Category Archives: Featured

Y7 Yoga – New York’s hottest new fitness craze

Y7 Yoga

When Laura booked me in for a Y7 Yoga class while in New York, I had no idea what to expect…

I’ve never been much into yoga… while I might exercise five or six times a week, I tend to like my work outs to be more vigorous and steamy than slow and stretchy.

Then of course, there are the yoga zealots. We all know one or two, impossibly skinny people with long, sinewy arms who bang on about how good it is for you and how they’ve never been more flexible. And don’t get me started on the fake Asian mysticism that seems to follow it around. How can you take a fitness class that ends with someone bowing their head, clasping their hands together and saying “namaste” seriously?

I have tried to like it… really. Laura is definitely a convert and organises a monthly three-hour session in Leeds – yes, that’s three hours of yoga. One after the other. On a Sunday morning. I could almost run a marathon in the same time.

Nonetheless, being the good husband, I wanted to give her my support so when she told me she’d booked an instructor to run their first gig at Leeds’ Yoga Space earlier this summer, I was keen to give it a go.

I actually didn’t mind the first hour’s vinyasa flow, and the second biy of ‘yin yoga’ wasn’t too bad for a slower, more controlled version… But when it got to the ‘yogic sleep’ bit at the end and I was being told to relax my tongue bit by bit, I just had visions in my mind of opening my eyes and seeing the instructor filing her nails and stifling a bored yawn as she read from a script – a little like my cousin who used to do the ironing while talking dirty to blokes on a sex chat line to make a bit of extra cash while doing the housework…

Y7 Yoga

Fast forward to a week ago and we were on a New York-bound plane for a child-free short break and got chatting to a young American girl next to us who happened to be a yoga instructor in New Jersey.

Laura, having come back from LA last year raving about Soul Cycle – the big-beat spinning class – was keen to know what was new on the New York fitness scene and our new pal Taylor began to rave about Y7 and how great it was.

The classes were around two years old, she told us, adding that it had gone from strength to strength and quickly rising from a single studio to five dedicated spaces in NYC and another in Hollywood.

So what made it so different?

“Well, first it’s done in the dark, well candlelight, so people can’t really see you screw up. Second, it’s like super-hot, so you’ll be drenched at the end. Third, it’s done to hip-hop, so it’s faster than normal yoga. It’s the Soul Cycle of yoga,” Taylor promised.

Those last four words had Laura sold – but at $25 a class, I needed a little more convincing.

 

Yes, savour that for a minute…. $25 a class, thanks to the pound’s post-referendum slump,  that’s about £20 for an hour-long fitness session.

 

I mean, I know it’s New York, but even when I worked in London, I couldn’t command more than a tenner for a group exercise class, so double that seemed super expensive. (Those of you who come to my Leeds Insanity Live! classes, please note what a bargain you’re getting!).

Y7 Yoga

The website looked pretty cool though – all slick black and white images and funky phrasing, and how can you resist this recommendation from 50 Cent?

It was hot, and they had like the candles and sh*t, the heat and sh*t. I must have thought I was just gonna do a couple stretches!

And so, the next day we were walking through the Flatiron District, arriving to a door emblazoned with the logo and some impossibly steep steps up three stories emblazoned at the top with the legend

Started from the bottom, now you’re here

In the reception are, we were greeted and kitted out with mats, hand towels and ‘anti-slip towels’.  “You’ll need these to keep your grip and mop up the sweat.” the receptionist warned as she checked us in.

Now it was cold outside, freezing and rainy in fact, and I’d dressed in running tights, shorts, long sleeve T-shirt, T-shirt and running jacket. Laura was similarly done up with a couple of extras: namely my British Spartathlon Team buffs to keep her neck warm.

From the studio, around 25 people from the previous class came out – mostly women looking like they’d walked off the set of the TV series Girls (but without Lena Dunham in tow) alongside a couple of token blokes. All were absolutely piss wet, dripping with sweat and steam.

Laura and I looked at each other and went to bathroom, stripping down our kits to the mere basics.

Inside the studio, it took a while to adjust to the darkness. All the windows were blacked out and in the candlelight, I could just make out another stencilled slogan on the wall: “A tribe called sweat”. Judging by the state of the previous class, they weren’t joking.

We found one of the back corners to hide away in. We were both carrying colds, stinking red wine hangovers and a roll of loo paper nicked from our hotel room. In seconds we were leaking from almost every pore and orifice… and that was before the class even started.

Instructor Danielle Kipnis came in and made a start on the ‘warm up’ – and there was me thinking just entering the room provided that.

