Thursday 17 January 2019

The Very Best Advice for Losing Weight & Getting Fit

   Made a new year's resolution to lose weight and get fit? (check out my best advice for sticking with your new year's resolution) Or is it mid-June and you fancy the challenge?
   Let me help - I love to help. Here's a compilation of everything I've learned over 5 years in fitness. But I'll deliver you the bottom line right now: eating right and exercise is the only way to lose weight and keep it off. There is no magic pill, fat-burning supplements do not work (well, they do - but to the point of burning an extra 10 calories a day, and is that worth a £25 price tag? 20 Squats are much cheaper), and sauna belts, waist trainers and ab belts are just the biggest waste of money there possibly could be. Sweating loses water weight, which is put back on in minutes. Waist trainers are just corsets and can damage your internal body. Electric ab belts send tiny electric pulses through your abs, but because it isn't a voluntary contraction and isn't moving any weight around, it's as effective as sitting down for half an hour with a mild cough.

   Otherwise, getting fit and losing weight is a wonderful thing to set out on. But don't listen to everything people say to you. People have a tendancy to make light of losing weight and getting fit, saying that it's easy, all to avoid putting newbies off. The trouble is, while they have the very best intentions, it just makes people feel worse when they have their first slip-up - and they will. "How can I make this mistake if it's so easy? There must be something wrong with me. I can't do it, I give up!"
   There is nothing wrong with you, you just put too much stock in someone's encouragement.
   But, that's not to say that it's hard at all. It's just not as easy as some make it out to be. And, let's be honest, if it was easy, everyone would be doing it, no one would be overweight, and no one would give up on their new year's resolutions, right?
   Don't be one of those defeatists. All it takes is persistence, and the best way to succeed is to arm yourself with knowledge! Start small, find something you enjoy and trust in the process of weight loss. Results will fluctuate and that's totally fine, but if you keep at it rather than give up, follow my advice and remain objective rather than jumping onto bandwagons (this is your health we're talking about, not a new TV show), you will get there, and you'll find that you feel a lot happier even before you reach your goal, whatever that might be.
   Also, investing in some pretty workout clothes and kit can be a great motivation-booster! Check out my reader offers page for discounts on fitnesswear and healthy foods.
   And check out Julia Malacoff's top 10 body transformation tips she's learned from her own experience, and wishes she'd known all along!

The Advice:

Start small - don't try to overhaul your whole lifestyle overnight, it won't stick for more than a few days. If it's not maintainable, you can't force it to be.

Drink water - your body can't distinguish the difference between hunger and thirst so they manifest the same way - with a rumbly, empty tummy. So, if you're feeling hungry, even though you ate only an hour ago, have a glass of water and stop thinking about it. If it's thirst, it will be solved in minutes. If it's hunger, then it will still be there 30 minutes later. After those 30 minutes, eat something.

The only bad workout is the one you didn't do - if you don't feel like exercising because of a bad or lazy mood, then ignore it and get to it. You will feel better after having done it - the endorphins released by exercise come on a lot quicker than they do from chocolate, are stronger, last longer, and they're not blunted by guilt at the end. You will also only feel worse for having skipped it. It doesn't have to take long, nor be high-impact - go for a walk, or try some yoga or Pilates. Just make sure you move.

Find an event - that doesn't mean outside, but a monthly challenge. Blogilates often posts them, and they're great for introducing frequent fitness. They're also all found in the 'Challenge' archive on her blog, right at the top in the menu.

Listen to your body - opposing the above statement, if you're not well or you feel weak (without lying to yourself in search of an excuse), then stop and think about it. If you feel sick, dizzy or something hurts, you might be better off delaying the workout, or skipping it for the day. It took me a very long time to realise this, and I had to enforce it as a new year's resolution in 2017 - to learn to identify when I need a break, and act on it. It didn't work overnight - indeed, I sprained my ankle while exercising March that very year. I carried on to the end of the workout. And proceeded to exercise for the following fortnight, terrified of skipping a workout. I eventually got there - I think the resolution only really set in in September - and now I live by it.

Don't feel you have to exercise every day - it takes a full week of inactivity before anything will start to go downhill, and it will be on the inside before the outside. Your stamina may drop a little, strength may drop a little, but it won't start to show on the outside for another week or two. Exercising 4-5 days a week works, and if you're new to the fitness world, it doesn't have to be high-impact. Any movement is good in the beginning - but as you get used to it, you will find yourself seeking something new. Follow it and see where you end up.

