Burning fat – What’s it all about?

Is anyone else in the UK enjoying the BBC series looking at food and health? “The truth about…”

I like to think I know quite a lot about healthy eating, having a degree in Biology and several years of reading and listening to advice about foods and trying to put into practice the things that make sense to me.  Although a lot of the information in the series has just confirmed what I already knew or intuitively believed (don’t follow fads, don’t give up particular types of food, don’t eat too much of anything, eat lots of veg, keep active) there has still been plenty of interest.

I  really believe in and enjoy the benefits of walking, as anyone who has read my Kindle book will know and the programme “The Truth about Calories” gave evidence that the best way to burn calories is to keep up a good level of gentle activity, rather than exhausting yourself with a too-vigorous work out. Walking fits nicely into that regime! Good news!

However, although I am healthy, exercise frequently and am careful with what I eat, I also really enjoy food, so like many people I carry a little more fat than I would like, and maybe a lot more than is currently recommended for good health. I also have a family wedding coming up in July, so I am trying to shift an extra few pounds of fat in the next three months. The most recent programme, “The truth about fat” has inspired me to try the latest scientific idea for burning fat. It sounded so interesting that I got my aerobic step out today and made a start. And I thought I’d share with you the beginning of the experiment and give you a progress report as I go along the way.

So, here’s the plan. It’s like High Intensity Interval training – short bursts of testing exercise with rest breaks in between. The programme recommended 2 minutes of exercise followed by 1 minute of rest repeated 7 times. This pattern of activity and rest switches your metabolism so you burn fat for a much longer period of time after the exercise has ended. I can’t remember the figures, but it was definitely significant!

I chose stepping, as I know it’s aerobic, but achieveable for me. You have yo chose something that will challenge you, but won’t hurt you. I have stairs in my house, but the step is handy as I can have it near a clock. On Day 1, the level of activity was right I think (hope!). I kept to a good , fast pace and appreciated the minute rest. My heart and breathing rate went up, I felt hot and could feel the work in my muscles and I definitely needed water afterwards.

The total of just over 20 minutes was easy to fit into my day, and I’ll be repeating the activity every day for at least a week (and maybe longer) to see if there are results. I aim to post a short comment each day, so scroll down to see if I’m sticking to the plan!

For the record, and so I can actually tell if there is an impact on fat, I’ll share some stats. My starting waist measurement is just less than 34.5 inches and my weight is 171.25 pounds: it’s just beginning to come down anyway after the excesses of Christmas. For comparison, in July last year I was cruising at around 165 pounds, and wanting to lose a little more fat, so although losing fat isn’t all about weight*, I’ll be pleased to get back to those sorts of levels. Even better will be a reduction in my waist measurement! [*It isn’t all about weight as increased muscle and increased bone density through exercise also increase your weight. A better measure might be accurate body dimensions, but measuring size accurately enough is quite difficult, so weight is a handy indication]

I won’t be changing the amount I eat, or my other normal daily exercises, so I’ll let you know how I get on and whether this makes a difference to me!

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A foot – essential equipment for step exercises, and for walking!

Day 2: Hard to make a start today… But that’s my own fault. We had dinner with friends ast night, and I had a glass of wine too many… No wine for me today!

Day 3: Easy to be good on the wine front today: just water and tea in liquid yesterday, and again today I think. A little Easter fare – hot cross buns and some choclate: and home made pizza for tea, so I haven’t been trying to reduce the calories through food intake. We have done a little gardening, and then I did my 20 minutes for the fat burning regime. I’l be interested to weigh myself in a couple of days and see if there has been any effect. Not that I’m expecting anything much so soon…

Day 4: Such a nice day! I just want to be lazy!! But I have done my repititions, so am entitled to feel virtuous. Two days until my weekly weigh-in. I wonder if this will show results? I feel lighter…

Day 5: The novelty is wearing off, but once you start it’s no so bad. And I was feeling chlly after sitting and typing, but i’m nice and warm again. We have our Wednesday weigh in tomorrow, and maybe I’ll see a difference. You’ll be the first to know!

Day 6: The weigh in. Well, there has been a loss – about 0.25 pound. Not much, but then we did have a very nice meal out with friends, including wine, and some hot cross buns for Easter treats. Alec put on a pound in the same period of time… I am thinking that my stepping needs a little more resistance to it, so I have got my wrist weights ready to use today.

