold, especially in your hands and feet
  • Low energy, fatigue or lethargy
  • Weight gain or difficulty losing weight
  • Dry, cracked skin and lips
  • Digestive issues e.g. bloating, gastroparesis
  • Thin hair or hair falling out more than usual
  • Sleep problems or insomnia
  • Hormonal imbalance, irregular period, no period
  • Low sex drive
  • Brain fog, difficulty concentrating or lack of clarity
  • Getting sick often
  • Feeling weak and/or stiff

Yes all of these things can be related to a low metabolism.. crazy I know. Of course there are other causes for these symptoms so you should always get checked out by your doctor, but if you have ruled out anything else then maybe a low metabolic rate is to blame. When I experienced this, I felt like my body was shutting down and it was terrifying. My sleep was terrible, I felt like a zombie all day, my digestion was a mess and my hair became brittle and thin. I had no menstrual cycle at all and zero sex drive either. Not much fun. I didn’t realise at the time just how many of my problems were related to the fact that my metabolism had tanked and once I followed a protocol to speed it up my symptoms gradually went away!


How to speed up your metabolism

I want to start by saying that we are all born with a different genetic rate, some people naturally have a “fast metabolism” and others tend to hold onto weight more easily. That’s not what I’m talking about here. I am talking about when your metabolic rate is slowed down and you experience any or all of the symptoms above. If your metabolism is low you might just not feel like yourself, like your energy has been zapped and you’ve lost your natural vibrance. There are many potential reasons for a slow metabolism, but here I am going to focus on one that we can do something about: stress. This can be physical stress due to calorie restriction or over-exercise or psychological stress. Any of these can put your body into a state of survival mode and cause your metabolism to slow down. The way out and to speed up your metabolism is to help your body feel safe and relaxed again. How can you do this? Try out the protocol below for a month and see how your body responds…

  1. Diet
    Even if your goal is to lose weight, if you think you have a slow metabolism, I’d suggest you focus first on getting your metabolism healthy. Fixing this first will make it much easier to lose weight down the line and keep it off. If you are on a restricted diet, take a break. Stop counting calories or macros. Stop weighing your food. Don’t restrict any food groups, eat plenty of carbohydrates, fats and proteins. Focus on mainly whole foods but don’t stress out about eating some processed foods too. Basically you want to flood your body with energy and nutrients so that it feels a state of abundance. You can include meat and fish but you can also do this on a vegetarian or vegan diet. Go for energy dense foods such as bread, potatoes, dairy, chocolate, nut butters. Focus less on high water, high fibre foods such as fruits and vegetables. Don’t worry this is only for the short term! Allow yourself to eat till you feel fully satisfied but don’t stuff yourself when you aren’t hungry. Listen to your body and it will tell you what it needs.

  2. Exercise
    If you are currently following an intense exercise regime, please give yourself permission to take some time off. It might seem counter-intuitive to stop exercising to speed up your metabolism and yes you do burn calories through exercising. But exercise, especially chronic cardio can actually decrease your BMR and make your body more efficient at using calories. To speed up your metabolism you want to increase the amount of energy you burn at rest. Especially if you have been doing endurance exercise or high intensity interval training, let your body heal any underlying injuries and relax any built up tension. This is even more important if you are feeling chronically stiff and sore as it is a sign your body is feeling stressed and overloaded. Keep moving your body but try walking and gentle yoga or any other easy going activity that you like instead. Have fun and let go of any pressure to perform, burn calories or change your body. As your metabolism starts to improve and you feel better, you can add in some resistance training to build muscle which will help to boost your metabolic rate even further.

    Remember that this isn’t forever.. this is a protocol for helping your body to heal itself and your metabolism to recover. As you start to feel better and have more energy you can start to switch things up, maybe with the foods you eat or by adding in more exercise. But let this process be guided by your body rather than your mind.

  3. Relaxation
    This is a big one! If you are feeling stressed, anxious and on edge your metabolism is highly likely to suffer. Stress alone can be enough to prevent you from losing weight, so if you feel like you have tried everything and nothing works, take a look at your stress levels and you might understand. Identify the major stressors in your life and figure out a plan, maybe with a coach or therapist, for how you can reduce your stress from these things. If you are stressed about losing weight or comparing yourself to others, ask yourself why? Purge your social media of any accounts that make you feel down on yourself and replace them with interesting or uplifting things instead. Try to bring more relaxing activities into your day whether that is meditation, deep breathing, creative projects, reading, playing with your pets.. anything that helps you to get into a calm and relaxed state. Making relaxation a priority part of your every day self-care routine is a key step to getting your metabolism functioning optimally.