Resting is part of the process - your body needs time to repair itself, whether it's from running, kickboxing, weights or Pilates. It can take 48 hours for muscles to repair themselves - at the very least, that means that you shouldn't work the same part of your body on consecutive days. If you do lower body on day, do upper the next. If you do total body, don't do anything that gets too deep the next day, if you exercise at all. Exercise begins change. Rest completes it.

You only fail when you give up.

You don't need to go to a gym - I have never set foot in one. I've dropped from a 63kg size 16 to a 59kg size 8 (hello muscles) and did it all on my own at home with some DVDs and a slowly-built collection of weights, each purchased simply because I wanted them, not because it was some goal to build a home gym. Your body weight is a great place to start - no kit needed, and it builds strength, muscle and power. Dumbbells are the next step, and inexpensive. Kettlebells are the next, and bring with them whole new workout styles, and while not inexpensive, are small enough to store out of the way. Then comes the barbell, which can also be stored out of the way, assuming you take the plates off. I keep all of my gym stuff behind my sofa. You'd never know it for looking.
   DVDs are also valuable, especially Jillian Michaels for her beginner-advanced variations, concise instruction on what not to do for safety in each move, and where you should feel it to know you're doing it right. But you can turn to Blogilates for the same (for free) as long as you're interested in Pilates, which is the lowest-impact body weight workout. Darebee is a huge fitness archive of mostly body weight workouts you can do at home, and to make it even better, some are themed after video games. I've used a few - The Witcher, Dragonborn, as well as Super Saiyan, Mulan and Korra - and they're all fun, different and effective.

Invest in some fitness magazines - I subscribed to Women's Fitness for 4 years, then Women's Health when publication stopped. Having a magazine of inspo, tips, new products, articles and, of course, workouts and recipes delivered every month is a great motivational boost every 4 weeks. Take a peek at a copy in-store, or find a used copy on Ebay for a little less before subbing, of course. By opting for past-issues, you can get a window into the publication for less and a lot quicker. Plus, the information will still be relevant (except of course perhaps for some of the marathon or event ads). Fitness magazine email newsletters are good, too. I sub to Shape and Fitness and get a daily newsletter with nutrition, workouts, motivation and articles.

Don't fear lifting weights - women are physically incapable of getting bulky like men do. We have only 10% of the testosterone men do, and all those women you see who are freakishly chiselled, well, that didn't happen by accident at all. They eat only enough to sustain the muscle and pretty much live in the training room. It will not happen to you unless you want it to, and even if you want it to, you have to work so hard to get there.
   Muscle is what actually creates a curvy shape, and it also increases your metabolism. It takes energy to maintain muscle, and especially to move around with increased muscle, which means that doing the vacuuming after having built lean (trained and tightened) muscle will burn more calories than vacuuming without. You won't necessarily get bigger, though. Think of untrained muscle as a slice of bread. Then trained muscle as that slice of bread screwed up into a ball. It seems smaller, but it's the same, and will take more energy to bend or flex it than a normal, untrained slice.
   It's also incredibly empowering.

Don't get on the scales - and avoid the tape measure. At the end of the day, you'll see progress in the fit of your clothes. Scales and tape measures are great in the beginning, but your body will adjust to the changes and your losses will thin out. This is why it's key to change your workout often (more on that below). You also have to remember that weight fluctuates throughout the month, and that tape measure readings in particular can fluctuate day by day, affected by something you ate earlier that day. So, if you must take readings, do so only once a month, and under the same circumstances. I like to do it first thing on a Friday morning, after having had a rest day the day before, and before I've eaten or drank anything in order to keep all variables down.

Remain objective when your period is near - periods generally result in water weight. In the 2 weeks between ovulation and your period, your body is preparing for pregnancy (even when you're not pregnant) and holds on to as much water as it can. The increase over these 2 weeks (ie by the start of your period) can be anywhere from no gain, to 2.5kg (5lbs). Keep active, drink plenty of water (tea and coffee are diuretics which means they tend to flush fluids out rather than keep them in) and avoid salty foods and the gain will be negligable, but you also have to remember: this gain is temporary. It's only water, though it may feel like you've gone up a dress size and can't button your jeans. The more water you drink, the less your body holds on to (the less you drink, the more it desperately clings onto it), and the less salt in general, the less retention.
   Your pain threshold is higher in your period, however, you are also slower to fatigue, your core temperature is lower, and the amount of plasma (the substance that contains the enzymes and nutrients in your blood) is thicker, ultimately meaning that this is the best time of the month for weight lifting and endurance. Which is great, because no one wants to jump when they're on their period.