You don’t need daily updates, do you?  I’ll be back with news next Wednesday!

Day 7 – maybe just one interim update! I did the 20 minutes with wrist weights today and found I had to push myself much harder towards the end. I think just step wasn’t quite enough for me…

Day 13 – Weigh in day! First of all – how has the week gone? Well, not too bad. I have done my 20 mintes of stepping – with wrist weights – on 5 of the intervening days. I missed out 2 days when I had my normal exercise classes and was busy with work. The wrist weights definitely make the sessions tougher, and I am very glad to finish, but the advice was that you need to make the exercise tough for it to be effective. So the weigh in.  A loss this week too:1.25 pounds this time.  I feel lighter, so I believe I have lost some internal fat, which is good for health such as reducing diabetes risks.

There may be an additional factor in the weight loss, which is that when you are putting effort into losing weight, it makes it easier to resist snacks and treats. Certainly I have been ‘good’ dietetically this week. We shall see what next week brings – watch this space!

Day 20 – It’s a disaster darling!  No weight loss this week (I’m blaming 0.25 pound increase on the fact that I weighed myself wearing heavier clothes than the gym clothes I normally wear). I’ve had a busy working week too, so missed a couple of fat burning sessions. I enjoyed a glass of wine – and a pint of beer now I come to think about it – over the weekend too. Whoops! Back on the step for me!

Day 27 – And we’re back on track! I’ve lost 2.5 lbs this week, That’s 3.75 pounds lost since I started the regime a month ago.  It’s been a stressful week – I’ve had a computer meltdown and IT related issues. I haven’t done the fat burning 20 minutes every day, but I have done it a couple of times as well as a few early morning walks and my usual exercise classes. Half a bottle of wine, some chocolate and crisps at the weekend, so I haven’t been super good on the calorie front.

I was reflecting today that the pilates class I do on a Wednesady is quite close to the regime: quite aerobic sessions followed by a short rest. The sequence with 3 pressups, a 20 second plank and then rising up onto the balls of your feet, squatting and reapeating 3 times is certianly stenuous, for example. So maybe the step is another weapon to have have in my armoury for the days I can’t get out for other exercise….

We shall see.

Giving advice – how hard can it be?

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Well, the answer is – very hard indeed! And the other question is – how good are we all at taking advice?

I heard on the radio this week criticism of guidance given on the amount of exercise we should be taking on the basis that it would be unrealistic for many people to achieve that level, and so they would be de-motivated to try to exercise more. I only fleetingly heard this, so I can’t give details, but I believe the advice was that we should be taking 2.5 hours of moderate exercise every week.

Similar problems arise with recommendations about the amount of  fruit and vegetables we shoudl be eating every day. Most, if not all, nations are pointing out to their citizens that the more fruit and veg they eat, the healthier they will be, but the quantities recommended vary greatly. In the UK it’s now 7 a day, I believe, up from the 5 a day we have become used to. But in Japan they recommend 17 different fruit and veg every day. The difference is largely down to the fact that most people in the UK struggle to get to anything like 7 portions a day. However, I have heard some commentators say that it is discouraging to mention 7 so we shoud recommend fewer portions.

The problem is that if we are simply advised to “eat more fruit and veg” or “exercise more”, many people wll have no idea of what they should be moving towards, or how close they are already to the ideal. Someone who only ever eats meat and potoatoes may think they are doing marvellously by having an apple every week or so, or some fruit juice with breakfast. Someone who always drives may think they are exercising well if they walk to post a letter. How will they know otherwise unless someone tells them?

I know that when I was teaching, I had a series of conversations with a parent whose child was doing very badly at school, and had little or no ability to take part in their lessons. Eventually I asked the right question (“Is it just that he’s tired?”) It turned out that he was watching videos every night until his parents turned off the television at midnight. No one had ever told them how much sleep a child needs.

Part of me is continually surprised that we need this kind of advice. But another part of me realises that many intelligent and well meaning people just don’t have the informaton they need to make good choices.

