the problem with fitspo

Real health #16 The problem with fitspo and fitness influencers

I actually wrote this post about 5 years ago for my first ever blog site! This was before fitness influencers were a huge thing, or at least they weren’t really on my radar, but I think it is more relevant than ever today. I’ve updated it a little but the core message is still the same. Enjoy!

This morning a friend posted this image on Facebook..

fitspo

I know she had the best intentions behind the post but it really got me thinking about the “fitspo” trend, fitness influencers and their effects on viewers’ body image.  The Urban Dictionary definition of the word fitspo is:

“Images of active, strong, and fit women that promote proper exercise and diet. May also include images healthy foods. Much like thinspo (images of dangerously thin women used by people with eating disorders to motivate) but healthier.”

From the definition it sounds like a great thing. Replacing the horrible trend of “thinspo” and encouraging women to be healthy and active.. both of those things get a great big TICK from me. However, what can’t be escaped is the fact that images like this still encourage women to focus on their body shape and size. They still provide a body ideal, a goal for women to aim for. They still encourage women to base their self-worth on their appearance and attach morality to food and exercise. And this results in the same feelings of unworthiness and disappointment for those women who don’t follow the rules and don’t look like the picture-perfect Instagram fitness models.

The image above does an amazing job at showing us that the number on the scale is, well only that really. A number. The point here is that body weight and BMI are pretty meaningless and bodies of the same weight can have completely different body shape and composition. That’s all well and good, but what does the image imply? That we should be focusing on getting lean and toned instead of skinny? That it’s much better to be heavier and look like the photo on the right? Yes it may be successful in shifting the focus away from the scale and obsessing over how much you weigh but to what… the way your body looks in the mirror or a photo?

Lots of women (myself in the past included) have fallen into the trap of shifting their health and fitness goals from trying to weigh as little as possible to eating clean and looking lean and muscular. Maybe it’s getting abs or building a booty. But what the fitspo images like the one above don’t show is how the woman is feeling in each photo and what her life really looks like. What kind of behaviours is she engaging in to maintain her body? What is her overall health like? How are her relationships and social life? Is she following her passions or is she spending every waking minute obsessing over eating healthy food, exercising and comparing her body to others online?

There could be a whole range of things going on behind the scenes. We often assume that just because someone looks “normal” that they are not suffering and this is not always the case. Disordered eating can take on so many shapes and sizes. Bulimia and exercise bulimia, orthorexia, food fears, laxative abuse, binge eating, compulsive exercise. All of these can often go unnoticed as people can maintain a normal BMI and not end up looking like the skeletal eating disorder stereotype. I am not saying by any means that the girl in the photos is suffering from any of these issues but what I am trying to say is not to take photos like this at face value. Images mean nothing unless we know the full story behind them.

For me personally, looking extremely lean and fit came at a great cost. I did all of the healthy things. I worked out daily. I ate clean. I drank plenty of water. But I didn’t feel good and I didn’t know why. I wasn’t healthy. My periods were totally absent. I started to wake up in the early hours of the morning for no reason. I felt fatigued all of the time and had to rely on more and more caffeine to get through the day. I know not everybody will have the same experience but I am sure I am not the only one. It took a lot of effort to unlearn all of the so-called healthy habits I had developed and get back to focusing on feeling good. Finally after going back to university to study public health nutrition, diving into my yoga practice and becoming a qualified teacher I found a balance where I could feel good and maintain a slim, healthy body without taking it to the extreme or letting it take over my life.

For those of us in the health and fitness world, food and exercise and shaping our body can easily become the focus of our life. Yes it is fun to experiment with food and of course moving your body feels great. But it doesn’t have to be your sole purpose. It is very easy to get caught up in the social media bubble and forget that there is an outside world. Real life connections and meaningful relationships where you can be yourself can do so much more for your health and wellbeing than following some online fitness guru and feeling connected to others by the restraints of whatever lifestyle they preach. My point in this article is to let you know that you don’t need to idolize anyone and your body is perfect whether you feel more like the “before” photo or the “after”. Remember to focus on the things that keep you feeling happy and healthy above all!