The yoga is really, I suppose,  just a slightly faster version of the vinyasa flow I’d tried before, and although I’d been hoping the hip hop would be more NWA-style rage than the laidback R&B of the like of The Weeknd, it was bloody hard work trying to keep up.

I won’t pretend to be able to describe all the moves involved – although I know some of the basics like child’s pose, downward dog and warrior pose – and these were put together in ever increasing combos of difficulty. Danielle really wasn’t demoing many of the moves – I guess they expect people to have a smattering of knowledge. I just looked at the nearest extra from Girls and tried to follow suit.

A massive plus for me was that as long as you were there or thereabouts, Danielle wasn’t being prissy on form, trying to turn your hand this way or that just to make you feel as though you are being corrected.

 

Y7 Yoga

Within seconds, we looked more like dripping dog than downward ones, and our towels were in constant use to try and mop up the increasingly large amounts of sweat gathering everywhere – as well as using it as an excuse to sneak in the odd breather here and there (see I do learn something from you guys who come to Insanity too).

The moves and combinations got progressively more complex the longer the class went on and while copying the class works for large chunks of the 60 minutes, there were sections where Danielle encouraged us to ‘find our own vinyasas’ from the moves offered and practice them… Given I didn’t even know I had a vinyasa to lose, this left us both a little confused. The regulars could remember the combos but Laura and I were largely making it up as we went along. Lord knows what they all felt.

It’s hard to judge a fitness class in just one session – I always try and encourage people to come back to my classes for a second or third time, just because familiarity with the moves breeds confidence. But on the whole, I really enjoyed it: the atmosphere was great, the heat certainly did it’s job and the music was a welcome change from those bleeding Andean/Tibetan pan pipes that seem to get dragged out at every yoga class in the world.

What sealed it for me as a great workout though was seeing the skinny chick to my left balance on two hands with both feet perfectly placed about six inches off the ground and hold that pose for a good 30 seconds without a millimetre of wobble.

If that’s where Y7 can get you, I want to go back.

Namaste.

See http://www.y7-studio.com/

Y7 Yoga

The mysterious monks of Mount Athos

Mount Athos
The terrace at Mylopotamos. Pic: All About The Story
There are many secrets surrounding the monks of Mount Athos – one of them seems to be longevity thanks to a macrobiotic diet and a life without stress.

Monk Epihanios strokes his beard and takes a sip of Greek coffee, strong and black as molasses. We’re sitting on the terrace of his Mylopotamos monastery – a small two-man ‘cell’ on the Mount Athos peninsula in Halkidiki.

But if this is a cell, the surroundings might want you to serve a long stretch. Epiphanios and his co-habitee, Monk Joachim, have a boutique winery, and long rows of vines stretch ahead of us planted in rows to take advantage of sea breezes channeled by a small bay. In the distance is 2,000m Athos, its peak kissed by light clouds.

Mount Athos
Mylopotamos monastery. Pic: All About The Story

“How can we not live a long life?” he says eventually. “We eat well and don’t have the same stresses as normal people.”

Mount Athos is one of the most revered sites in the Orthodox religion. A semi-autonomous state, it’s been shut off to the world for more than 1,000 years and is home to some 2,000 monks living in 20 monasteries and 200 hermitages like Mylopotamos. The odd mobile phone and car aside, a visit here is like taking a trip back in time.

Mount Athos
Monks Joachim (l) and Epiphanios (r). Pic: All About The Story

The church – and the monks – like to keep Athos pure. No women are allowed and access, by boat only despite there being a land border, is granted only to 100 pilgrims a day; just 10 of them non-Orthodox.

A 10-year study of their life and eating habits astonished researchers looking into why many of the monks live beyond 100 years old. It revealed they had some of the lowest incidences of heart disease, Alzheimer’s, and cancer in Europe.

Mount Athos
Cooking at Mylopotamos. Pic: All About The Story

Some of the success of that diet is down to Epiphanios – the Marco Pierre White of monks. Like all the monks, he was assigned a job when he first arrived here to take the cloth in 1973 and ended up working in the kitchens before moving up the ranks of monastic cuisine.

“My father had a farm and I was always interested in food,” he says. “So I gladly worked in the kitchens as a help, picking up the secrets along the way.”

Those secrets include a diet where no meat is allowed. The monks live on fish, seasonal vegetables, home-grown olive oil and the odd glass of home-produced wine; meals are simple yet tasty. They eat twice a day – at around 11am and 7pm and both meals are sit-down affairs. On some days they fast, eating on others – if you’re looking for the origins of the purest Mediterranean and the 5:2 diets, they are both here on these holy lands.

