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How Stress Affects Fat Loss (and How to Not Let It)

How Stress Affects Fat Loss (and How to Not Let It)

You probably have all the nutrition related information you could ever need to lose fat. You already know that to lose fat you should eat less of that and more of this.

Often the question is not what to do to lose fat, but how to stick to doing what you already know you should do. And it’s often the underlying (or overpowering) and unmanaged stress that makes following healthy eating habits a challenge.

Stress pushes hormones on to a rollercoaster

When stress gets a stranglehold, the hunger hormone ghrelin goes up. Now, while ghrelin goes up and hunger kicks in, the satiety hormone leptin goes down. Yikes.

While ghrelin and leptin are having a ball on a rollercoaster, your hunger and fullness signals are all over the place. Just eating more fibre won’t solve your stress hunger.

And as the stress falsifies your hunger signals, it will also cause your body to push its metabolism down. So you end up eating more while also burning fewer calories. Not great for fat loss. 

Throw some stress related sleeping issues in the mix

Ever been stressed up to your eyeballs and struggled to fall asleep? Or you’ve gotten to sleep alright, but woken up feeling like you’ve barely closed an eyelid? Me too. Stress and restful sleep get along just about as well as the Gallagher brothers.

When you’re not getting a good night’s rest, you’re more likely to feel tired, impulsive, and hazy. Which can then cause you to make poor food choices.

Now, combine elevated food cravings, lack of satiety, poor decision making and lower metabolism, and we are getting an idea of why stress management needs to be a part of any fat loss plan. 

But that’s not quite the worst of it yet

With the lack of sleep comes increased self-doubt. And as we are wired to find eating comforting (probably because of some pre-historic lizard brain thing), it’s common to turn to it to “manage” emotions instead of dealing with whatever is really the source of our stress. Hence why emotional eating is such a common problem.

The habit loop’s role in stress eating

Like any habit, stress eating follows a craving event that sets off the whole cascade of a habit loop1. Let’s (over) simplify and use working at home as an example.

  1. Cue
    You are working at your desk, trying to make the deadline of whatever you’re working on. (Come on, I don’t know the ins and outs of your professional life. Make something up. Ok fine, you’re trying to solve a math question. Happy? I’m sorry it’s come to this. I didn’t want it to be math either. But here we are, so let’s move along.)
  2. Craving or a sense that something is missing
    You get stuck with a challenging task and feel an unstoppable urge to relieve the tension immediately. (I told you, this math thing was bound to be a stress inducing choice.)
  3. Response
    You walk to the kitchen, rummage through the pantry, find an old Easter egg and eat it. (I already picked math earlier, so it doesn’t really matter which holiday treat I put in here. This is all just ridiculous now.)
  4. Reward
    You feel brief pleasure for satisfying your craving. Eating something becomes associated with getting stuck in a challenging math task.

How to stop stress eating

Reduce stress eating by managing and limiting your stress sources

Tolerance to stress is highly individual. Some are more resilient to it and can tolerate multiple taps filling the stress bucket at the same time. While others get easily overwhelmed by less. You’ll likely know where you stand in this universal stress tolerance scale.

 Here are just some common sources of stress:

  • Work
  • Finances
  • Parenthood troubles, or just parenthood. It’s great to be a parent. But it’s also relentless.
  • Relationship troubles
  • Toxic relationships (dicks whose company makes you feel yuck)
  • Covid
  • Childhood traumas
  • News
  • Excessive screen time
  • Too many coffees and beers and potato chips and reality television shows
  • Noise and pollution. (Not the AC/DC song)
  • Your neighbours, in case they are dicks too

What gets often neglected is that stress from the things that we think are good for us also live in the same bucket:

  • Training (especially high intensity)
  • Calorie restrictions (duct tape diet)
  • Type-A mentality (like when you can’t let other people win in the escalators)

It’s irrelevant whether we think the source of stress as bad. It all fills the same bucket. Having too many of these taps of stress open at once can make our stress bucket overflow.

Photo by Wolfgang Hasselmann on Unsplash

What’s more important than trying to find stress releasing activities is to limit how many stress taps we have open at once. 

Once some taps are taken care of, it’s helpful to implement a few stress reducing activities as well.

Side-Show Box about severe emotional eating
For anyone in that situation, getting help is step number one.
The reasons behind uncontrollable emotional eating often go deeper than just everyday worries.

When we can’t handle our stress, or struggle with anxiety and depression from financial troubles, relationship problems, childhood traumas, or the like, it’s important to understand those issues and work through them with an appropriately qualified mental health professional.

