This blog was first published in 2016. Enjoy.
So, I’ll describe the scene … Last week I was in Egypt, at a beautiful all inclusive resort where all meals are served buffet style. It was about 11am and I was in the pool playing super heroes with my son, a couple of ladies approached me and said,
“We have noticed you eat a lot of food but aren’t fat; what’s your secret?”
I was a little taken aback and didn’t know how to respond, my first thought were how long they had been watching me for? However I said I would meet them for a drink later and reveal all.
This is what I said;
I always fill at least half my plate with salad first-leaves, cucumber, tomato, red onion, peppers etc before adding anything else. As salad mostly consists of water and fibre it’s energy content is low, therefore you can eat a large volume for minimal energy consumption.
Next I add a source of protein – anything from chicken to lentils to fish or eggs. Protein is satiating (keeps you fuller for longer) as it remains in the stomach for a while due to the digestive system taking a while to break it down to useable form of energy. Approximately about 1/4-1/3 or my plate will be protein, this leaves some room for whatever else takes my fancy – some chickpeas and goats cheese are my current favourites, or if I’m in a particularly intensive period of training then my body would probably opt for rice or sweet potatoes.
3. Apple cider vinegar
I add apple cider vinegar to everything! It’s great to support a healthy digestive tract and adds a tang to foods! Of course a touch of balsamic and olive oil won’t hurt, but for it’s beneficial properties and low energy intake, I would always add apple cider.
4. Ice cream
I love ice cream just as much as anyone else, but I eat it in moderation, I’ll have it once a week on holiday rather than every day. Instead of choosing cakes at the holiday buffet I would choose some of their fresh watermelon and grapes, things like that are habitual though, it takes time to be able to walk past the array of cakes but every time you do it, it gets easier!
5. Meal frequency
In Western society everyone loves to snack. Commonly breakfast, lunch and dinner and relatively healthy and balanced but it’s the snacks that are usually less beneficial for health, biscuits, chocolate bars, crisps, cereals bars etc…
What happens every time we eat is that our blood glucose increases, releasing insulin (an anabolic hormone that we NEED to gain lean mass-which in turn supports fat loss). However insulin also turns off fat burning, so we want some insulin especially around training but to burn fat we need to regulate it so it isn’t constantly released. In the Western ‘grazing’ society we are constantly eating and therefore constantly releasing insulin making it hard to burn fat for fuel.
Generally, people never feel true hunger sensations, they think it’s bad to feel hungry, but by spreading meals out can help can back in touch with what hunger and satiety truly feel like.
At home I generally eat 4 meals per day – breakfast, lunch and dinner with some post workout nutrition too. On holiday I trained before breakfast so breakfast combined both post workout and meal 1. Generally between 3-4 meals work best for most people.
6. Whole foods
My diet consists of predominantly whole foods – I would estimate about 90%, so if I eat 28 meals per week this means 3-4 of them will contain something slightly processed – this would normally be something like yoghurt or feta cheese but could also be ice cream too!
I don’t count calories or macro nutrients, but as long as I get my micros in – meaning as long as I eat colourful vegetables (especially green) and protein at every meal and make sure I include some omega 3 fats and a good source of b vitamins and fibre from starches or pulses, then if I wanted something not as beneficial for health I would have it.
Many people make the mistake of swapping nutrient dense foods for nutrient sparse foods – for example, swapping salmon, rice and broccoli for takeaway pizza, but add a large mixed salad to the pizza or pop a mountain of vegetables on it and it will improve its nutritional value without adding hugely excessive amounts of energy.
Alcohol is nutrient sparse, it’s just provides the body with energy. Personally I rarely drink – I think iv indulged in the odd glass of wine five possibly six times this year. By ensuring you keep intake to a minimum or just of two selected evenings will help reduce overall energy intake.
Water is so crucial for fat burning and other essential metabolic processes, people simply don’t drink enough. It was 40oC on holiday and I was drinking at least 5 x 1.5litre bottles of water. Again drinking water is habitual so by filling a 2L bottle up and aiming to drink that throughout the day is a good place to start.
There are so many benefits to regular physical activity, I go to the gym because I love it, but the gym doesn’t work for everyone. Yes, training obviously burns energy and support fat loss, but that should not be the prime reason to do it, do it because it makes you feel good!
NEAT = non-exercise activity thermogenesis; so in English this means the daily activity you perform that you would not class as exercise. When I am working as a personal training my NEAT is quite high as I am constantly on my feet, in comparison to somebody who is desk bound all day. If I am in the office I will always make sure I get up every hour to have a little walk or similar. it is important to try and increase NEAT – park further away from the shops, get off the bus a stop earlier, take the stairs instead of the lift – they may seem like small things, but they all add up!
Live life fully.