Mount Athos
Mylopotamos meditation. Pic: All About The Story

One of the things they do have on Mount Athos is time… lots of it. That can be used for meditation, study or prayer. Epiphanios used some of his to learn, finding ancient recipes from monastic texts, preparing meals from antiquity and testing them on his brothers at the Megali Lavra  monastery, the oldest on Athos and which is responsible for overseeing Mylopotamos.

Around five years ago, those recipes were compiled into a book, The Cuisine of the Holy Mountain Athos. To promote the monastic culture, Epiphanios gives the odd cooking demonstration for free to guests at Eagles Palace, a luxury hotel in Ouranouolis (the “city of heaven”), the last town before the Athos border and where visiting permits are issued.

Those lessons offer a unique insight into how the monks live for people without the time, inclination or bodily appendages to visit Athos, but nothing comes close to staying in the monasteries themselves.

Access is granted by a church office in Ouranopolis. Permits can take weeks to come through and, once issued, are for very specific days. ‘Pilgrims’ (for you’re never a ‘tourist’ when visiting) then ring around the monasteries to ask for spare beds. As long as one is available, it has to be offered – the monks have a long tradition of hospitality, and there’s no charge for a stay.

Mount Athos
Pilgrms at the Iviron monastery. Pic: All About The Story

It can be a complicated process and there are no agencies that help cut through the red tape for non-Greek speakers – although the concierge staff at Eagles Palace will take over and smooth the process for their guests.

We spend our day on Athos, hiking its undulating lands. Rolling hills covered with cypress, olives and grape vines, using the mountain as an anchor point to visit other monasteries such as the impressive Iviron, a huge castle-like structure by the shore where the Virgin Mary is said to have landed and blessed Mount Athos.

Its churches are full of incredible 15th-century icons surrounded by carved gold leaf, the air is redolent with livani – the evocative Greek church incense – and we hear familiar accents from British and Australian monks who have chosen to live here.

Picture: All About The Story
Epiphanios cooking class at Eagles Palace. Pic: All About The Story

In the evening back at Mylopotamos, Ephiphanios opens up his small kitchen and his extensive winery to us. He cooks over an open fire, a huge pan bubbling away with massive grouper fillets, baby courgettes and fresh celery.

It’s on the fire for about an hour as we chat and sip the wine. You’d think the dish would have boiled into a mush – but the fish stays together, tender as you like and infused with the flavours of the broth. With a plate of olives, some salty feta cheese and homemade bread, it’s delicious.

“Someone once asked me what I’d be if I were not a chef, I said thin,” he tells us rubbing his not inconsiderable belly and chuckling away. Super model skinny, he may never be… but I wouldn’t bet against him outliving all of us.

Monk Epiphanios’ book is available on Amazon. Details of the excellent Eagles Palace hotel can be found here

Grouper with baby courgettes

1.5 kg of fillet grouper (skin on) or other white fish
4 large onions
5 cloves of garlic
5 lemons
black pepper
350g of olive oil
cumin
one bunch of parsley
700g baby courgettes

Method

Prepare an onion paste by boiling the onions for an hour, pureeing and then cooling.

Wash the grouper fillets, salt and leave in a colander to drain.

Place the fish skin up in a wide, deep frying pan and just cover with the onion puree and cold water.

Bring to the boil, skimming off any foam.

Add the courgettes topped and tailed, the oil, garlic and pepper corns. Reduce the heat and cook for around 45 minutes.

Do not stir but gently shake the pan to avoid the fish sticking.

Once the broth starts to thicken and the courgettes are tender, remove the pan from the heat, add the juice of the lemons and leave to infuse for five minutes before serving.

 

Is coffee good for you?

coffeebeans

Is coffee good for you?

Most of us will have seen the research this week that store-bought coffees can contain a whopping 25 spoonfuls of sugar. Obviously that amount of sugar is not going to boost your but if you take the syrup out, is coffee good for you?

For those who missed the report, it was done by Action on Sugar, the pressure group trying to get the government to reduce the amount of sugar in our food.

It’s easy to say they have a vested interest in showing the drinks to have a lot of sugar, but it’s still obviously shocking to find that some coffee shop coffees have more sugar than three cans of Coke – and I’ve discussed the dangers of too much sugar in the past.

