The Four Fundamental Principles of a Healthy Diet…On a Budget

For a diet to be effective, the following four principles need to be considered:

First and foremost, the diet needs to be tasty and enjoyable enough to be sustainable.  This is where most diets fail over both the short- and long-term.  Note, that I am saying that the diet failed – not the person.

For example, Alice hated her very low-carb, high-fat (no names mentioned) diet because she didn’t like eating so much (fatty) meat and she really missed her carbs.  She loved having fruit and oats in the morning and potatoes with her dinner as well as pizza once a week.  She felt the diet was a success however because she lost 5kgs in the four weeks that she endured the diet, before starting to eat carbs again.

Initially she ate sparingly and so was bitterly disappointed when she regained three kilograms in the first week that she stopped the diet.  Without going into too many details, this is about water fluctuations that occur when carb intake is increased or decreased.

To her horror, four weeks latter she had put on another 3kgs.  She was worse off than when she started a couple of months ago!  She felt like a failure.  Like she had failed to “stick to a good diet”.  The problem is that for Alice, this is not a “good” diet.  In her case, it’s a shit diet and Alice didn’t fail – the diet did.

The research is very clear  (read the article “What Should I Eat for Weight-Loss?”) that there are many dietary approaches that are both healthy and can facilitate weight-loss, and that people who lose weight and keep it off, are those that enjoy their diet enough to actually sustain it.  Otherwise results are short-lived and weight rebound is a bitch.

Therefore, the number one principle of a healthy or good diet is that it respects the individual and their personal taste preferences, tolerances and goals.

Secondly, an energy deficit is required for weight loss, i.e. you eat less energy than you burn.  It’s that simple.  Simple, but difficult.

The media bombards us with conflicting advice all the time.  Carbs are bad, fats are bad, protein is bad, and eggs are worse than smoking…blah blah blah!

Have a look at this article “The 18 Nutrition Myths of 2018” to see what I mean.

The biggest myth ever is that calories don’t count if you don’t eat carbs.  This is BS!  Calories always count.  Why do people often lose weight on low-carb diets?  Well, besides water weight dropping, by restricting carbs people often eat less calories overall.  No magic involved!

Following that, the diet needs to have sufficient food volume to satisfy huger, at least to some degree.  Hunger is the real enemy of any diet.  An example of high food volume is bunch of spinach, which is a lot of food, but it’s low in calories.

Satiety, which means satisfying hunger, is highest when you eat whole, minimally processed foods.  Think fruit, vegetables and meat.  They are filling and keep you full for longer.

Low satiety foods can leave you starving.  And starving can often lead to bingeing.  These are foods like bread, sweets and chocolate, pasta, fruit juice and other liquid calories, and even beer!

The thing to remember is that no foods need to be excluded from your diet.  Everything can be eaten in moderation.  It’s just that attention needs to be paid to hunger levels and how different foods satisfy these levels.  Restricting certain foods or food groups is generally a bad idea!

The fourth and final principle is that a good diet needs to provide you with enough nutrients for energy, health and longevity, and to support muscle mass.  Hopefully this is just common sense.

Besides eating enough micro-nutrients like vitamins and minerals, protein needs to be sufficient to maintain your muscles while dieting.  The idea of this being about losing as much fat as possible without losing much muscle.

In addition to eating enough protein, muscle retention also requires some resistance training whilst dieting.

So, with these four dieting principles in mind, let’s look at some meals.

BREAKFAST

  1. 3 eggs and a slice of high-fibre toast
  2. Protein shake made with water/milk, blended with banana & berries, and a teaspoon of peanut butter

LUNCH

  1. Grilled Chicken Salad with greens, tomato, onion, peppers, cucumber and limited amounts of healthy fats such as olive oil, avocado and medium-fat Feta.
  • Skinless, deboned chicken breasts are best, but on a budget you can buy chicken breasts on the bone or use a whole chicken.
  • Remember to remove the skin before cooking.
  1. Lentil and Chickpea Salad with tomato, onion, peppers, cucumber and limited amounts of healthy fats such as olive oil, avocado and medium-fat Feta.
  • Use a low-fat vinaigrette salad dressing, or some olive oil, lemon juice and fresh herbs to dress the salad.

DINNER

  1. Homemade (Extra) Lean Mince Burgers and Oven-Baked Chips
  • Make your own burger patties and bake some pre-boiled thick-cut chips. And of course, a burger’s not a burger without a bun!
  • Chicken mince also makes a great homemade burger.
  1. Beef Shin Curry with onions, peppers, carrots and butternut is an excellent, budget-conscious meal.
  • You can also use any other lean meat like chicken or legumes like chickpeas, lentils and a variety of beans, and tofu.
  1. Grilled Lean Meat, Homemade Oven Chips and Creamed Spinach
  • Any grilled meat is great for dinner and you can bake, boil or mash your potatoes.
  • Sweet potato and butternut also make great oven-baked chips.
  • Lightly pan fry your spinach with onions and garlic and then crumble in some feta for a great healthy side.
  • Stir-fried cabbage, baby marrows, carrots, peppers, onions and mushroom are also a nutrient-dense side with you lean protein.

