Simple Training for busy people

How much are you supposed to train to get in shape?

Is there a magic amount of workout time that will quickly give us the toned arms, slim thighs and flat bellies we crave?

Is it 4 times a week for an hour, 2 times a week for 2 hours, every day for half an hour?

Also what exercises should we do? Weights, bodyweight, cardio, high intensity intervals, home celeb DVD workouts, Spin, Zumba?

This feeling that there is a One True Answer to this whole exercise thing is what scuppers most of our attempts at getting in shape. Once the going gets tough, or results aren’t what we hoped for or expected, that niggling feeling comes along – “I don’t think I’m doing this right, this way isn’t the answer…”.

I’m going to give you a template to work to, in order to get as fit and strong as you want to be. But, Spoiler Alert, there is no One True Answer because it all depends on your goals, current fitness level and weekly schedule.

Getting Fitness and Anti-Fatness mixed up

Many people fall into the trap of seeing fitness training as the answer to losing a significant amount of body fat, when actually it’s a pretty ineffective way to lose weight. Jog for an hour a day, while eating at your body’s maintenance level of calories, and you will lose a whole 1lb of body fat. For 7 hours of pavement pounding.

When clients start training with me they will often say their goals are to get fit, strong/’toned’ and lose some weight. And I need to make sure that they understand that our workouts can deliver the first two goals, but what and how they eat outside of the sessions will be the main driver of fat loss.

So having realistic expectations of the outcomes of your fitness training is important. Training will certainly improve your strength, stamina, body shape, heart health, bone health, and guard against all sorts of conditions later in life. But it’s really not going to burn the number of calories you want it to to lose body fat.

Having clarified that, hopefully you still see the point of exercising! When it comes to looking after your physical and mental health long term, fitness training is a fantastic thing to include in your life. Yes, the aesthetic outcomes of changing your body shape and losing weight through your diet are also excellent, but seeing fitness as a way of just ‘looking after myself’ should be the main driver.

The Main Issue for Busy People

Let’s get down to the nitty-gritty then. The issue for busy people with jobs, homes, families and hobbies taking up most of their time is finding the time to train. Just as the best diet is the one you can stick to, the best training programme is the one that you can slot into your life and stick with.

There is no point trying to stick with a daily training plan if you can realistically only train twice per week. Similarly if you’ve no 2-hour windows of spare time each week, you will not be able to stick with a programme that requires a couple of long workouts every week.

Progress happens through consistently turning up and training every week, every month, every year. Some weeks I train 4-5 times per week, others only twice as things are hectic. But for the last 20 years I have turned up and trained at least twice per week every week.

This is much better than starting some gung-ho 6 Week Fat Blaster programme, making great progress, then doing nothing for a few months as that 6 Week programme melted my head and demanded too much time and energy, and I end up back where I started beforehand. Slow and steady wins the race.

The simplest way therefore to get in shape for the long term, is to have a minimum total amount of training each week that we stick to no matter what. An amount of time that we can manage even during hectic weeks, and that we can adapt around our weekly schedules. And for most people I believe around 100 Minutes is the best and most realistic amount of time.

How to fit in your 100 Minutes

In practice this can mean *gets out calculator* (2 x 30 Minutes) + (1 x 40 Minutes) OR (7 x 14 Minutes) OR (2 x 50 Minutes), etc.

This allows you the flexibility to roll with the punches each week. If you’ve a couple of quiet evenings one week then you can train twice that week for 50 Minutes. If your week is hectic then you can do 14 Minutes every morning or evening. When you look at each week in advance you will find all the gaps you need to fit in 100 Minutes. And by ticking off those 100 Minutes week in week out, that is where progress will be made, slowly but surely.

“But I am SO busy, 100 Minutes isn’t possible!”

I’m fairly sure if we sat down and looked at the amount of time you read random stuff on your phone and watch TV that we will find 100 Minutes that you could have exercised. I’m not saying we need to become fitness obsessives, using every free minute to exercise. But if you’ve an hour free to lounge on sofa on Facebook, then it’s easy to see that you could use 30 minutes of that hour to do a home workout, then get back on the sofa for the other 30 minutes, right?

Ok, but what do we do for those 100 Minutes?

I recommend 60-75% of your training time should be based on resistance training (weights, bodyweight, kettlebells), and the remaining 25-40% on short bursts of cardio (either on machines if you’re at a gym, or on a mat at home). This split will tick a lot more boxes in terms of improved body shape, strength, lung capacity and heart health, than devoting your 100 minutes to just steady-state cardio (cycling/running/swimming at steady pace).

The number of exercises we do, and total number of sets etc will depend on how long we have for that workout. Let’s look at workout examples for three timeframe possibilities – 15 minutes, 30 minutes and 50 minutes

15 Minutes

30/30/30 Split – 30 seconds of resistance training/30 seconds of cardio/30 seconds of rest x 10 circuits.

For example 30 seconds of press ups, 30 seconds of speed squats, 30 seconds of rest. You would have 3-4 different workout options consisting of 2 exercises each time to make sure you hit every body part each week and obviously don’t get bored.

30 Minutes

20 Minutes strength circuit (3 exercises of 10 reps each in a circuit, then rest for 1 minute, then go again): 10 Minutes Cardio finisher (30 secs effort : 30 secs rest for 10 rounds).

For example a home workout with no equipment would be Lunges/Chair Dips/Press Ups for 20 Minutes. A gym workout could be Squats/Bench Press/Bentover Rows for 20 Minutes. Then the Cardio Finisher is squat thrusts, burpees etc at home or jump on a cardio machine in the gym for a fast 30 secs blast then down to a walking pace for 30 seconds, and repeat.