It wasn’t a week full of bad news for coffee drinkers though. Although it gained fewer headlines, another coffee-related report made the papers on Friday. It showed drinking two cups of coffee a day can help reduce the health risks associated with drinking too much alcohol (1)

It looked at nine previous studies with more than 430,000 participants and revealed that risk was reduced by 22 per cent with one cup of coffee and 43 per cent with two cups, compared to drinking no coffee at all.

Obviously drinking coffee to alleviate the symptoms of a bad lifestyle seems rather counterproductive, not going in for the alcohol abuse in the first place would seem a better option.

The benefits of moderate coffee consumption stretch further than helping those with alcohol-induced liver disease though. Coffee is now recognised as a good source of antioxidants (2,3) – the chemicals that can help slow down ageing and prevent certain diseases.

Recent studies have shown that it can help with conditions such as skin cancer, cataracts and bone health (4–6). One even suggests moderate consumption is not a risk factor for high blood pressure (7), while another showed it can be beneficial for those involved in resistance (weight) training (8).

If you’re rushing to the Nespresso machine as you read, you might want to hold on. Coffee remains a diuretic, meaning it makes you go to the toilet more affecting your hydration levels.

Another study has linked high levels of consumption with gastric cancer (9) while it can be a predictor of future cardiovascular events (read strokes and heart attacks) in younger people who are already suffering from high blood pressure (10).

It also stimulates the adrenal glands and is thought to increase the amount of cortisol (the stress hormone) in the body (11) which can link to increased agitation.

If you’re thinking by now that even the scientists can’t agree whether it is good for you or not, you’re probably right.

If you do drink coffee, follow these tips

  • Drink in moderation, no more than three cups per day,
  • Drink the best quality of coffee you can afford,
  • Avoid over-processed coffees such as instant where possible,
  • Drink the freshest ground coffee you can with beans from a sustainable, free-trade source,
  • Reduce sugar in coffee over time to none,
  • Don’t add sugary syrups, whipped creams etc to coffee shop coffee,
  • Increase your water consumption with coffee. In the Mediterranean, it is almost exclusively served with a glass of water on the side, you should follow suit,
  • Reduce your coffee intake if you suffer from high blood pressure.

References

  1. Kennedy OJ, Roderick P, Buchanan R, Fallowfield JA, Hayes PC, Parkes J. Systematic review with meta-analysis: coffee consumption and the risk of cirrhosis. Aliment Pharmacol Ther. 2016 Jan 25;43(5):562–74.
  2. Troup GJ, Navarini L, Suggi Liverani F, Drew SC. Stable radical content and anti-radical activity of roasted Arabica coffee: from in-tact bean to coffee brew. PLoS One. Public Library of Science; 2015 Jan 9;10(4):e0122834.
  3. Agudelo-Ochoa GM, Pulgarín-Zapata IC, Velásquez-Rodriguez CM, Duque-Ramírez M, Naranjo-Cano M, Quintero-Ortiz MM, et al. Coffee Consumption Increases the Antioxidant Capacity of Plasma and Has No Effect on the Lipid Profile or Vascular Function in Healthy Adults in a Randomized Controlled Trial. J Nutr. 2016 Feb 3;
  4. Liu J, Shen B, Shi M, Cai J. Higher Caffeinated Coffee Intake Is Associated with Reduced Malignant Melanoma Risk: A Meta-Analysis Study. PLoS One. 2016 Jan;11(1):e0147056.
  5. Varma SD. Effect of coffee (caffeine) against human cataract blindness. Clin Ophthalmol. 2016 Jan;10:213–20.
  6. Choi E, Choi K-H, Park SM, Shin D, Joh H-K, Cho E. The Benefit of Bone Health by Drinking Coffee among Korean Postmenopausal Women: A Cross-Sectional Analysis of the Fourth & Fifth Korea National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys. PLoS One. 2016 Jan;11(1):e0147762.
  7. Rhee JJ, Qin F, Hedlin HK, Chang TI, Bird CE, Zaslavsky O, et al. Coffee and caffeine consumption and the risk of hypertension in postmenopausal women. Am J Clin Nutr. 2015 Dec 9;103(1):210–7.
  8. Richardson DL, Clarke ND. Effect Of Coffee And Caffeine Ingestion On Resistance Exercise Performance. J Strength Cond Res. 2016 Feb 12;
  9. Deng W, Yang H, Wang J, Cai J, Bai Z, Song J, et al. Coffee consumption and the risk of incident gastric cancer-A meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies. Nutr Cancer. 2016 Jan;68(1):40–7.
  10. Mos L, Fania C, Benetti E, Bratti P, Maraglino G, Mazzer A, et al. 1C.04: COFFEE CONSUMPTION IS A PREDICTOR OF CARDIOVASCULAR EVENTS IN YOUNG AND MIDDLE AGED HYPERTENSIVE SUBJECTS. J Hypertens. 2015 Jun;33 Suppl 1:e10.
  11. Gavrieli A, Yannakoulia M, Fragopoulou E, Margaritopoulos D, Chamberland JP, Kaisari P, et al. Caffeinated coffee does not acutely affect energy intake, appetite, or inflammation but prevents serum cortisol concentrations from falling in healthy men. J Nutr. 2011 Apr 1;141(4):703–7.