Don't eat too little - anything less than 1500 calories a day is too little for the body to function.  Sure you can still walk around and exercise, technically, but your recovery won't be so smooth, your internal processes will slacken and reduce in efficiency, and your concentration and mental efficiency will drop. You may not notice it, but it will be there, and the longer you keep at it, the worse it will become. It will, in time, also only impede your weight-loss. Believe me, I know it too well. After 3 years of eating 1300-1500 calories a day, yes the weight fell off in the first two months, but it soon levelled out. Naturally, the idea of eating less again is the only viable solution. It isn't. Having started at 1500 calories or less in October 2014, I stopped losing weight early 2015, and began suffering from weakness, dizziness, bi-monthly migraines and a generally foul mood. Only in September 2017 was I brave enough to eat a little more, rising to 1600, and while I gained nothing, I lost nothing. I rose to 1700 in October 2018, 1800 in November, 1900 in December. I gained nothing. But I did begin to lose weight, and felt so, so, so good internally.
   Oh, and, if you'd like an example of your body ceasing to function properly: as soon as I dropped below 1500 cals a day, my periods stopped. It wasn't until 4 years later, when I started eating above 1600 calories a day, that they came back. My body's leading biological purpose - to reproduce - had broken.

Try new things and change up your workout - as well as eating too little, trying to do the very same workout every other day for months is a good way of reaching a plateau and stopping all weightloss despite the effort you're putting in. Try to change your workout every month - I did this for four years, and it kept exercise fun and interesting, and it helped me find what I enjoyed. Now I focus on 3-month training plans with 3-4 different workouts repeated every week, but my aim now is muscle, while fat-loss comes in the 4th month, set aside for HIIT and Muay Thai. But I've picked out things that I enjoy and I increase my weights and/or reps every 2 weeks to keep moving the bar and avoid plateaus.

Don't put foods you love off-limits - everything is good in moderation. 80/20 - 80% what your body needs, 20% what you want. If you put it off-limits you're going to be more likely to over-eat it when you do allow yourself a taste at last. Instead of saying "no, I can't," when offered, say "no, I shouldn't" - it's a small new-agey change, but it works. It means that, actually, you do still have the choice, and it makes it easier to say no, and you'll feel happier about it. And it also means that you can say yes from time to time.
   I could never survive if I cut out chocolate. Instead, I've learned to enjoy a single piece. It's taken a long time to get there, but the trick is to eat it slowly, let it melt in your mouth and really enjoy it. I'm at a stage now where I'll take a single chocolate from a box and consume it in three bites, each of which is savoured. It sounds a bit anal, I suppose, but I really appreciate the chocolate that way, and it's much better than just putting the whole thing in your mouth, chewing and being done with it in moments. Chocolate typically isn't nutritious - that's not why I eat it, I eat it because I love how it tastes, so I savour it rather than scoff it. That's also how I'm able to just get by with one.

Don't villainise macronutrients (carbs, proteins, fats) - carbs are your body's preferred source of fuel, so just swap refined carbs (white rice, white bread, white pasta) for wholemeal/whole grain and increase fibre intake. Fibre is key to the absorption of vitamins and minerals, bowel health, and slows the release of sugars - which marks one of the crucial differences between sweets and fruit. Fruit is high in sugar, but it's also high in fibre. Fibre wraps itself around the sugar, like a balloon filled with water. Digestion chips away at the tougher fibre and eventually gets the sugar to leak out, like a hole in the balloon. It comes out slowly and steadily, giving your body better chance to use the sugar rather than just store it up.
   Fats are used to absorb fat-soluable vitamins and nutrients as well as protect your organs and cells. Cutting fats out isn't a viable option - just be sure you get more poly- and mono-unsaturates (basically, not saturated fats) than saturates. 
   Proteins are the building-blocks of cells and help repair your body after a workout, they keep you fuller for longer, and, like fats, are important for the nervous system. But you don't need to reach for protein-enriched bars and the like - it's become a buzzword. You generally get enough protein in your normal day, unless you're vegetarian, in which case you have to keep a closer eye on it. The idea that you need 1g of protein per 1lb of body weight is a myth. Even body-builders only need a maximum of 0.8g protein per 1lb before the intake becomes redundant. The difference? 1g per 1lb would make my daily intake 128g. at 0.8g per 1lb, my intake is 102g. That's a difference of 100 calories. The upside is that your body will convert excess protein into either fat stores or immediate energy - whichever your diet is lacking - which fats and carbs cannot do. That's not to say you can over-do it, because proteins, carbs and fats all contain different nutrients your body needs.