Over to you…

I hope you enjoyed this article from 5 years ago Amy. I would say my opinions haven’t changed much since then. Let me know in the comments below your thoughts on fitspo and fitness influencers, do you find watching them uplifting and motivating or does it make you feel bad about yourself and like you need to change?

  • 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.

Other posts you might like

Real health #14 The power of a morning routine for mental health

Imagine this scenario… you wake up at 7.45am, 15 minutes before you need to start work, you rush to have a shower and get dressed, switch the TV onto the news channel, make yourself a coffee then turn your laptop on and start working through the 200 new emails in your inbox. Or maybe you wake up, lie in bed for half an hour scrolling social media then jump into your car and join the hour long traffic jam via the Starbucks drive through. By 10am you are feeling ravenous so you grab a chocolate bar or pastry that you can eat at your desk and maybe another coffee to keep you going for a couple of hours. How do you think you will feel by the time your lunch break arrives? Probably frazzled, ravenous and irritable! How we start our morning can set the tone for our entire day.

Now think about an alternative scenario… you set your alarm for 7am so you have an hour to spare until you start work. You take a few deep breaths before getting out of bed then go and brew your coffee or tea, pour it into your favourite mug and take 15 minutes to sit and enjoy it slowly, taking some time to tune into your body and how you are feeling, maybe making a to do list or writing in your journal or chatting with your partner or kids. You have your shower, playing some music in the background, and get dressed for the day. You still have a bit of time before work to prepare yourself a healthy, filling breakfast before switching on your laptop or heading out to work. At 10am you are ready for a break, so you go outside for some fresh air or a 10-minute walk and grab a piece of fruit for a little boost on the way. How do you think you would feel after a morning like that? Probably much more energetic and positive!

Ok I’ll stop with the Bridget Jones references now, but you get the idea. I know it might seem idealistic, but I’m not talking about creating a picture-perfect Instagram worthy artsy morning routine every day. I am talking about some really simple changes that you can implement into your life which have huge results. If taking an hour for yourself in the morning is unrealistic, even half an hour or 20 minutes can be enough to totally shift your mindset for the day ahead. It’s so easy to fall into the trap of the first scenario. We lead such busy lives these days that we can feel like we don’t have time for a slow morning routine, or we are so exhausted that even getting up 20 minutes early feels impossible. The reason I am writing this post today is because this morning I was in such a rush to go out for an appointment I totally skipped my morning routine and now I am feeling it!

The morning is such a precious time of the day for you to start building your energy. You wake up after a nights’ sleep replenishing your “energy credit” for the day. From there on it’s your choice how you prioritise where and how you spend that energy. Every action you take either depletes or builds on your energy reserves. There are some things we can’t avoid but why not preserve our energy where we can? Slowing down, being mindful and avoiding information overload from the TV, phone and the internet during the first part of our day can help to reduce some of the “mini-stresses” which deplete our energy before the day has even begun. And adding in activities that boost your energy reserves like yoga, meditation and breathing exercises can help us to feel energised and motivated for the day ahead.

I’ve used the idea of creating an energy bubble with my health coaching clients and it really works. If you have a busy and stressful day ahead, you hate your job or you are dealing with difficult people, taking time for yourself in the morning can really help you to raise your energy and mood and things become much easier to handle. It might seem selfish to put your own needs and self-care at the top of your to-do list for the day, but I am telling you now that if you want to be your most energetic and happy self, you need to do just that. I’m not saying to focus on yourself at the expense of everyone and everything else. But I am saying that you need to prioritise a few things that keep you feeling good in order to show up at your best for the other demands of your life.

So, today’s challenge is to spend some time thinking about the things that you genuinely enjoy that leave you feeling energised and alive.