SNACKS

  • Fruit
  • Peanut butter on toast
  • Fruit shakes with berries, carrots, banana, celery, spinach, etc.

Practical Dieting Tips

  • Avoid adding EXTRA sugar, salt and fats to your meals (for taste add the minimum you need for tasty meals)
  • Limit liquid calories like cooldrinks, fruit juice and energy drinks
  • When in doubt eat lean meat with vegetables and/or fruits
  • Avoid snacking
  • Avoid trigger foods (if you can’t moderate it then avoid it all together)
  • Only eat at the table
  • Find healthy ways to distract yourself from eating
  • Clean up your food environment and get rid of the high-calorie snack foods in your cupboards
  • Treats keep you sane and make dieting sustainable when eaten moderately (the occasional block or two of chocolate or a bowl of popcorn will keep you on track!)
  • Have a supply of rescue/emergency food around like peeled carrots and celery sticks, and fruit. But remember to ask yourself, “Am I really hungry?” before eating off plan.
  • Planning! Planning!  Planning!
  • Food is not a reward for exercise.
  • Exercise is not a punishment for eating too much.
  • Keep daily activity as high as possible (if you have a tracker go for 10,000 steps)
  • If keeping a food journal/diary, consider tracking for caloric awareness (if you learn to do this you will develop a really good awareness of the caloric value of food).

Shopping List

If you can afford it and don’t have one, invest in a George Foreman (or similar) health grill.

Buy these items in bulk:

  • Skinless, boneless chicken breasts (preferable), but look for good deals or you can use chicken pieces (breasts, thighs) that fit your budget.
  • Good quality protein powder
  • Low-fat milk
  • Eggs
  • (Extra) Lean mince (or buy normal mince and cook off the fat)
  • Pilchards/sardine
  • Chicken livers
  • Vegetables (include lots of leafy greens and don’t forget potatoes, sweet potatoes and butternut)
  • Fruit that’s in season

Include these for taste and satisfaction:

  • Medium-fat feta cheese (look for specials)
  • Low-fat salad dressing
  • Sauces (tomato, sweet chilli, peri-peri, tabasco NOT mayonnaise)
  • Brown rice
  • High-Fibre bread
  • Low-fat yoghurt (mixed with seasonal fruit for a delicious dessert)

For a FREE consult in how to apply these principles in your diet, complete the form below or email me at alexcampbelltransformation@gmail.com

Some Days I’d Rather Gargle Scorpions!

So I have been on my transformation journey for about 18 months, most of them spent working with Alex and there are some things that I have learned along the way.  I’ve started to master some of the basic concepts of sustainable weight- and fat-loss and strength training, and seen some nice changes in my body.  I have done things in the gym that I would never have imagined doing, like squats and dead lifts, and all sorts of hip thrust variations.  I’ve had good days, great days, bad days and positively crap days when it comes to my eating and training, and I have kept going forward.

I am sitting at home this morning nursing a slightly bruised body after falling down a small flight of stairs on Friday morning.  More like tumbling down them in a heap and smashing my phone in the process.  Ego and knees slightly bruised, body feeling sore and tender, and of course there were plenty of people around to witness it.  I never act out my clumsy in quiet streets or hallways, always saving this sort of thing for an concerned audience.  But that’s not what this post is about.  This post is about what it has really taken to get me to where I am in my process and how I deal with the little setbacks.

I really did have that feeling of wanting to be in the gym this weekend.  It’s when I get to have a training partner and share the time with someone which helps to motivate me and keep me accountable.  It’s that weekly dose of fitness connection that keeps me going through the week, focusing on the advice and information I have gained from working out with someone who is a lot more experienced and knowledgeable than I am.  It’s tricky for me to keep my motivation up when it comes to getting to the gym on a regular basis…even after more than a year I am still just going through the motions on certain days to get to the point where I am handing over my access card to the receptionist.  Wake up…drink coffee…check emails…put on gym clothes…make and pack lunch…remove self from house…get into car…drive to gym…hand over access card. Phew, I made it!!

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And then once in the space, I start to feel a trickle of motivation which builds as I move through my programme.   ACTION…MOTIVATION…INSPIRATION.  I keep thinking that maybe one day I’ll wake up and not be able to contain my excitement at the thought of going to the gym to do my workout.  But those days only strike occasionally.  The thing is that once I get to the gym then I am normally happy to be there, excited about my workout and willing to push myself to get the best out of the time I possibly can.  It’s just about getting there!  Okay, there is that occasional day when my energy is low and my body feels weak that I’d rather be chewing glass and gargling scorpions than attempting a set of RDLs, but those don’t happen to often, and are normally about stress and lack of sleep. I just find it so confounding that I still can’t simply get up, no mess, no fuss, and take myself to the gym.

