Men’s Health July 2014 ‘Ask The Trainer’ Q&A Column

mens health julyAn English translation for my monthly column in Men’s Health Thailand.

I want to reduce abdominal fat and have been told I should drop my carbohydrate intake. What’s your view on this?

For years fat was the enemy, but in recent years views have shifted and now it’s commonly thought that carbs should be reduced or avoided to lose weight. This view is largely correct, most people consume far too many carbohydrates for their activity levels and many find it easier to overeat carbs as opposed to foods higher in protein and fat. To put it another way, many people feel more full and satisfied when consuming lower carbohydrate diets. Excessive carb consumption can also promote high levels of a hormone called insulin which often leads to fat gain, especially if you lead a sedentary lifestyle. However, nutrition is a very unique thing – what works for me may not work for you, and you should experiment with your carbohydrate and fat levels to find out what works best for you.

image (2)Diet is crucial in reducing abdominal fat, but rather than focusing too much on the protein, fat and carbohydrate percentages you should first make sure that you’re eating high quality food. This means eating as little processed food as possible, preparing your own meals as opposed to eating in restaurants and consuming whole, natural foods such as organic meat, vegetables, fruits and nuts wherever possible. If you get this right you will often hit your goals, look great and start showing your abdominal and core muscles without the need for tracking calories or macronutrient (carb, protein and fat) amounts.

If you’ve got that right and are still not hitting your goals, you should then try tracking and recording your food intake, make some adjustments, try some new things and monitor the results. If you are unsure how to do this you can seek the help of a personal trainer or nutritionist to guide you.

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Interval training at one of our group classes at BASE is a great way to burn fat. We recommend our signature class for this, BASECAMP.

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A Bangkok Juice Fast + No Caffeine or Alcohol

After eliminating meat and grains and playing around with my meal frequency I was eager for a new food experiment.

Displaying exquisite timing, Codi from Lifestyle Juice Cleanse (I’ll refer to as LJC) contacted me asking if I’d like to try a 3 day juice fast and blog about it.

3 days consuming nothing but juice didn’t sound like a whole lot of fun, which was all the more reason to do it. I signed myself up.

I regularly do 24 hour fasts where I abstain from food and calorie containing beverages from, say, 2pm one day to 2pm the next, so I felt as though I would be well prepared for this experiment.

Why juice fast?

It seems as though the main reasons people juice fast are to lose weight and to detox, presumably after a period of abuse. Juicing can also provide a good way to cram in a load of nutrients in a simple, easy serving.

I didn’t want to lose weight and didn’t feel I was toxic enough to require a detoxification, but I thought it would still be interesting to see how I felt and what the effects on my body would be. Also, if friends or clients asked about it or wanted to try it I would be well placed to give a first-hand opinion.

LJC told me about a movie that demonstrates the power of juice fasting. Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead tells the story of a big bloke named Joe, who does a 60 day juice fast during a road trip across America and pretty much saves his life from disease. Unlike Joe I’m not a morbidly obese truck driver dying of self inflicted illness so I’m not sure how relevant his story is to me, but it is an incredible story nonetheless and it’s clear this approach did wonders for his health and waistline.

Release the evil

I was told that feeling terrible during the fast is not only nothing to worry about, but is actually celebrated. Anything negative felt during the 9 day process is simply ‘toxins leaving the body’, which I’m not sure I completely buy. Broken out into spots? Great, that’s the toxins leaving you. Feeling down and moody? That’ll be the toxins entering the bloodstream. Grown a third nipple? Fantastic, that just shows that it’s working.

I think it’s fair to say that your body may be uncomfortable and struggling with the new health kick, but I don’t think it’s necessarily all about the evil toxins being released. Blaming the toxins is a convenient answer, but I think a lot of the negative feelings during the fast are your body generally being under stress and a weakened immune system during this time.

Other possibilities are that your body is struggling with the calorie restriction or perhaps just withdrawal symptoms from stopping smoking or other addictive substances that you’re refraining from during the fast.

Onto the fast

The 3-day juice fast was actually a 9 day process, broken down into the following essential components:

3 day pre-cleanse: preparing the body for the fast – slowly reduce or eliminate processed/’toxic’ food, caffeine and alcohol

The main event: no solid food – just juice and tea for 3 full days

3 day post-cleanse: 3 days of gradually reintroducing food into your system to complete the process from toxic blob to vibrant health hippy.

Added Bonus: The 3 day pre- and post-cleanse are strictly no caffeine and alcohol, so this also offered a few bonus experiments. 9 days without alcohol is pretty normal for me so no test there, but one of my big vices is my daily 2-3 cups of coffee, usually lattes. I’ve had at least a coffee a day for the last 10 years so I was interested to see whether I had my habit under control or if I was a full-blown caffeine junkie.

Pre-cleanse

I got through the pre-cleanse easily – 3 days of healthy eating and natural food to start to rid my body of all those evil toxins and prepare it for the good stuff. Whole, natural meals were also provided by LJC, but as I was concerned about losing too much weight I topped up the provided food with extra fruit and vegetables, ensuring I kept it all healthy for a smooth transition to the juice.

I was advised to drink the 6 juices in order, but I don’t think it matters. My preferred order was close eyes, stick hand in fridge and bring one out ‘lucky dip’ style

Day 1

The first day was pretty normal – I laughed, I played, I drank juice and just generally went about my day. I had an empty feeling in my stomach but my energy levels were fine. No dramas. The juices tasted great and I looked forward to drinking them. My experience with fasting also helped prepare me and it was all pretty easy and fun.

I drifted off to sleep at the end of day 1… and dreamed of food (seriously).

Day 2

Day 2 wasn’t quite as smooth. I started the day with some fruit infused water, which was a bit of an experiment for me but it worked well. It involved leaving lemon, lime, strawberries and cinnamon in water overnight. I topped it up with a little coconut water the next day and it tasted amazing. This set me up for a pretty steady day again, but later on in the day I started to get hungry when I saw food.

Lemon, lime, cinnamon, a couple of strawberries and a splash of coconut water. Top up with water and leave overnight.

Lemon, lime, cinnamon, a couple of strawberries and a splash of coconut water. Top up with water and leave overnight.

I went to the supermarket to get some limes and all the goodies looked very appealing. The street food and fruit stalls made me pine for solid food consumption. This made me consider whether I was truly hungry or if it was the sight of food that had triggered my cravings. I think often we are set off by visual stimulation, food marketing and even cleverly placed indulgent items in food stores. Often we’re not really hungry but something sets off a trigger and we convince ourselves we’re starving or need to eat. However, I think by this stage I really was just goddamn hungry.

Understanding Real Hunger Vs Food Cravings is crucial to success in your healthy eating journey. I think fasting really helps to distinguish and understand the difference.

By the evening I felt pretty moody and was looking forward to eating again.

Day 3

Me goofing around at the park on the last day - I was feeling lively and upbeat

Me goofing around at the park on the last day – I was feeling lively and upbeat

I woke up feeling pretty good and my moodiness had gone. Perhaps the moody toxins had left my body overnight. I had a pretty normal day and I trained hard in the park. I didn’t feel at all affected by not having eaten for 2 full days and I pulled, pushed, ran and jumped around feeling pretty much at my best. This left me feeling positive and enthused, although I was still looking forward to eating again. The rest of the day carried on as normal and I was happy to go to bed safe in the knowledge that sunrise would bring grub.

Fast over and start of post-cleanse

I woke up early pretty excited about bringing food back into my life. I held back for a few hours and then made a peanut butter, coconut, strawberry and banana smoothie. It tasted absolutely incredible. I savoured every mouthful, each one offering a sensual explosion of taste and pleasure. That might sound a bit over the top, but it really was that good.

The heavenly smoothy that broke the fast

The heavenly smoothy that broke the fast

LJC told me to just eat fruit on the first day, I felt fine so I had a salad with a little chicken for lunch, as well as another tasty juice. I reintroduced food over the next few days without any issues.

No Caffeine

I didn’t suffer any caffeine withdrawal symptoms at all, which didn’t surprise me much. I did miss the process of going into a cafe and sipping a latte while planning my day, but t was good to discover I don’t need it.

Conclusions and summary

So that was how it all panned out over the 9 day process. I must say that it was all a bit of an anti-climax really – I didn’t feel all that much during or after, but others I’ve spoken to have had more of a ‘health epiphany’ during their fast and really valued their experience. I’ve been told that perhaps I’m not your typical juice faster, and those who live an unhealthier lifestyle might benefit more from this approach.

Here is a summary of my main thoughts and feelings on juice fasting:

I’d sooner recommend other dietary approaches and solutions before trying juicing. If someone said they wanted to try it I’d say go for it, but I’d recommend other approaches over this one if someone wants to be healthy and strong long-term.