I’ve listed some examples below that fall into 4 categories: physical, sensual, creative and spiritual. Feel free to use these as inspiration to create your own list. Try to fit at least one thing from your list into your morning routine each day and notice the impact on your energy and mood and you never know, once that becomes a habit you might be tempted to add more!

PhysicalSensualCreativeSpiritual
Walking
Stretching/yoga
Dancing
Fresh air/sun
Mindful shower
Upbeat music
Drawing
Writing
Playing music
Journaling
Prayer
Meditation

Over to you…

I hope you enjoyed this article on the power of a morning routine. Let me know in the comments below your thoughts favourite morning routine ideas 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.

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

Real health #8 Benefits of yoga for health and how to start a home yoga practice

The benefits of yoga for health are endless! Of course, as a yoga teacher I am pretty biased but I honestly think that starting a yoga practice is one of the best things you can do for your physical and mental health. In this article I want to share the top benefits of yoga for health that I have experienced over the last 10 years of practicing yoga.

Benefits of yoga on the body

The practice of yoga has so many health benefits for people of all ages. A daily yoga practice, even if it is just 10 minutes, is a great way to get your body moving, get your blood flowing, loosen up your joints, improve your flexibility and strength. Physical health benefits of yoga include:

  • Better cardio-vascular health and reduced risk of heart disease. Like any other type of exercise that gets your body moving, the health benefits of yoga include improved cardio-vascular fitness. Unlike many other types of exercise, yoga is low intensity and not stressful on the joints so it is a great way for those new to exercise to start out. Vinyasa and other types of “flow” yoga can be especially good for improving your fitness.

  • Lowered blood pressure. Practicing yoga regular can help to lower your blood pressure, reducing your risk of heart disease and stroke. There are certain yoga postures which specifically help to lower blood pressure including standing forward fold, downward facing dog and legs up the wall pose. Practicing yoga daily along with a healthy diet can lead to huge improvement in your blood pressure readings.

  • Reduced muscular tension from prolonged sitting and sedentary lifestyles. Now more than ever we are spending increasing amounts of time in front of our computers and phones. Especially with COVID19 restrictions, many of us are working from home and sitting for long periods of time. Yoga helps to counter-balance habitual tension in the neck, shoulders and hips creating a sense of ease and wellbeing in your body.

  • Improved flexibility, balance and joint health. One of the most well-known benefits of yoga for physical health is improved flexibility. Remember you don’t have to be flexible to practice yoga but practicing yoga will help to improve your flexibility! Yoga practice improves mobility in all of the main joints in the body including the spine, knees, hips and wrists, helping you to stay fit and mobile as you get older and improving your quality of life.

  • Stronger, more toned muscles. Many fitness enthusiasts see yoga as “not challenging enough” but then you get them on the mat and watch them struggle! A yoga practice can be a full body workout where you are challenging and all of your muscles in a holistic, functional way. Of course, the intensity of a physical yoga practice varies a lot but practicing yoga can definitely be a great way to strengthen and tone your upper body, core thighs and glutes.

  • Improved sleep quality. Yoga helps to calm and relax both the body and mind which can help you to get a better nights sleep. Practicing yoga in the morning helps you to stay calm and relaxed throughout the day and sleep more soundly at night. a gentle bedtime yoga practice is also an excellent way to wind down, let go of the stress of the day and prepare your body for sleep. Better sleep has all sorts of health benefits including better blood sugar control, improved energy levels and lowered inflammation.

Benefits of yoga on mental health

As well as the physical health benefits of yoga, there are also many mental health benefits of yoga. In today’s busy world, most of us feel some level of pressure, tension and stress on a daily basis and cases of anxiety, depression and other mental health issues are also on the rise. The benefits of yoga for mental health include:

  • Reduced anxiety and stress levels. Getting yourself onto your yoga mat to take some time for yourself and close out the outside world is a great way to reduce anxiety and stress levels. Unfortunately life will happen and no matter how we try to reduce the external stressors in our life the past pace and pressures of modern society will always cause us some level of stress but practicing yoga helps to reduce this stress and the anxiety that going with it.