50 Minutes

35 Minutes strength training – 6 exercises, 4 sets of 8-12 reps each, 30 seconds rest between sets.

15 Minutes Cardio/Ab Finisher – either 20 secs fast/40 secs slow x 15 on a gym cardio machine, or a circuit of 3 cardio & abdominal exercises at home.

For example Squats, Straight Leg Deadlift, Bench Press, Bentover Rows, Overhead Press, Isolated Arm Exercise, then if at home a Cardio Finisher of squat thrusts for 30 secs, squat jumps for 30 secs, and plank for 30 seconds x 10 rounds, or jump on the treadmill/cross trainer/whatever if you’re at the gym.

So as you can see, whatever gaps you find in your weekly schedule there is a workout to fill it! With the longer workouts you will need to either join a gym or get some kettlebells or a cheap dumbbell set from Argos/Decathlon/Tesco/Amazon in order to open up the possibility of a more varied workout.

Many of the exercises I’ve mentioned above may be unknown to you. Rest assured these are exercises which have been around for decades and a quick Youtube search will turn up thousands of instructional videos showing you how to do them. Or by all means email me if anything is unclear!

Simplicity is the key to staying the course

Hopefully I’ve clarified things a bit for you now – the magical Ideal Amount and Type of Training to do is the amount you can nail every single week using whatever equipment you have access to. I’ve used 100 Minutes, split between strength and short bursts of cardio, because that is a realistic amount of training in order to make progress without feeling you’re having to devote your life to exercise.

And that split between strength and cardio will get you the main benefits you’re looking for from training (stronger, fitter, improved body shape, stronger heart, bones & lungs).

Simplicity is the key to sticking with something when you already have multiple other plates to keep spinning at home and work. I’ve also written a similar guide about a simple diet to help you lose weight, so check that out too if fat loss is a goal.



Simple Diet for Busy People featuring Pat Benatar

Pat Benetar sang in 1983 that “Love Is A Battlefield”.

Yes it is Pat – it still to this day.

But do you know what else is a battlefield Pat? Do you?

Trying to stick with a regimented diet when you’ve a house and/or kids to take care of and a job to hold down.

Sing about that Pat…

Because this is what throws a major spanner in the works when it comes to following the latest diet-with-a-name (Paleo, South Beach, Atkins, Dukan, or whatever). For someone in their 30s/40s/50s trying to lose weight while keeping the job and family plates spinning too, this is our battlefield.

Why most diets don’t work

Let’s face it, any diet that ensures we are normally taking on fewer calories than we burn on a daily/weekly/monthly basis, will lead to weight loss in theory.

But if the ‘rules’ of the diet stipulate that we do things that we just can’t stick to, because, y’know we have lives and all, then we will ‘fail’ on that diet.

If you need to constantly:

  • source foods that are hard to come by;
  • eat foods you don’t like;
  • eat too frequently or not frequently enough for your lifestyle/preferences,

then that diet won’t work for you.

Regardless of all the cheery testimonials about a diet, with the obligatory shot of someone wearing their old fat-person jeans, if you can’t stick with it longer term, you won’t lose the weight you want, and you will feel like you have failed, when in actual fact the specific approach to getting you into a calorie deficit to lose weight just wasn’t right for you.

The Simple Solution to all of this

The 80s reference to Pat Benatar above is intentional, because the 80s is also the last time we can probably all remember eating being less stressful and complicated. We all got by on normal foods – eggs, spuds, bit of meat, rice, pasta, bread, veg, fruit, and also the random processed stuff like Crispy Pancakes, Potato Waffles, Fish Fingers etc. As kids we also ran around a bit hungry sometimes between mealtimes when we were out and about with friends, and that was OK.

So I’m advocating getting back to all the good things about 80s eating – normal food, not massive portions, wee bit of junk, being OK with hunger, and obviously ditching the Crispy Pancakes (mostly for health and safety purposes, that filling was f-cking boiling!!). So let’s sum this approach up:

3 meals per day. Normal, unprocessed food. Be OK with being a bit hungry.

So you only have breakfast, lunch and dinner. If it’s not a mealtime you don’t eat. If you’re hungry between meals, hard luck, suck it up. You’ve probably missed a meal at times at work by being busy – I bet you didn’t end up in hospital or fall asleep at your desk did you? Being a bit hungry is fine when trying to lose weight.

Sticking with 3 meals per day of normal foods rather than superfoods and weird ‘healthy’ recipes is what takes the stress out of dieting in this way…

  • What could be easier than a diet where you eat the foods that are freely available everywhere?
  • Isn’t it simple to think of all the natural foods you genuinely do like eating and just stick with those most of the time?
  • Wouldn’t getting to eat 3 times a day mean minimal meal preparation and eating in a way that suits your family life too?

*high fives all round*

Most diet books would now list every meal you need to eat for the next week, involving new fancy recipes, a lengthy shopping list for you, and a long list of rules.

Not so with our new busy-person-friendly, simple way of eating. Here in a nutshell, is how to use traditional foods on a daily basis to stay healthy and lose weight:

A couple of eggs and a piece of toast
OR medium portion of porridge
Maybe a bit of fruit if you want.
No fruit juice, just water, milk or coffee

Mid-morning Snack
Aye right

Biiiig Salad with some veg you like
& some protein from boiled eggs, meat or fish
OR an overfilled sandwich with plenty of meat and salad.
Plus a large glass of water.

Mid-afternoon Snack
Look, we’ve covered this already…

1/3 plate meat/fish/eggs,
1/3 plate veg (stir fry/salad/roast veg/whatever),
1/3 plate carbs (white rice, potatoes, whatever).
Plus a large glass of water.

Evening Snack

I know what you’re thinking – you already kind of eat this way a few times a week at least, right?

The problem is it’s not how you eat 5-6 days per week.

