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Thursday, 24 December 2015

How to survive Christmas

This could be used in other countries for other celebrations where food plays a central role but for many of us in the UK and Europe Christmas is the major eating celebration of the year.
We will assume here you aren’t young and trying to add mass. If that is you then simply eat.  The fact you are eating an each few thousand calories will only help your goals, but for people concerned about their waistlines it is time to think about how to minimise the damage.

Do NOT be strong willed

Unless you have a contest that depends upon you making you weight class or a fat percentage then do not avoid everything. Eating a few hundred calories more than normal on one day will have zero effect on you if you stick to the eating plan before and then return to that plan afterwards.  Just remember it is OVERDOING things that gets you into trouble.  Have a handful of crisps (chips in the US), a bite or 2 of chocolate will be fine, just do not binge from morning to night.  Allow yourself a little leeway on Christmas day, but plan on a return to normal training and eat the day after Christmas (boxing day).


Alcohol  is 7Kcal per gram, more than carbs or protein but less than fat.  Alcohol also has the dubious honour of being able to turn on your fat storage systems and switch off your fat burning (nice combo!). Your body burns alcohol over other fuel.  Much of the other food you eat goes directly to storage (fat storage). A glass of wine is not going affect you too badly, infact it may have some benefits, but 6 pints with a few chasers are not going to aid you on the day and will also affect your next training session as you will have a hangover..  If you are going to drink heavily plan on missing a few days of training. To minimise the negatives drink a pint of water after each pint of alcohol and a pint of water and some vitamin C before bed.  You will notice some impaired performance, but it will not be as extreme as it is if you do not do these things.  Eating can also help, but it does increase the chances of vomiting (which may not be a bad thing as you remove alcohol from your system).
Just remember alcohol is a fluid, you can drink many more calories than you can eat. Always eat before you drink.  Foods that absorb fluids slightly slow the absorption of alcohol (bread and similar).
Obviously do not train or do anything dangerous while under the influence of alcohol your judgement is impaired  so be sensible and safe.

Brazil nuts

Traditionally many families have brazil nuts at Christmas in the UK. Brazil nuts are a very concentrated source of selenium.  You only need about 2 brazil nuts to get enough selenium. If you eat around 10-12 nuts you risk overdosing on selenium. So enjoy Brazil nuts in moderation. The worst offenders are the chocolate Brazil nuts you can buy as many people can only manage a nut or two, but cannot resist many chocolate coated nuts!

How to avoid overeating

Christmas dinner is the traditional overeating meal.  Allow yourself some leeway and do enjoy the meal.  A few simple tips will help you survive with a reasonable waistline.
Drink water before and during
Drink some water before you eat and during your meal.  You stomach is a sack, you only have so much room in there.  If it is partly full of water you will not feel as hungry.

 Eat your greens

Eat the green vegetables first when you start your meal.  Green, leafy vegetables are full of fibre, bulky and low in calories.  Like the water they will fill the stomach without many calories.

Use a small plate

A smaller plate makes you eat less. Use a smaller plate and it looks like more food.

Chew your food

Chew your food a lot.  You have no teeth in your stomach, so make sure you chew thoroughly. This will slow eating and it has been shown that eating more slowly actually lessens fat accumulation.

Put down your cutlery

Stop, talk, be sociable.  You are at a family gathering to enjoy the company of others, so enjoy it! It shouldn’t be about the food, it should be about the company, so take the opportunity to communicate with your family and friends.


There is little need to snack on Christmas day as there is ample food at the main meal, so try to minimise snacking.  In most households there are many snacks available all day, so minimise these or stick to less calorie dense snacks, or small amounts of others.

Final points

Christmas is to enjoy.  One day of even terrible eating isn’t going to ruin an otherwise good diet.  So give yourself permission to enjoy some foods and drinks.  What is the point of being the most ripped miserable person in the room?  Have some treats, eat some roast potatoes and then get back to the gym and healthy eating tomorrow. You’ll be glad you did as it will be a day to remember!

Written by Pete Ryan - Clinical nutritionist, personal trainer and massage therapist. Owner of Gorilla Gym

Further reading: "Eating vegan over Christmas" for more tips

Sunday, 13 December 2015

Reasons your diet will fail

This time of year the mind begins to gloss over the excess that is Christmas and start to think about what we plan to do for the New Year.  For many of us it will be the traditional time to fail at the diet New Year resolution.  Every year you believe the same thing ...”This year will be different!”...and every year you fail to make that a reality.

Today we will look at common reasons why I believe most people fail at losing bodyfat. From there we will start to think of ways you can combat those issues.

Issues that will encourage failure

The first of the many mistakes is creating that ‘perfect diet plan’.  You know the one where every bit of food is perfect and every possible source of enjoyable food is removed.  Yes, living on 800Kcal a day will make you lose fat faster, however disaster looms.

 Secondly is the fact that suddenly cutting your calories massively causes the metabolic rate to crash. This will means that you will suddenly feel tired, your levels of leptin (the ‘full-up’ hormone) will drop, and the level s of ghrelin (the hunger hormone)  will rise.  You will be more likely to binge as these hormones will drive you towards feasting.

Thirdly dropping calories too fast means you will lose a lot of muscle mass as well as fat.  The more severe the diet, the more muscle mass will be lost along with the fat.  This is very bad as the amount of calories you need are actually partly decided by how much muscle mass you carry.  If you carry 35% muscle mass before a severe cut , then that drops by 5% or more, your need for calories drops dramatically as well, so keeping that weight off becomes even harder the more muscle mass you lose!