ACTION…MOTIVATION…INSPIRATION. So instead of beating myself up about this resistance I have, I am trying to understand what it’s about.  The truth is that I am really happy with the way my body is starting to look.  I thought I wouldn’t like having a more muscly, toned body, but I do.  I like the feeling of being stronger and I definitely like being leaner.  So what is it about?  Maybe it’s just so many years of bad habits and fixed mindset that I just need to keep doing what I do?  Or perhaps it’s about reprogramming the way that I have felt about diet and exercise for thirty years!?  That instead of it being something loving and nourishing for my body, mind and spirit, I have seen it as punishment for overeating and being lazy.  A way of reprimanding myself for what I had done wrong when it came to food and exercise.

Eaten too much?  That’s 60 minutes on the treadmill!  Missed a workout?  That’s an extra 10 lengths of the pool!  Low energy workout on Saturday?  Double reps on Sunday!

I suppose I can hardly blame my brain for being a little adverse to the idea of going to the gym on a regular basis.  There are just not enough positive neural pathways associated with being there.  And then of course there are all those crazy autobiographical memories, associations and perceptions around food and how I used to punish myself mentally, emotionally and physically when I did something wrong!

Even as I write this post I am getting a better understanding on how many layers and years of negative behaviour, memory, habits, perceptions and associations I still have to cut through.  Of course I am constantly laying new neural pathways that are grounded in positive, self-loving actions, but I guess that it might take a little longer than just a year to get me to where I am bouncing out of bed in the semi-light of dawn to skip off to the gym.  What I am asking myself right now is how I can make it more of a fun experience so that there is more reward associated with the action?  Maybe it’s time for a couple of new workout tops so that I feel a little sexier when I get to the gym, rather than the raggedy old, far-too-big, tops I am wearing at the moment.  I am tracking my movement on a daily basis and that’s something that makes me feel accomplished and motivated, but there needs to be more positive associations.

So, maybe something as simple as a couple of new shirts and a decent workout bra will make me feel a little more inclined to take the actions that I take in the morning to get me there!?  The truth be told, I feel a little shopping coming on…and I’ll see how that makes me feel when I am getting ready to go and lift heavy stuff in the mornings.  I’ll let you know how it goes!  ACTION…MOTIVATION…INSPIRATION! 

 

Eat the food you love! Love the food you eat!

I started working with Alex in January 2017.  In January 2018 I was 30 kilograms lighter, much much stronger and more toned.  I actually have muscles and I really like the way my body looks and feels.  Flexible dieting has been an absolute win!  Not only have I lost about 30% of my body weight, I have also got such a great relationship with food these days.  Like any relationship though it takes work, patience, understanding and has its challenges, but it’s such a turnaround from where I was this time last year.

I do count calories, but coming out of a lifetime of food addiction and a very unhealthy set of nutrition, health and exercise habits it works for me!  Using My Fitness Pal has been a really great way to stay accountable to myself and learn about macros (protein, fat & carbs) and calories.  I am not obsessed, but I am so aware.  And the beauty of calorie tracking is that I get to use my calories in a way that works for me.

Instead of seeing food as good or bad, fattening or healthy, allowed or restricted, I have learned to see food as food!  What I do know for sure is that cooking at home is such a win when it comes to being able to control calories.  And since we love cooking we get to eat really nutrient-dense, whole foods put together into delicious meals most nights.  Because we cook there is not really anything that can’t be made in a way that doesn’t fit in with the calorie targets.  Okay, I am on a maintenance phase at the moment, which means I am taking a break from dieting and eating more calories, so there is more wiggle room, but there’s always space for food that I would have called “bad” or “junk” in the past like pizzas, hamburgers and chips.

Homemade cheeseburgers and oven-baked chips are a weekly staple, made from scratch and way better than anything from the drive-through.  Our pizza evenings are something I love…the only part that’s from the supermarket are the tomato bases, but the rest is weighed and measured so that we get to enjoy these about once a week.  And the pizzas we make come in around 750 calories, which is less than a takeaway Margarita.  There’s also lots of big-ass salads, colourful stir fries, steak dinners and when it’s colder curries, peri-peri chicken livers and stews.

The thing about cooking at home is that we are in control and there’s lots and lots of nutrient-dense, delicious whole foods in our meals.  Certain sauces are also surprisingly good value if they are used well.  Love some tomato sauce with my chips, and I am not a fan of salad with no dressing.  But from the bottle to the measuring spoon to the plate and everything stays on track!  Our kitchen scale is always in use and it is quite habitual at this point to simply weigh things out before they are cooked and eaten.  To be honest as someone who likes certainty and control, eating in this way has made me feel safe and certain!  It gives me the structure and the system I need to not expand too much time worrying about my choices.