  • Maybe you often have sugary snacks between meals.
  • Maybe you have ‘supper’ in front of the TV most evenings.
  • Maybe you have too many dinners that are convenience foods or take-aways.
  • Maybe you go out for lunch at work too often
  • And I’m willing to bet hunger doesn’t happen much without being acted upon ASAP.

Don’t be fooled by the simplicity of all this

I’m recommending we get back to a simpler way of eating, but possibly it looks TOO simple to you?

We’ve been so conditioned to expect a ‘diet’ to have a list of rules and Evil Foods, that something this simple seems too good to be true.

Let’s look at WHY things can be so simple and still ‘work’ for you, to put your mind at ease!

  • Breakfast is low sugar. Ditching the fruit juice and sugary cereals, and replacing with slower digested eggs and lower GI oatmeal means you will stay fuller for longer throughout the morning, as energy from the meal is released more slowly. This means less of an energy dip and no hunger pang mid-morning which would normally have you searching for a muffin at 10am!
  • Water throughout the day means everything is efficiently digested, you feel less run-down, and you can concentrate at work. Coffee is fine, but it can’t be your main source of water!
  • No snacks – we need to learn to be hungry and not act, to slowly chip away at the excess body fat we are carrying.
  • ‘Proper Dinner’ – this is often the crappest part of a diet, when you don’t get to sit down with your family and have a proper, filling meal like the rest of them. Any of your go-to dinners can be adapted to this Thirds split – making sure you are getting plenty of vegetables and protein, and not being scared of carbohydrates.

That makes perfect sense right? Do you think you could start eating like this most days?

Being prepared for eating this way

Knowing in advance some of the challenges of following any new way of doing things means we can prepare accordingly and not be knocked off track.

  • You will feel hungry at first, and will no doubt focus on it as you know you can’t do anything about it. You are just hyper-sensitive to it when teaching the body to get used to a new flow of meals.
  • After a week or so you’ll notice hunger less, and may even find concentration and energy improve during the days as your body isn’t constantly side tracked with digesting food every few hours!
  • For most of us breakfast and dinners are more controllable as you’re at home, but lunches can be tricky if you’re at work or out and about. So you’ll need to figure out how to handle lunches – can you take a lunch with you to work or get what you need in/around your workplace or wherever you’ll be at lunchtimes?

A bit of advance planning, including adapting your grocery shopping accordingly, will go a long way to ensuring you don’t continually find yourself unable to eat lunch according to plan!

Can you start eating like this?

I know you can start getting back to basics and eating this way, because you’ve done it before – it was just a couple of decades ago when you were a kid, when you got told to give your parents’ heads peace when you asked for a snack between meals! We’ve all fallen into bad habits in the meantime, and convinced ourselves we ‘deserve’ certain things more regularly than is actually healthy.

Nothing is off limits now, but obviously overdoing it with certain foods or certain portion sizes is counter productive.

For the most part we’re not adding extra stress around foods and learning new weird recipes – we are removing the stress around food by going back to the natural foods we grew up with, before the sheer volume of media coverage of diets confused us all.

We are learning that a bit of hunger between meals is OK and actually beneficial for controlling our weight.

You know that eating this way make sense even if it doesn’t sound exciting and new. You’ve possibly hopped from diet to diet for years, decades even, intermittently trying to lose weight with crazy schemes and foods.

Aren’t you tired of that crap by now? How did that all that flip-flopping work out for you?

So grab a pen and paper and start planning your next grocery shopping trip to include simple, natural foods you grew up with, and stop stressing about what and how to eat for optimal health and losing weight!


Romeo, Juliet, Pringles & Discipline

People see ‘discipline’ as a bad word, like it’s a party-pooper – “I was having a great time there, free to do/eat whatever I wanted but, ugh, need to get serious and disciplined now, knuckle down, stop being a wingnut”.

But if you think about it, being disciplined, having some self-control, getting the stuff done that you need to get done, actually gives you freedom. Freedom to THEN mess about in your new-found spare time and BE that wingnut. Discipline shouldn’t then be seen as the party pooper, but rather as a welcome party guest who will make everything run smoothly.

Why I’m like a toddler

Right now most of us feel overwhelmed by everything we have on our plates. Work, family, your own personal goals/pursuits – they all have ther own mini to-do lists don’t they? I can’t say I’ve always been much good at ticking things off those lists.

I think at the end of the day if I watched a film of my actions during that day, I’d be unimpressed at how childish I am. I don’t mean playing with LEGO (that’s only at weekends for a start…), I mean how pathetic I am at acting on whims, what I want right there and then, listening to my immediate ‘feelings‘ telling me I should totally do something, and that I am SO right in coming to that conclusion. It’s a bit pathetic really.

It means at the end of a day where I had told myself I would do X and Y, and would stop myself even thinking of doing Z, I actually end up doing X (woohoo!), convincing myself Y can wait and decide to actually do Z, and also starting Projects A, B and C that are totally the right things now for me to focus on now y’know actually come to think of it, and I’ll work on A, B and C tomorrow definitely…

Why we are a bit crap and being disciplined

I mentioned ‘feelings’ there and put them in their own wee quotes for a reason. It’s important to understand the difference between ‘feelings’ and ‘beliefs’ when it comes to trying to be disciplined.

Feelings are basically our initial reaction when faced with something happening, some choice we have to make. Feelings are what we immediately WANT to do in that situation, driven by emotion rather than logic, e.g. Person annoys you: Punch them in face.

Beliefs, in contrast, are conclusions you have come to about the way things SHOULD be – conclusions you’ve come to over time, not on a whim. Like “I will take better care of my health, because I only get one body and I have to take care of it”, “I will spend more time wth my kids/partner to improve those relationships”, “I will eat less crap because I want to lose weight”.