Regardless of your current resilience to stress, there are ways to improve by incorporating some of these into your life:

  • Meaningful relationships
  • Meditation, mindfulness or slow breathing exercises
  • Stoicism, especially negative visualisation
  • Slow physical activity (walking, yoga, gardening, paddle boarding)
  • Laughing
  • Sex
  • Playing an instrument or listening to music
  • Reading
  • Art (drawing, painting, sculpting, carving a laughing donkey out of marmor)
  • Spending time in the nature
  • Keeping a gratitude diary and noticing beauty in everyday moments
  • Helping others and expecting nothing in return
  • Recreational sports
  • Hot sauna, warm bath, long shower

Before you starting changing them habit loops

I left this one last since working on a habit loop on its own rarely brings on a sustainable change. Hence it sits at the top of the pyramid, cherry on top, sort of thing. 

Think of it this way: working on negative eating habits without addressing the source of stress is like trying to renovate that second bathroom with a pack Hello Kitty bandaids. Whereas addressing the source of stress first is like starting the renovation with a sledgehammer to remove the mouldy tiles.

But don’t discard Hello Kitty bandaids altogether. No room for hate in here. Focusing on the habit loop can bring crucial awareness to our everyday eating habits.

Keep a stress eating diary and brainstorm a good vibes menu

After a week, you’ll likely start seeing patterns in your stress eating. You can then change your responses to your triggers by creating a list of actions other than eating, aka good vibes menu:

  • Take few deep breaths
  • Stand up for a quick stretch
  • Drink a glass of water
  • Chew a piece of dental gum (debatable, but works for some. Ehm, me)
  • Listen to a song you like
  • Balance a pencil on your nose
  • Juggle while balancing a pencil on your nose
  • Shadow boxing

For good habits to last, they need to be enjoyable 

Resisting temptation is about as rewarding as using a toothpick to open a safe box. It quickly depletes your willpower. Use instant gratification to your advantage by choosing your responses to cravings from actions that bring you immediate pleasure. If you love music, but hate stretching (me too), choose accordingly.

Sticking with these responses is easier if you can rid your cupboards of foods that you’ll likely crave when the trigger happens. Tricky for anyone who doesn’t live on their own. Unless you have an unchallenged authority on what gets eaten in your house. 

Be kind to yourself and show self-compassion

Changing stress eating is hard. No one is going to nail it 100% of the time, and we all slip. Instead of beating yourself up for it, try to be kind to yourself and find the bright spots in what you’re doing.

It’s helpful to keep asking yourself these two questions each time you’ve dealt with a trigger. Regardless of whether you fell for food or used an alternative from the good vibes menu.

  1. What went well?
  2. What did I learn?

Then build on it. One by one.

Conclusion

Most of us have all the information we could ever need for fat loss. It’s often the unmanaged stress that makes following every other healthy eating habit a challenge.

When we let stress get a stranglehold, the hunger hormone ghrelin goes up and satiety hormone leptin goes down. As the stress elevates our food cravings and hunger with false signals, it will also push our metabolism down.

Stress also affects our sleep. As we’re not getting a good night’s rest, we are more likely to feel tired, impulsive, and hazy. All of which can then make us more prone to making poor food choices. With the lack of sleep comes increased self-doubt. And it’s common to turn to eating to manage our emotions instead of dealing with whatever is really stressing us.

All the stress fills the same bucket. The first thing to do is to reduce the sources of stress we have at once. While also including relaxing activities into our days.

We can then keep a stress eating diary to figure out triggers for cravings. Then, we can slowly move away from food related responses by having a good vibes menu of things that bring us pleasure.


Sources:
1James Clear – Atomic Habits

Why Stress Causes People to Overeat
Effect of Stress on the Body
Good Stress Bad Stress
Strategies for Getting Control of Stress

How to Stick with a Diet

How to Stick with a Diet

“I don’t even care how many sticks I have to fetch to burn off this one.”
Photo by Camylla Battani on Unsplash

The first domino falls. Maybe you swore to quit sugar (nooooo), carbs (say it isn’t so) or coconut ice cream (I can’t even). And now the initial burning motivation and excitement have worn off. 

This attempt at a diet is becoming yet another prematurely ended diet in the mausoleum of failed diets. You might find yourself in despair. Questioning how you could better stick to a diet plan.