 

Can you get better at fat burning by eating fat?

running

New research shows that endurance athletes who eat a low-carb/high fat diet are better at fat burning.

We’ve long been taught that people who take part in endurance sports – anything from a 10k upwards in running, say – should have a high carbohydrate diet. The theory being that our body uses glucose as a fuel and carbohydrates can readily be broken down into glucose by the digestive system to provide that fuel.

Back in the 1970s though, some healthcare professionals, led by the ‘pesky’ Dr Atkins postulated that cutting carbs and eating more fat was a good way to loose weight. Their theory being that from an evolution perspective, fat was stored by the body to be used as a secondary fuel source when times were hard. Cut the carbs and the body will burn fat as fuel instead they argued.

Atkins and similar diets were demonised at the time by the health authorities who were bent prescribing low-fat diets and by the media who went for the easy ‘lose weight by eating fry ups’ headline (something never really advocated in the Atkins books).

Over the past few years, the thinking in healthcare has started to change… fats are no longer demonised, and healthy fats (think those avocado, nut butters, olive oil and coconut oil) are considered essential for healthy hearts and bodily functions.

And this new research by Ohio State University has gone one further and shown that decades of thinking in sports nutrition could be about to be turned on its head.

In the study of 20 ultramarathon runners, they found that those on a high-fat diet burned twice as much fat in exercise than those on a high-carb one.

The 10 low-carb runners  ate a diet with 10 percent carbs, 19 percent protein and 70 percent fat. High-carb runners ate a diet with 59 percent carbs, 14 percent protein and 25 percent fat.

If you want to find out more, there’s an excellent article in Science Daily here.

For those who are not runners, switching to a low-carb diet may help… Studies have shown that Atkins-style diets do lead to weight loss, although some have theorised that sticking to such a rigid regime can be challenging.

If you do want to try this kind of thing to see if it works for you, there’s a couple of things to be aware of.

One study has shown that the make up of Atkins-style diets can see reduce levels of vitamins such as thiamine, folic acid, vitamin C and iron. And they can cause constipation due to a lack of dietary fibre.

As such, supplementation with a good multivitamin is essential… and even the latest Atkins books encourage the use of psyllium husks, flaxseed and increased water consumption to reduce the possibility of constipation.

The principles of exercise

jamesgroup2

I was wondering what to write about this week when I went out for my morning run…. And 12 miles later, I knew what it would be: the principles of exercise.

No, I didn’t have some kind of epiphany while trudging around Bramhope and Adel in the rain, it’s just that by the end of the session, I was blowing out of my backside, which reminded me of what is probably the most important principle: ‘use it or lose it’.

It’s just two short months since I ran Spartathlon and in the lead up to that, I was probably in the best running condition I’ve ever been in – 100-mile training weeks and knocking out 40-mile runs in one go – but there I was this morning, struggling to complete a distance less than a half-marathon. That’s a long way to fall in just two months.

Even worse, psychologically, I’m finding it hard to push myself further, which means I’ll probably lose more fitness unless I can pull myself out of the rut: In short, training less has led to a vicious circle of declining fitness that I need to arrest.

We’ve all been there: We take a week or so off for any number of reasons: a cold, a big event, stress at work or whatever. Suddenly, getting back on the horse gets more difficult the longer it goes. The snooze button seems more attractive than a run… “Start again on Monday” we promise ourselves… but when Monday comes we find another excuse.

There’s no easy way to reverse the trend either, if you’re suffering from similar. You simply have to grit your teeth and force yourself to start again, though there are some techniques that can help.

  1. Tell yourself you’ll feel better after. I absolutely promise you that barring injury, you always feel better about yourself after exercising. There are biological reasons for this such as the rush of endorphins you get from exercise, but also psychologically, the fact you’ve beaten a demon will get you smiling.
  2. Set yourself a goal. I keep banging on about this, but goal setting keeps you on the straight and narrow. If you exercise to just maintain a base level of fitness, that’s fine but you are more likely to find a reason to stop than if you are exercising to achieve a specific aim. Think of what you want to achieve and set a marker. It could be a 10km race, dropping a percentage of body fat or beating a 3-minute step test result * But find something to aim for and go for it.
  3. Use visualisation. Where do you want to be in five years time? Exercise and good diet have been proven countless times to help people stay healthier, feel better and ultimately live longer. Think forward to where you want to be, then think of the alternative. Keep the ‘good’ image in your mind. Make it another long-term goal. Focus on it and use it to spur you on.

There may be other ways that work for you… but (and this is not a plea to come to classes or take up PT sessions) make sure you stay active. By sacrificing an hour of hard work NOW you could be adding years to your life, ultimately staying healthier and more active for longer.

The six principles of exercise

While, I’ve only focussed on one above, here are the six principles of exercise *

The Principle of Individual Differences – we are all different and therefore, we should find exercise programmes that are bespoke to ourselves. This doesn’t mean you have to go and employ a PT (but it would be nice if you did!!), but you should at least be trying things for a couple of weeks, and if they aren’t working for you change them.

The Principle of Overload – a greater than normal stress or load on the body is required for your body to adapt to training.

The Principle of Progression – there’s an optimal time where that overload will make a difference. When you hit it, you need to increase the overload.

The Principle of Adaptation – the body will adjust to increased physical demands (and to decreased ones for that matter). In short, practice makes perfect, but it’s also why you might get muscle soreness when you first start a programme for the first time in a long time.

The Principle of Use/Disuse – your muscles will get stronger (hypertrophy) with exercise and atrophy (weaken) with disuse. It’s important here to remember muscles are not just about building big biceps – probably the most important muscle you have is your heart, and by doing cardiovascular exercise, you can improve the performance of the heart and lungs.

The Principle of Specificity – exercise needs to be specific to the kind of sport you want to excel at. For instance, if you want to excel at a sport where there are lots of changes of speed and direct, training for it by running long distances is probably not the way to go. That doesn’t mean running long distances would be bad for your overall fitness, but you would not be performing sports specific training.

* Three-minute step test: Check your heart rate and note it down. Find a step and step on and off vigorously for 3 minutes. Check your heart rate again and record it. Keep doing regular aerobic exercise for a month and take the test again. See if your heart rate at the end has improved.

** Wilmore, J.H. and Costill, D.L. Physiology of Sport and Exercise: 3rd Edition. 2005. Human Kinetics Publishing.

 

Top 5 worst celebrity diets to avoid in 2016

hanks baldwin

The New Year is almost upon us and with it comes a host of resolutions, often about food. As such the British Dietetic Association has released it’s list of Top 5 worst celebrity diets to avoid in 2016.

They are:

1.  No Sugar diet (last year’s number 3)

Celebrity Link:  Tom Hanks and Alec Baldwin (who appeared together on Saturday Night Live earlier this year, above) have reportedly followed this ‘diet’.

What’s it all about?  The Sugar Free Diet is when you exclude all types of sugar (and often carbohydrates too) from your diet.

BDA Verdict:  Not such a sweet deal! Confusion reigns. Cutting down on free sugars, reducing the amount of sugar you add, and consuming fewer products already containing added sugar, in addition to being label aware is definitely a positive. However, some versions of the No Sugar/Sugar Free Diet promote cutting out all sugar from your diet which is not only almost impossible, but would mean eliminating foods like vegetables, fruit, dairy products and nuts – leading to a less than healthy diet.  Also it is important to be aware of some substitutes these diet plans recommend like agave, palm sugar, maple syrup or honey, as these are actually just sugars in another form and a huge contradiction.

2. The all-kale and chewing gum diet

Celebrity Link: Jake Gyllenhaal reportedly followed this ‘diet’ to shed weight for a film role.

What’s it all about? There isn’t much to this one, as all you can eat is kale salad and chewing gum.

BDA Verdict: Kale-amity! This diet is extreme, socially isolating, unbalanced, hard to sustain and potentially harmful. An actor would be carefully monitored and supervised to shed weight for a role. Many people get drawn in by so called ‘super foods’ but no one food can provide all the nutrients you need. These foods are not a magic bullet, neither does balanced nutrition work by a ‘good’ food cancelling out other poor dietary and lifestyle choices. Nothing is wrong with kale, but if that is all you consume all day, every day, then problems will arise – it’s all about balance, a healthy relationship with food (not obsession) and variety.

3.   Bulletproof diet

Celebrity Link:  Harry Styles and Shailene Woodley have reportedly followed this ‘diet’.