I simply plan, track and eat.  And often there’s a little space (not more than 20% of my calories) for a treat. I remember a year ago having a mini, mental meltdown when Alex suggested eating a Kit-Kit!  How on earth could I eat chocolate and be on a diet!?  Well, I have learned that chocolates will not make me fat if they are part of my calorie allowance.  In fact they make dieting feel, dare I say, fun and exciting!!  I have learned about balance…about not being afraid of certain foods…to not see some food groups as the devil’s spawn sent to entice us into unhealthy eating behaviours…to enjoy all the food that I choose to include in my daily and weekly eating plans.

So I don’t go without and because of this I don’t see dieting as a punishment for my previous bad eating habits.  I see food as something I get to relish and that nurtures my body, mind and spirit.  I look forward to cooking in the evenings, because it’s all about eating the food I love and loving the food I eat.  Gone are the days when I pushed steamed broccoli and dry grilled chicken breasts around my plate feeling deprived and sorry for myself!  Stared longingly at the dessert menu, feeling like a victim of bad genes.  Thought that the muesli was a far “healthier” breakfast when I could actually have the eggs and toast for fewer calories.

I love food and I love eating and flexible dieting has given me the knowledge and the space to really grow this love.  A healthy, adult love that is not marred in guilt and shame like it was when I was hiding my eating habits.  Okay, sometimes I still stick my finger in the peanut butter jar and forget to count something I didn’t plan to eat, but then I simply move on.  It’s so wonderful to not see the way I eat as black-or-white, win-or-lose, right-or-wrong…and that food is not the enemy.  In fact the only enemy in this whole thing can be me and the way I choose to look at food and exercise, which I talked about in my post “#whatadifferenceayearmakes“.

Flexible dieting & strength training

I look and feel great, and I can say that with a belief that I have never had when talking about my body.  I like what I see in the mirror, even though there are still areas that require some work and a few kilos that I am planning to lose after this diet break.  This phase is about giving my body a break from the rigors of dieting and allowing it time to settle into its new weight and just get comfortable in this zone.  Alex really understands all the science and study around this and it does get a little confusing for me, but I trust him as my coach and accountability partner, and he has really proved that he knows his stuff.  So, I am more than happy to follow his guidance and enjoy the downtime.

I’ll go back into deficit and get to the place I want to be, but I don’t feel the urgency anymore and look at my body as a process and not a final destination.  It’s such an incredible feeling to not be totally caught up in the results, but to see this as being a learning and discovery that I am going through.  It didn’t take me 18 months to get out of shape and I am enjoying the process of accepting and living in my body, rather than fighting against it all the time.  So if my system needs a little break to just settle and that means I get to eat a little more food, then I am all in!!

#whatadifferenceayearmakes

On Sunday, 8th January 2017 my life changed forever!  That was the first time I met Alex in the gym… You may have an idea of where this leads, but let me put you on the right track.  I was completely out of my personal comfort zone, feeling fat and unhappy in my gym leggings and overstretched vest, and extremely self-conscious standing in front of the full-length mirrors in the weights’ section of the local gym.  I was horrified at my reflection and did not know where to stand or what to do with my hands, or my personal discomfort.

I was trying to divert my eyes from the mirror every time I was asked to face myself and “squat”!  It was not a happy day and every time I did what vaguely resembled a squat-like movement, I tried desperately not to notice the way my scrunched-up stomach looked in the reflection.  I didn’t have a clue and all I wanted was for that session to end so that I could run and hide in the change rooms.

I was not going to go ever again!  I’d find a way to cancel and I was sure that there were plenty of dead-relatives I could use as not being able to make the next session.  During those 45 minutes, I had convinced myself that gym was not meant for overweight beginners and that I should simply stay firmly put in my unhappy, fixed-mindset, change-is-the-devil head space.  Anyway, that would be far easier than going back to the gym – EVER AGAIN!  But Alex gently coaxed me through that endless session, and was kind and understanding of my awkwardness.  Pretty sure I am not the first person to experience these feelings, and he was aware and conscious.  In fact after a few sets of the dreaded squats, we moved onto something else a little more ego-friendly.

The reason I share this is because I have to believe that I am not the only person who stepped into a gym for the first time after many years of vowing and affirming that this was the January I was going to lose some weight and get into shape!  I am definitely not the only client who has felt geeky and uncomfortable in front of their ripped, muscly coach.  And I am most certainly not alone when I express that the experience was hardly one that I wanted to repeated…never mind in a couple of days.

But go back I did…again…and again…and again!  And the most amazing thing started to happen.  Firstly, I learned that Alex was anything but judgmental, and that his passion and purpose lies in supporting and encouraging his clients as they grow stronger and leaner.  I learned that he believes in being process- rather than outcomes-driven, and that much of the fulfillment he experiences in his work comes from seeing the changes that his clients achieve over the weeks and months.  I guess that would make sense in the way that an artist doesn’t start with a beautiful landscape or a mind-blowing masterpiece, but rather takes their time to create something from the tools and materials that they have around them.

0 (1)I have moved from being self-conscious to feeling a little more comfortable in my body as we’ve worked together.  And the results although amazing, haven’t been overnight!  The first months saw lots of big changes…kilograms and centimetres seemed to melt away under the fluorescent lamps, but of course these slowed down.  And I kept going to the gym, following my eating plan and altering my mindset and perspective about health and nutrition.  There would be days when I wanted to lie on the floor of the gym and cry because my body didn’t want to comply, or my knees (which have been bad since my showjumping days in high school) wanted to give in.  And I kept going back!

And the most remarkable things have happened!  I didn’t turn into a freakish looking version of myself with great, bulging muscles and manly features.  What did happen was that my body has gotten stronger, leaner and healthier.  And I am able to look into that very same mirror that so terrified me on Day 1 and really look the reflection that is there looking back at me.  It’s got some nicely toned, visible muscles and is still quite shapely, but in a much more sexy, feminine way then I imagined it would look.  So when I stood there last week on Monday, 8th January 2018, I was so proud and excited about how far I have come.

Thankfully I didn’t give up on that very first day because of the inner critic in me who wanted me to run off and hide because I wasn’t good enough, slim enough or strong enough.  Instead I have stuck  it out three to four times a week (well  most weeks) and  have learned to love, nurture and care for my body in a way I  haven’t ever done.  I’ve learned that exercise is NOT about punishing myself because I had a chocolate brownie, but that it’s about honouring the physical, emotional, spiritual and mental parts of self.  Of course there are days when the thought of getting into my gym pants is the last hings I want to do…and I ‘d rather lie around in my underwear and eat ice cream, but the truth is I have fallen in love with the new me over the last year.

The me that is self-loving and wants to do the best for me that I can do.  The new me who has persevered through the initial stages of getting my health back.  The new me who values fitness and exercise.  The new me who doesn’t  make excuses all the time about not having time, but rather makes and finds the time because I am worth it!  And it’s not that I am suddenly an arrogant, slimmer version of my past, overweight self, it’s more that I just really love the fact that I love me!  And that I got over myself and went back for that second and third and forth session with Alex, and all the sessions since then.

He wasn’t with me in the gym this year on my “gym-aversary” but I know he delights in the progress and changes I have made, the growth I have shown, and the values I have developed around myself, my health and my fitness.  Alex is still very much part of my process, and I rely on his knowledge,experience and accountability to see me through the next year of my ongoing transformation, because I have learned that this is not about reaching a final goal, but rather living a life where I am constantly striving for improvement and achievement.  All I can say is #whatadifferenceayearmakes.

The five most important lessons I have learned…from my food addiction.

0 (1)Looking at myself in the mirror or glancing down at my legs I hardly recognise myself at times, which is a weird experience.  Sometimes when I look at my jeans I wonder how I am ever going to get into that size 12 rather than the former size 16/18 I was wearing this time last year.  And even the 12s are getting a little big!?

Sometimes when I browse through the clothes stores (no shopping at the moment) I will look at a dress or outfit and wonder if they’ll have it in my size or if I’ll fit into it…and then remember that my body has shed almost sixty 500g blocks of butter in the past year, and of course I will!  Shopping has always been a horror experience for me, taking a range of clothes to the change room only to discover that even the size 18 is a little small in some part.  Avoiding full eye contact with my reflection because I was embarrassed by my own self…thinking that I was lazy and useless to not have been able to stick to yet another diet plan and lose the weight that had crept on over the previous 12 months or so.

One of my biggest realisations over the course of my process has been that a big part of my inability to successfully complete a programme comprised of a couple of elements:

  1. The diet was restrictive and unsustainable, eliminating whole food groups which I love (insert carbs here).
  2. The expectations I placed on myself about the results I was going to achieve and the time frame I was going to achieve them in were completely unrealistic.
  3. The mindset I had around nutrition and exercise where fixed, which resulted in seeing every little slip, scale gain and  plateau as a failure and a chance to give up.
  4.  I did not know how to create accountability around my process, because if I couldn’t get it “right” that must mean I was lazy and incapable.
  5. I just didn’t love myself enough to see it through to the end!

Nothing earth shattering there! And what a load of complete and utter BS!  I have come from the school of dieting that is all about getting on a diet and sticking to a diet until you have achieved the required results.  No erring!  No mistakes!  No excuses!  If you are following the plan/programme, sticking to the instructions and eating the food you are supposed to you WILL LOSE WEIGHT.  So if I was doing all that and wasn’t getting the required outcomes then I  must have been doing something wrong.

Often after a great start of weight loss, I would quickly plateau in my scale losses.  I would become disheartened and frustrated that nothing was changing, and when I would ask the programme leader, dietitian, nurse or facilitator I was working with what was going on they’d always answer with a raised eyebrow and something about “Sticking to the programme!”  These comments and attitudes would leave me feeling uncertain and then I would start to question myself…my will power…my inability to do it right…my frustration at feeling deprived and unhappy…and sure as anything I would  be throwing in the towel and back to my old ways!

My old ways included self-deprecation for being so useless, criticising myself for not being focused and motivated enough, considering myself a loser because I just couldn’t see anything through.  And back I’d go to eating for all the wrong reasons.  The problem with any sort of dysfunctional eating behaviour, is that abstinence is not an option!  Unlike substance abuse, we can’t simply give up eating.  So, I would abuse food in the same way that I abused alcohol.

Depriving myself of anything nourishing or healthy when it came to what I put in my body.  Hiding my eating habits from my family and friends, which included chronic binges that left me feeling sick, guilty and ashamed (not unlike the way I would abuse alcohol in my twenties and early thirties).  The Friday evening shopping ritual was like a visit to the bottle store, piling my trolley with the most highly palatable food I could find and the I’d isolate over the weekends and eat, to the point of physical sickness.  I wasn’t bulimic because it didn’t happen every weekend, and like with drinking I could go for days without being dysfunctional.  But then the urge would strike!

This usually happened when I had nothing planned for the weekend, and I was feeling lonely or excluded, I had not been taking care of my stress, or I was just feeling I needed a reward for a long, hard week.  I’d get home and unpack all the food onto my kitchen counter and plan how I was going to eat it.   How I would have a little of this and one of those, maybe a small bowl of ice cream and just a few of the potato chips.  And it would start of well enough, just like the first couple of drinks in the years gone by.  But then something would happen and my brain would take over, and I would be lost in a hopeless cycle.  I would tell myself that I was only going to have one more brownie and leave the rest for tomorrow, only to end up eating the whole pack and then feeling immensely weak and out of control.  And so it would go until the food was finished or it was all in the bottom of the toilet.

This pattern of eating really got intense over the last few years leading up to when I started to identify that I was actually dealing with a cross-addiction in my life.  As a coach working in the field of addiction recovery, it was an extremely difficult realisation to own that I was abusing food in the same way I had abused alcohol years previously.  I was no longer eating for enjoyment, nourishment or reward, I was eating to punish myself, to hide away and to release negative emotions.  The similarities were difficult to ignore and the consequences were just as negative.  Feelings of self-loathing, isolation, emotions ranging from helplessness to rage, guilt, shame and a tattered self-esteem.

Ever move I made I was conscious of how I hated my body.  I was unable to walk into a room without feeling like everyone was judging me for being fat and lazy, because I was unable to control myself and stick to a diet, lose some weight and get myself into a gym.  Every week I promised myself that I was going to make changes, only to end up slipping off to the kitchen to eat slices of cheese behind the half-closed fridge door!  Not that there was anyone to see me doing it.  It all felt so dark and secretive, so damaging and yet even with a set of tools and practices, I felt powerless to do anything about it.

The challenge with certain addictions though is that the only option is moderation management.  Learning a way of reducing the harm that I was doing to my body, mind and soul through this destructive behaviour, was going to be my only way out of it.  Learning a new set of habits, skills and behaviours that were supportive of change; long-term, sustainable change.  And then I reached out…and like with any recovery that was the beginning of finding my way forward.  I didn’t get the right support for me off the bat, but I did start to make changes.  But what I did get right is that I started to get honest!  I stopped talking about the food and I started addressing my intentions and underlying motivations around the way I used food.  Making changes to my narrative was an essential part of the process, and learning to listen to the quiet, gentle inner voice rather than the angry, destructive critical one became a turning point for me.

In September 2016 I had a real breakthrough with my personal coach when I started to explore how I spoke to myself, and it was there that the real change started to happen.  I wrote about this in my blog post “How Do You Speak to Yourself?” and that was the day that I realised that the only way I was going to move forward was to do something new and different.  Something that I hadn’t tried before…  And so began my real recovery into finding and loving myself.

And after 12 months what I have learned is this:

  1. An eating plan can be as inclusive and exciting as I choose it to be, with all the food groups, and yet healthy and sustainable.  Thank you Flexible Dieting!!
  2. The expectations I place on myself are controlled by me, and need to be realistic, achievable and self-loving; only then can I expect to achieve them.
  3. That if I embrace a growth mindset in my life, then everything becomes a learning and an opportunity for growth and development, and there is no beginning or end just the process I chose to follow.
  4. I have created accountability and support through allowing myself to be vulnerable and reach out, because there is no right or wrong, just finding a way that works for me.
  5. And my biggest learning has been that I am deserving of the love and attention that I give to myself.  That the choices I make are ones that nourish and fulfill my bod, mind and soul, and I am worthy of making those choices and loving myself!

My name is Leigh-Anne and I am a recovering food addict and a flexible dieting convert…

There is no magic, weight-loss bullet…no matter what people say!

If I think back to just over a year ago, I can hardly comprehend the changes that have taken place round my health and wellness.  How my nutrition and fitness values have morphed and grown.  And how much  more of a priority I am making myself and my needs.  I haven’t become selfish and arrogant, in fact I think it’s the opposite.  As I have learned to eat better, exercise better and treat myself better, I have been humbled by just how much commitment and dedication is given by the people who are healthy and in shape.  It’s a process of honest hard work and action (not luck!).  It’s about consistency and structure (not chance!).  It’s about wanting it more than we want to make excuses about how we’re different.

Early on in my coaching with Alex he introduced me to the idea of a “special snowflake”…that belief that my challenges are so different and unique to everyone else’s when it comes to weight- and fat-loss.  That no matter how much work is required, the reason that I have been unsuccessful is because I am a special case.  My genes, hormones, bone structure, metabolism, bad knees and injured shoulder limit me being able to achieve my nutrition and fitness goals!  I need a team to diagnose and treat, advise and recommend, point me in the right direction and kick my butt when I stray.  I was HORRIFIED by the concept…that was NOT ME!

And then as I started to move through the coaching process, I quickly started to realise that’s exactly what I was.  I was so buried in my fixed mindset about nutrition and fitness, that I was making all those excuses and more.  What it basically boiled down to at the end of the day was that I had a million excuses as to what I wasn’t able to achieve and maintain my goals, and very few as to what I needed to do and be in order to get what I wanted.

I envied other women who were “genetically blessed”, rolled my eyes at those who tirelessly committed to their training and eating plans as being “obsessed”, and judged people who chose to eat well as missing out on “life’s simple pleasures”.  Because they could’t possibly understand or relate to how it was to be me with my busy life that just didn’t allow any time for the gym or healthy planning, shopping or eating, never mind a little self-love and recovery.  So much blame, justification and validation of my poor eating and exercise behaviours.  And always the harsh, critical voice in the mix telling me that I was lazy, useless and undeserving…when it wasn’t making excuses.

What I have learned over the last months is that there is NO MAGIC BULLET to weight loss, fitness and health.  No one is that extraordinarily blessed that they simply walk past a gym and get into shape.  That they can eat whatever they like and be toned, sexy and healthy.  And that it is so much easier for them than me.  So I have learned to have some real humility in this journey and take some proper personal responsibility and accountability around it all.

The toughest lessons have not been the nutrition/food lessons (I have learned loads about that over the years of dieting, cleansing, detoxing, starving, fasting, restricting foods and living in misery).  The toughest lessons have been around my fixed mindset, lack of self-love, not listening to my body, under-valuing my body and my health, and denying that I do have certain limitations (though not nearly as many as I had led  myself to believe).  I also  learned that when something is important enough I will make the time to ensure that it gets prioritised, and that I can’t think anything to completion – I have to actually do something about it.

Stocking the fridge with healthy food is not going to get me in shape…planning and cooking is what is needed.  I cannot calculate how many times in the past I filled the fridge with healthy, nutritious food only to watch it rot and get tossed out.  Scheduling gym into my diary is not the same as actually showing up at the gym.  Writing goals and actions into my weekly planner, is not enough without the steps and the actions to actually achieve them.  Buying the books, subscribing to the emails and courses, and visiting the dietitian or doctor, is not the same as doing the work.

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I had myself fooled for so long that I was different and that’s why I wasn’t able to succeed in my health goals.  I was not prepared to admit that is was not because I was not doing the work.  And over the last months that has meant going to a place where I haven’t ever really wanted to go…  Getting honest with myself about what food and being overweight were for me.  An escape from personal, emotional and spiritual pain.  If I stayed fat and unhealthy I could hide behind that mask.  If I did the work it would be painful and raw, and mean that I had to look at what the food, detachment, the lack of self-love and the need for self-deprecation were all about…

And believe me it’s been bloody and messy and emotional and scary…

But inside me I have discovered a woman who is vulnerable and yet so strong.  A woman who doesn’t need to be afraid of the world and the rejection and judgement it may (or may not) dish out.  Using my body as a way to protect me from hurt is not as empowering as using my words and my authentic voice.  Now I don’t have an excuse to hide behind myself…now I really need to show up.  I don’t get to blame people for not loving me because of how I look, I need to accept that it’s about what’s I put into the world that makes me lovable or unlovable.  I feel like I have stepped out of my armour for the very first time with the intention of leaving it behind me to rust.

