The health world is full of quacks and pretenders, snake-oil salesmen who latch onto the latest buzz-words without understanding the science – or lack thereof – behind them.
Rarely a day goes by without me picking up a client – or even a fellow trainer – spouting some half-truth they probably read on the internet, without any idea of how to implement it as part of a successful training program. Debunking every fitness myth would be a full-time job, but here are some of my favourites, and my workable solutions.
Myth: "I need to cut out carbs/gluten/alcohol/sugar to lose weight"
This is completely false. Yes, if you were to cut down on these things, you would see some positive changes, because you would be consuming fewer calories. Weight-loss is about creating a calorie deficit – that's all. We will always encourage eating healthy foods over junk, but at the end of the day if you are over-eating you won’t lose a pound.
I had a client who only eats "healthy", non-processed foods, no refined sugars, no sweets, but she was having a really hard time losing weight. I got her to track her daily intake and found out that her two avocados and bag of nuts every night, along with her three daily meals, meant she was eating a surplus of around 2,000 calories. No wonder she wasn't losing weight.
At No1 Fitness, our nutritionist will never say you can’t drink alcohol, or that you have to cut out carbs. This tactic might work in the short-term, but it will make you miserable, which is not sustainable. We live in London, there is a big social element to our lives and it’s important to enjoy yourself. The main thing is that you’re aware of how much you are consuming, which will allow you to make better choices without cutting out all of the nice things in your life.
I recommend using the app Myfitnesspal to track your daily intake for a few days, and I guarantee you will learn a lot.
That being said, if you come to me saying that you want to get in shape for a holiday and only have five weeks, alcohol is an obvious source of surplus calories that you could cut down – or off completely – in order to make such a quick transition.
Myth: "I can train two or three times a week and get myself in great shape"
If you want to make real changes to your body, I have some bad news: you’re going to have to exercise at least four or five times a week. At No1 we recommend a minimum of three training sessions a week, and our challenge to clients is to get them up to five. Exercise, of course, can mean many things, and not just workouts in the gym. If you enjoy rock climbing or cross country skiing or gymnastics, then great – anything that pushes the body and works your muscles will have a positive impact.
This may seem like a lot of work, but once you start showing some positive results, you will naturally want to train more, train harder and eat better. There’s a snowball effect to working out that will have positive impacts on many aspects of your life.
Myth: "There is no exercise program that works for me"
I hear this all the time, usually at the start of the year when everyone is trying to honour their new year’s resolutions, or work off their Christmas belly. These people go full-pelt for a few weeks, don’t see any immediate results and then fall off the bandwagon. The ironic thing is they probably are seeing positive results, they just aren’t looking in the right place.
People tend to focus on very narrow goals – losing weight on the scales for instance – and any other form of progression goes unnoticed. If your goal is to lose two stone, you are effectively failing every time you weigh yourself until you see that weight shift.
At No1 Fitness we work with the clients to identify a number of goals and work out various ways of measuring them. Weight often doesn’t change right away, so its really important to show the client where they are progressing.
We take regular photos so the client can see how they're progressing from week to week. We take detailed body measurements. We ask people to track how well they are sleeping. We even have a machine that can measure your body-fat percentage. If you’re working out regularly, it’s unlikely that you won’t see improvements in at least some of these areas, and that can provide the motivation you need to continue down your road to better health. You can still have an overall goal to drop those two stone, but it should be one part of a far more detailed plan.
So, to reiterate, here are my myth-busting tips to getting fit:
Stick at it, it’s working: Find a number of ways of measuring your progress and be consistent with them. You will see results and that will give you the motivation to hit the next goal and the next one and the one after that.
Don't starve yourself from all your favourite foods: The key here is to account for everything you have eaten. Accept that you will have a big night out every now and then, and build that into your plan for the week – make sure you book an extra session at the gym, or tweak your food plan for the next day or two – that way you don’t have to worry you have "ruined" your hard work.
The more you train, the better: Be prepared to train/move more if you want real results. Simple.