So maybe we all need to toughen up a bit, and learn to take advice the right way. We might not be able to exercise for 2.5 hours a week, but we should know that if we are doing less, we would be wise to make an effort to do more. We shouldn’t give up just because it is hard and we have a long way to go, but use the guidance as a measure of how well we are progessing.

(In case you are wondering why I chose the photograph above, it’s about perspective and point of view.)

Putting your best foot forward. How are your New Near Resolutions going?

Do you manage to stick to your resolutions? It seems that most people just can’t do it. They know what they should do, right enough (lose weight, get fitter, spend less, be tidier etc) but it’s just too difficult to see it through.

Well, there’s a simple trick to achieving what you want to achieve, and that is to find the fun in it. Let me explain.

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Let’s take getting fitter as an exampler. It’s mid-January, so the annual peak in gym membership applications is here. There will be lots of new faces signing up for classes or inductions to the gym to start the process of losing weight and toning up. How many of these people will still be regularly training in February? Not so many, I’d be prepared to bet. The problem is that unless you are fairly fit to start with going to the gym, or an energetic Zumba or dance class, it’s going to be too hard to be fun. And if things aren’t fun, it’s very hard to stick to them. At the slightest excuse (it’s pouring with rain: my kit’s in the wash…) it’s too easy to give up. But if things are fun, you do them whatever the inconvenience. Shopping? Going to the pub? Many people don’t have to be asked twice!

I’ve written a short Kindle book to explain my thinking about getting fit through walking, and I’m sure that this is a really good way for most people to get started.

You see, establishing the habit of walking doesn’t need too much time or special equipment. Most people can easily fit some walking into their normal day, either walking to work, or walking the children to school, or walking the dog or going to the library. If you choose your walks carefully and have the right mental approach you can easily find that walking is fun. The more pleasure you find in walking, the more you want to do it, and the fitter you become. The key is enjoying the place you are walking; taking notice or and an interest in what is around you. If you can manage a fast walk for 30 minutes or more, preferably including some hill work, then you are probably fit enough to enjoy going to the gym or starting an energetic class. Read more in my book. A beginner’s guide to walking for pleasure   ASIN B00L3D7ENY.

The same principles apply to other areas of life. To take one more example, it’s easier to eat better and spend less on food if you learn to enjoy cooking. It is fun to cook if you approach it with the right positive attitude; starting with something quite easy and building up new techniques as you gain confidence. I’ve enjoyed cooking for years, but am still working through some techniques that are new to me – making my own pasta for example, and getting good at making bread by hand. (My rye and wheat loaf with caraway seeds and ale was a masterpiece!) Again, it’s about enjoying learning new skills and the results of your work.

So, don’t set yourself up to fail by setting too big a challenge for yourself. Start small-ish, but keep challenging yourself. Above all, find a way to make what you want a pleasure, by focusing on the positives, and you’ll find it much easier to get where you want to be.

Looking for somewhere nice to sit?

In amongst all the terrible news this week, it’s good to remember that most people just want to live peacefully and well – in the broadest sense – so I enjoyed coming across a great new site called A nice sit down. It’s simple and it’s sweet. Upload a photo of a public bench you like, add the coordinates and pin its location on a map. You may like the bench itself, or you might love the view it affords, but it’s a great way of sharing a simple pleasure with others.

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I took a few more photos of my favourite benches today, but I was using a wide angled lens and hurrying a bit, so they aren’t as good as I’d like. The above is one of my favourites, although being stone and a bit mossy it can take a moment or two to realise that you are looking at a seat. It would also be a little cold and damp to sit on in most weathers! I expect that in the past it had a wooden seat attached to the top.  I also took a photo of a bench near St Andrew’s Church, sat on by David Tennant and Olivia Coleman in the first series of Broadchurch, but I may have to retake it… not up to my usual standards!

Please do get posting your bench photos at www.anicesitdown.co.uk. We’ll be able to see the network of photos grow, and who knows? It may prove to be a good way to plan your next expedition into the British countryside, or discover a new place in your home town.

The bench above is on one of my favourite walks in Clevedon, Poet’s Walk. I love the fact that the walk is on a proper pathway, so you don’t have to get too booted-up as you won’t get too muddy even after heavy rain, but you are also far away from traffic and noise. You can properly enjoy the views and the wildlife, while knowing that you are having a gentle work out getting up and down the fairly steep paths. The only way to get properly fit is to find an exercise that you enjoy and therefore want to do. I’ve explained this all much better in my short Kindle book, A beginners guide to walking for pleasure, available on Amazon.