Snack if you need it - get a Graze subscription, or buy some multipacks from their shop. Nutritious, balanced, healthy, no added rubbish, and delicious. I always have a stock, have done for years. And try replacing crisps with popcorn - high in fibre, protein and filling. Propercorn are my favourite. I love their almond & peanut butter popcorn, vanilla and coconut, and chocolate (dusted with cocoa powder rather than wrapped in melted chocolate). All low-fat, low-sugar and low-salt.
   My favourite healthy snacks are Bounce balls (salted caramel, yum), Nakd protein crunch, Graze & Trek flapjacks, Pulsin raw chocolate brownie (peanut & chocolate chip), and a number of Graze punnets. I've reviewed a number of them, and all have added protein, but still have good levels of fat, carbs and fibre, creating well-balanced snacks that taste genuinely great, without the guilt. Try things, find what you love, and stock up!

Avoid fad diets - they simply don't work. Ignore what the celebrities are doing. When was the last time they came up with something scientifically sound? It's part of their job to be slim, and their nutritionists know that, bugger the costs. It's part of the cost of fame. If you're interested in any, view them all objectively. It all seems sound at the moment, right? How about down the line? Not all that long ago, people ate cotton wool because it filled them up. And guess who spear-headed that? The rich and famous. That's the only reason word of it reaches us.
   Low-carb/Atkins is fine unless you take it too far, but if you exercise or are physically active throughout the day, it's likely to ruin you.
   Keto is downright dangerous, and Jillian Michaels recently outlined it - much to the anger of - you guessed it - celebrities.
   High-protein is pointless, as you get plenty of protein in your normal diet, you don't need to load up on protein-enhanced bars. It's a buzzword now. I train, I build, but I don't succumb to it. I opt for balanced snacks and meals - protein, fat and carbs - and try to get the best out of it all that I can. I do have protein bars, but here's the thing: if it looks like a chocolate bar, tastes like a chocolate bar, it's a chocolate bar. Regardless of low sugar, high protein it is. I eat them sparingly, but I admit, they're a nice in-between if I want something naughty but still need a little more protein after training that day, but don't actually want the sugar in a chocolate bar. My favourite? Grenade carb killa chocolate fudge brownie protein bar. Yum. Though I still have actual chocolate 3 times a week!

Saturday 5 January 2019

(Knockout) Birthday Bash

   It's January. Christmas is behind us, and my birthday is in a few days' time, so the festivities aren't quite over. But with my birthday falling so early in the year, I'm now in fitness mode. No, don't feel bad for me, I love it, and I've had more than enough chocolate and ice cream over Christmas and my husband's birthday that I'm more than happy to pick up more sustainable habits again. If not actually relieved.
   I have one more month of my present training plan before a month of Core de Force, which means I start the year knowing exactly what I'm doing, as well as being in the third month and highest personal tier, meaning the heaviest weights I can presently manage and providing the biggest challenge of every plan.
   But, as its birthday/fitness-node, I've given myself the usual epic start to the year, with a lovely new pair of leggings and lots of protein goodies, as well as a few in particular for my birthday.

   I bought a Christmas hamper from Boostbox - 14 full-sized high-protein, low-sugar goodies including chocolate orange spread by Grenade, candy cane Battle Oats Bites and a salted caramel Bounce ball. And since it also included a 40% discount on a Boostbox subscription, I bought myself a premium sub for my birthday. It's due before the 10th, yay.

   I also went to Protein Pick & Mix and bought a few repeats from the Boost Box hamper, as well as a few birthday cake protein bars - Battle Bites again, and the trusty Grenade Carb Killa bars - which I'm excited about. Especially since my birthday is a training day. Yay! Yes, I said yay!

   OYSHO had a post-Christmas sale and I bought a pair of leggings and gloves I've had my eyes on for a while. My first purchase, and I love it, they're even more gorgeous in person, and the gloves fit better than any other pair I have. 'One more round' in rose gold. Hell yes. And so very well padded on the palms. I've been keeping the leggings for my birthday, though.