  • Improved nervous system health. Because of the high levels of stress, adrenal fatigue and burn out are becoming more and more common. If you have a stressful job or busy family life, drink a lot of caffeine or spend excessive time on the internet or social media it’s highly likely that your nervous system could do with some attention. Yoga practice, especially breathwork and meditation but also physical asana practice is a great way to nurture your adrenals, activate your parasympathetic nervous system and and strengthen your capacity to deal with the stress of daily life.

  • Feelings of calm and wellbeing. Regular yoga practice helps you to tune into your body, notice habitual patterns of tension and gripping and learn to let go into deep states of relaxation. Often we hold on tightly to life, feeling like we need to control every little thing but yoga invites us to surrender to the flow and accept what is, creating a sense of peace and wellbeing in your body and mind

  • Improved self-awareness. I wrote an article on yoga and self-awareness recently but I think improving self-awareness is a key benefit of yoga for mental health. Yoga helps you to listen to your thoughts and feeling and over time to become aware of patterns that may be hurting you or holding you back in life. Through practicing yoga regularly, you can learn to rewire these patterns, changing the way you think about yourself and the way that you approach life.

  • Greater connection with others. Yoga classes have been an amazing sense of community for me over the years. From the huge gym classes I took when I started out my practice to the intimate group in my teacher trainings, I have always found yoga to be a gateway to deep connection with others. I’m not sure if it’s because people who are more emotionally open and vulnerable are drawn to yoga or whether it is yoga that cracks people wide open but either way, I’ve always found this sense of connection and community amongst yogis. For those interested in embarking on a spiritual path, yoga is also a great way to connect with your surroundings, higher self and something greater.

How to start a home yoga practice

I started practicing yoga by going to face to face classes and I always recommend this as the best route for beginner yogis. But a home yoga practice is a great way to complement teacher led classes and deepen your practice. The way that I started my home yoga practice and still continue to learn more about yoga is through reading yoga books. You can find books on the foundations of yoga, yoga philosophy and history, yoga anatomy and physiology and meditation and pranayama (breathwork). Some of my favourite yoga book recommendations are:

Yoga: The Spirit and Practice of Moving into Stillness by Eric Schiffman
Yoga for Women by Bobby Clennell
Light on Life/Light on Yoga by B.K.S. Iyengar
Thrive through Yoga: A 21 day journey by Nicola Jane Hobbs

These yoga books will give you different perspectives and techniques and highlight the health benefits of yoga. They will talk you through the basics of connecting with your breath, quietening your mind and learning the alignment of the asana which will form the foundation of your home yoga practice.

Also with the internet and social media it is now easier than ever to find information and learn how to do things at home. There are endless yoga tutorials on Youtube from beginners foundation classes to crazy advanced ashtanga sequences. Whatever level you are at, you can find an online class to suit you. Some of my favourite online yoga teachers are Yoga with Adriene, Yoga Upload, The Mindful Movement and Cat Meffan. You can check out my Youtube channel Moon Life Yoga as I am planning to upload more guided yoga classes this year!

I am also offering 3 online yoga classes a week during the COVID19 pandemic.

Yoga for Absolute Beginners – Tuesday 1pm UK/3pm Greece

Yoga for Beginners/Intermediate – Thursday 4pm UK/6pm Greece

Yoga for Women – Sunday 4pm UK/6pm Greece

You can find out more information and sign up for classes here.

Over to you…

I hope you enjoyed this article and the series so far. Let me know in the comments below your thoughts on the health benefits of yoga and how your yoga practice has affected your physical and mental 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

self-sabotage and health

Real health #6 Why you self-sabotage your health and how to stop

Ever wondered why you just can’t seem to that new diet, exercise regime or self-care plan? Have you set yourself hundreds of goals for your health and just when you seem to be on the right track you fall off the wagon or do something to mess it up? Do you find yourself falling into the same patterns of destructive behaviour again and again? This is called self-sabotage and it might just be the thing that is getting in the way of you reaching your health goals.