I think it promotes a culture of unhealthy habits followed by a ‘detox’, which is then repeated ad infinitum. This isn’t a progressive approach. If that’s the only way you can live your life then maybe it has a place, but if you’re doing the right things most of the time you shouldn’t need to do this. We all know people who are always talking about ‘needing a detox’ as if that’s the answer to all their health and life problems.

LJC say a lot of great things on their website about healthy, long-term changes which should be commended, but their slogan sums up who their typical target client is: Work Hard. Play Hard. Cleanse. Repeat. That approach to health and life isn’t going to do you many favours.

The best use for a juice fast is as a kickstart into healthy habits. 9 days of healthy food with a 3 day juice fast could help you understand hunger better, could help wean you off processed junk and could be the start of new habits and a new you.

Intermittent Fasting Vs Juice Fasting: I felt as though I was stretching a 24 hour fast (which I occasionally do) over 84 hours, which to me made it a less enjoyable process than intermittent fasting. I prefer eating fruit and vegetables rather than drinking fruit and vegetable juice, so I would sooner do an occasional 24 hour abstinence from food and calorie-containing drinks and just continue eating normally the rest of the time. I would find this easier to do consistently long term. This is just my experience though, and others find juicing a more enjoyable experience.

Weight loss during the fast was a concern as I’ve dropped a bit recently and didn’t want to lose any more. I lost 1.6kg during the fast which stayed off for a few weeks. Whether the weight was water, fat or muscle is hard to say. I would say water. It was commented that I looked a little gaunt after the fast, so this is something to bear in mind if you are of a normal, healthy weight.

Final Word

Some people have felt great, refreshed and revitalized after completing a juice fast. Others have got incredible weight loss results.

It would be very arrogant for me to say that what they did was wrong – Joe the truck driver used this method to save his life – but I personally believe they would have got the same results from making some positive dietary changes or doing something like a strict raw food diet for a set amount of time.

If can only adhere to a diet plan strict, regimented rules, then give it a go. If you wonder how you’ll feel or would like to use it as a boost to a healthier lifestyle then give it a go… but first up I would suggest trying to just eat more real, whole foods most of the time and seeing if that can get you the results you want.

Has anyone tried a juice fast recently? Did you enjoy it? Would you do it again? Please comment or drop me a message.

I would whole-heartedly recommend Lifestyle Juice Cleanse if you decide to try one out. Good quality, great tasting juices coupled with home or work delivery and solid service. Contact them for more info.

If you’ve enjoyed this article, I kindly ask you to ‘like’ our Bangkok Fitness Facebook page, ‘like’ it here and share on social networks if you feel others would benefit. Many thanks!

Food Experiments: How often should you eat?

meal timingRegular readers will know that I’ve recently looked closely at the impact meat and grain consumption has on my mind and body. Today we’re going to look at how often you should eat.

We’ll assume that the options are regular small meals, less frequent large meals or somewhere in between. Hopefully no-one is eating frequent large meals.

I received a lot of feedback on my article 5 reasons you’re not getting the fitness results you want, and without doubt the most controversial reason was you’re eating too often.

A good friend of mine who has had incredible results with his training in the past took issue, stating on my Facebook post that he put his success down to eating regular small meals to regulate his protein intake, stop his metabolism from slowing and prevent him from feeling lethargic from heavy meals.

In my initial post I should have clarified that I meant this largely from a weight loss and general health perspective, as most people I speak to and most of my clients are aiming for these goals. If you struggle to gain weight then perhaps ‘eating too infrequently’ might be the root of your inability to pack on muscle.

The reason I picked on ‘eating too often’, rather than ‘eating too much’ was because we’ve been told for years and years, without any decent evidence to support it, that:

  • You MUST eat regularly to stop starvation mode and catabolism
  • You MUST snack.
  • You MUST eat breakfast or come mid-morning you’ll be shoving cake and donuts into any available orifice

Eat more to lose weight, we’ve been told. I’ve actually seen nutritional guides with the words:

You need to eat more to lose weight. Sounds crazy, huh?

Yes, it sounds crazy. And illogical. And wrong. Because that’s what it is. Telling an obese person they need to eat more to lose weight is at best counter-productive, at worst plain dangerous.