  MyProtein also had a post-Christmas sale and were offering their 250g Prosecco BCAAs for £10 instead of £20. 50 servings will last me an age. And not only are they prosecco-flavoured, but they're gold shimmer. It's a party in the gym. Well, living room. Hey, no gym fees and I'm in full control of my environment. Balloons please. And here's a discount for MyProtein, if you're interested. 30% off of your first order of £35 or more, perfect for the new year!
   I also bought myself a new 10kg barbell plate from Fitness Mad

   I also bought a few goodies from local favourites, Bird & Brew. Alongside some loose leaf mince pie black tea, because I'm not totally ready to let it all go, I bought blue raspberry green tea, which turns purple with a squeeze of lemon, and the Curiosity Matcha set consisting of mermaid matcha, swamp thing matcha, ultra violet matcha, apple & pear matcha and chilli kale matcha. Some change colour. I want some dragon matcha, but perhaps I can work that out myself...on that note, I have a few awesome ideas...oooh I feel a project coming on...a dangerous project. Oh dear.

   I'm ready for a fit January that is, by no means, bland. Delicious new matcha teas, protein bars for low-sugar treats, new BCAAs and kit.

Tuesday 1 January 2019

2019 New Year's Resolution

   I wrote recently about how to succeed with new year's resolutions. One of my points was not to share that resolution with anyone in order to ensure you're doing it for yourself, not for others, and that you'll feel less ashamed when you slip up and therefore make it easier to get back up and carry on.
   But I have always shared mine because I know that I'm the kind of person more likely to stick to it if I publicly set it in stone. Because I don't want to number among those who have given up. Just like I don't want to number among the 70% of women who choose to eat their stress away.
   But this year, my resolutions are simpler, if more numerous. Actually, no. My single resolution is simpler, but I have a few other things I'd like to achieve, time permitting, but either aren't as important, or will happen on their own if they happen at all.
   My resolution for 2019: to be able to do qi gong once or twice a week without book or DVD reference.

   I have a DVD and the book by Shifu Yan Lei, and I have used it a few times in the past. I used it enough to learn it, roughly, so that I could just use the book, but I've never successfully done it without any guidance. That's my goal. I already have a good grasp on it, so it shouldn't take long to get to that point of confidence, but then I have to enforce its use at least once a week. That's part of why I've not been doing it, because I need the book or DVD, so I can't do it spontaneously, even though it only has to take about 15 minutes. In fact, even though qi gong was a part of my latest 3-month training plan, I have only done it once so far, and unsuccessfully. It sort of defeats the object if I have to stop every minute to check the book.
   A lot of people are probably taking on Tai Chi, but as I started qi gong a couple of years ago, I decided there was little point learning something else if I never completed qi gong, especially since they're both so similar.
   And why bother at all? Mind-Body Intervention. I am always in my head, and qi gong, like meditation or yoga, is a great way to silence it. But I can't sit still in meditation, though I tried last year, and that didn't catch on, and I take yoga too seriously. Qi gong is a happy medium, as is Tai Chi Chuan. Movement, but without the opportunity for muscles to get too involved. And as I'm a writer, and a fantasy writer to boot, it's easy to...well...not leave my work behind for days at a time. I work out thinking about it, I fall asleep thinking about it, I shower thinking about it, it doesn't stop. So I'm hoping to find a way to silence my head for a few dedicated moments a week.

   Otherwise, there are a couple of things I'd like to achieve. I want my next book finished and published by mid-autumn at the latest - it's nearly finished, I'm hoping it will be polished up by the end of March. I'll begin work on the third and final book of the trilogy immediately after polishing it, but the second will have to simmer for a bit before publishing. But, as I said, this ought to happen without conscious effort.
   The next thing is that I'd like to get 2 new collections out on Etsy this year. One I have great ideas for, but it's also immensely daunting and I do think I'm likely to run away from it. I have a list of other themes, though, so I have many options, but the as yet unnamed collection has been in my mind for quite some time and will be starkly different from what I usually do.

   I'm sticking to my plan of three months of training followed by 1 month of MMA three times a year, and now that I've been at it for almost a year, I already have three very reliable 3-month plans and 12 Core de Force workouts which is more than enough to see me through th year without finding anything new. But as Whitney Simmons is so reliable and her channel is full of videos, and I have a rolling subscription to Women's Health magazine, I can easily make another if needs must. I've also been quite successfully enforcing my resolutions from 2016 (changing my workouts) and 2017 (learn when to back off and take a break), so I'm sure I can manage qi gong, and I don't need to make any changes to my fitness methods. As for 2018's resolution - learn when to step back from my book rather than try to power through writer's block - it's a work in progress, and sometimes it doesn't occur to me until it's too late and I've overcome it after wasting two weeks banging my head against the laptop. But when I recognise writer's block, I've taken to leaping onto the Playstation. One afternoon of video games tends to fix it. Two at most. And far better that than two weeks of pointless struggle.

If you're worried about keeping new year's resolutions, check out my earlier post: