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The belief about food that you need to change in order to see success.

So, here's an idea for a post that I've had for a little while... and I want to start by letting you know that it is partially an observation and commentary on the fitness industry, but it will have a conclusion that will not only be applicable to the general public, but actually could be of potentially life changing significance to serious fitness enthusiasts who struggle with the nutrition side of things.

This was inspired by something that came across my social media feeds last week which I don't seem to be able to find again right now, so perhaps I'll misquote this, but it got me thinking anyway. It was something to the effect of "how to change your client's belief systems about foods" so that they'll have good adherence, or... be successful... or something.

Now, this got me thinking because generally speaking, when you look into these things you tend to find that the "change in belief systems" actually infers adopting a lot of beliefs that don't quite stand up to scrutiny and aren't actually factual. These sorts of things are intriguing to me. It's easy enough to just write everyone off as a scam artist or a Pete Evans style delusional simpleton repeating a bunch of nonsense and trying to brainwash other people into believing it... but in some cases that would be a little unfair, as you have actually quite decent people with the best intentions of contributing positively to the industry by teaching valuable skills to aspiring professional coaches.

With all that said, the question remains: why is it that good and intelligent people would believe so passionately in things that just aren't factual?

Well, that was a long introduction so let's cut from the chase from this point on. Refer to my rather excellent flow chart below, and let's start at the top and then work down just the green boxes on the left hand side.



Pretty simple, right?

You read... oh, let's say you read "Good Calories Bad Calories" or you watch one of those food documentaries on Netflix, and it tells you "this is the problem, and this is the solution". Fortunately for you, your reaction happens to be "hmm... well, that seems to make some kind of sense, and doesn't sound too difficult to me, so I'll give it a go". And what do you know, it actually works and you actually see good results.

Fantastic. So, seeing results you have every reason to believe "obviously this works" and it's not unreasonable to extend that to "obviously this works, and it works for the reasons I have been taught. This is what everyone needs to do".
That'd be an understandable conclusion, but really... all we really know at this point is that it happened to suit you, and it happened to work. We don't necessarily know that it worked because what convinced you to try it in the first place was 100% factual.

Now let's back up though and we'll follow the chart but end up in some of those red boxes.

You hear about something or are instructed to do something by your coach, and you can see these other people very enthusiastic and having a good time with it. Maybe you think "ok that sounds easy enough", or maybe you think "this sounds awful, but fuck, what choice do I have if that's what it takes?". Either way, in this example, you give it your best shot, but for some reason you just can't seem to make it work.

Or... actually you know what? Maybe you don't even give it a shot because it sounds that awful and you're just that lacking in optimism about your chances of pulling it off. Contrary to the way a lot of the fitness industry seems to think, this can be entirely understandable. You're told a diet that is high in animal fats is required, and you want to be a vegan. Or you're told a grain free diet is required, but you love bread and cereal. Or you might even be told a vegan diet is required, but you love steak. Maybe you're just one of these people who only really likes a rather limited variety of foods and isn't very good at trying new ones. I'm in the minority but for whatever it's worth, I for one would not blame you for giving up without even trying under any of those or similar circumstances.

But in any case, in these red squares... either you're not enthusiastic and not able to adhere to it, you attempt to force yourself but it still doesn't work, or you were actually quite enthusiastic and you're pretty sure you're doing everything you've been told, but it's still not working. If you or your coach really believes "it you do this it works, if it's not working you're not doing it right, and it has to be done like this and no other way", then you're screwed. Especially if you're one of those unfortunate people who spent a lot of time mouthing off online about how stupid everyone else must be, and then found your condition going backwards no matter how much harder you tried to stay in ketosis, just saying.

Here's the wild card though. That other box all the way on it's own on the right.

Let's start again from the top. You get told about something and how great it is, it may or may not really make sense, it may or may not be based in reality, but either way you already have some other approach that you like, which is working out very nicely for you.

Now, for some reason... that's a situation that not many people in the online fitness world seem to be able to imagine. Think about it... how could two different people be doing two different things, and both of them successfully? How could someone think that is good, when I think this is good? Are they trying to insult me, or what?

Honestly, it gets so silly. But here's the thing.

As per what's in the green section of the chart, here's what we can assume about every person out there who is having a good time and maintaining improvements in condition.
  1. They have a decent approach to training that they get stuck into enthusiastically.
  2. They have an approach to nutrition that they believe is the best, that happens to suit them, and actually does consistently give them enough of all the energy and nutritional resources that they need to facilitate results, at least to the level at which they've achieved so far.
Also let's specify that we're talking about people who've maintained a degree of success for... oh, let's say five or more years. We're not talking about people who did some "miraculous transformation" for about half a season but then regained 30kg or something like that, and we're not talking about the people who will eventually come clean and confess that they were miserable the whole time either.

We can probably safely say that no one who has been successful long term was doing something that didn't appeal to them, that didn't suit them, that they hated, or that they forced themselves to believe in even though it didn't really seem to make sense. We can definitely say that they don't have the same approach, or even necessarily a similar approach to one another. And while many people will want to believe that there is a specific, scientific reason why their personally preferred approach is "the best" approach for anyone... if you like the approach, if the approach is working out for you satisfactorily, it should be enough just to be confident and to be enthusiastic about having found the approach that is best for you.

In short, the belief that you need to change is that there is ANYONE out there being successful by doing ANYTHING other than what happens to most appeal to them and what happens to best suit them. And if they try to tell you anything else, they're full of shit.

So, the take home point from all of this, for you.

For everyone out there saying, "but you can't do it unless you cut out grains and never eat cereal for breakfast or a sandwich for lunch again", there are people out there who are doing it while eating cereal for breakfast or whatever else. For everyone out there saying "but you can't do it on a vegan diet" there are some incredibly successful vegan athletes out there as well. The same goes for anything to do with the number of meals per day, the timing and frequency of meals across the day, the same again for any other, more elitist ideals about what people "need to" do, or what they should and should not want to do as far as their approach to nutrition goes as well.

Now obviously there are some technically concerns that come into this. Your dietary habits cannot be conducive to excessive energy intake if you expect to develop a leaner condition. At the same time, your dietary habits must provide an adequate total level of energy intake, and an adequate level of protein intake, to facilitate improvements in performance, recovery after training, and to maintain and increase lean mass. Also you need to get enough fibre, vitamins and minerals from some of the healthy stuff.

Aside from that? You require an approach that you're enthusiastic about, and are able to adhere to with a reasonable level of consistency. What better reason to be enthusiastic than because you truly believe it is best approach for you? What better reason to believe that, than because you have actually designed and continued to refine the approach to be what is best for you?
This is how I like to do it, the way that suits me best, and I'm more than happy with the results. How anyone else prefers to go about it is irrelevant. I have my own story. They aint me and this isn't their life.
Now, as coaches I believe it is fine to only offer one approach that you specialise in. I only offer one approach, and if someone tells me they're looking for something different, they're free to and in fact best to go looking for another coach who specialises in that, because I won't accept them as a client. But as coaches whatever we are telling people in support of our preferred approach should be truthful, and where applicable should be able to be supported by credible scientific evidence as well as every day observations. It shouldn't be bullshit that robs the people who aren't suited to that approach of the belief that they too can be successful.

Why not come and discuss this post with us on my facebook page?
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How Caloric Over-Restriction Makes Binge Eating Inevitable.


Just a little something I’ve been working on.

Here’s the thing with caloric deficits and binge eating. 

I put these numbers together as a hypothetical case study on a female of average height and a certain undisclosed age. Suffice it to say, if you’re taller than average these targets would be overly conservative. If you’re younger; also overly conservative. But the factor that really makes the biggest difference and which tends to be entirely neglected by most people writing about CI/CO and IIFYM style approaches is level of proficiency and productivity at training.
So, for a beginner who has a fat loss goal, we would start out in deficit. According to a lot of social media posts and infographics, all that matters is that you are “in deficit”, and so long as you are in deficit you lose body fat, and if you’re not losing body fat you’re not in deficit. 
Well, that's actually garbage.
Somewhat insufficient and unsustainable levels of energy intake can be an appropriate strategic move at times, but only for short periods and with the understanding that is not really enough, and the anticipation that an increase will be required within a predicted duration of time.
So in this example the client is instructed to begin at 1400 calories which should be considered an overly conservative estimate of her requirements. As part of an intelligent strategy, the reason for doing so might be to learn to recognise and respond accordingly to hunger signals... however in this case, it is simple caloric restriction in order to be at a significant level of deficit. While the client is told "you'll see fat loss due to being in deficit", this is only half of the truth, and what also happens is that the body adapts by compromising energy expenditure at training, at rest, and at activity outside of training as well.

At a certain point fat loss will cease to occur, and what the client is likely to be told according to the many infographics doing the rounds of late, is that she is "no longer in deficit" and must either cut caloric intake further or increase energy expenditure via extra training sessions or more deliberate activity outside of training. However, at this point all she is really doing is training the body to manage, and for that matter to require this increased level of work load at this level of energy restriction... and this cannot and will not result in improvements in athletic condition.
Now, the further we instruct the client to restrict intake further below this already insufficient level of energy provision, the greater the magnitude of the inevitable binge eating episode that will follow. 
Reiterating & understanding the situation correctly at this point.
This level of restriction will preclude any improvements in lean athletic condition, as the resources are simply not available to recover from and adapt to training, other than with the adaptations necessary to cope with (rather than benefit from) the workload. Since we have attempted to restrict even below that amount, the inevitable binge episode will be of a magnitude to bring average intake to a level that is merely sufficient to do so and maintain weight.
So, this means the client is no longer in deficit?
Nope.

This is a conversation I have had a few too many times, where I'm attempting to explain this situation and citing examples of clients who've been a lot happier and seen major improvements in performance and condition by increasing towards more optimal levels of energy intake in accordance with my instructions. "But Dave, what you don't understand is that she hasn't mentioned that she is binge eating, so that's why she's not in deficit". Wrong you stupid motherfucker. I am well aware that she is binge eating, as that is the problem she has come to me desperate for help with. 
What you can see in the chart above is some estimates of what might be the maximum amount this client could benefit from or otherwise expend on a daily basis at different levels of proficiency at training. The greater your consistency and proficiency at training, the higher the amount you can put to use and benefit from. The more severe the level of restriction on a daily basis, the more mathematically improbable it is that a single (or even a couple of) binge eating episodes on a weekly basis could "erase the deficit" and result in a caloric surplus so as to preclude fat loss.

Rather, the situation is that even taking binge episodes into account, total intake is still only to a level that allows the body to manage / cope with the workload, but not to a level that facilitates improvements in performance and condition. To benefit from training you require a certain level of energy intake and other nutritional resources, in order to recover from and adapt favourably to the level of stress you are subjecting your body to.

Come and discuss this entry on my facebook page.
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Intuitive Approach vs Metabolic Capacity Approach to Sports Nutrition


Your metabolic capacity is an amount of energy that you would benefit from, put to good use, or otherwise expend in a day if it was made available.

As described in the video and elsewhere on my blog, a lot of the time people are restricting to an insufficient amount, not getting anywhere, and are mislead into believing that that amount is their "maintenance" and that since they're not seeing fat loss on that amount, they have no use for any more.

This is incorrect.

You may be restricting to an insufficient level of fueling and your body may have found a way to adapt and manage it's workload on that amount of energy, but the only reason you aren't burning more is because more has not been made available. What we're talking about here is the difference in approach between being interested in an amount that you can restrict to and get by on vs fueling to the amount that you can benefit from.

On an individual basis, we have a couple of options of approaches that might be the most appropriate depending on the circumstances. In reality there is a wide grey area and some overlap between the two, and for most people the best strategy will be somewhere in the middle but perhaps leaning a little towards one or the other. Unfortunately, what most people are doing elsewhere is an anorexic approach based on continually reducing levels of energy intake while increasing levels of energy expenditure.

Flexible Fueling Towards Intuitive Eating.

All of a sudden I'm wondering to myself, are we talking about an intuitive approach to sports nutrition, or a sports nutrition approach to intuitive eating?

Either way.

A successful approach to intuitive eating will result in simply having consistently appropriate eating habits that meet your nutritional requirements without exceeding your energy requirements. In other words, eating habits that leave you satisfied, but not stuffed. If you run a little late for a meal or a little short on calories, you get a little reminder in the form of hunger signals, and you respond accordingly.

Without repeating too much of literally every other post I ever published and being redundant, the method is simply to calculate a conservative estimate of a barely adequate energy intake, set whatever meal schedule seems most appealing, and plan accordingly with a selection of foods both of the delicious and the nutritious varieties.

Being of conservative estimate of barely adequate, we anticipate that if training is consistent and as proficiency improves, increases in energy intake will be required, and we are mindful to assess progress and hunger signals for signs that it is time to do so. If those signs are not forthcoming, perhaps we start dropping a few hints to give the body the idea "there is more here if you can use it, just ask".

Flexible Fueling Towards Metabolic Capacity.

For more advanced and elite athletes and in particular for those where a history of eating disorder or body image issues are less of a concern, this approach would entail calculating a conservative estimate of Metabolic Capacity, deciding upon the appropriate increments and the schedule upon which to increase intake to that amount, and then simply following the strategy diligently.

Once that conservative level has been achieved and maintained for a suitable duration, the situation can be assessed with a view towards increasing further still to a less conservative, or even a more adventurous estimate of the greatest amount that the athlete can utilise and benefit from.

Update: The DHPT Punctuated Periodisation Protocol for optimal fueling. 

Perhaps this is only for the people who are really extra enthusiastic about working to more advanced strategy, but this graphic represents the new "Interrupted Energy Restriction" based strategy, designed to build confidence & condition while working towards those optimal and maximal levels of fueling.

This is for the more ambitious people, and it's just one more reason why I'm the Innovator In Sports Nutrition, just like it says on the t-shirt!

Sports Nutrition For Serious Fitness Enthusiasts

Diet culture really has no place in the world of fitness enthusiasts. Your nutritional habits do have to be appropriate at the very least, or more optimal if you are ambitious &/or competitive.

Unfortunately what most people are instructing or advocating on their social media pages is actually an anorexic approach. All of those infographics we've seen lately, instructing people to get into deficit and continually slash intake further and further any time progress stalls while also increasing energy expenditure... literally those are anorexic and bulimic messages and approaches. We must reject them, and we must practice sensible, sustainable and appropriate sports nutrition strategies to actually meet our energy requirements to produce our best athletic performance and condition and our best quality of life.
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Why I stopped coaching weight loss for a few years there.

This was originally posted under another title on the old blog. A title that is no longer accurate since I'm now offering weight loss strategies again. Read on and it will all make sense, hopefully.

This is more complicated than you probably think.

People tend to want everything broken down into just one slogan or soundbite that either suits their biases or that they find easy to argue against. The reality is, there are a lot of angles to cover here. I'll do my best to cover them all within a reasonable word count, but I make no promises on that last part.

Now that that's out of the way, let's get started.

For reasons that will hopefully become apparent, I'm actually going to start with the conclusion, and the conclusion is actually a paragraph borrowed from something I posted on instagram the other day, as follows:
More than ever, the longer I do this and the more people I work with as a professional coach, the more I truly believe that our focus needs to be on simply enjoying the physical challenge of productive training, and enjoying the intellectual challenge of working to a productive fueling strategy, as well as assessing your physiological and psychological responses to each as you learn to do more of what keeps you strong, healthy & happy, and to reject whatever doesn't.
That sounds great, but what's the problem with wanting to lose weight?

Well I'm glad you asked. First of all though, that headline at the top of the page doesn't translate to "I don't want to coach fat people" or anything silly like that. Also, I always object to anything that gives anyone a message to the tune of "you might as well not bother trying, just accept that where you are is where you're supposed to be", so that's definitely not my point either.

Obviously I've helped people to lose weight successfully in the past. Clients, other people who follow my pages and put the pieces together for themselves. Some with medical conditions such as autoimmune diseases. Some who got on top of a restrict, binge & purge type eating disorder and lost weight. Some who rather generously credit me with facilitating a "life saving" level of weight loss.