It requires a change of perspective

What if you would move away from trying to stick to a strict diet? By committing to a non-diet-diet. By resisting the urge to follow the template that everyone else does: setting on fire all that is delicious before the ultimate willpower stretching, and eventually breaking, attempt at an intense body transformation based on deprivation.

No. You can succeed by embracing the opposite. By being reasonable. Let the others focus on what they can achieve in a month or two. Only to fail yet again. You can play the long game. Focus on what results you can achieve in a year. And to keep them for another twenty years. 

Commit to showing up for foundational changes 

Give your willpower a break and ban nothing. You can eat whatever you want, within reasonable quantities of course. And sometimes less so. Because occasionally there are days when it’s impossible to choose between chocolate and vanilla ice cream. So you’ll end up having both. 

And reasonable isn’t just easier on willpower. It’s also better for your health. A recent study from The University of Helsinki1 suggests that people (even those with normal weight) with a history of failed diet attempts (“I gotta get heaps shredded for Barcelona”) have a higher chance of developing type II diabetes compared to the non-diet folks.

We also know that failed dieting may also lead to repeated weight loss attempts and therefore weight cycling. It’s a vicious cycle once it gets going.

Implementing small changes that eventually topple over

What if you’d commit to making changes that almost feel too easy? Like you’re cheating the gods of diet (Atkins?) by making up your own rules that require only a little willpower.

Changes that are small enough not to even valid a social media update. Because they don’t sound diehard. Because they’re not. In the world of diets, being reasonable and focusing on small changes is lame and boring. Unless of course you like sustainable, long-lasting results.

But a reasonable diet isn’t all pretty butterflies made of sparkling fairy floss

Following simple, reasonable eating habits requires resilience. If you choose to follow “I will duct tape my mouth shut for a month so please text if you want to communicate” – diet you can just muster through hell for a month. It won’t be easy. But most of us can deal with that sort of tribulation for 30 days. 

Reasonable approach in contrast requires persistence, even blind faith. It’s about repeating unsexy habits for a long time. It’s trusting the process that eventually there will be progress. Perhaps without seeing initial results for weeks.

Maybe you’ll end up stacking small habits on top of another for a while with no noticeable physical changes. Until one day that old friend compliments how you now somehow look better in the wind.

Being reasonable requires stubborn resistance to boredom

Trying to eat slowly until 80% full is not as arousing and concrete as damning sugar, eliminating biscuits that look like the 80s sitcom star Alf, or literally working out a donut on a rower. Eventually things get boring.

The challenge of boredom seven folds if you’re still starting out and haven’t seen substantial results from your efforts. Your mind naturally questions if the methods deserve your attention.

But instead of quitting when the boredom kicks in, you’ll double down on what you started. You re-focus on the small daily actions over the fluctuating excitement and motivation rollercoaster.

Because the internet is trying to convince you to stop being reasonable

Your news feed is filled with the excitement of new, more intense, fast diets. The ones that promise excellent results in only a few funny weeks. But you can counteract them by acknowledging what’s happening in your head: 

While being stuck at doing the challenging work of your current diet, you are seeing the possibility of a different diet. Something that perhaps sounds better than what you are currently doing. The comparison in your head is far from fair.

You are comparing the hard parts of the current diet to the upsides and promises of something new. The new thing will always look better. Because you are not in it right now doing the work.

Notice when this is happening, and it makes it easier to refocus on what you are currently doing. And to keep showing up.

Yeah, the grass is heaps greener on this side. What of it?
Photo by Adam King on Unsplash

The thing that makes a reasonable diet so powerful for a sustainable fat loss

It requires frequent self-reflection. You need to keep looking back at what you did, why you did it, and what were the results based on those decisions. 

Then there are the continuous adjustments that go with it. You have guidelines, not strict templates to follow. It’s not plug and play. It’s reflect-plug-adjust-play-reflect-plug-adjust-play repeat, repeat, repeat. You learn as you go.

This need for self-reflection stops some from sticking with a reasonable diet for long enough to see results. Especially in the beginning, when it’s all new and you are still trying to figure things out. But sticking with it really pays off.

Bringing it all together

The beauty of learning reasonable eating habits is that nothing is completely off limits. Being reasonable has it’s challenges, but it doesn’t require an intense amount of willpower. Especially when compared to the more strict duck tape diets.

It’s about learning mindful eating, performing frequent self-reflection, and discovering what foods work the best, for you. Then building your eating habits around them. 

It’s not about being perfect. But about doing it well enough to get the results you want. And then keeping them for life.

Even if it takes longer than the typical 30 days that the internet wants you to believe.


1 Self-report dieting attempts and intentional weight loss in a general adult population : Associations with long-term weight gain and risk of type 2 diabetes

How To Lose Fat Without Counting Calories, Strict Diets or Developing a Burning Hatred for Social Life

How To Lose Fat Without Counting Calories, Strict Diets or Developing a Burning Hatred for Social Life

A detailed guide to a sustainable fat loss and healthier eating.

You guys go ahead and get started. I’ll just measure how much this minestrone soup weighs so I can log it into a calorie counting app.

When trying to lose fat (get toned, lean out and all the other sexy marketing terms), the default action for most of us is to count calories. Spending multiple moons deep in the dietary math to figure out how many calories each food item has.

Did that pink lady apple weigh 100 grams? Or perhaps it was closer to 95 grams? Then painstakingly entering it into a calorie counting app. Repeat ad nauseam.

Some eventually take it a step further. They’ll investigate if it’s the combination of different macronutrients (proteins, carbohydrates, fats) that’s holding back their fat loss. Playing the next level scientist with their food to unearth the intricacies of their individual thermodynamics.

Yawn. Please excuse me while my boredom makes me jump out of a third-floor window. I don’t know about you, but I rather spend my time doing something else.

Counting calories is as enjoyable as trying to open a can of chickpeas with your eyelids

Obsessive calorie counting sounds like a path to a lifetime of distorted relationship with food. By obsessing over the minutiae that’s unnecessary for most us. I should know. I’ve been there. And it’s not a place worth going.

Yes, calories determine whether you’ll lose weight. That’s an inescapable fact of science. But counting them as a sustainable way to wellbeing for an average person (that’s both you and me)?

The one who wants to enjoy our food instead of downgrading into an exercise in math? The one who doesn’t have the urge to prance on stage in underwear trying to win the Miss Bikini Fitness Pennant Hills competition? No thank you. 

Counting calories is just another invention that moves us away from intuitive eating. It reduces the whole exercise of meal times into a robot-like nutrient orgy where feelings, thoughts and mindful eating gets replaced by computerised actions. So yeah, no. I am not a fan of calorie counting.

If you already know what is generally considered healthy and what is not, you can do all the problem solving yourself without ever counting a single calorie. Here’s how.

Start keeping a diet diary (or journal, for those with an aversion to the word ‘diary’)

It’s also acceptable to keep a diet diary without a felt pen and a bottle of ink. Like, I don’t know, ballpoint and A4.

This is exactly what it says on the tin. A diet diary. You know how in the traditional diary you would write how you saw three seagulls, went jogging while holding hands with Robo (how awkward does it look when people do this?), and bought a banjo.

Straightforward, right? Well, in the simplest form of a diet diary you write how you ate porridge with blueberries, shared a caramel latte with Robo (one straw, cute!), and drank a Mojito while playing the banjo.

A detailed diet diary is a goldmine of information

We often eat without really thinking about what we’re doing. Especially when sharing a meal with friends, eating in a rush or while watching tv. Eating is part of the event, but it’s rare we’re fully present.

Then we get to the end of the week wondering why the weight is not coming off. Or why we suddenly have man-boobs. And connecting nipple piercings. 

Anyhow. Our memory has the tendency to make our eating more glorious and healthy than what it really is. We like happy and positive memories to cloud our head like a rainbow in a spray bottle.

The only piece of information we need to get unstuck is woven in the pages of the diary. No need to buy into trendy diets, or even hiring a coach (initial accountability is another story). 

Keeping a diet diary eliminates the end of the week confusion of why we’re not seeing results. The answers are beaming you in the eyeballs. Written by you.

“Wow. I was not aware that I did that.”

That’s a statement I often hear from clients when they read back on what they’ve eaten throughout the week. In fact, it’s not uncommon that I say it to myself when I occasionally reflect on my own diet diary. 

One of my clients, an avid camper, noticed how she eats well when at the campsite, but the food choices she makes when getting there and back don’t align with her goals. And so she started packing healthier options for herself to take on the road. It’s actions like this done with consistency that shape into measurable results.

How to keep a diet diary

So, what the hell are you supposed to write in your diet diary? Yes, food. But wait! There’s more. 

I recommend starting at a note keeping level that you find easy. As in, a level you feel 90-100% confident you can do every single day. Don’t feel you have to be the Patti Smith of diet diaries from the start (or ever, if you don’t want to). 

If you currently keep no diet diary, start with an absolute barebones version. Then milk it for all the results you can get. If you get stuck and can’t see results for a few weeks, it’s probably time to add some additional details. Let’s cover these one by one. 

And yes, these are in the descending order of importance. 

What did I have?

Write what you had. Include everything that passes your lips. I mean, you could write “I saw an airplane” instead of “a muesli bar”. But as entertaining as that diet diary would be to read, it doesn’t always carry its weight when it comes time to adjusting your diet to see results. 

How much did I eat?

Another one that falls into the important, although not essential, category. The more specific you can be, the better. And no, you don’t have to pull out a portable scale while having your lunch. Instead, I like the Precision Nutrition method of using hands for eyeballing serving sizes.

Photo from Precision Nutrition.

If you find the thought of writing your food more daunting than running into a pack of bazooka carrying zombie elephants driving a tractor who somehow look like Fred Durst of Limp Bizkit, don’t dwell on this for now. Just stick with the food items and grow from there.

Was I hungry?

This is a simple “yes” or “no”. It helps to build the awareness on whether you ate because of an actual hunger. Or whether you just felt thirsty (same signal in the brain). 

We also often eat not because we are hungry, or even thirsty, needing food and water to survive and to live another moment. But because of our psychological state. This is especially true with snacking, as you’ll find out below. 

How did I feel before eating?

This builds on to the hunger question above. Perhaps you were in the depths of boredom, stress, or anxiety for having that banjo sit on your credit card gaining interest.

Let’s talk about snacking again. That afternoon snack we crave is often just a signal of something else. It can be a habit triggered by the smell of freshly brewed coffee. That’s the case for me. Reflecting and getting in touch with our feelings (yikes) helps to dissect why we eat. 

How eating this food made me feel?

This is an advanced level of detail when you’re at a point of wanting to figure out which foods suit you better than others. Not just for fat loss (it’s still about calories), but for fullness, energy levels, alertness, the glow of your skin, and the tenderness of your fingertips. 

Whether it’s adjusting your carbohydrate to fat ratio, meal sizes, the types of food you eat and whether you do better with foods that grow, or not grow on dry sand.

You will have discovered a lot about yourself once you get to a point of having a few weeks or a month’s worth of all the details listed above. Some of which will take you by surprise.

Analog or digital? (Some) options for where to log in your diet diary

The general rule in here is, well, general. I’d love to say that using a specific app leads to 99% success. An app that would ideally give me a kickback for each referral I send their way. But it isn’t so. Instead, whatever works for you is the right answer. 

For the sake of stationery inspiration, here are some ways my clients have kept a diet diary:

  • Digital notes on the phone (Google Keep is good and free, but anything works)
  • A folded A4 and a pen in the pocket for a quick access
  • Part of the traditional daily journal (as in, “Today I saw a plane. And then I ate a taco.”)
  • Dedicated physical notebook
  • MyFitnessPal app (the downside being that writing notes in can be a pain. And it’s too easy to get distracted by the calorie numbers)
  • iPad with a digital pen (whatever fancy and sexy and marketable Apple calls it)
  • A photo of each food or drink you have (great for those who feel repulsive aversion to writing)

The medium in which you do this is irrelevant. Pick a one that has the path of least resistance. Whatever that may be for you. Ideally something that allows you to scribble detailed notes as you progress in your diet diary career. 

Here’s an example of one of my client’s diet diary

Super simple. And yet a deep well of information when stringing a week’s worth of days together.

When to check your diet diary

I like the idea of checking the diary on a day of the week you gauge your physical/mental progress. It might be a step on the scale, taking the waist measurement, looking in the mirror, trying on clothes that previously felt tight. Or simply sitting down and reflecting how you’re feeling compared to a week or two ago. 

Again, our memory is not always something we should rely on, so it helps to have something physical to compare to. For those not keen on any physical measurements, it helps to scribble your feels each week.

The questions to answer when doing your weekly diet diary reflection

Start by answering these two questions each week:

  1. What went well this week?
  2. What did I learn?

You could just stop at this and see how far it takes you. Like with any other skill, building better eating habits is a gradual process. Every week you’ll learn something new about yourself and your food related behaviour. 

Sideshow Box

Sometimes fat loss struggles don’t really have anything to do with food. As in, the relationship with food is just a symptom of whatever else is going on in your life. 

If you after a few weekly reflections you realise you’re an emotional eater, it’s worth stopping here and digging in what drives that behaviour. That will do more for your results and wellbeing than knowing the nuts and bolts of what you eat.

It might also be worth considering working together with a professional who specialises in complicated food related behaviour. That’s not me, but I am happy to recommend others if you reach out.