Self-sabotaging patterns include procrastination from healthy habits or or any form of addictive behaviour such as binge eating, substance abuse or over-using social media. It is defined as behaviour that deliberately causes you harm and gets in the way of you reaching your long term goals i.e. preventing you from becoming the person you want to be. I say deliberate meaning that the behaviours are often things you know aren’t good for you but often the thoughts that drive self-sabotage are unconscious meaning we aren’t even aware that we are having them. All we know is that one minute we were enthusiastic and motivated to reach our goals and the next we have given up and are back to square one.

self-sabotage and health
Photo by Nathan Cowley on Pexels.com

Why do we self-sabotage?

Psychology research says that self-sabotage is a pretty common phenomenon. We all have that critical inner voice that develops during our childhood and for some this voice is harsher and louder than for others. The voice might say that you are lazy, that you are unworthy of success or that you’ll never reach your goals so you might as well give up. Whatever it is for you, we all have a dark, destructive aspect of our psyche that just wants to destroy things, labelled by Freud as the “death drive”. It is that part of us that doesn’t seem to want happiness and seeks to disrupt anything that seems good. You might be thinking why would I ever destroy my own health and happiness?! But so many of us do it.. think of all the times you have stopped doing something that made you feel great or carried on with bad habits that you know don’t make you feel your best.

As humans we like the familiar, things that we know and understand. Our brains are wired to think and act in a certain way in the world. Our neural connections get stronger with repetition like thousands of hikers walking the same pathway across a field until a deep muddy path forms. So when we want to change our habits and develop ourselves, it takes work to form a new pathway! When we start out, it’s very easy to fall back into the groove of our old ways. Most of our actions during the day are done on auto-pilot without us even thinking about it. It takes much more energy to make decisions about our behaviour and take conscious action and our brains are energy conserving machines. So it’s totally understandable that we will slip up more than once when we are trying to change our behaviour.

I recently watched a video by Irene Lyons, a nervous system expert, who explains that procrastination, self-sabotage and “fleeing from health” (i.e. repeating the same unhealthy behaviours again and again) is even more common in those who have had a traumatic or stressful childhood. Because this feeling of stress or lack of safety has become a normal state of mind, anything else feels alien and the unconscious mind acts quickly to disrupt things. She says that the origin of self-sabotage is stored trauma or trapped survival stress in the body which needs to be processed and released.

How to eliminate self-sabotage and reach your health goals

I don’t think it’s possible to fully eliminate self-sabotage. We aren’t robots and we can’t expect ourselves to behave logically and rationally 24/7 according to the rules we set for ourselves. But there are ways we can try to minimise self-sabotage and make it easier for us to work towards our goals.

1. Have self-awareness. Being aware of your destructive thought patterns and self-sabotaging behaviour is the first step to overcoming them. Depending on how severe a problem this is for you, you might need the support of a therapist. But you can always start by spending some time in silence and solitude each day, without the distraction of technology, to tune into your inner world. Listen to the repetitive thoughts and observe the feelings that come up and reflect on how these could be contributing to your self-sabotaging behaviour.

2. Start small. Rather than setting yourself a massive goal to go from couch to marathon in 6 months, try setting smaller more manageable goals. If there is a huge gap between your current self and your goal, it can feel intimidating and overwhelming and you are much more likely to give up and sabotage any progress you have made. It’s better to focus on the actions rather than the end goal i.e. “meditate for 5 minutes a day” rather than “be able to meditate for an hour” and over time gradually increase the time that you practice. Make your goals achievable so that you can be boosted by your success rather than falling into patterns of critisising yourself for not reaching the high standards you have set for yourself.