A handful of fast facts about diets and weight loss:
  1. All diets work for the same reason; they create a caloric deficit.
    Whether people are aware of the amount of calories or whether due to restriction of food choices, any changes in dietary habits that result in weight loss infer a caloric deficit.
  2. Different named diets, low carb approaches, balanced approaches... when the energy and protein provision is matched, the clinical evidence suggests there is little if any difference in the results of different approaches. So there is not just "one correct" or "one best" set of eating habits we should all adopt.
  3. Regardless, the statistics are that over the long term there is no approach that has a high success rate. People tend to regain the weight.
  4. In fact, according to the International Journal Of Obesity; "it is now well established that the more people engage in dieting, the more they gain weight in the long-term."
So, what is the problem then?

Well that depends.

In theory, you make changes in dietary habits resulting in a caloric deficit. You lose weight, and so long as you do not revert back to habits resulting in a caloric surplus you should not regain the weight. Therefore the simple explanation is that the problem is down to continuance of adherence. Or so it would seem.

As an example, here's how it is supposed to work, and for that matter actually does work.

Imagine I have a new personal training client who is a younger woman and let's say 5, 10 or 15kg overweight due to not being in the habit of being active, and perhaps in the habit of over indulging a little too often. As a competent and responsible trainer, I get her started with a decent, strength based training program, and the appropriate energy targets at a suitable level of deficit and with a reasonable margin for error. If she follows my instructions with some level of consistency she'll certainly lose weight as she develops a more athletic condition.

Assuming she then maintains her interest in training and does not revert to an excessive energy intake, she should not regain any weight. That's how it works in theory anyway. I want to move on but first let's just acknowledge that what I've described is not really a "weight loss approach" the way most people would go about it.

So, whether it is working to a caloric deficit, whether it is sticking to this particular diet and this particular set of foods... if the people continue to do it, it would continue to work, right? You'd like to think so. So why don't people just keep doing it?

Reasons for non-continuance of adherence:

There could be any number of reasons and I'm not forgetting that mere complacency or even delusion are two of them, but it would be a flagrant cop-out to pretend that those are the only reasons and therefore absolve trainers & health coaches from their obligation to provide approaches that are feasible and efficacious over the long haul.

In simpler terms, I'm asking you just humour me and consider entertaining the mere possibility that people sometimes lose motivation because the approach has stopped producing results, or simply because the approach is impractical and any expectation of continued, long term adherence was entirely unreasonable.

Weight loss dieting tends to be of an extreme variety, either with strict low calories, strict food exclusions, or both. Strict adherence would prohibit ever going out to eat socially, visiting your parents for a home cooked meal, having a takeaway night or ordering home delivery. These approaches tend to be temporary by design, and as discussed, the long term consequence is greater weight gain.

With that in mind and getting back to my hypothetical client we described earlier, if we focus on developing an interest in a productive approach to training, we can expect weight loss. However if we focus on weight loss and my instruction is a low carb, low cal, clean eating style of extreme and restrictive diet, as well as high intensity activity "to burn calories"... any expectation of continued long term adherence is overly optimistic at best, any weight loss is temporary at best, and the long term consequence would be weight gain, a worsened relationship with food, and likely a decrease in enthusiasm for exercise as well.

In the case of a second new client of a higher and more excessive weight, it is very likely that their current weight is actually the consequence of previous attempts at weight loss perhaps over a period of years or even decades, and this is the outcome we wanted to avoid with the first hypothetical client. For this reason, it would make no sense at all to give them more of the same now. It would make no sense to take an attitude of "we need to lose weight first" via the same restrictive and unproductive approaches.

There are benefits to any amount of activity over being inactive, and benefits to getting out of restrictive dieting and developing more consistent, structured and appropriate eating habits and a healthier relationship with food. When the type of activity resembles some form of what we might describe as "productive training", in a more overweight or obese client we can expect significant decreases in measurements as the body begins to better ultilise energy and resources in support of lean mass at the expense of fat mass, as well as numerous other health benefits.

Here's the curious thing. While seeing significant results in fat loss you'd expect to see confirmation of this when weighing in on the scales, but the reality seems to be that this is not always the case right away. What a pity it would be to fail to value or appreciate the good results in fat loss, strength and performance at training, improved health markers and the rejection of restrictive dieting, just because the scales do not confirm these results with the corresponding loss of body weight.

