This story was originally written for ABC News Online and Life Matters
Exercise and fat loss are sensitive subjects to broach, even for personal trainers. There are uncomfortable truths every trainer has needed to drop on clients who struggle to get results.
Here are four of the most common nuggets of advice you probably don’t want to hear — but probably need to.
Being thin won’t solve your problems
Get the inside right and the outside will fall into place.
OK, it’s not that simple, but my point is, losing 30 kilos or being able to see your abs isn’t going to fix everything in your life that’s not quite right.
Yes, it will solve a lot of your health issues, but don’t expect it to repair your self-esteem or make life exponentially better.
For many overweight people, psychological issues have played a role in their excess kilos.
Many of us have deep-seated issues that stem from really lousy things happening to us, usually in childhood.
These issues manifest in lots of different ways.
For me, it’s anxiety, while for others it’s a war with their weight.
And ’round you go again.
It’s easy to think that if you just lose the weight then you’ll finally be happy.
Unfortunately, the results of this mindset are common. Those 30 kilos are gone, but the destructive thoughts and behaviours that helped you gain them initially are not. There’s only so long you can bury them, so talk to a professional and learn to understand their root cause.
I can tell you from personal experience that you won’t regret it.
Exercise isn’t a punishment — it’s a privilege
In general, it’s the people who’ve never had to live without their health, or haven’t ever been healthy in the first place, who treat exercise like retribution.
They moan and roll their eyes during sessions, make excuses and work really hard to avoid working hard. If only they channelled all that energy into just doing some exercise then getting on with their day.
If you’re able-bodied enough to workout, please understand that it’s a privilege. There are so many people who do value their health and would love to be in your position, but can’t.
It has been drilled into us that staying fit and maintaining a healthy weight drastically reduces our chance of developing serious diseases and dying young.
But it seems like many people don’t believe that applies to them. Most of us don’t think twice about paying for house and car insurance, but investing in life insurance by looking after our health? Nah, don’t need that.
We’re all invincible until we’re not.
So let me give you some real-world examples of how fitness insures you.
- Fitness is my 52-year-old mum back at the gym climbing a rope eight weeks after her hysterectomy and bladder reconstruction, while her inactive friend of a similar age suffered a prolapse while cleaning the bathroom.
- It’s my 30-year-old client surviving major, life-threatening surgery. When she recovered, the surgeon explained that her getting fit and strong before the operation made the difference between her living and dying.
These are regular people like you — and I’m just one personal trainer. I know many others have similar stories.
Sleep is the key to pretty much everything
Many of your struggles with weight, stress, energy and nutrition might be significantly improved, if not solved, by just getting more sleep.
Clients have told me they function perfectly well on six hours of sleep. Yet, in the same breath they complain of sugar cravings, a lack of inspiration and motivation, and not being able to shake the same 10kg they’ve been chipping away at for years.
As a trainer, this is hard to watch. People get frustrated and even depressed that their efforts in the gym get them nowhere, when if they just got an extra hour of sleep each night it might well be a different story.
Science is clear on how critical it is to have enough good quality sleep.
Most of us need seven to nine hours a night, the Sleep Health Foundation says. And many of us who exercise a lot find we need even more than that the night after a hard workout.
Think of it this way: how often do you feel like a salad when you’re low on energy?
Then, when it comes to either exercising or face-planting the couch after work, we all know what usually wins.
You stay up later than you should; feel knackered in the morning; get hammered at work; live on sugar and caffeine to get through the day and can’t be bothered doing anything else in life. And so the cycle continues.
Even if you’re adamant that you have a handle on life with less than eight hours, chances are, what’s happening under the surface will tell another story.
You’re likely to be meddling with your cells, hormones and metabolism — basically, all the guys who decide how long you’re going to live.
You cannot cheat biology. Remember, we think we’re invincible until we’re not.
So please, just turn off the TV and devices earlier, and go to bed. Start with aiming for another 30 minutes a night and gradually build up until you’re clocking seven to nine hours of shut-eye at least five nights a week.
It only takes one to two weeks to set a new sleep rhythm, so what do you have to lose (except unwanted fat, stress and unhealthy eating habits)?
You can’t out-train a shitty diet
Sure, you might be active every day, doing a mix of muscle-strengthening work, cardio and high-intensity training.
But if your diet is rubbish, it will either amount to nothing, or you won’t see enough results to warrant all that hard work. It’s really easy to overestimate how many calories we burn through exercise and underestimate the number we eat.
My favourite way of getting an honest picture of a client’s diet is for them to keep a seven-day food diary. I suggest you give it a try. Write down everything that passes your lips — no cheating and no changing what you eat.
This exercise always drops a painful truth-bomb on us, because we forget all the mindless snacking and boredom eating we automatically do, which adds up. By the way, alcohol is hands-down the biggest, sneakiest saboteur. (Don’t shoot the messenger).
While regular exercise is critically important to all aspects of health, when it comes to fat loss, healthy eating is king.
Aim to consume fewer calories than you expend, so at the end of every week you’re in a kilojoule deficit. This is the law of thermodynamics and you cannot argue with it, no matter what supplement-peddling salesmen tell you.
The healthiest, most sustainable way to be in a deficit is to eat mostly highly nutritious, lower-calorie foods, plus burn kilojoules through regular exercise.
I know, it’s not very sexy or exciting. But it’s the truth.
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