Feelings and Beliefs are like those two familes in Romeo & Juliet that I can’t be arsed wikipedia-ing to find out the names of. I blame West Side Story, because I now constantly get mixed up between what happens in that and what happens in the Shakespeare play. Like, Romeo doesn’t sing “Ma-ri-aaa…”, right? But I digress, Feelings and Beliefs don’t get along at all. It’s like they can’t be in the same room/brain without it all kicking off.

We run into problems because, when it comes to getting anything done, Feelings can lead you to rationalize things to yourself, almost trying to convince you that your Beliefs are misplaced and wrong: “I know I told myself I would cut back on junk but I WANT CHIPS NOW!” – and then we start convincing ourselves why having chips is ok, and actually the right thing to do, and we can be extremely persuasive at times like these can’t we?

How to stop acting like a child

What changed things for me was when I saw that my kids act this way, acting on emotions constantly, always wanting things NOW. But the thing is, they are all under 12 years old, and are already growing out of it to some extent – what was my excuse?

I didn’t have an excuse. So once I reframed acting on Feelings rather than Beliefs as an immature way of living, this gave me a jolt. When I pause and realize I’m about to go against a Belief just for some short-term boost, I tell myself “Grow. The. F-ck. Up.”

Now you don’t have to throw in the F-ck (though profanity helps sometimes), but these few seconds of pausing and acknowledging what you’re about to do, is what can help keep us on track with those things we’ve decided to try to improve in our lives. Self-discipline involves putting your immediate Feelings to the side, to check on your Beliefs before making a decision. Some examples:

Feeling – Oooh crisps! I feel like crisps, and these are Texas BBQ Pringles, I am all over you Mr Pringles, come to Papa…

Belief – I’m trying to lose weight, and I told myself I would have a blow-out every Saturday. Today is Wednesday. Your day will come Senor Pringlo, I’ll wait until Saturday then you’re mine. I will pop. I will not stop…

Feeling – This sofa is so cosy, I am knackered, it’s cold outside and I feel like watching these Friends repeats on TV – screw my workout tonight, it can wait, sure there’s no point unless I’m really in the mood.

Belief – I am trying to get in shape. I need to stick with my schedule to make any progress. Something will come up tomorrow too if I ditch the workout tonight and aim to do it tomorrow. I need to get my workout gear on and go work out. It’ll be an hour of my time tops, then back to this sofa, and Friends will still be on some channel somewhere.

This pausing and acknowledging thing isn’t easy though. We’re so used to stuffing the cookies in our mouths/downing the tequila/skipping workouts without thinking about it, that it’s a hard habit to break.

Although we now recognise that acting on Feelings and ignoring Beliefs is a recipe for inactivity and incorrect decisions, we can’t just click our fingers and “Be Disciplined”.

How to build up your discipline muscles

Discipline is like a muscle that in most of us is extremely weak. And just like a muscle, if you wanted to get stronger you don’t pick the heaviest weight in the gym and expect to lift it 20 times straight away. You need to start light. And ‘light’ in a discipline sense means not asking too much of yourself to begin with.

We need to take baby steps first, and build from there. As well as just taking a few seconds to consider whether we’re about to do something based on feelings, that goes against our beliefs, we also need to start small when trying to be disciplined enough to make some positive changes and build healthier habits:

Go for a walk every Sunday to start getting some structure into your exercise regime. Just Sunday. Even if it’s only for half an hour. This will get you used to the concept of exercise happening at a set time every week, like an appointment.

Drink a big glass of water with every meal to start being more conscious of digestion, hydration and looking after yourself. This will get you used to the concept of consuming something that isn’t the tastiest thing ever, but the RIGHT thing for your long term health.

Stop watching TV by 11pm during the week to make sure you get a half-decent amount of sleep. This introduces the concept of realising your hormones, energy levels, skin and brain function the next day are more important than 1 more episode of Dexter on Netflix.

Leave a Post It note on your desk at work at the end of the day with the 1 non-reactive thing you have to do the next day. This introduces the concept of you taking control of your working days, rather than just letting each day ‘happen’, then getting stressed at all this shit on your ToDo list that’s never getting done.

See what I mean? Don’t start with “Must run 10 miles a day 7 days a week and follow this Celeb Diet I’ve just read about”. Start light.

After a few weeks you can start adding in more/different exercise, more healthy diet additions, more lifestyle tweaks, more things on your next day to-do list, etc and you’ll be amazed how your life looks 6 months down the road. But give yourself a chance at succeeding, and strengthen your discipline slowly but surely.

Remember, if you walked into a gym, decided you WANTED to be able to squat 150kg, got under the bar, collapsed in a heap injured, what would you say to yourself –

A. Ah for f-ck sake. You dick! Why can’t you squat 150kg on your first visit to the gym! You are useless. Pathetic. No point in any of this.

or B. Well, that was clearly too much to begin with, I am weaker than I thought. Ah well, need to start a bit lighter, build up strength gradually. I’ll squat 150kg eventually though.

Choose B every time you’ve found you’ve aimed too high. Start being nice to yourself, push yourself to improve but within reason. The rest of the world honestly doesn’t really care about you, but at least YOU should. And looking after yourself never includes constantly berating yourself for not being fitter, better at your job, a nicer person, slimmer or whatever.

Careful prodding, taking a second to consider those beliefs rather than acting on feelings – Yes.
Expecting yourself to have iron discipline overnight and berating yourself when you don’t – No.


Home Bodyweight Workout


My piece on Good Morning Ulster

I took BBC journalist Richard Morgan through a training session on Monday 2nd January, as part of Good Morning Ulster’s show on sticking with New Year’s resolutions.

You can listen to the 4 minute piece here:


How to lose weight like a Sneaky Ninja

There’s a good reason why most people try and fail multiple times to lose weight and get in shape.