When comparing your results to the previous week, they’re likely one of the three:

  1. You’re progressing towards your goal → Whatever you do is working. Do more of the same.
  2. No change → What could you change to progress? What could you do more of?
  3. You’re moving away from your goal → What could you change to progress?

And tadaa. All the answers will be in the diet diary. Say you do your weekly measurement (whatever that may be) and are not happy with the results. It’s time to take a mental deep dive into what’s holding back your progress. 

Here are the fundamental things to keep an eye out for when reading your diet diary.

Calorie-dense foods

The things that contain a lot of calories in a little portion of food. Stuff like:

  • Dried fruits
  • Drinks other than straight up teas, black coffee, water
  • Muesli bars (and let’s be honest, most muesli), protein bars (aka candy bars with clever, misleading marketing)
  • Nuts and nut butters
  • Chips, lollies, cakes, pastries, ice cream (the sweet stuff that lives in the ‘occasionally’ column).
  • Fast-food, pizza, creamy cheeses, meat with a lot of fat (the salty stuff that also lives in the ‘occasionally’ column). Also, how delicious are hot chips?
  • Any combination of the above that you’d buy blended in a cup from the Starbucks
  • Oil you might cook with or use on salads*. But don’t worry about this until all the above is in the ‘occasionally’ column. 

*I only bring this up because of a guy I used to coach who’s only reason for not getting results was generous pours of olive oil on everything. Yes, it’s good for your health. But also super dense in calories.

Sideshow Box

We, the people, like to get real emotional about the things we eat. Here’s an idea. Let’s learn to move away from it. 

Reflecting on the foods we ate is not about judging whether it’s good or bad. Rather, it’s about gathering information on our eating habits. That’s all it is. Information without feelings. As hard as that may be to do with food. 

Found a lot of the above? Getting anxious about the pending “cut them all out” statement I am about to write next? Chill. You don’t have to cut them all out. In fact, I recommend against it to keep a sanity in your life. What can I say? I’m nice like that.

Instead, reduce some items for a few weeks, re-measure, revisit your diet diary, and revisit this exercise.

Nutrient dense food

You know, the real food section. Things like:

  • Fruit and vegetables (fresh or frozen, it’s all the same)
  • Beans and legumes
  • High-fibre whole grains
  • Lean proteins
  • Eggs

Seeing a lot of these? Do more of them. Not seeing a lot? Start adding them in. Doesn’t have to be any more complicated than that.

Snacking

For those of you just tuning in, I am really hammering home this snacking point. For those who’ve so far read every word of this article, I apologise. Onwards, because this is important. Reducing, or stopping snacking, has to be one of the easiest ways to lose fat.

As I mentioned earlier, often snacks are just things we eat because of boredom or some other emotional inconvenience we might experience. One can easily skip snacking when eating nutrient-dense foods during proper meal times.

Here’s where I stand. If snacking is a daily fixture in your diary, cutting it out might be the only thing you’ll need to do to change how your body feels and looks.

Portion size

Most of us eat way past the feeling of fullness. Usually because we simply eat too fast. I know I am as guilty of this as anyone. 

Sounds familiar? Put less food on your plate, slow down, chew your food, cut the distractions, lock the toddler in the bathroom with a Rubik’s cube and a trampoline if you have to.

Wait for five minutes before going in for the second serve. If you’re still hungry, have at it. Otherwise, it’s time to stop and move away from the table.

Ok Joonas, keeping a diet diary sounds cute. But isn’t counting calories more accurate?

Sure, sort of. But the calorie amounts in foods are estimates. Ballpark figures with up to 20% wiggle1. And there are similar problems when estimating our individual calorie burning abilities2.

But the real downfall of counting calories is that it’s way too much work for most people. Most of us don’t want to carry Tupperware containers and a scale with us whenever we leave the house. Or to add food items in an app during, or after each meal.

Now, there is an upside to calorie counting

Doing it for a little while helps you to build an awareness of how many calories (roughly!) each food item contains. Because of the unappealing orthorexic eating adventures in my wild youth, you can put almost anything in front of me and I can give you a close estimate of how many calories it has. 

And I still sometimes check calories in certain foods when I eat them. Just out of pure curiosity. I like to know stuff. Sad? Probably. Either way, I wouldn’t recommend calorie counting for average punters (you and me) as the go-to long-term solution.

The exception might be those who are already extremely lean and need to get leaner for a competition and stand on a stage in their underwear. Or something. I don’t know. That’s not really something I am into. Because, life.