Now this is where I really need to clarify my views. I am not necessarily saying that eating regular meals is bad or wrong. My friend got great results with this and so have many others, and it would be extremely arrogant for me to say they shouldn’t have done it this way. My huge issue is with people declaring that this is the way to do it. The best way. The only way.

The recent rise in popularity of Intermittent Fasting, an approach which I’ve been praising for a long time, pretty much proves that skipping meals or even going up to 24 hours without food can be a hugely effective and successful approach. This flies in the face of the ‘eat more to lose weight’ oxymoron.

Many people find that eating lots of small regular meals is impractical, leaves them feeling hungry and miserable and causes them to overeat without realising. Now because they’ve been told they MUST do it this way they get defeatist and down when it doesn’t work out. They then start blaming other factors such as slow metabolisms, genetics or bad karma from a past life. Cue binge eating to feel better about it.

Wouldn’t it be a lot more liberating and positive to simply tick ‘small, regular meals 6 times a day’ off the list, chalk it down to experience and celebrate learning something about yourself? Congratulations, you now know that this didn’t work for your body type or was a bad fit for your personality or schedule. Now you can try a different approach. Of course, if the small meals are working just keep it up and reap the benefits!

So I responded to my regular meal-consuming friend on facebook making the above points and finished with the line:

“My issue is with advice that says you must eat one way, or another. If eating small meals works, then do it. If eating one giant meal in the evening works, then do it”.

This prompted another good friend who works in the fitness industry to tell me that I can’t say eating one meal a day is right, we need to eat in the morning to get our bodies started and that no elite athlete could ever eat one meal a day and to do so would be detrimental to their development.

We discussed it, and I pretty much reiterated my view that you can’t give uniform, blanket approaches to people.

I mentioned the two meal approach that has worked for a huge community of people, and after flicking through the site again I found an incredible example of someone who’s eaten just one meal a day for the last 30 years. Oh, and he also happens to an elite athlete competing at the highest level in one of the most physically demanding sports around, Mixed Martial Arts. He’s 50 and looks about 30 and and is fitter than a cross between Serena Williams and Usain Bolt. Here’s his story:

Would I recommend you eat one meal a day? Probably not, but look at that guy – it would be extremely arrogant for anyone to tell him he’s wrong, or he shouldn’t be doing it his way.

Summary

I don’t want to come across as wishy-washy or indecisive in my approach to nutrition. Experimentation is key, but I want you to know why you’re experimenting and to learn from the journey, not just the end result. Therefore, I want to summarize my meal frequency approach:

If you’re truly eating real, whole foods 80-90% of the time then meal frequency is not important. We’ve established that metabolism isn’t affected by meal frequency so don’t let this myth guide your eating habits. Your very own personalized meal frequency formula should come down to these factors:

  • Fitting healthy eating around your social and work schedule
  • What meal timing and frequency allows you to control your hunger effectively, and therefore results in you eating the right things in the right amounts when you do eat
  • How practical is it for preparation: can you eat 8 quality small meals a day? Personally, I would find that harder to manage than less frequent larger meals
  • Simply how you feel when you eat large or small at different times of the day: bloated, fresh; sluggish, at peak performance etc. If you’re energy levels are great and you’re firing on all cylinders then you’re probably doing a lot right. If you’re tired, lethargic and lacking concentration or focus then you’re probably doing a lot wrong

This following point is so important that I’m going to repeat it: as long as you are truly eating the right foods most of the time then a lot of other things fall into place. A lot of people obsessing with when to eat need to first focus on the junk they’re consuming.

What I do

My eating patterns would make your average nutritionist cry. I often skip breakfast, as I recognized that most of the time I eat early it’s because food tastes good, rather than to satisfy my body’s need for energy. Some days I graze throughout the day and don’t eat any proper ‘meals’, other days I’ll go retro and have 3 square meals with no snacks. And occasionally I go 24 hours without consuming any food at all.

But most importantly I focus on eating good quality, real food most of the time. This approach works for me and my current fitness goals.

Diet Controversy

I realise diet and nutrition is as controversial as politics and religion and people get very emotional about it (avoid at dinner parties). However, I hugely welcome debate and opinions both for and against my views. My position on all things fitness, health and nutrition will change and develop, so if you can contribute to that by commenting below or contacting me I’d appreciate it.

If you’ve enjoyed this article, I kindly ask you to ‘like’ our Bangkok Fitness Facebook page, ‘like’ it here and share on social networks if you feel others would benefit. Many thanks!