It’s because deep down we like things the way they are. I don’t mean you secretly like your muffin top or beer belly. I mean we like the foods we eat in the quantities we eat them and like to eat them when we decide thankyouverymuch. And the part of us that clings to these desires is like a whingey high maintenance toddler.

So when you actually start acting like an adult who values their health and wellbeing, and try to change things in a gung-ho way:

Right, all this crap stops NOW. I am eating this super-healthy thing for breakfast, that superfood-tastic meal for lunch, and this wonderful recipe for dinner, packed with antioxidants, fibre and all sorts of recommended stuff. No junk or booze either!

our inner needy toddler misbehaves.

  • We start nibbling on a weeee bit of that stuff on the NO CRAP list we literally just wrote out.
  • We binge on the very healthy stuff we’ve made, overlooking the fact that 1000 calories of healthy stuff is pretty much the same as 1000 calories of unhealthy stuff in an energy-in/energy-out sense.
  • We slowly convince ourselves that this whole idea is stupid and maybe we should just quietly give up again.

And then we’re back to square one, beating ourselves up, as we knock back a few glasses of commiseratory (word?) wine and some pringles.

Where did it all go wrong?

Where It All Went Wrong

When was the last time you heard of a toddler immediately taking on board an adult’s advice and changing their behaviour?

I for one have now been telling my sons to not mess about at the dinner table for almost 10 years. 10. Bloody. Years. Kids are stubborn gits. And so is the whingey kid inside you.

So if my attempts to stop them messing at the table haven’t worked for 10 years, what makes us think we can overcome our change-resistant inner-toddler with some 6-week lay-down-the-law, gung-ho, change-everything strategy for weight loss?

It won’t work. Shake things up too much and you get resistance.

So if you keep doing what you’re doing – sporadically ‘being good’ then ‘falling off the wagon’ ad nauseum – you’re going to be still unhappy with how you look and feel in 10 years. CRAPNESS ALERT.

No, we need to be more realistic. The bull-in-a-china-shop approach clearly doesn’t work – coming in like a wrecking ball, trying to change too much too quickly means we crave going back to our comfy lives too much, and we rebel.

We don’t like BIG changes. The needy I-Love-Treats toddler in us hates big changes and feeling like they’ve been told what to do.

Big changes make us a bit out-of-sorts and uncomfortable, and if we don’t see an end in sight then we self-sabotage and talk ourselves out of the changes, so things go back to ‘normal’ again.

Small changes though. A softly-softly approach, that could work.

Being stealthy, ninja-style, and creeping up on our comfortable, settled lives,

infiltrating them,

getting on like everything’s just normal,

nothing to see here,

don’t mind me,

I’m just moving a couple of things around a wee bit..

THAT can work.

What sneaky changes are needed?

Let’s look at the changes we all know we need to make in order to lose weight – things that we’ve read a bajillion times and maybe tried, but the changes never stuck. This is how life needs to be for you to be in control of your weight, either losing weight or maintaining your weight:

  • Eating good quality food, more fresh less processed;
  • Not eating big f- off portions most of the time;
  • Seeing food as enjoyable fuel, not as a comfort blanket or source of entertainment;
  • Not equating having your favourite foods with stuffing yourself full of them;
  • Having set mealtimes, not grazing where you give yourself more opportunities to eat too much;
  • Giving your body a break from digesting food – limiting the hours you’re eating to 8-10 hours per day – so the body has a chance to burn some fat as fuel;
  • Actually enjoying meals out, guilt-free, eating what you want, because you can balance things out over the course of a week.

So that’s the way life needs to be. We know we can’t click our fingers and expect to just ‘change’.

On a very basic level, what would life look like eventually though, to incorporate all those changes? Here’s an example:

Breakfast 8am – something low-sugar and filling like eggs
Lunch – plenty of veg, lean meats/fish/protein, a bit of fruit
Dinner 6pm – a balanced meal, half plate of veg, quarter plate carbs, quarter plate fish/meat
Supper – NO BLOODY SUPPER. It’s not a meal. How many calories do you think you’re burning watching TV?! *end rant*

So how do we STEALTHILY, without even making a noise, get to that life?

How do we get from our current messy life, with its good days, bad days and guilt – and the feeling of lurching from one disorganised dinner to another, basically winging it – to that life that incorporates those required changes?

Remember, it won’t ultimately work if you try to do it too fast, even though you want results fast.

Think of how long you’ve been struggling to get your weight under control – your attempts so far clearly haven’t worked have they? Because you rattled the needy toddler’s cage too much, you noisy wingnut.

We need to channel our inner ninja.

The 3 Month Sneaky Ninja Diet

We have to creep up on ourselves. Let’s give it 3 months say. If we find ourselves trying to self-sabotage and rebel from any changes, that’s a sign you suck as a ninja, and need to be quieter, i.e. slow down with the changes, stick with what you’ve done for a while then start sneaking again.

3 months, 12 weeks. 1 small change per week, no more.

No skipping ahead and making multiple changes per week, trying to be teacher’s pet, you overachiever 🙂

Be happy with 1 change per week that sticks. Ok, masks on, Ninjaaaaa Go…

Week 1

Any 3 days this week, have 3 eggs (cooked any way) and a piece of toast if you want for breakfast. And a large glass of water. Coffee still fine too, dear God we’re not giving up coffee! Do what you normally do for all other breakfasts.

Top Tip – this will involve buying eggs when you’re shopping before the week starts.

Week 2

Have a large glass or 500ml bottle of water with your lunches. Top Tip – you need a container for the water AND you will need a mid-afternoon pee.

Stick with the eggs/water at breakfast thing too. Don’t change anything else about your lunches or dinners. We’re sneaking right?

Week 3

5 days this week, maybe mon-fri, have your eggs. Eggs can be fried/poached/scrambled/omelette/boiled whatever. And the lunch water, that keeps going right?

Week 4

INTERNET RESEARCH PROJECT ALERT! Research ideas for lunch that include veg and protein sources (all veg, meat, fish, dairy, eggs). Try to pick 3 good ones that look wild tasty and that you can be arsed making. Pinterest & Google are full of ideas.

Don’t make anything though, just add the ingredients to your next shopping list. Make sure you have a container for these upcoming lunches.

Week 5

Dun, dun, duuuuuun! 3 days this week have one of those new snazzy lunch options. Have whatever you’d normally have the other days (canteen, sandwich, whatever).

Week 6

You’re bored of eggs aren’t you? It’s ok. You can have a small bowl of full fat greek yoghurt and some fruit instead sometimes. The full fat is important – low fat won’t fill you up and fat isn’t evil – get it into ye 🙂

Week 7

Team Meeting. Have a wee sit down with yourself. Have you stuck with the protein breakfasts, the lunch water, and started making some veg/protein choices for lunches a few times per week?

If some of these changes haven’t stuck, go back to the week of that change and start again. It’s not a failure to take a step back, you’ll be motoring eventually, but everyone makes changes at a different pace.

If all changes have stuck so far, good going, just tread water this week, patting yourself on the back intermittently for being an impressively sneaky ninja.

Week 8

Veg/Protein lunches every day Mon-Fri this week. Find more options if some of the original finds aren’t floating your boat. Weekends – whatever you want, just don’t take the piss.

Week 9

Snacks – if you’ve been including these between meals, it’s time to cut them out Mon-Fri. You won’t die of hunger. You won’t faint. A rumbly tummy means your body is about to burn some body fat as fuel – don’t scupper this by running to the toaster/vending machine.

Week 10

Time to look at dinner. This can be a minefield especially if kids are included in the equation – it’s hard to make ‘healthy’ dinners all the time that lead to dinner table warfare – who can be arsed?

So what you’re going to do this week is just make a list of typical dinners you make that everyone eats and likes.

Then figure out how you can adapt YOUR plate to use better ingredients, and have fewer carbs (spuds, chips, rice, pasta, bread) and more veg on your plate. To fill you up you’ll need some meat/fish at dinner most days too.

Week 11

Have a go at changing your plate for each dinner. It might not work with some meals, no big deal, but where it’s doable, do it.

Where it’s not doable, like you’re having pizza, eat away but just rein in the portion sizes. No foods are evil, just some portions of some foods are counter-productive!

Week 12

Project Close Meeting. Again, look at how your life has changed so far food-wise. If you’ve struggled with any change, go back to that week and start again.

If you’ve had a few wobbles, involving cakes/wine/big meals out, that’s all part of the plan – remember you’re trying to eat better for the rest of your life, and life isn’t nice and calm and predictable.

But if you manage all of these changes 80% of the time, you’re doing well. Keep researching breakfast and lunch options that stick with that macro split.

You’re not done after 12 weeks obviously

The 12 weeks approach is designed to fix your bad habits and get you on the right track, without turning life upside down.

The sudden gung-ho Must-Be-Healthy-At-All-Times approach rarely works – you feel like you’re in a prison cell, busting to get out and run round to the chippy and pub.

You need to change one thing at a time, and wait until that change has become a habit THEN move onto forming a new habit elsewhere in your diet.And then this becomes how you live your life, not just for these 12 weeks.

This is all very doable. I’m sure you can manage this, you just need to start. Week 1 – Buy Eggs, then off you go…. but stealthily, like the Sneaky Ninja I know you can be!


The Key to Fat Loss: Don’t Take the Piss

minionWe know so much more these days about diet and nutrition than we did 20 years ago, thanks to hundreds of books, magazine articles, fat loss TV shows, blogs etc on the subject. And yet the average person is fatter compared to 20 years ago. How can that be? How can we know and understand more about losing weight, and yet achieve the opposite?

Well, the fact is that although the average diet contains better quality food, we still kid ourselves, misunderstand things, and expect too much for little effort. Basically, we take the piss.

How we take the piss

Here are 5 scenarios that we have all been in, where we take the piss and then get all surprised when we gain fat, or fail to lose fat if that’s the goal:


We eat well when we can, but there are so many chances to go out for lovely lunches, dinners, drinks with various groups of friends and colleagues that we can’t say no. Chances of fat loss: low.

Big portions of healthy food

You’re eating ‘healthily’ and yet not losing weight – no lunchtime Mars bar, no wine with dinner, no potato waffles or findus crispy pancakes in sight…. Where’s my bloody weight loss?! Making the right choices is all very well, but if you’re still eating too much you won’t lose weight.


Arrgggghhh! “I have red wine and dark chocolate every night…. For the antioxidants, cos they help fight cancer and stuff”. Well yes they contain resveratrol which some dubious studies showed can fight various diseases. But chocolate and wine will also scupper fat loss if you take the piss. What’s higher in resveratrol than wine and chocolate? Pomegranates. So munch on those if it’s so important to you.

Seeing fruit as a Free Food

Listen, fruit is great for fibre and vitamin C etc, but fruit isn’t a free food. They all contain sugar. Sugar messes with insulin levels which messes with your body’s ability to burn fat. So 1-2 pieces of fruit a day are fine. But replacing your daily bag of Skittles with a punnet of grapes to be healthy is taking the piss. And its always better to eat the fruit than drink the juice, so ditch the smoothies and expensive juices.

“I was powerless… I had no other choice!!”

This boils down to ‘I was presented with something tempting and I couldn’t say no’. It was Joan’s birthday and there was cake; your husband wanted a takeaway so you had to; work was shit and there was wine in the fridge; a restaurant had a deal on that was really good value, blah blah blah.

Every day is full of opportunities for us to stuff our bakes. How about these examples: I drove past a bakery so i stopped to get a cake. I walked past a pub so I had to go in for a bottle of wine. That wee shop sells crisps and I like crisps, so I went in for Doritos. Those scenarios seem stupid, but are they really that far removed from the first ones I mentioned? Calories are everywhere, you don’t have to take it upon yourself to consume them all though.

How to stop taking the piss and control your weight

We know deep down when we’re taking the piss and overdoing things. We pretend we’re oblivious, and act shocked when the scales have crept up. But you can easily remember all the piss-taking you’ve done recently if you try.

So here are 3 ways to stop taking the piss:

Keep calories lower than what your body needs

Shocker Alert: Whatever you’re eating, you need to consume less than your body needs to force it to burn fat. That isn’t actually that much compared to what you’re used to. You need to get used to eating less in general.

Say no. Woman-/Man-Up

Stop listening to that monkey in your head telling you to eat it, drink it, have some more, sure you deserve it, etc – that’s the part of your brain that’s seeking immediate joy, not long term happiness from looking after yourself and feeling healthier.

Stop reading and reading and reading…

Stop seeking the holy grail diet that allows you to stuff your bake and get slim. Proper grub, small portions, occasional guilt-free blow outs. That really is it. That is how to live your life and be the weight you want to be. There is no magic diet. There is no superfood that cancels out cake (sadly).

Your next step…

So if you’re trying to lose weight, how about this: next time you’re eating when satiating hunger isn’t the point (because you’re feeling indulgent, or sad or rewarding yourself instead), or you’re having your 3rd big meal out in a week, or gulping down a gallon of Super-Healthy Fruit Smoothie, just stop for a second and ask yourself:

“Here, am I taking the piss?”


Vacuuming and Fitness

My floors at home get dusty and dirty quickly with 3 kids running about, dropping bloody cheerios and crumbs everywhere. If we don’t vacuum for a while the place is stinking. So I vacuum.

I hate vacuuming but the alternative is dirty floors and dusty rooms so it gets done. Nobody in their right mind enjoys vacuuming, yet everyone does it as they recognise the necessity of doing so.

Let’s look at the logic here

  • We want to have a certain outcome (clean floors).
  • To achieve that outcome we need to do a task regularly that we would prefer not to do (vacuuming).
  • As tempting as it is to just not clean your floors, the outcome of not vacuuming is a big mess, which we enjoy even less than doing the annoying task.
  • So we will be vacuuming semi-regularly for as long as clean floors are important to us.
  • Most people understand this, and accept vacuuming as the best way to achieve clean dust-free floors, hence why everyone has a vacuum cleaner.

I swear this is an article about health and fitness, bear with me….

We don’t trawl the internet for “clean floor solutions” that stop us having to vacuum at all. We don’t avoid at all costs the obvious, most effective long term clean-floor-solution that is vacuuming, in favour of a new “wonder powder” that claims to “eat dust” while we sit on the sofa. We don’t buy books called “Get Those Clean Floors You Want in just 6 Weeks, the Easy Way!!“.

We just recognise vacuuming as the best way to get a necessary job done. So we vacuum.

Living the Vacuuming Lifestyle

Now, just because we vacuum doesn’t mean we have to love it, and have to change what’s important to us in life, and live the “Vacuuming Lifestyle”. We don’t need to beat ourselves up for not having crazy fun every time we need to change the vacuum bag.

We don’t feel the need to gush to friends about this great way we’ve found to really hit those corners and skirting boards. Nobody boasts about how clean they got the stairs carpet last week. We get it done and we get on with our lives with our nice clean floors.

Vacuuming is something that needs to happen so we can get on with the more pressing/enjoyable things in life. Constantly looking for ways of maintaining clean floors that are new, fun, exciting and take less time than vacuuming is daft, and a waste of time and money.

You’re clever. You know where this is going…

Let’s replace ‘Vacuuming’ with ‘Fitness Training’

Why don’t we apply the same logic with these things?

We want to have a certain outcome (live longer, stay fit, strong and healthy, weight control). To achieve that outcome we need to do a task regularly that we would all prefer not to have to do (resistance training, cardio training, etc).

As tempting as it is to just not do any fitness training, the outcome is a big fat unhealthy life-damaging mess, so we need to train semi-regularly for as long as a fit, healthy body is important to us. This is just as simple as choosing to vacuum isn’t it?

But unlike vacuuming, people refuse to accept this:

  • We DO trawl the internet for faster, easier solutions – superfoods, slimming pills, wonder diets, dubious abdominal training devices.
  • We DO waste money on wonder products that promise minimal effort for maximum reward – 2-week Cleanse, Cabbage Soup Diet, VibroPlates.
  • Those who do train boast endlessly about what they are doing, feeling the need to share the fact they are undertaking this necessary task, actively trying to appear to be living a Fitness Lifestyle.
  • And we DO expect the task to be relentlessly fun, enjoyable and rewarding. The minute it stops being fun we stop “I just wasn’t enjoying it any more…”.

Imagine doing that with vacuuming:

Ah it was great for the first few weeks, the big loud WOOOOOOOOOOOOOO sound, the retractable cable, THE ATTACHMENTS!! But then it just wasn’t fun any more, so I now live in filth with my dust allergies and minging floor. I might get one of those Peruvian Mountain Goats, you know the ones that apparently love licking floors clean….

I get that it can be confusing, always having our heads turned by the New Thing On The Block promising the world. Who wants to buy a book or product that promises “.. to teach you all the stuff you already know you have to do, that has worked for centuries and is not new in any way!!“.

But that’s exactly the point – you know what needs to be done, just as you know vacuuming needs to be done. You know that fitting in challenging exercise regularly is the best way to stay fit, strong and healthy (the diet side of things is a Post for another day obviously…).