What’s it all about?  This quirky diet plan includes a daily ‘Bulletproof coffee’ which is essentially a black coffee with 2 Tbsp butter,and a Tbsp MCT oil added totting up at around 400kcal per cup. Foods are classified as bulletproof, suspect or kryptonite with rules on timing of meals

BDA Verdict:  While the idea of minimising alcohol and processed food is positive, the classification of foods is at odds with health recommendations and lacks evidence. Time restricted eating is also at odds with many lifestyles. The negative of the recommended Bulletproof coffee is that consuming 400+ calories from one beverage provides a lot of energy but few nutrients from a drink, rather than individuals choosing food and drink with more nutritional content for the same calorie value. 

 4.   The Super Elixir

Celebrity Link: This product is endorsed by Elle McPherson.

What’s it all about? ‘The Super Elixir’ is a food supplement aiming to change body tissue from an acidic to an alkaline state. It comes in the form of a green powder and contains just over 45 ingredients including a number of powdered fruits and vegetables, sweeteners, several Chinese herbs and some digestive enzymes. The recommended dose is 2 teaspoons (or 10g) per day meaning a month’s supply will set you back – brace yourself – £96 for 300 g.

BDA Verdict:  How much?! The benefits that this costly powder claims to provide can easily be obtained from fruit and vegetables and a balanced diet, without the hefty price tag. Moreover our bodies are naturally capable of regulating acidity levels. Why not save your £1152 per year, spend it on some delicious fruit and vegetables and a splurge on a ‘Super’ holiday instead! 

5.   Trim Secrets

Celebrity Link:   Baroness Michelle Mone OBE, founder of lingerie brand Ultimo and life peer in the House of Lords, established Trim Secrets with a Scottish naturopath. Chanelle Hayes (former Big Brother star) has reportedly followed this ‘diet’.

What’s it all about? Trim Secrets is a pill which claims to suppress appetite whilst boosting the metabolism, allegedly aiding both men and women to lose weight when combined with the Trim Secrets 5-stage diet plan. The diet plan includes a balanced diet of 1500 calories per day along with a Trim Secrets capsule taken three times a day before each meal, 1.5 litres of water daily, regular exercise and avoiding stress.

 BDA Verdict:  By consuming 1500 calories per day, most individuals should lose weight regardless of whether they are taking this pill, and that’s no secret. The pill has echoes of the grapefruit diet and includes guarana which is high in caffeine yet states it’s caffeine free. Beware of pills and potions and make sure you know exactly what you are buying and taking.

Speaking about these and other fad diets, Sian Porter, consultant dietitian and Spokesperson for the BDA, said:

 “Maybe it’s not as exciting but the truth is if you do want to lose some weight do it by eating a healthy, balanced diet that you can stick to, watch your portion sizes and be physically active. Think of it as a marathon approach to achieving your goals, as opposed to a sprint approach.  Aim to make permanent changes to your diet and lifestyle that are sustainable for you in the long term, not someone else’s lifestyle, nor abandoned by the end of January.”

Why you should keeping a health and fitness diary

If you’re serious about improving your well-being, you really should be keeping a health and fitness diary.

The big health news this week is that finally a study has proved what many in the fitness industry have been saying for years: there’s no one-size-fits all diet (and funnily enough, no one-size fits all exercise plan either).

The Personalised Nutrition Project by Professor Eran Segal and Dr Eran Elinav of Israel’s Weizmann Institute of Science looked at 1,000 volunteers who had their blood sugars checked every five minutes for a week while they ate their normal diet.

They also had their gut flora checked and answered questions about what they ate, their exercise and their sleep patterns.

“The first super surprise was how differently the response was to the same food,” said Elinnav… and the big headlines from the study were along the like of Is this the future of food?, Obesity may be misunderstood and There really is no one size fits all diet plan.

But to myself, fellow PTs and nutrition therapists, that’s no surprise at all.

We are all individuals so it makes sense that our bodies react in different ways to different stimuli, whether that be diet, exercise or our environment.

Even the job you do can have health ramifications – a hairdresser in a busy salon breathing in hair spray and dye chemicals all day will be affected in a different way to a gardener who spends all day in the open air.

And it’s why keeping some kind of a fitness/diet record is so important.

We’ve all been there before: doing what we are supposed to do with a fitness regime or a diet and found it’s had little or no effect – and it’s largely because while we are generally genetically the same, all of our bodies react differently.