There's more though. 

To wrap up and reiterate, by developing an interest in productive training and with suitable sports nutrition guidance there will be certain client profiles where weight loss is very likely, certain client profiles where weight loss could be expected but cannot be guaranteed, and let's not forget there will be some for whom weight loss should not be seen as an acceptable outcome at all.

My observation is that when people are focused on and overly concerned with weight loss per se, even when given a good and productive approach to training and the appropriate instruction, the tendency will be to sacrifice the efficacy of the training strategy by falling back into weight loss type behaviours and mindsets as previously described. For example, making changes or additions to the training program "to burn more calories", and to skip meals or otherwise fall short of the prescribed levels of fueling that are required to facilitate any sort of results.

Ironically, it will be the very things that people feel compelled to do because they "are trying to lose weight" which ultimately prevent them from reaping the many benefits of a sensible and productive approach to training.

While there's absolutely nothing wrong with having body composition and condition related goals, we must pursue them with sensible, effective and productive approaches and attitudes, and resist the social conditioning that sees us more inclined towards the extreme, destructive and ultimately futile methods typically associated with trying to lose weight.

Come and let me know what you thought of this post, on my facebook page.
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Contrary to popular belief, a caloric deficit does not guarantee fat loss.


I know, I know; I'm like a broken record at the moment and I have written more posts on this exact topic over the past few years than I can even keep track of.

Good though, sometimes you need hear things a few times before they really sink in. Especially when it's different to what you're used to hearing.

IIFYM = "if it fits your macros".

An approach to sports nutrition about calculating and then planning to meet your requirements for energy, protein, carbohydrate & dietary fats. Treat fibre as an additional macro too in my opinion.

I reiterate and emphasise this point: it is SUPPOSED TO BE about calculating your ACTUAL requirements. When people just say "if you're in deficit you'll see results in fat loss" or whatever, all that infers is that you're not exceeding your requirements. It doesn't suggest that you're getting what you need. In most cases it's just some arbitrary level of restricting on the basis that it can't possibly be enough, therefore tough it out, be accountable, distract yourself from hunger, etc.

Seeing fat loss DOES mean you are in deficit but not seeing fat loss DOES NOT necessarily mean that you are not in deficit, and the solution to a plateau or stall in progress is not necessarily to slash intake further into deficit.

Here's the thing, just as an example:

At let's say 700 calories per day into deficit, progress stalls.
For one of my clients who comes to me in this circumstance, I'd actually do some maths, predict what level of energy intake I'd expect to produce best results, and work with the client on a strategy to increase towards that amount.
I don't do maths based on "calculating a deficit" but for argument's sake let's say we're going to increase until we're only 150 calories per day in deficit.
Higher TEF, RMR & NEAT no longer compromised, resources actually available to recover & benefit from training. We will see better results.

Others argue "if you're in deficit you see fat loss and if you're not seeing fat loss you're not in deficit" and therefore the approach is just "whatever you're doing now, subtract a few hundred calories and that's your new target". That's garbage. Enforced anorexia is all that it is.

The issue in most cases that I see isn't that "you're no longer in deficit" but rather "you're too far into deficit and have been so for far too long". Over restricting. Excessive levels of restriction, and often excessive & unproductive levels of expenditure.

Now, I had a stupid idiot argue the other day that (paraphrasing) "if you're not seeing fat loss then you ARE at maintenance and NOT in deficit", but if we can facilitate fat loss at a HIGHER intake... then the LOWER amount that had ceased to result in fat loss due to compromised NEAT & RMR is clearly also in deficit.

Now... it's simple and correct enough to just say "you require enough, but not too much" or "you require a deficit, but an appropriate level of deficit and not an excessive level of deficit". You require that resources such as carbohydrate & protein are available to produce improvements in condition as an adaptation and benefit from training.

To me that is simple enough but it seems to be too complex for most of these chumps to grasp with their primitive intellect and myopic application. Being in deficit does NOT guarantee results, and slashing further and further into deficit recklessly and indefinitely is a dead end. LITERALLY.

Want more? See also: Ending The Unhealthy Obsession With Calorie Deficits
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