Conclusion

Counting calories to lose weight sucks, hard. It restricts the enjoyment we should have when sitting down for a meal. It also runs the risk of leading into a lifetime of tangled and distorted relationship with food. 

I also looks kind of dorky when one has to carry their microwave containers everywhere. You know, when everyone else is just trying to have a good time.

Enter the diet diary. The better fat loss solution for most people who are not into food related maths. It’s flexible, easy to do, and helps to develop a greater awareness with eating habits.

While at the same time building a better, more intuitive relationship with food.


1The surprising problem with calorie counting [Part 1: Calories In]
2The surprising problem with calorie counting [Part 2: Calories Out]

Diet Cults

Diet Cults

Down in a (rabbit) hole.
Photo by Benoit Beaumatin on Unsplash

A strong charismatic leader with a powerful, us versus them message. A narcissistic fake saviour willing to twist the facts, fabricate lies and sow the seeds of doubt.

According to the diet guru, the other experts in the field are misinformed fools or even corrupt. He wants us to believe that the solution to losing fat and keeping it off (in most cases) is far more complicated than decreasing lamingtons and increasing the daily activity.

And it definitely isn’t about doing both of them persistently for a long term. Hell no. The words gradual, sustainable and reasonable are a poor bedrock for a sexy, sensational marketing campaign that rallies people together.

Rather, it’s about that one rogue hormone, a demon macronutrient or the deep bloodlines of our ancestors. And he wants us to join him on this crusade to expose the truth.

To move the masses (and their wallets) one needs catchy words and ballooned promises. One needs captivating stories, perhaps a tribe hidden in the jungle, and a sprinkle of that special supplement made of a rare alpine flower that can capsulate it all for the modern audience.

All of this of course fits it into his narrative and the solutions he has created to help us. We can sign up for his ninjitsu training and drink the anti-venom potion his team has cooked for us. Either literally or figuratively.

The struggle to differentiate between familiarity and the truth

The guru is trying to discredit the institutions and their information. He doesn’t want us to believe what we see. He encourages us to do our own research. Starting by reading his. And so people with zero expertise in the field get pulled into these rabbit holes, trying to solve the mysteries of fat loss.

It’s easy for us to fall for these false narratives as they fill our newsfeeds. As the social media algorithms are built to keep us engaged, they feed us the information we’ve been searching and browsing. Only to strengthen our beliefs. The more we see, the more we believe.

The diet cult becomes the tinted lens through which we view our world and the way we eat, even behave. The manufactured stories become real. The more we get drawn into the vacuum of what the guru and his devotees are saying, the more we believe their gospel.

The echo of the diet cult’s message, however absurd to an outsider, sounds like the only explainable truth for those who listen. And so more and more people join the guru’s orbit.

Our beliefs amplify when we come across the true believers of the guru’s message.

As we inch deeper in the hole, the cult draws us into the forums, social media groups and passionate online meetings devoted to the guru’s message. Here is where we find the true believers, the highest priests of the diet cult.

People who are walking testimonies that what the guru is saying is the truth. People who were unfit, overweight, unhappy and down on their luck. And their stories move us. We see ourselves in them. These people had tried everything and were at a point of giving up.

Then one day they stumbled on the guru’s YouTube video or Twitter feed. Exactly like we did today. The one where the Fat Blaster Grandmaster Wiz raged about the injustice of the world. Spraying convincing “facts” about how the organisations in charge have lost their way. How the clues are right in front of our eyes.

And it felt like this man was talking directly to them. He understood what the people were going through. He explained how the system and science had failed to help them. He said that they were not alone.

Then came the promise of something much more valuable than just fat loss or a better health. Something that no one else could offer. Hope.

That they’re even in this point is a failure of our system. The failure of the coaches, trainers, nutritionist, doctors and dietitians whose role was to support and guide them.

Then, along with this hope, came some results. What the guru said did indeed work for some. It made sense. It fit into the narrative the listeners wanted to hear. But the reason we think something works isn’t always why it works.

It’s hard to think things happen at random.

If there is a connection, however faint, our minds will find it. In our head, significant events are supposed to have consequences. And we need a cause to explain them. Knowledge, even if wrong, makes us feel safe and in control.

The promise of a simple, black and white solution is appealing. We hate the feeling of leaving something unsolved. We want a clear-cut answer. An honest scientist running on integrity and data can never sooth most souls the way a guru can. She can only reflect on what the science tells her.