Short of doing a barrage of (expensive) tests, the only way that can work for you is by trial and error. And that doesn’t mean flitting from one exercise/diet program to another, but by accurately recording what you are doing … and if it’s not working, tweaking things slightly to see if it has an effect.

Employing a fitness professional should help you reach your goals quicker – a good PT or a nutrition therapist would recognise some of the imbalances and be able to target better the things to change… but this is not a sale pitch, everyone can benefit from keeping a health and fitness diary.

Set yourself a goal, pick a program or diet and record everything you do accurately… and if things don’t improve and they do or you reach a plateau, change one thing at a time and give it a week or two to see what effect it has. By keeping accurate records, you’ll be able to quickly see what’s working and what’s not.

Technology can help too, there are dozens of apps and websites out there now so as MyFitnessPal that can help, making the process easy, accurate and, above all, second nature.

 

How to squat properly

Sicfit-Squat

I’m often asked what is the one exercise move everyone should do and the answer is the  squat. The problem is, so many people do the move with bad technique, so here’s my guide on how to squat properly.

In my opinion, the squat is the one exercise move every one – irrespective of age and ability should do. Alongside the lunge, push, pull, twist, bend and gait (walk/run), it’s one of the prime functional fitness moves.

What are functional fitness moves? The ones that help us live our every day lives and perform regular tasks. To try and explain them better, I always say: “think about getting into a car with a hand bag or a bag of shopping.

You open the car (pull), you lean over (bend) and twist to put your bag on the passenger seat (push), you lunge with one leg to get in and you squat to sit down… That’s six of those moves in one simple task!

So why is the squat so important? Because, it primarily works your quads – those four long muscles that run down the front of your leg. Exercise professionals call them your ‘independence muscles’ – lose use of them and you lose your independence as you won’t be able to get out of a seat.

Other muscles also hit in a squat are your calves, glutes (bum), hamstrings (muscles on the back of your thigs) and your core (mainly lower back), you it gets lots of things firing at the same time.

Depending on whether you use body weight or free weights, it also strengthens or builds some of the biggest muscles in your body – and as muscle is more metabolically active than fat, it means your body will burn calories more effectively.

What’s not to like?

Here’s how to get a basic squat right

Stand with your feet hip width apart, with your feet tracking straight in front you .

Sit back, keeping your back straight and your head up.

Bend primarily at the knees with the weight on your heels.

Go as far as you can, as you get better, you can go further (and then add weights if you wish).

Make sure your knees do not track over your toes as this will leave you unbalanced and you could fall or injure yourself.

Push through your heels and explode back into a standing position.

Repeat.

Do 3 sets of 10 repetitions, 3-5 times a week.

Does exercise get any easier?

harder exercise
Does exercise get any easier

One of the ladies who attends my Insanity Live! classes came to me after we’d finished the other day… “Does exercise get any easier?” she asked me. 

She’s not the first person to wonder if that’s the case … and I very much doubt she’ll be the last. The answer is actually a yes and a no at the same time! If that doesn’t help, let me try and explain – by turning the question around: “Why would you want exercise to get any easier?”

Putting glibness to one side, let’s look at what the body does when we exercise. Exercise is work: your heart beats faster, you get breathless, your muscles tire… sometimes you could end a session exhausted.

So why do we do it? Well the human body is incredibly adaptable. Exercise causes the body stress – and the body’s response is to adapt to that stress. Our heart, respiratory system and muscles all get stronger as a result of exercise… so in theory, the next time you exercise it will be easier.

But what happens next if we don’t increase that stress? If we don’t progress the level of exercise, the distance we run, or the weights we lift? Or if we don’t try something else to change things up?(Insanity Live! classes for instance introduce a new set of exercises every 8-10 weeks, just for when the body has adapted to the stress of the previous routine.)

Well the body is so clever, it ends up adapting to the routine. And when its adapted to that specific stress, it becomes lazy and stops making progress.

So ideally, you want exercise to keep getting harder. When it comes to the lady in question, she might feel as though routines aren’t getting easier – and they aren’t.

But that’s not because she’s not progressing – I make sure I challenge her more in sessions now than I did before – and I can see the results: she’s hotter and more tired at the end of a session than what she used to be… and that’s exactly what we want to happen.

You have to keep progressing to feel the benefit.

As an aside, for anyone wondering about how the fitter they become, the more they sweat – that’s the body adapting again. The body is excellent at thermoregulating – controlling it’s own temperature. And the main way is does this is through sweating.

The more we work out, the more efficient that thermoregulation becomes and the more we sweat. It costs me a small fortune in kitchen roll at classes – but it’s worth it to know people are progressing.