Without a doubt, exercise can help with weight loss. But there's a saying – "you can't out-train a bad diet". Most fitness experts will agree that weight loss is at least 70-80% nutrition and 20-30% exercise. The exact numbers might be up for debate, but the basic principle is that what you eat affects your weight loss more.
I recently had a really interesting chat with an experienced personal trainer on this topic. She shared with me some very common things she's observed with clients who start an intensive exercise programme with great enthusiasm and a goal to lose weight, but don't get the results they want and wonder why.
Here are 5 observations from a personal trainer. Make sure you don't fall into one of these groups!
This is the client who eats like a saint. They have totally nailed it with the right food groups – lots of veg, a daily avocado, wholegrains, lean protein, loads of water – and absolutely none of the 'bad' stuff. Sounds perfect you think? Actually it's not. The problem is portion size. Snacking on nuts is great if you have a handful 1oz serving (166 cals), but not if you consume the entire 5.25oz bag (831 cals). Avocados are great, full of healthy fats, but there is no need to eat a whole one (333 cals) when half provides an adequate serving. In fact I know from a survey with new Nutracheck members what a common problem this is. A third of new diary users found that tracking their food showed them that although their choices were good, their servings were just way too big!
The learning? Portion control. Keep eating all of the above, just be mindful of quantity. Track with the Nutracheck app to ensure you are eating the right amount.
My personal trainer friend commented that this seemed to be more of a problem in recent months for a lot of her clients since they started working from home. A little snack provides a welcome break and distraction from work, and with the refrigerator that little bit closer, it's even harder to resist. We are all guilty of eating something then two seconds later don't even remember doing it! While our brain may not register the food, sadly our waistline does. Classic examples of mindless snacking – clearing the kids' leftovers, the chocolate with your afternoon coffee, the piece of cheese that was too small to grate... every morsel will be tracked by your biological food diary!
The learning? Mindful eating – if you're having a snack, sit down to enjoy it. And track it – scan the item with the Nutracheck app and save it under the 'Snacks' meal occasion so you can keep an eye on the calorie count.
This client gets great results – while they're 'on it'. Sadly they also come 'off it' in spectactular style which takes them back to square one. My PT friend said "This client has great focus – they commit to their clean eating programme and are completely obsessive about it. But it is so strict and all consuming it's inevitable their willpower is going to break at some point, and when it does, the pendulum swings the opposite way and they undo all their great work – and then some!" Super strict approaches are just not sustainable for most people's lifestyles – unless you wish to eat alone forever and never dine out. The more restricted the diet, the less likely it is you'll manage to stick with it for any length of time. Initial results might be dramatic, but so will be your reaction when you reunite with chocolate!
The learning? Avoid extreme diet approaches. Losing weight doesn't have to be painful or super strict. Eat all food groups, allow yourself a treat and track calories. It's not rocket science, but it works as it is realistic and sustainable.
This client is similar to the 'all or nothing' one, but their dedication runs Monday to Friday. Weekdays they're unstoppable – they stick to their target, eat healthily, and keep active. Come the weekend however, they figure they deserve to let loose a little, so tracking completely stops. A couple of days indulgence can't undo five days of hard work can it? The answer is yes, it can. It's possible that your 'relaxed' weekend actually erodes your calorie deficit and your weight loss is much slower than you'd hoped.
The learning? Track every day of the week. You can have a more relaxed weekend, just plan for it. Use the Easier Days setting in your account to allow yourself more calories on Saturdays and Sundays. Your target will adjust across the week to compensate – you'll get a few less calories on weekdays to allow for greater flexibility at the weekends. In the App, tap on the blue menu button in the top right of your diary, followed by 'Diary Preferences' > 'Easier Days'.
My PT friend said she finds it very frustrating to see clients achieve some measure of success, only to slip back into their old ways. The bottom line is that if you don't understand WHY you gained weight in the first place, what hope do you have of keeping the weight you lose off? There are many diet programmes to choose from – some require you to eat specific foods (soups or shakes), others have a bespoke counting system ('points' or 'syns'), but unless you start to learn about the basics of good nutrition, they just provide a quick fix, not a long term solution.
Many people like the guidance a structured plan gives as it's easy to follow. However problems start when they try to go it alone. Unless the programme has taught them about good food choices and what a portion size looks like, people often struggle to know what to eat and invariably slip back into their familiar old habits. And the dieting cycle starts over again.
The learning? Choose a weight loss approach that is about a long term lifestyle change, not a short term 'sticky band-aid'. Learn about nutrition – why your body requires all three food groups/macros (carbs, protein, fat), and get an understanding of the calorie content of products. Knowledge is power! Understanding food and nutrition better will help you to make small changes you can sustain over time – which is the ultimate way to achieve long term success.
My PT friend summarised the problem. "People think they have to do something 'special' – that a 'diet' has to be complicated or unpleasant, because if there isn't some penance, it won't work! But it really doesn't have to be that way. Just tracking what you eat and having an awareness of calorie counting is a proven, pain-free way to lose weight. Why make it harder?" I couldn't agree more.
Nutritionist Emma Brown (ANutr), MSc Human Nutrition is passionate about how food science applies to the human body, and how the nutrients in what we eat affect us and ultimately have an impact on our health.