3. Plan for failure. Once we accept that self-sabotage is a normal part of behaviour change, we can start to plan for those occasions when we are likely to fall into the unconscious self destruct trap. Think of this as the “if, then” approach. You can think of situations which are likely to trip you up or common scenarios that occur when you are trying to create healthy habits. For example, if I binge eat at night then the next morning I will have a healthy breakfast and go for a walk. If I forget my running shoes for my lunchtime jog, I will go for a walk instead. If I skip my morning yoga and meditation practice I will have a gentle stretch before bed instead. Or if I had a stressful day at work and I want to have a takeaway on the way home, I will go for a healthier option like rice and veggies rather than fish and chips or a whole pizza.

4. Have self-compassion. This goes along with planning for failure, by learning to expect ourselves to fall back into old behaviours rather than expecting ourselves to be perfect. When slip ups inevitably do happen we can learn to show ourselves kindness and understanding rather than beating ourselves up over it. This way we can avoid the inner critic running the show and keeping us stuck in negative thought loops and self-sabotaging behaviour. We can see self-sabotage as a normal part of the process and see it as an opportunity to learn more about ourselves and the funny ways our brains work.

5. Relax into health. Stress and living in an anxious, fear based mindset is going to make you more likely to sabotage yourself and fall into unhealthy coping mechanisms. This includes stress from putting pressure on yourself to take certain actions or reach your goals. To reduce self-sabotage, it’s important to try to relax and allow your nervous system to move out of flight or flight mode. This could be through a dedicated meditation practice or by simply taking breaks during the day to focus on your breath and consciously relax tension that has built up in your body. The key is to not make relaxation another task that you have to do but by focusing on the relaxed inner state that you want to feel.

Your challenge for today is to take a few moments to reflect your own behaviours and whether self sabotage is a common pattern for you whenever you are trying to improve your health and maybe you can identify any repetitive thoughts and feelings that could at the root of your self-sabotage.

OVER TO YOU…

I hope you enjoyed this article and the series so far. Let me know in the comments below your experience with self-sabotage and your tips for dealing with it.

  • 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.

  • 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

setting smart goals for health

Real health #2 How to set health goals for the new year

In yesterday’s post I asked you to think about what it means to be healthy and what true health means to you. Hopefully you spent time doing the visualization exercise and you now have an image of your healthiest self. Today I want to share how to set goals to work towards becoming healthier and making this a reality! Goal setting is like creating an action plan to get us from point A (where we are now) to point B (where we see ourselves in the future). Setting goals is not for everyone but it can be helpful to give us direction and give our actions meaning. Making progress towards our goals can give us a sense of purpose, make us feel good about ourselves and boost our self-confidence.

Often we come into the new year with crazy ideas of all of the ways we are going to change and better ourselves, all of the new actions we plan to start and all of the old habits we want to let go of. Have you ever committed sincerely to giving up alcohol completely, exercising for an hour every day and cooking all your meals at home only to find yourself the next Saturday night having a takeaway and beers with friends and spending the whole of Sunday lying on the sofa watching old episodes of Peep Show? Sometimes we can set so many health goals for ourselves that we become completely overwhelmed and it feels easier to go back to our old ways. If we want to make lasting changes to our health we have to be more realistic and aware of our less than perfect nature and the challenges of living in the world when setting goals for ourselves.

How to set goals to improve your health

So where do you begin with setting goals? Start by going back to your visualization of your healthiest self and think of the overall picture of what you want to achieve in one area of your health. For example:

  • I want to eat healthier
  • I want to exercise more and become fitter
  • I want to reduce my stress levels
  • I want to improve my relationships and my social life
  • I want to drink less alcohol
  • I want to improve my confidence and self-worth
  • I want to spend more time outside

These are all great examples of “New Years’ Resolutions” but if you want to make these a reality, you want to set more detailed goals on how you are going to achieve these things. I’m sure some of you are familiar with the idea of SMART goals in business and this can also be useful when setting goals for your health.

setting smart goals for health

Psychology research shows that setting yourself goals which are Specific, Measurable, Attainable/Achievable, Relevant and Time-bound makes you more likely to achieve what you want. What does this mean in practice? It’s easier to explain with an example. Imagine your overall goal is the first point above to “I want to eat healthier”.