  4. Sleep
    This goes hand in hand with relaxation. There have been so many studies showing the impact of lack of sleep on the metabolism. Poor quality sleep is a stress on your body and can cause your cortisol levels to spike, putting your body into that energy conserving mode and making you more likely to gain weight. Not getting enough sleep has also been linked to changes in blood sugar control and release of the hormones that regulate appetite. Ever noticed that you crave more sweets and caffeine after a bad night’s sleep?! To speed up your metabolism, make sure you are getting as much sleep as you need to feel refreshed and energised. If you are struggling with sleep, try out my tips on dealing with sleep disturbances, especially taking care of your sleeping environment and having a solid evening routine to help you to relax and wind down. If you have chronic insomnia and signs of a low metabolism, focus on the tips here and you might just find your sleep improves naturally along with your metabolism.

How to know your metabolism has increased

Keep track of how you are feeling throughout this process. Look out for changes in your energy levels, sleep and motivation for life. Notice if you are feeling warmer and more relaxed, maybe your hormones and hunger levels become more balanced. Celebrate any small wins you observe and don’t worry if you gain a bit of weight along the way. You are in this for the long haul and setting your body up for future health and success. Enjoy the process as much as you can and take the chance to focus on other areas of your life outside of health and fitness. Pay attention to the signs from your body and when it tells you it is ready to start exercising again or to eat lighter foods, you can start to make gradual changes but remember to always let your body lead the way.

Over you to you…

I hope you enjoyed this post on signs of a low metabolic rate and how to speed up your metabolism. Let me know in the comments below your thoughts and experiences in the comments below.

  • If you want to follow along with this Real Health January series, like this post, check out the recommended posts below and follow my blog for daily updates. And please share with anyone you think might be interested!
  • If you are looking for guidance, support and accountability on you health journey, please contact me for information on the nutrition and holistic health coaching packages I offer. I would love to work together with you to get you feeling your best again.

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Real health #11 Should you try the keto diet for weight loss?

As a public health nutritionist, I like to keep track of current trends in the dieting world and wow 2020 was the year of the keto diet! On average there are a million internet searches a month for the phrase “keto diet” and Youtube health and fitness world is full of people sharing their success stories of dropping 10lbs in a week, curing diabetes and overcoming binge eating on a keto diet. You might be wondering whether you should try the keto diet for weight loss. In this article I want to explain a bit about the keto diet, how it works for weight loss and some of the potential risks so that you can make your own mind up.

For anyone not familiar, a keto diet is a high fat, very low carbohydrate diet meaning that grains, potatoes, beans, most fruits and some legumes are off limits. The maximum recommended carbohydrate intake is usually between 20g and 50g per day, sometimes less in the beginning. If you ate this amount of carbohydrates from bread and pasta it wouldn’t add up to much! So generally these carbohydrates come from non-starchy vegetables such as leafy greens, cruciferous veggies, peppers and courgettes as shown in the plates below by the Diet Doctor.

The majority of your energy intake on a keto diet is from fat, usually 75% of calories come from fat, 20% from protein and 5% from carbohydrates. Fat sources are often animal products such as meat, eggs, lard, fish and dairy but there is also the magical unicorn “vegan keto” which only includes plant-based sources such as oils, nuts and seeds. The difference between the Atkins diet and the keto diet is that Atkins diet focuses on the low carb aspect and doesn’t set any limits for protein, whereas keto emphasizes the importance of consuming only a moderate amount of protein. This means that you can’t just eat bacon and cheese all day on the keto diet as they have too much protein!

How does the keto diet work for weight loss?

The keto diet works by putting you into the metabolic state of ketosis. Your body has this back-up mechanism for generating energy when carbohydrates are unavailable, for example during periods of fasting or famine, extended intense exercise or a low-carbohydrate diet. In ketosis, your liver produces ketone bodies from fatty acids which are then transported to your cells to be used in place of glucose for energy. The theory is that adapting your body to run on fat rather than carbohydrates allows your body to turn more easily to it’s own fat stores for energy rather than sending out signals for you to consume more carbohydrates every time your blood sugar drops.

Once you are off the blood sugar rollercoaster, you no longer experience the dips which cause you to experience hunger and cravings. Those who follow the keto diet claim that their hunger levels are significantly reduced and they can go much longer periods of time without feeling hungry. On the keto diet, you have the majority of your calorie intake coming from fat. Even though fat is more energy dense having more than twice the calories per gram compared to carbohydrates and proteins, it also which triggers release of satiety hormones which make you feel full. This helps some people to feel satisfied on much less food than they usually would, especially when fats are combined with low calorie vegetables which provide fiber and water.