A final self-promotional plug is to say that a lot of my Clevedon and other photos and art are available through my RedBubble shop at http://magsart.redbubble.com Please do have a look – your support is hugely appreciated!

Make the most of days like this …

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What a fabulous morning.  Blue skies, almost warm.  Wildlife and people out and about, enjoying the weather and feeling good about life.

Maybe you have to have winter and floods to really appreciate the beautiful days, or maybe we’re just hard-wired to respond to the light levels and the blue of a clear, sunny sky.  Whatever the reason, life is too short, so leave the housework, get out there and enjoy!

Keep young and beautiful, by all means. But please – keep strong!

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Some of you will recognise these fine strong legs!

And that’s what keeping fit and watching your weight is all about.  Strong legs.

When I practised tai chi, my instructor said that it was impossible to do on “chicken’s legs”: you need sturdy legs to work on.  He also repeated the old (Chinese, I expect) saying that you are as old as your legs, and this is really worth thinking about.  Even standing and walking rather than sitting helps to build up bone density and keep those legs strong and mobile. The weaker your legs are, the older you become before your time.  You begin to settle into a comfortable chair and leave the running around to younger, fitter folk.

Keeping fit is not really about having a six pack, or dropping two dress-sizes, although many people do look better when they are fitter. It is all about being able to pursue your interests and getting out and about to make the most of the word.

The more you are on your feet and moving about, the better.  And of course while you are busy, you are less likely to be eating things you don’t need!  All right – I know it’s not always that easy, and those with knee, hip, back and other health issues can’t always exercise as much as they would like to.  But if you don’t have any excses and the new year’s resolutions are becoming a thing of the past, just remember that sticking to a ‘keeping fitter’ regime is in your best interests.  Whether it’s cycling to work, competitive sports, swimming, the gym, pilates, yoga, tai chi … , find something you like doing and do it!

The ELEM diet – it’s working for me!

Are fad diets a thing of the past?  I think they may be, although when I look at Facebook I still see strange ads promising that I can lose kgs of fat by the weekend following this old trick …  I’ve never bothered to click as I just don’t believe it can be true.

You have to understand yourself (your weaknesses and your strengths, the things you enjoy and the things you hate) to be able to work out how to keep to a better regime.  Whether the issue is studying, keeping the house tidy, sorting out your paperwork, losing weight or getting fit, you have to be realistic about what you can achieve and what you’ll never be able to stick to, to stand any chance of success.

The latest best selling diets are based on the 5:2 principle, where you eat normally for 5 days and make a special effort to eat less on 2 days a week.  This seems to be a great idea, if it works for you.  No banned food groups, no odd foods you have to eat, and you only have to manage hunger pangs on a couple of days a week.  Fit eating less to days when you are busy anyway – extra busy at work or out on a shopping expedition for example – and it should be relatively easy.

Regarding weight loss, I know that my major failing is not controlling portion size.  I usually eat quite good food with most things made from fresh or frozen ingredients, and I rarely eat processed food.  I’m lucky that I like fruit and vegetables, so eating my 5 a day is a piece of cake,  (pardon the c word!). However, when food is tasty I have often been unable to resist going back for another helping.  This applies to chocolate, crisps and other snacks too.  I find it relatively easy not to start eating them, but once I start it’s really difficult to stop.

So for me it’s the ELEM diet, through which I have lost 10lbs in a couple of months.  No snacking, other than fruit. No alcohol during the week, unless it’s a special occasion. (Have you seen how many calories there are in a glass of wine??? And think about how much money you save through not buying that extra bottle or two of wine every week.)  Regular exercise, including walking every day, some pilates and a bit of gym work. And a big effort to serve up smaller portions and not to go back in for second helpings.  I do this every day, but less so at weekends and when we are eating with friends, so there is a bit of a cross-over with the 5:2 diet.

So far this seems to be a regime I can stick to.  And as I can see a loss of about a pound a week, I am motivated not to weaken.

What works for you?

Soup

Home made butternut squash and chilli soup.  Yum!