Specific – What do you mean by eat healthier? Do you mean you want to eat more fruits and vegetables or less processed foods? Do you mean you want to stop skipping breakfast and eat more regular meals? Do you want to include more vegetarian or gluten-free meals in your diet? Do you want to aim for a certain calorie or macro-nutrient target? Be as specific as you want and if it is relevant, as well as what also think about how, when and where you are going to do it.

Measurable – How are you going to decide whether you have achieved your goal and how will you measure your progress? Maybe you want to aim for a 5 of portions of fruits and veg a day or prepare 3 home cooked meals each week? Do you want to limit takeaways or chocolate to once a per week? Do you want to drink 5 glasses of water a day? You can keep track of your health goals in a journal or in an app like Habit Share.

Achievable – Are you being realistic with your goal? Think about where are you now vs. where you want to be.. how confident do you feel that you can achieve this goal? If it seems like too big a step, would it be better to break it into smaller mini-goals? For example, if you want to work towards preparing dinner at home every day but right now you eat ready meals every night, maybe it makes more sense to start cooking 3 times a week and build it up over time.

Relevant – For this one go back again to your visualization of what health means to you. Reflect on your goal and whether it will help you to move towards this. As you are deciding on the goals it’s pretty likely that it will be relevant but its worth a check. If your goal is to let go of diet rules and become free around food, setting yourself the goal of limiting takeaways to once a week is probably not relevant!

Time-based – Lastly think about when you want to achieve your goal by and whether this is a good time to start? Reflect on your personality and whether you prefer shorter term mini-goals or long term bigger challenges to work towards and set your goals based on this. You could set goals on a weekly, monthly or even yearly basis but choose a time frame and set a reminder in your phone or diary to review your goals.

Some examples of SMART goals…

I want to eat healthier → For the month of January I will prepare a healthy breakfast at home every day before work

I want to exercise more and become fitter → I will go for a 30 minute walk in the local park at lunch time 3 times this week

I want to reduce my stress levels → I will spend 10 minutes focusing on deep breathing in bed before I go to sleep every night this week

I want to improve my relationships and my social life → This month I will call an old friend to reconnect at least once a week on a Sunday night

I want to reduce my alcohol intake → By the end of January I will cut down drinking from 2 bottles of wine a week to 1 by replacing weekday drinks with flavoured water

I want to improve my confidence and self-worth → Every morning this month I will look in the mirror and say 3 things that I like about the way I look, my personality or my skills and abilities

I want to spend more time outside → First thing in the morning, at least 3 times a week, I will sit outside for 5 minutes

You can repeat this process with different areas of your health but remember not to overwhelm yourself and think about what is realistic for you. It’s much better to change 1 habit a month for a year than try to change 12 habits at once and give up completely. I think setting 3 goals at a time is probably the maximum if you want to stay focused and on track but only you know what is best for you.

So your challenge for day 2 is to write down your goals for the month of January

Three goals I am setting for myself this month are:

  1. I will practice yoga for at least 10 minutes a day whether that is a full practice or 10 minutes of stretching before bed
  2. I will start every day with a glass of water, juice or herbal tea and avoid caffeine when I am on my period
  3. I will practice menstrual cycle awareness and write in my journal at least 3 times per week

Over to you…

I hope you enjoyed this article on how to set health goals for the new year. Let me know in the comments what your goals are or whether you find setting goals helpful or not.

  • 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

Work with me!

After a lot of deliberation I’ve finally decided to put myself out there and offer 1-2-1 health and nutrition coaching. I’ve been studying and practicing what I preach for years now and it’s time for the next step!

You can check out my credentials on the home page and if you are interested in hearing more then contact me via the form on the Work with me page. I will be offering discounted rates on all services for the first 3-6 months so go ahead and take the leap if you are looking for support in developing a healthy lifestyle that allows you to reach your goals whilst being kind to your body and remaining sane in the process!

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