By excluding carbohydrates, the keto diet also completely cuts out many energy dense processed foods such as chocolate, soda, sweets, cakes and other baked goods. For some people with more black and white thinking, eliminating these foods altogether is easier than trying to eat them in moderation and it makes decisions about what to eat more simple. Over time on the keto diet, your taste buds can adjust so that you no longer have cravings for these foods, great if you are trying to beat a sugar addiction! Of course there are energy dense snack foods on the keto diet too, especially nuts and seeds, but generally these are harder to over eat because they are so filling.

keto diet foods to avoid
Another useful infographic from the Diet Doctor!

What are the downsides of the keto diet?

Even though the keto diet works for weight loss short term, I’m not convinced that it is sustainable long term. Firstly, it’s complicated! Some people test their urine using ketone-strips or test their blood ketone level to check whether they are in ketosis which can be pretty invasive. At least in the beginning you have to learn the carbohydrate content of different foods and have some way of tracking what you eat to make sure that you are below the recommended 20-50g of carbohydrates per day. I’m sure that over time this gets easier, especially if you eat similar foods day to day, but it still needs some attention and certainly isn’t for everyone. The world isn’t exactly keto-friendly either and finding options to eat when out socialising with friends and at family or work events could be a challenge.

Even if you decide that the complexity is worth it, the risk with any diet that cuts out whole food groups is that your food choices are limited which puts you at a greater risk for nutritional deficiencies. Of course, a well-planned keto diet which includes a variety of vegetables, animal and plant fats can be nutritionally adequate but I’m not sure that every person following this diet is going to do their research and pay enough attention to their diet to make sure they are getting everything they need. Short term in a healthy person this is unlikely to be a problem but when someone attempts the keto diet after a long line of other failed diets, they may already have depleted nutrient stores and could run into problems down the line. Restrictive diets also put you at a greater risk for binge eating and rebound weight gain.

Another risk of the keto diet is that your appetite might be reduced to the point where your don’t eat enough. You might laugh at this one, especially if you think your problem is eating too much, but when you are removing so many types of foods from your diet it can be easy to accidentally under eat. the problem with extremely calorie restricted diets is that can be very stressful for your body. I wrote above why calorie restricted diets don’t work in a previous post so you can check that out for more information but in short, when your body perceives a large energy deficit, it starts to freak out and tries anything it can to reduce your energy output and maintain balance. This is commonly known as starvation mode and can lead to low energy levels, fatigue, slow growth and repair, and hormonal issues.

keto diet fatigue keto flu
Photo by Andrew Neel on Pexels.com

On the other hand, many people report feeling high energy when they start out on the keto diet. This might seem like a positive but it can be a sign that your body is releasing stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline as it struggles to adjust to the extreme change in diet. Cortisol is normally released by your body during low blood sugar events to trigger release of stored glucose from your muscles into your blood stream and this can be more intense as your body adapts to ketosis. Reports of hair loss, sleep issues and menstrual disturbance in women who attempt the keto diet can be because it is just too stressful for the body. Again, a generally healthy person may be able to handle this adjustment period but someone who is already under a lot of pressure and stress might want to think twice about whether the keto diet is for them.

Finally, there is the risk of medical complications with the keto diet. Removing carbohydrates affects the water and electrolyte balance in your body and can lead to dehydration, low blood pressure and kidney problems. The “keto-flu” is common as the body transitions into ketosis and can cause headaches, dizziness, nausea, bad breath and low energy. The keto diet was originally developed to cure epilepsy and was carried out under medical supervision. It is now being widely promoted as a weight loss diet but the long term impacts of the diet on the body are not fully understood. If you decide to try out the keto diet, you should know you are putting your body in an extreme state and effectively conducting a science experiment on yourself!

So should I try the keto diet to lose weight? And how can I reduce the risks?

It’s not for me to say whether you should try the keto diet for weight loss or not. It isn’t something I would try myself or recommend to my health coaching clients but there are definitely people who have had success with it. I would always ask the question of whether you need to put your body through such extremes or whether there is an easier way. But with that being said, if you do decide to try it out I’d suggest the following to reduce the risk and make the transition smoother:

  1. Always speak to your doctor before you start out. Check that you have no pre-existing medical conditions or nutrient deficiencies that could be made worse by the keto diet.

  2. Do your research. Don’t just dive into the keto diet but take some time to research what to eat to get the nutrients you need as well as other precautions to take or supplements you might need.

  3. Transition slowly. Rather than going from a standard omnivore diet straight into keto, try gradually decreasing your carb intake over time to give your body chance to adjust.

  4. Stay aware of your physical and mental health. If you feel like you are suffering in any way, don’t be afraid to “fail” the diet. The keto diet is definitely not for everyone and it is ok if it doesn’t work for you.

Over to you…

I hope you enjoyed this post on the keto diet and the blog series so far. Let me know in the comments below your thoughts on the keto diet and your experience if you’ve tried it.

  • If you want to follow along with this Real Health January series, like this post, check out the recommended posts below and follow my blog for daily updates. And please share with anyone you think might be interested!
  • If you are looking for guidance, support and accountability on you health journey, please contact me for information on the nutrition and holistic health coaching packages I offer. I would love to work together with you to get you feeling your best again.

Other posts you might like

Real health #9 How to enjoy exercise and healthy eating and make getting healthy fun

A quick, lazy post today as it’s Saturday and we have been out all day enjoying nature, it’s getting late and I am tired and hungry. We drove down to Saronida this afternoon and went for a walk on the beach even though it was pretty cloudy and windy but we just needed to get out of Athens and get some fresh air. This lockdown has been loooong and even though we managed to get out for a hike and to see some friends over Christmas it is really starting to drag now and there’s still no end in sight.

Anyway, I thought that today is as good a day as any to remind you to have fun as you work towards your health and weight loss goals, in case you forgot! Wherever you are on your health journey, whether you are just starting out changing your lifestyle or you have been focusing on health and fitness for years, don’t forget that the purpose of improving your health is to enjoy your life more. Getting healthy really doesn’t have to be a chore. If you hate your diet and your workout routine feels like hell, try something different. If you hate yoga and meditation, you have to don’t do it! There isn’t one road to health so experiment and find what works for you.

I used to believe that controlling everything from restricting the foods on my plate to sticking to the same, high intensity workout regime was what I needed to do if I wanted to reach my health goals. I never really thought about whether I actually enjoyed it or not it was just something I had to endure. Nowadays my approach is definitely more fun! I practice yoga because I love it. I dance because I love it. And I eat in a way that I genuinely enjoy. If I’m not enjoying something and my body is sending me a hell no signal, I listen rather than push through it. Of course I still challenge myself.. right now me and my boyfriend are working up to running 5km in 30 minutes (well I am as it’s already easy for him) but if we had planned a run and I am feeling exhausted on the day, I won’t feel like a failure if I skip it.

I always recommend to focus on building healthy, sustainable habits that you enjoy rather than a quick fix to lose weight where you also lose your sanity. Even if your goal is to lose weight, focus on health first and your body will find it’s happy place but focus on weight loss alone and you just might lose health in the process. Remember that health doesn’t always equal weight loss. On that note, here are a few of my tips on how to enjoy eating healthy food and how to make fitness fun..

How to enjoy eating healthy food

  • Get creative and take the effort to make your plate look pretty, even if you’re eating alone
  • Have plenty of variety in your diet (unless you’re the type of person who genuinely loves eating the same things on repeat)
  • Try out a new food or recipe at least once a week, more if you have the time and the energy
  • Get your family involved and share your healthy meals with them so that you don’t feel left out
  • Don’t feel like you have to deprive yourself of all treats, remember the 80:20 rule!
  • Remind yourself that your taste buds adjust over time and you will genuinely start to crave healthy foods

Fun ways to improve your fitness

  • Try out a dance class, learn salsa, street dance or ballet
  • Experiment with gymnastics, acro-yoga or rock climbing
  • Get fit with friends, join a running group, cycling club or try out group exercise classes (as long as you can social distance)
  • Mix things up, if you normally exercise in the gym then get outdoors or vice versa
  • Listen to music or a fun podcast as you walk
  • Try out a yoga or fitness challenge at home to keep you motivated

And finally, remember that even though things might feel difficult and impossible to enjoy at the beginning, it does get easier! Once you start to eat healthier foods on a regular basis, your taste buds will change over time to the point where you actually enjoy and even crave them. As you improve your fitness you will start to enjoy moving your body more and more. Keep things simple, have fun and be kind to yourself.

Your challenge for today is to reflect on your own “health regime” and ask yourself whether you genuinely enjoy the things you are doing. If not, how could you make it more fun?

Over to you…

I hope you enjoyed these quick tips on how to enjoy exercise and healthy eating and the series so far. Let me know in the comments below your thoughts on how to have fun on your journey to health.

  • If you want to follow along with this Real Health January blog series, like this post, check out the recommended posts below and follow my blog for daily updates. And please share with anyone you think might be interested!
  • If you are looking for guidance, support and accountability on you health journey, please contact me for information on the nutrition and holistic health coaching packages I offer. I would love to work together with you to get you feeling your best again.

Other posts you might like

why diets don't work

Real health #7 Why calorie restricted diets don’t work long term

The fact that restrictive dieting works for weight loss is one of the most widespread myths of the western world. We are made to believe that to lose weight, or maintain a healthy weight, we need to restrict our calories to 1800, 1500 or even 1200 calories a day, cut out all treats and always choose low fat or low carb options. I remember being a young teenager and reading the pages on weight loss and celebrity diets in women’s magazines and thinking this is how I need to eat to be beautiful and successful.

Yes, dieting works in the short term but what happens a few months or years down the line? The fact is that most diets don’t work long term. It’s estimated that 95% of people who lose weight on a diet gain it back within 5 years. So many women (and men!) are stuck in this constant cycle of calorie restriction and deprivation followed by rebound overeating and weight gain. Not only is this bad for your physical health but the dieting cycle is bad for your mental health too.

The problem is that we don’t see the yo-yo dieting as a cycle. We see it as lots of separate, successful diets with periods of failure on our part in-between. We see the diets as being successful due to our initial weight loss and then blame ourselves for “falling off the wagon” and gaining back the weight. Then of course, we see the only solution as starting a new diet. What we don’t realise is that with every cycle our body builds it’s defenses against the perceived famine. Your body does this by:

  • Slowing down your digestive system in an attempt to squeeze every last calorie out of the food that you eat, leaving you feeling bloated and sluggish.
  • Turning down your metabolic rate so that you waste less energy as heat, resulting in a drop in your core body temperature and symptoms such as cold hands and feet and sensitivity to cold.
  • Growth of your nails and hair also slows down as your body tries to conserve energy by limiting unnecessary functions and women may experience disruption to their menstrual cycles.
  • Even you slow down as you start to feel the effects of being in a chronic energy deficit such as fatigue, brain fog and muscle aches and pains.

Basically, everything slows down when you are on a calorie restricted diet! Not only that, your body develops ways to persuade you to eat more when you diet, including decreasing the hormones which make you feel full and increasing your hunger signals. Your body is smart and it remembers where the the highest sources of calories are. Calorie restriction can lead to intense cravings for sweet and fatty foods making you feel like you just don’t have the willpower that you used to. Often, we feel like we have no control around food and start to think about it wayyyy too often. We blame ourselves and try to diet harder but in reality it is the restrictive dieting that is causing the problem!

Even though our society views dieting as the healthy and often even the moral thing to do, chronic calorie restriction and yo-yo dieting are some of the most damaging habits for our bodies long term. Really, calorie restriction can go one of two ways:

  1. Sustained weight loss / chronic calorie restriction

Yes there is a small percentage of people who lose weight through dieting and successfully keep it off. However, it is important to realise that those who lose weight through dieting need to eat less and less over time in order to maintain their weight. Sometimes this is referred to as “metabolic damage” but in reality it is actually our bodies getting super efficient. Naturally our energy requirements decrease as we get older so it’s much better to keep our metabolic rate as high as we can while we are young.

Restrictive dieting doesn’t only mean you are eating less calories but you are also taking in fewer nutrients putting you at risk of deficiencies. Remember, weight loss doesn’t always equal health! Being in a calorie deficit is also a stressor for our bodies, causing levels of stress hormones such as cortisol to sky rocket. Short term, this has the effect of raising your blood sugar and increasing the breakdown of lean tissue for fuel. Long term, chronic stress affects all systems of the body causing digestive issues, a suppressed immune system and an increased risk of cardiovascular disease… and you thought going on a diet was healthy??

  1. Weight cycling / Yo-yo dieting

Cycling between extreme calorie restriction and rebound overeating is a trap that many dieters fall into. One of the issues with this is that we can still end up depriving our bodies of essential nutrients. In the dieting phase, we might be eating healthy food but as I said earlier, if we are not consuming enough calories then it is unlikely we are getting the nutrients we need. In the rebound phase, our bodies are desperate for energy so we are much more likely to reach for calorie dense, processed foods that provide that quick surge of energy but still don’t provide enough of the essential nutrients for a healthy, thriving body.

Of course, this is another survival mechanism as if we were in a true famine it is much better to survive with a nutrient deficiency than to waste away from lack of energy. But when we are practicing this pattern of yo-yo dieting and calorie restriction again and again throughout our lives we can get into trouble. In addition, each weight loss cycle results in loss of muscle as well as fat which can change our body composition significantly over time. Reduced lean mass leaves us with a lower resting metabolic rate (i.e. the amount of energy we burn in a day with no activity), meaning that each time we fall of the wagon we seem to regain weight quicker and each time we diet it gets harder and harder to lose weight.

So if dieting is off the cards, what is the solution?

As I said in a previous post, you can definitely lose weight on restricted diets such as a paleo, keto or vegan diet if you need to. I don’t think these diets are doomed to failure but it’s important to make sure you are eating enough to keep your metabolism healthy and your body feeling safe. If you aren’t feeling full and satisfied after your meals and are constantly wanting more, it’s unlikely you are eating enough. That said, I think jumping off the diet wagon altogether and learning to eat intuitively is one of the healthiest things you can do for your long-term health. I really recommend the book Intuitive Eating by Evelyn Tribole as a guide to escaping the diet cycle and tuning into your body’s needs. It is definitely a journey rather than a quick fix as it take time to unpick old habits and form new ones but one that is so worth it!

Right now, I am in the healthiest place I ever have been with food. I probably weigh 15-20lbs more than my old “goal weight” but in time I am realising how warped my view of ideal actually was. Now I am at a healthy weight for my body where my hormones are balanced, my hunger levels are in check and I feel fit and strong. Plus, I have maintained this weight for the last 4 years on probably twice as many calories than I used to eat which is so liberating. I eat food that I love and that I know is nourishing for my body and eat plenty of it. And when I want to treat myself I do. I go out to eat knowing that I can have whatever I want with no guilt and I eat until I am satisfied (sometimes more and that is ok too!).

If you are currently stuck in the dieting cycle, today’s challenge is to take a moment to write down a timeline of your dieting history and look at the patterns.

I know for me it really helped to see on paper how long I had been chasing my tail – just how many times I had lost and gained the same 5lbs and just how many “fresh starts” I had had. Sit and really think about the emotions that you feel during each phase of the cycle and ask yourself whether it is worth it. And if not, know that there is a way to step out of all of that and into food and body freedom.

Over to you…

I hope you enjoyed this article and the series so far. Let me know in the comments below your thoughts on calorie restriction and whether it works long term.

  • If you want to follow along with this Real Health January blog series, like this post and follow my blog for daily updates. And please share with anyone you think might be interested!
  • If you are looking for guidance, support and accountability on you health journey, please contact me for information on the nutrition and holistic health coaching packages I offer. I would love to work together with you to get you feeling your best again.

Other posts you might like

oats nutrition label

Real health #5 Is counting calories for weight loss a good idea?

Today’s topic in this Real Health January series is counting your calories, specifically whether counting calories to lose weight is a good strategy. I’m sure most people these days are aware of the idea of calorie counting and might be familiar with calorie counting apps like My Fitness Pal and Chronometer. But to quickly cover the basics, a calorie is a unit of energy commonly used to describe the amount of energy in a food. This energy comes from three macro-nutrient groups: carbohydrates and proteins which have 4 calories per gram and fats which have 9 calories per gram. You can find the amount of calories (kcal) on the nutrition label of most foods. Usually the label will also have the recommended guideline daily amount for a typical adult, like the one below for porridge oats.

There are many “macro calculator” websites where you input your age, gender, height, current weight and how much weight you want to lose and it will tell you how many calories you should aim to eat per day to reach your weight loss goals. You can then count calories in the food that you eat and try to stay in the recommended range. Sounds simple. But is counting calories to lose weight a good idea? And is there another way?

The benefits of counting calories for weight loss

It is true that calorie counting has been linked with successful weight loss in multiple scientific studies. In order to lose weight, you need to be in an energy deficit (i.e. burning more calories than you take in through food) and counting your calories can be a good way to make sure you are doing this. Calorie counting can be a helpful tool for anyone who has absolutely no idea how much they should be eating to become familiar with the portion sizes they need to eat to lose weight. Over time counting calories can be a good way to learn more about the nutritional values of different foods and which foods are more satisfying for the amount of calories they supply. For example, a 500ml bottle of coke which doesn’t fill you up at all has more calories than the bowl of porridge shown above!

There is also a concept called “if it fits your macros” in the fitness world which means that you can eat whatever you like and still reach your weight loss goals, as long as you eat within the recommended calories and macro-nutrient ranges. This makes the calorie counting approach very appealing to anyone who doesn’t want to give up treats and other foods they like or follow any specific diet rules. It allows for flexibility in the types of foods you eat which for some people is a very freeing approach to weight loss. This is similar to the idea of Weight Watchers or Slimming World where every food has a points value and you can eat whatever you like as long as you stay within your points allowance for the day.

The problems with counting calories for weight loss

Even though counting calories for weight loss can be successful, personally it’s not a method I recommend for several reasons:

1. My training is in public health nutrition so for me, health always comes above weight loss with my clients. Counting calories focuses only on the amount of energy in foods and doesn’t consider the nutritional value. As well as calories and macro-nutrients, we need micro-nutrients such as vitamins and minerals to maintain strong healthy body including a well functioning metabolism and immune system, strong bones and teeth and healthy skin, hair and nails. It’s better to eat a higher number of calories in whole foods than it is to eat a low number of calories in processed junk foods. You could eat 1000 calories a day in only chocolate cake and lose weight but that wouldn’t be healthy or sustainable in the long term!

2. Calorie counting apps and nutrition labels are not 100% accurate. The information is based on laboratory tests that have an accuracy of +/- 10% which means that if you count calories to precisely 2000 per day, in reality you could be eating anywhere from 1800 to 2200 calories which is a huge range and could have a massive impact on your goals! The same goes for calorie and macro-nutrient calculators, they aren’t tailored to your individual body but are based on averages and statistics. So just because a calculator tells you to eat 1500 calories per day to lose 2lbs per week, it doesn’t mean that will happen for you which can be pretty frustrating.

3. Counting calories for weight loss is a very rigid approach. Usually you will aim for the same calorie target each day which doesn’t fit with the constantly changing, flexible way our bodies work. Your calorie needs can change from day to day depending on many factors including how much activity you did, how much sleep you got or how much stress you are under. For women, our calorie needs can also shift cyclically with our hormonal rhythms (see my posts on how to eat with your cycle). Counting calories encourages us to over ride our natural hunger cues and can lead to eating when you’re not hungry just because you “have calories left” or not going to bed hungry because you “ate your calories for the day”.

4. Counting calories and macros can easily become an addictive or obsessive behaviour. Research has linked use of calorie counting apps and fitness trackers with the onset and maintenance of disordered eating behaviours. Whilst it might seem harmless, and it can be if it is a short term measure to learn about nutrition, tracking food and counting calories is a slippery slope and can become compulsive and controlling. As I shared recently in my post on letting go of the over-controller, it’s much better for our overall health to be flexible and intuitive rather than rigid and focused on numbers.

Alternatives to counting calories for weight loss

So if you’ve decided counting your calories isn’t for you but you still want to lose weight, what are your options? I’m not going to tell you that you can eat as much as you like of whatever you want and still lose weight because that’s not realistic. Unless you are a competitive athlete who needs ridiculous amounts of calories to fuel yourself..

But you don’t have to rely on calorie counting apps either to reach your goals. One option is intuitive eating. I can write a whole separate post on this but the basic idea is that of really tuning into your body’s hunger and fullness signals and cravings and learning to eat mindfully. Often we eat whilst on the computer or on the go without really paying attention to our food. Or we eat for emotional reasons or boredom rather than true hunger. Learning to eat intuitively helps to improve your relationship with food and be able to enjoy a wide range of foods without following specific diet rules.

The alternative to calories counting and intuitive eating is to follow a restricted diet. By this I mean any diet which limits the types of foods you eat. Ever wondered why there are sooo many different diet books out there all claiming to offer you the solution to your weight loss woes? Well that’s because there is no one true diet to follow that is perfect for all humans. These diets work because by limiting the types of foods you eat, they automatically limit the amount of calories you consume. Some examples:

  • Whole foods or Paleo diet (limits processed foods)
  • Keto or Atkins diet (limits carbohydrates)
  • Vegan or plant-based diet (limits animal products)
  • Starch solution (limits fats)

Honestly I think all of these diets can work and if you experiment and find one that suits your tastes and lifestyle you can find weight loss success. Personally I have always leaned towards intuitive eating and a more plant-based diet as it suits my tastes and ethical values but for someone who really craves animal-based foods and prefers to eat smaller portions, they are unlikely to last long on a diet that focuses on high volume plant-based foods. I think it’s much better to let go of dogma and realise that we are all different. As I always say, listening to your body and working with it rather than against it is much more likely to lead you to health and happiness than constantly fighting and controlling yourself with force.

Your challenge for today is to reflect on diets or weight loss methods you have tried in the past. What worked and what didn’t? Think about what might be the best approach for you and your specific preferences, tastes and lifestyle.

Over to you…

I hope you enjoyed this article and the series so far. Let me know in the comments below your experience with counting calories and whether you think it’s a good way to lose weight.

  • If you want to follow along with this Real Health January blog series, like this post and follow my blog for daily updates. And please share with anyone you think might be interested!
  • If you are looking for guidance, support and accountability on you health journey, please contact me for information on the nutrition and holistic health coaching packages I offer. I would love to work together with you to get you feeling your best again.

Other posts you might like

yoga in nature warrior 1

Real Health #4 What is the best exercise for weight loss and health?

January is a time when lot’s of us decide to start a new fitness regime to lose weight and feel healthier. But what is the best exercise for weight loss and health? If you look on social media you will see endless photos of “fitness influencers” doing crazy gym workouts and high intensity circuit training. They get millions of likes when they share photos of their toned thighs and shredded abs but is it really necessary to train like an athlete to reach your goals and is intense exercise for weight loss truly healthy? The answer is, it depends! When it comes to weight loss, it always comes down energy out vs. energy in. Simply put, to lose weight, you need to burn more energy (calories) than you eat from food. In other words, your net energy must be negative to lose weight.

But the catch is that our bodies are far from simple machines which makes the picture of weight loss much more complicated. To understand this we need to realise that changing one part of the weight loss equation has an impact on the other elements. And this is why more exercise doesn’t always result in faster weight loss. Our bodies like nothing more than staying balanced or in homeostasis and they will use every power that they have to keep things as they are. Especially when we use extreme tactics such as intense exercise to lose weight, our bodies resist and fight back. I’ll give you some examples of how your body tries to compensate when you exercise intensely:

  • It will try to compensate for the energy burned by minimising your natural movements throughout the rest of the day – aka the “active couch potato” syndrome
  • It can ramp up your hunger hormones and decrease the hormones which make you feel full and satiated to make you eat more than usual after your exercise – familiar with that bottomless pit hunger after working out intensely?!
  • Over time your metabolism will become more efficient and learn to do more with less energy – this could look like a slowing of your heart rate, reducing body temperature and blood pressure
  • For women who exercise intensely, it can result in the body shutting down the “unnecessary” fertility system to save energy and disrupt her menstrual cycles

Does this mean that intense exercise is unhealthy?

No, it just means that it is not necessarily the best exercise for weight loss. Challenging your body through cardiovascular exercise is a good thing and if you want to improve your physical fitness, high intensity exercise is great a few times a week. But slogging it out in the gym for 1-2 hours every day to burn as many calories as possible is more likely to be a stress on your body and won’t help you to reach your health goals. Athletes who train at this level for their job have a whole team to support them to make sure that they get the right nutrition, rest and rehabilitation to keep their body healthy at this level of activity but nowadays it seems like everyone is training like an athlete for the sake of achieving a perfect physique.

I always say to stay aware that things you see online may not always be as they seem. People that you admire or compare yourself to might look healthy and fit on the outside but you never know what is going on inside. I recently enjoyed watching the journey of Stephanie Buttermore, a well known fitness influencer who admitted that behind the scenes she was struggling with extreme hunger, fatigue and hormonal issues and decided to go “all in” to recover her health. Her issues were more around restrictive eating but this goes hand in hand with exercise. Restrictive eating and over-exercising can have very similar impacts by creating too large an energy deficit for the body to handle without a stress response.

So what is the best exercise for weight loss and health?

To start with, I’d say any exercise that you genuinely enjoy and will stick to. It’s much better to build a sustainable habit of working out for 30 minutes three times a week that to go all out and exercise every day then give up after a week. With exercise for weight loss and health, consistency is key! Everyone is different and we all like different things. Some people really enjoy working out at the gym, others prefer running or cycling outdoors. You might like taking your dog on long walks or walking in the park with a friend. For me, dancing and yoga are the two ways of moving my body that I really love and don’t feel like exercise at all. I also love walking outside whether that’s a stroll around the area or a long hike in nature.

In my opinion, walking is one of the best exercises for weight loss. Why? Let’s go back to the weight loss equation. Walking is a low intensity exercise which gets our heart rate up into the fat burning zone but not usually to the point where we are out of breath or struggling to speak. This means it is a low stress type of exercise that won’t cause your body to freak out and try to conserve energy or send you signals to over eat to compensate. Walking is a way of moving your body that can fit into your every day life and doesn’t have to separated as a workout. You can walk to work or to the shops, or you can meet a friend for a lunch time walk. Walking doubles as time to relax and to move your body too, maybe you can listen to music that you like or a podcast or chat on the phone. Walking is suitable for all levels of fitness from absolute beginners right up to experienced athletes and it’s completely free!

If your goal is to lose weight, start by walking for 30 minutes every day and see how you feel. You can then add in other exercise that you enjoy to mix things up and have fun. Moving your body should be enjoyable and afterwards you should feel tired but not completely exhausted. If you are feeling totally depleted after your workouts then it’s probably a sign that you are over doing it for your current level of fitness and you could risk burn out or injury. If you are also trying to change your diet to eat healthier, go easy on yourself! It’s much harder to make healthier food choices when your body is starving after an intense workout and often we can fall into the trap of binge eating on energy dense foods such as sweets and processed food. We want to be gentle and work with our bodies rather than against them so always check in with how you feel.

So your challenge for today is simply to go for a mindful walk! It doesn’t matter whether it’s for 10 minutes or an hour but be sure to pay attention to your surroundings and to how you feel in your body and mind afterwards. Notice whether you feel fatigued or energised and whether your stress levels have increased or decreased.

walking in nature

Over to you…

I hope you enjoyed this article and the series so far. Let me know in the comments below your experience with exercise for weight loss and health and what your favourite exercise is.

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