In the past I kept it oiled and shiny, just in case I needed to slip back into it…and I went back time and again, believing that people just didn’t get me.  I think that the truth is sometimes I just don’t get people.  But hiding behind myself no longer serves me in any way, and I deserve to feel accomplished and proud of myself, my worth, my achievements and body.  It’s okay to want to be fit and strong, and there is no shame in being confident and self-assured when I walk into a room.  Not because I am “genetically” blessed, but because I  have worked really hard to get through  my limitations and challenges, and discover that I am worthy of love and acceptance.

I really couldn’t have done it alone, and Alex has been instrumental in his wisdom and support.  But at the end of the day it has been me who’s moved myself into a growth mindset, explored my fears and insecurities, and me who has give myself permission to be fulfilled and at peace in my own life, in a body that I am learning to love more and more as I learn to accept and love myself.

The highs and lows of strength training in the “scary man section”!

4newNine months ago when I started working with Alex as my fitness coach I was terrified by the idea of weight training!  The thought of the “scary man section” at the gym, weights and muscles was not something I was remotely excited about.  I’d always had this idea of being slender and toned, I didn’t want to be big and built.  And here was my coach telling me I was going to be building muscle.  I was not seeing it from his perspective.  He had his work cut out for him!

Okay, I’ve always hated cardio, hammering it out on the cross-trainer and the treadmill has never been my thing.  But when given the alternative of complicated weight training workouts, I was almost receptive to the idea of being strapped to a treadmill or sent to a spinning class.

The process started slowly, and Alex patiently explained the benefits of strength training – over and over again.  I had a vision of biceps that developed overnight and overly strong thigh muscles.  My legs were big enough already – they did  not  need to get any bigger.  All I was interested in was a flat stomach and much slimmer legs.  It took me a while to understand that the fat was not simply going to  be replaced by muscle, but that I was going to build muscle and lose the fat.  That fat is far more voluminous than muscle and I was not going to turn into a 95kg body builder.

Slowly I was introduced to the basic movements, which are far more difficult to do than they look, especially when I watch the pros that I follow on FaceBook and Instagram. Alex has helped me to understand proper technique and movement, and my body started to respond.  Slowly (and sometimes painfully) at first while I learned how to squat, lunge, leg press, dead lift and use the other equipment in the gym.  And instead of muscles starting to spring up, the fat and centimetres (hips, waist & thigh) started to fall away.  Untitled

The initial months of my training consisted of learning how to do things right – Alex is a stickler for correct technique, form and movement that’s not going to cause injury.  And funnily enough as my body began to change, I became more excited about the strength training.  It was motivating to see my form improving and how my body was responding.  Small improvements in the sets, reps and weight I was doing began to push me to do better. And I was not turning into a female version of Mr. Universe.  Suddenly I wanted to look less like the skinny, Hollywood waifs, and more like the women competing in Cross Fit events.

I have started wanting to be strong and lean, with a great ass and a toned stomach, not skinny and weak.  And after nine months, I look at the training completely differently…and I actually fee quite at home in the “scary  man section” at the gyms I workout at. I have a different idea of how I want my body to look and the kind of shape I want to have.  I’m far more interested in being stronger than I am in being thinner.  And that idea is constantly changing as I see my work paying off.

Of course it’s not always easy.  Sometimes I get caught up in thinking and working towards outcomes goals (mainly some preconceived scale weight I have randomly plucked from the ethos), rather than those focusing on my behaviour.  There are times when my body feels weak and spongy, and not that keen to lift, press or push anything that weighs more than a couple of kilos, but after a day or so, I am ready to get back to it. I am not in the gym more than 4 or 5 times a week, and sometimes less than that.  It doesn’t happen at the expense of everything else, and I have learned to be more self-loving and gentle when I don’t make a scheduled day’s training.  My mindset around the entire process has changed…

I don’t give up on a week’s training, because I missed a day here and there.  I simply refocus and move forward.  And that’s a huge shift for me.  Missing a day in the past was all I needed to put my exercise on hold.  But because I am more focused on behaviour I am better able to see a missed day for what it is.  Sometimes extra recovery time, sometimes rest, sometimes because I am just too busy at work.  Now I don’t chastise myself for being useless, lazy and procrastinating… I give myself the reward of time or rest, and don’t get caught up in a negative thought cycle about myself and my fitness programme.

And as for my muscles…well they are definitely not bulging out of my jeans and T-shirt. Rather, they are growing and strengthening quite nicely, and I am really happy about how they look (especially when they are working out).  I feel confident and self-assured in the gym now, even happy to ask the guys in the gym if the equipment is free.  Okay, I am still a little self conscious when it comes to hip thrusts, but I am getting there.  And one of these days I’ll even feel good enough to do lunges across the weight floor (at Old Eds Virgin Active).

So onward I press, push, pull and lift to a body and mind that are healthy, aware, strong, supportive and in line with my growing value of long-term fitness, health and wellness.