And so we rather believe the guru with a pin sharp focus, the inspiring black and white answer. Something to label as the wicked vehicle of fat. We want to believe in the promises of a six-pack in thirty days.

A cult without a moral compass can give us all of it. While scientists are too busy to do science, the guru with a set narrative and a marketable offer can devote his time and money to build up hype. To create an appealing case for his solution.

He can cook the facts, tell us lies (intentional or not) that make us feel comforted. To make promises that the science can’t. It is comforting to have a definite answer, instead of “it depends”.

The illusion of knowledge

As non-experts of a topic, we think we know more than we do.

We can’t see and feel the Donning-Kruger getting a neck hold on us. We don’t understand the limits of our knowledge. We believe in our own biased research. We think we know more than the top scientists do. “Haven’t these experts seen this YouTube clip of Fat Blaster Grandmaster Wiz?!”

We are all guilty of it. We think we can reason our way through scientific literature. But most of us don’t have the skills to think statistically. It’s too easy to believe the conclusions and arguments that seem to support our current beliefs. No matter how little sense they make.

Neither are we rational. Once we have accepted a theory or a narrative, it is extremely difficult to notice its flaws. It’s difficult to look objectively at anything that contradicts what we believe. Holding a paradox is not what most of us can do without some deliberate training.

Of course, some don’t even go that far. Instead, they just become parrots that copy, paste and share information from others without fully understanding what it means. And then it becomes a ratchet of status and tension leading us all astray.

All of this might not be what our irrational minds want to hear. Especially when it goes against what Fat Blaster Grandmaster Wiz says on YouTube.

My Mostly Plant Based Diet

My Mostly Plant Based Diet

How to know someone’s a vegan? Don’t worry, they’ll tell you!

Now, on that note.

In 2015 I was eating four meat meals a day and went through vivid fantasies on how great would it be if I could reduce it to one a day, focusing on plant based with the others. I had started to feel strongly about the environmental causes and stuff and I figured that if I drop down on meat it would help to reduce my footprint on the planet.

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Game Changers for a Better Health

Game Changers for a Better Health

I got the idea for this week’s post after scrolling through Dan John’s online forum. Someone posted their five game changers that have given them the biggest boost towards a better health.

As I’ve written in the past I don’t always see health and fitness part of the same goal. You can be very fit but in poor health. On the other hand, you can’t be healthy without being at least somewhat fit.

Here are five game changers I’ve done that have made me a healthier human.

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Conquering Donut Cravings

Conquering Donut Cravings

Mmmmmm…donuts

 

As is with most great blog post ideas (even if I say it myself), this too came while having a chat with one of my clients last week. He’s been trying to find ways to curb down his sugar consumption and was able to do so with a very simple shift in mindset.

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F*ck Cheat Meals

F*ck Cheat Meals

Lord of Fries.

I had a great dinner the other night when I caught up for beers with few mates. I ate beer battered fish and chips with tartar sauce and shared two massive plates of chilli cheese fries. I flushed it all down with four beers and two ciders. It was glorious. And although some people might call it a “cheat meal”, it wasn’t anything of sort. It was just another meal.

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Confessions Of a Personal Trainer: What Do I Eat

Confessions Of a Personal Trainer: What Do I Eat

A while back Tony Gentilcore wrote a series of blog posts titled Confessions of an introverted strength coach. I will steal his headline (that he stole from a movie) for this blog post and write my own confessions. This might even become a series.

It seems to surprise people when I explain how I actually eat. You might think that all personal trainers are a calorie counting robots (think R2D2 meets Robocop) who eat to maintain a ten-pack and deep deltoid separation. Not the case.

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Evil Carbs. Amazing Superfoods. Magic Diet.

Evil Carbs. Amazing Superfoods. Magic Diet.

Evil Carbs.Amazing Superfoods.Magic Diet.

There, I just proved a point. The sensationalism in the headline surely caught your attention. Don’t feel too bad, it’s not just you. It’s all of us until we build up our bullshit-radar.

It’s easy to fall into thinking that harder is better when every source of “creditable” fitness information tells you to be a hardcore gym monster and a lean machine. The truth is that no one wants you to think that fat loss and fitness is simple. That would mean that fitness magazines would run out of topics in about a week. The morning shows about health wouldn’t have anything to talk about on a weekly bases. All these different sources want you to believe (they might actually believe it themselves) that they are helping you. When in fact they are doing more damage to your fat loss efforts than you might think. We would be a healthier world without the constant bombardments about latest diet crazes or the secret fat busting workouts.

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