Accept the Task

Stop fighting the facts and damaging your body in the process. Find a way of training that fits into your life. Keep doing it. Don’t expect it to be fun, because the fun comes from the benefits of doing it, like the feeling of not having minging floors any more post-vacuuming.

But a clean floor pales into insignificance against benefits such as a healthy heart, bulletproof body, strong muscles and bones, big healthy lungs, and a longer life to enjoy with your family…


[Vid] Short workouts using your kids

Short workouts really are the key when you’re trying to build fitness and strength and get in shape, but also have a million and one other things going on.

And since for parents it’s partly their kids’ fault that they’ve had no time to look after themselves better, I thought Why not use these pesky kids to help me train?

Would love to hear of anyone else who’s done something similar or has other exercises using kids!


Fat and Debt – Same Problem, Same Solution

I train clients who have all sorts of jobs – doctors, hairdressers, solicitors, marketing buffs, business owners, civil servants – all sorts of people of all shapes, sizes and backgrounds, and it’s great. I love chatting (during rest periods obviously, not mid-squat…) about what they do.

I’m training a financial advisor at the minute, and during a conversation it occurred to me that he helps people organise their lives to get out of debt and avoid future problems,  in the same way that I help people turn around their health and body shape with diet and exercise.

And then i thought about how debt and obesity are similar – continually spending/eating too much and ending up with a big problem.

Why we spend and eat too much

overeatingOur urge to eat food we don’t need comes from same place as the desire to spend money we don’t have. We ignore the part of our brain that knows what’s best for us long term, and instead we listen to the part that wants instant gratification and to hell with the consequences. Live for the now maaaan, don’t be such a square.

And we are absolute geniuses at convincing ourselves that the food or purchase is actually OK, even if we’re in trouble weight or debt wise:

  • “Ah sure its only a big bit of cake, it IS Joan’s birthday, and I like Joan….”
  • “But this gadget is going to really improve my life, why would I NOT get it?”
  • “Everyone else is going out and I’d hate to miss it, and sure I’ll only have a starter and a few drinks that’s not much money or calories….”

All these reasons suddenly seem plausible even if we already know we are overweight/in debt and trying to turn things around.

Why do we do this though? Why do we make buying and eating decisions that we almost instantly regret after the initial buzz of “treating ourselves”? Well, many of us use spending or eating as a way to fill a void in our lives that an enjoyable job, healthy relationship or rich life experiences should actually fill.

Pesky advertisers don’t help…

We are encouraged through ads to consume calories we don’t need and make purchases we can’t afford or take on another credit or store card to get us spending money that’s not ours. If you read the small print for junk food and credit cards there’s always some disclaimer of course, about eating as part of a healthy diet or keeping up repayments unless you want to lose your house.

But we’re sucked in by the opportunity to indulge in junk or buy ourselves something, so small print schmall schmint.

How to turn things around to be slimmer and more solvent!

ID-100142013The steps to get ourselves out of the mess our over-eating or overspending has gotten us into are strikingly similar too. Broadly speaking if you’ve spent too much you either need to earn more or spend less. If you’ve eaten too much and put on weight you have to exercise more or eat less.

As Brad Pilon said, “In debt you owe money, in fat you owe calories” and those need to be paid back.

From the outset, when looking for solutions we need to avoid the too-good-to-be-true options – diet pills = payday loans, gimmicky diets = dubious investments with amaaazing returns.

Remember these companies can spend a fortune advertising to you to supposedly ‘help’, but it’s clearly a lucrative business for them too.

So what actual steps do we need to take to become slim and debt-free?

Let’s be realistic – the bigger the mess you’re in the longer it’s going to take and the bigger the lifestyle changes required – if you’re 100 lbs overweight then just replacing sugar with sweeteners in your daily Starbucks coffee isn’t going to get you far. If you’re 10k in debt then promising to stop buying that same daily Starbucks coffee won’t make much off a dent in your debt either.

Jennie on the great family budgeting site Embarrassing Budgets puts it very succinctly:

If you find there always seems to be ‘too much month at the end of the money’, a budget could really help. Knowing where your money goes is the first step to regaining control of your finances.

And the same can be said for your diet – unless you’re tracking your intake you won’t know where you’re ‘overspending’ with calories either. So there are a few steps you can take to make the process easier…

  • Write down what you’re eating and spending your money on, and analyse where it’s going wrong. Diet-wise are you eating too many snacks or too much late at night? Debt-wise what are the major areas you spend on that aren’t necessities – socialising, fancy grub, clothes, holidays? If you don’t track it you’re winging it and won’t get far.
  • You need support from somebody who knows what they’re doing and who has YOUR best interests at heart rather than their own bank balance.
  • You need to budget. You can’t spend yourself out of debt, and you can’t eat yourself out of being fat. Your budget needs to cover the necessities off what your body needs (for diet) and what your lifestyle requires (for debt).
  • Factor in some manageable splurges to keep you sane. Figure out what kind of blow out you can manage without throwing your goals off track. For diet maybe eat ‘right’ 6 days a week then oh so wrong 1 day a week. For paying off debt maybe get most of your clothes from cheaper places but allow a certain item you’ve been coveting every now and again.
  • Keep your head down and stick to the plan even if you feel you’ve plateaued. If trying to pay off credit card debt maybe some months you’ll only pay off the minimum. Maybe one month on a diet you won’t lose as much weight as you’d like. In both cases you’re still making progress.

backgroundCommit and be realistic

So there you go, one minute I’m chatting with a client while he sips water between exercises, the next I’m bapping away with my useless index-fingers-and-thumbs-only typing style sharing my thoughts. But I hope it all makes sense.

Giving priority to the Instant Gratification Lover in your head, rather than the Sensible One who knows what’s best can get us into a lot of trouble both with weight gain and getting into debt. But getting out of the mess is doable as long as you’re committed, realistic and can just keep your head down and keep plugging away.