The fourth thing people often do is that they equate suffering with success. This is wrong on several counts. Firstly you can only lose fat without excessive muscle loss at a rate of about 1-2lb a week.  If you are very fat you can do more at the start, but for people needing to lose only a little, 1-2lbs per week seems the best rate that will help maintain the most muscle mass, while the fat disappears.  Also suffering can work for a few days, possibly a few weeks, but no one thrives while suffering deprivation.  You are constantly tempted by foods and you are always feeling tired, rundown.  You also miss out on social events that focus around food like meals out and family celebrations.

Fifth, we reach willpower.  Willpower is not an endless bucket of strength.  Nor do you have a set amount of willpower for one thing and not for another.  Rather like stress you will find that you have a certain ‘bucket’ full of willpower and this can get used up over the course of a day.  To do your morning exercise will use up some of your willpower allowance, to eat that healthy meal will take some more, to do that DIY you planned to finish will take still more.  Adding to that severe, ongoing deprivation of food will probably mean your training and other activities that also take willpower may fail to be accomplished as time goes on.  In the end these failures may lead to a worse outcome than a more moderate diet plan that continues the exercise and other recovery plans you have in place.

Many people actually just want bragging rights not to achieve a maintainable physique.  They are more impressed with “Look at my 30 day transformation”, than with “I made gradual changes in my diet over many months.  I managed to lose the weight and keep it off for several years”.  People are naturally drawn towards the adverts that claim “2 inch bicep gain in 2 weeks”, or “Lose 20lbs in 20 days”.  What they are really saying is that they do not want to make lifestyle changes.  They want to eat the same foods that caused the weight gain, the same way they always ate them...and yet lose the fat they have accumulated over the years.  Does that sound feasible to you?  Real bragging rights should go to the people who have kept the fat off themselves.  Maintaining a physique with a lower fat level than you are used to is harder than just crash dieting and reaching a ‘goal weight’, then going back to eating how you did before.  The real goal should be time a lower fat level is maintained for, not how quickly you achieved a low fat level (followed by how quickly you piled it back on again!).

The next thing we will look at is the idea that ‘optimal’ is best. This is counter intuitive, but optimal is NOT best, ‘doable’ is best.  Let me use an example.  Let’s say ideally you should have a strategic refeed (you can call it a ‘cheat meal’, but I prefer the word ‘refeed’), but suppose you have an invitation for a fantastic adventure out after you have had your refeed?  Now suppose this adventure only had the option of eating less than perfect food choices.  I would say “Grab the adventure!”. Another option may be that ideally you would eat broccoli and tofu many times a week, but in all honest you do not desire that option at all. I would suggest that having some variety will get you to decent fat levels a little more slowly, but will make the journey that much more enjoyable. I would possibly go one step further.  For most people living on ultra-strict dietary guidelines that never waver is impossible, but making smaller, less draconian dietary choices will still allow you to reach your fat-loss goals without the added stress.  It will be slightly slower, but you have the added advantage of learning new recipes you can use once you have reached your fat-loss goals.

The next issue you have to overcome is related to the optimal Vs doable argument. It is the “Hot and cold effect”. This is when you start a project you are super-motivated, so you really do believe you can eat that tofu and broccoli daily.  What you fail to realise is you must be able to empathise with how you will feel after that initial enthusiasm fades. Being able to see how you will fare after the first week, or first few months is something you have to learn if you want to design a successful diet programme.  Remember, you are all about creating a real lifestyle change, not about having two weeks being super-strict then going back to your old eating lifestyle.  If you can clearly visualise yourself (honestly) keeping to a plan over weeks, months and even years, then you will go a long way to achieving your goals

The last point I will bring up on this post is the use of positive associations when talking about things.  Saying “I eat plants.” is a better choice of words than the negative association involved in the phrase “I do not eat animal products.”. Defining yourself by using negative associations has been shown to lessen your chances of success.  The same goes for your fat loss goals. “I think I will eat mainly healthy food today.” Will work better than, “I will NOT eat that unhealthy option for lunch today”. The latter means you will end up thinking of the unhealthy option you are determined not to eat for lunch all morning, and possibly regretting it all afternoon?  Whereas, if you think about the healthy food options all morning, you will more than likely eat them and have no regrets later.

What can be done?

My suggestions are to take small steps towards your goals.  Slowly increase the amount of healthy, wholefoods in your diet.  Allow once or twice a week to eat somewhat less than perfect food (see the 80:20 diet for a few more tips on that).  Remember you are learning a new way to eat so take things slowly and make any changes enjoyable. This also leaves you a long time over which to make changes, so if you stall simply add in the next small change.  If you make every change at once, where do you go from there if your fat-loss stalls?

Remember weight training becomes especially important if you are losing weight as any muscle lost not only makes you look slacker, but it also lowers your metabolism which needs to be as high as possible.  We will look into that more later, but for now, enjoy the holidays, but pop back to this when you begin to plan your diet for the New Year.  You can look vastly better by next summertime if you plan carefully, do not try to do too much, too soon and gradually move towards your goal over time.

Any comments add them below and do not be afraid to ask questions. I included some further reading that you might find interesting below.

Further reading